Free agency reset: Arizona Cardinals still with numerous holes to fill
NFL free agency is in full swing, but if you’re following the Arizona Cardinals, it may not look like it.
While other teams have gone out and made big splashes, the Cardinals have been patient in their signings outside of a few key in-house options.
There’s still time to fill holes, but the clock is ticking, with less than a month before Arizona can begin offseason workouts and the 2022 NFL Draft kicking off 10 days later.
And although the free agency pool is shrinking, there’s still options available that can boost the Cardinals’ roster.
Free agents still on the market to consider: Jarvis Landry, Emmanuel Sanders, DeSean Jackson, Mohamed Sanu, Julio Jones
While the likes of Allen Robinson (Los Angeles Rams), D.J. Chark (Detroit Lions) and Russell Gage (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) have signed elsewhere, there are still veteran options who can help keep opposing defenses honest.
A few names that come to mind are Landry, Sanders and Jones.
Despite seeing a downturn in production this past season, Landry and Sanders have proven to be consistent No. 2 options in the right offense. Of the two, Sanders put up a better 2021, reeling in 42 of his 72 targets for 626 yards and four touchdowns. His 14.9 yards per reception tied a career high this past year in Buffalo.
As for Jones, the former Atlanta Falcon superstar had an injury-filled year with the Tennessee Titans. And when he was on the field, the production was far from past seasons, recording season lows across the board in catches (31), receiving yards (434), touchdowns (one). The Titans had clearly seen enough, opting to release the wide receiver this offseason.
Players lost: Christian Kirk
Players re-signed/gained: Antoine Wesley (exclusive rights free agent)
Kirk’s massive contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars was the talk of the free-agent town. Never topping 1,000 yards in a season, Kirk’s four-year deal worth up to $84 million raised eyebrows and put the Cardinals well out of his price range.
With Kirk off to Jacksonville and A.J. Green a free agent unlikely to re-sign, Arizona has DeAndre Hopkins and Rondale Moore as the team’s top two options at the position.
The Cardinals also have Antoine Wesley, Greg Dortch and Andy Isabella under contract, though Isabella was granted permission to seek a trade this offseason.
But at the end of the day, Arizona desperately needs a legitimate No. 2 option opposite Hopkins. Moore can be moved all over the field, but can he pull coverage off of Hopkins?
Free agents still on the market to consider: Mario Addison, Jadeveon Clowney
The Cardinals are in desperate need of a pass rusher opposite Markus Golden.
Of the free agent pass rushers still available, Addison presents an intriguing option.
Although he’s played in a 4-3 scheme in Buffalo the past two seasons, Addison got some run as an outside linebacker in 2019. Over 15 games played that season, he recorded 9.5 sacks and 14 QB hits.
Another name to consider is Clowney, who had a strong 2021 (14 games) behind nine sacks, 19 QB hits, two passes defensed and two forced fumbles as a defensive end for the Cleveland Browns.
Clowney proved early on in his career that he could fit nicely in a 3-4 scheme, racking up 18.5 sacks to go along with 79 tackles, 42 QB hits, three forced fumbles and three passes defensed with the Houston Texans from 2017-18 (31 games).
Players lost: Chandler Jones
Players re-signed/gained: Dennis Gardeck, Devon Kennard (restructured)
It was unlikely the Cardinals were going to retain Jones’ services this offseason.
Now, Arizona has to figure out a way to fill the void left behind by the team’s all-time leading sack getter.
The good news is the Cardinals still have their 2021 leading sacks leader in Golden under contract through next season.
But finding a player that can help free up Golden is a tricky one. Despite Jones (10.5) trailing Golden (11) in the sacks department, the former Cardinal (47) outpaced his counterpart (46) when looking at total pressures (sacks, QB hits and hurries) over last season.
Arizona didn’t let all of their outside linebacker free agents walk, however, re-signing Dennis Gardeck to a three-year deal. The Cardinals also restructured Devon Kennard’s contract to keep him in the desert and have second-year pro Victor Dimukeje under contract through 2024.
