CARDINALS CORNER

Zach Allen headlines free agents the Arizona Cardinals should re-sign in 2023

Jan 20, 2023, 11:34 AM
Arizona Cardinals DL Zach Allen (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)...
Arizona Cardinals DL Zach Allen (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)
(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

Free agents are aplenty when it comes to the Arizona Cardinals’ current roster.

Among the 31 players hitting free agency this offseason, 28 are unrestricted, one is restricted and another is of the exclusive rights variety, per Spotrac.

There are a lot of in-house personnel decisions to make if you’re new general manager Monti Ossenfort. And after Arizona finished 4-13 last season, change throughout the organization is a must.

But of the many free agents, who should be back in the fold when the team reconvenes in 2023?

A look at the top Cardinals free agents that stand out this offseason:

DL Zach Allen

Not much of a surprise here. Allen is free-agent priority No. 1 for the Cardinals.

In the final year of his rookie contract, Allen turned in his best season as a pro behind 5.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 19 QB hits and eight passes defensed across 13 games. Only J.J. Watt had more sacks (12.5), tackles for loss (18) and QB hits (25) on the team this past season. Cornerback Marco Wilson was the lone Cardinal with more passes defensed (10) than Allen.

The only real negative to Allen’s 2022 was the four games he missed due to hand injury that required surgery.

But given Allen’s known toughness, that shouldn’t be much of an issue when negotiating a new deal.

And if you needed any more reason to sign the lineman, look no further than the current roster construction.

Allen benefitted greatly from Watt’s influence down in the trenches. He got a front row seat to the School of Watt. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Allen put up career numbers alongside him. But with the future Hall of Famer riding off into the sunset, the hole along the line is massive.

It only gets wider and deeper with Allen not in the mix, something the Cardinals cannot afford to have happen.

Back up the Brinks truck, Cardinals. There is no reason not to pay the man.

CB Byron Murphy

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

If Allen is 1a, Murphy is 1b when it comes to re-signing free agents.

Pegged as the team’s No. 1 cornerback the past two seasons, the unrestricted free agent has shown noticeable growth since joining the team in 2019 as a second-round pick (33rd overall) out of Washington.

The cornerback stayed relatively healthy through his first three seasons, missing just two games. This year, however, was a different story, with Murphy suiting up for just nine games before a back injury eventually put him on the injured reserve.

Before going down with the injury, Murphy recorded 36 tackles, three of which were for losses, 0.5 sacks, four passes defensed and a QB hit. He also corralled two fumbles, returning one of them for the game-winning touchdown in overtime against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 2.

In addition to being one of the mainstays defensively over the past few seasons, Murphy also brings with him the hometown connection having played at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale.

And given his ties to the Valley and the fact that he is coming off the injury, the price tag might not be as hefty as it could be for a franchise that needs a CB to build around in the secondary. Outside of Marco Wilson, who is entering Year 3, the Cardinals don’t have another starting-caliber corner currently under contract for next season. Christian Matthew got his feet wet as a rookie (three starts) but needs more time on task, and Nate Hairston was used more as an injury fill-in.

With that kind of depth, bringing Murphy back would be a positive.

OL Kelvin Beachum

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

Back to the trenches we go.

With the razor thin depth along the offensive line, Beachum is a trusted veteran that can show up when his number is called while serving as a coach of sorts to the younger members.

Of the free agent offensive linemen, the unrestricted free agent should be the first one the Cardinals talk with about coming back for a 12th NFL season, something Beachum already hinted at following the regular season.

Beachum was by far the most durable Cardinals lineman this past season, serving as the only opening-day starter to make every game this season. Only one other Cardinal played in all 17 matchups, safety Jalen Thompson.

From a pass-blocking standpoint, Beachum remains a consistent presence on the field. Per Pro Football Focus, the veteran hasn’t posted lower than a 70.1 pass block grade since 2012 (10 seasons).

Arizona is