While he’s made a name for himself as a special teamer, Gardeck proved he could be effective as a pass rusher back in 2020. In place of an injured Jones, Gardeck tallied seven sacks, seven tackles for loss and 10 QB hits over a 10-game span before suffering a torn ACL in Week 16.
Kennard has proven to be a solid depth piece since his arrival in 2020 and Dimukeje found his way on the field last season primarily on special teams.
Free agents still on the market to consider: Trai Turner, Will Hernandez, Oday Aboushi
The Cardinals’ starting right guard spot is another glaring need that must be filled ahead of the season.
One name that could give the Cardinals a consistent presence is former Pittsburgh Steelers OL Trai Turner.
The guard started all 17 games this past year and has played in at least 13 games in all but one of his eight NFL seasons. Per Pro Football Focus, Turner posted a 72.7 pass-blocking grade and a 67.6 run-blocking grade last year.
Players lost: None
Players re-signed/gained: None
For the most part, the Cardinals offensive line is locked in behind starting center Rodney Hudson, left guard Justin Pugh and tackles D.J. Humphries and Kelvin Beachum. As for the team’s starting right guard? That’s still up in the air.
With Max Garcia a free agent, the Cardinals have Josh Jones, who underwhelmed in the starting role, as the only other option at the position.
After the early re-signings of running back James Conner and tight ends in Zach Ertz and Maxx Williams this offseason, it’s clear the Cardinals want to get back to that power run game that worked so well early on in 2021.
There’s also quarterback Kyler Murray, who is looking for a contract extension after his third NFL season, to protect. If the signal caller gets his money now, shoring up the offensive line is a good investment if you are GM Steve Keim.
Free agents still on the market to consider: Calais Campbell, Akiem Hicks, William Gholston, Star Lotulelei
Campbell is coming off 1.5-sack, 12-QB hit season as the Baltimore Ravens’ starting defensive tackle last season. Per PFF, Campbell posted a grade of 80.8 last season, good enough for eighth among interior defenders.
The lineman is also familiar with Arizona, having played the first nine seasons of his NFL career in the desert.
Another name to consider is Lotulelei, who was released from the Bills last week.
Over 11 games last season, Lotulelei tied a career high in sacks (three) to go along with 17 tackles and three QB hits.
Players lost: Jordan Phillips (released)
Players re-signed/gained: Michael Dogbe, Jack Crawford
The Cardinals’ depth along the defensive line got even thinner following the release of Phillips last week.
With Phillips now in Buffalo and Corey Peters a free agent, Arizona has J.J. Watt, Zach Allen, Rashard Lawrence and Michael Dogbe under contract through next season. The team also signed Matt Dickerson and Jonathan Ledbetter to future contracts following the season.
Despite Allen taking another step in his progression, there was a noticeable downturn in play along the trenches following Watt’s injury in Week 7. After starting out 7-0, Arizona finished off the regular season at 11-6, posting a 4-6 mark without Watt in the lineup.
Free agents still on the market to consider: Kyle Fuller, Chris Harris Jr., Xavier Rhodes, Joe Haden
Fuller, Harris, Rhodes and Haden all bring a veteran presence to young cornerbacks room.
Of the four, Rhodes figures to be the cheapest option. Over 13 games last season, the cornerback recorded 39 tackles, an interception and seven passes defensed. Per PFF, Rhodes posted a 61.8 coverage grade last season.
Players lost: None
Players re-signed/gained: Jeff Gladney
Much like the defensive line, Arizona entered the offseason with a mighty scarce cornerbacks cupboard aside from 2021 starters Byron Murphy and Marco Wilson.
The Cardinals did, however, add another player to the mix in former Minnesota Vikings CB Jeff Gladney.
Gladney, who signed last week, is back on an NFL roster after he was found not guilty on a felony assault charge. The 2020 first-rounder did not play a down last season while the court process unfolded.
And while Gladney is expected to be a starter, that doesn’t mean the Cardinals are all set at the position.
Behind Murphy, Wilson and Gladney, Arizona has Breon Borders and Jace Whittaker as the only other depth pieces with Antonio Hamilton and Robert Alford both free agents.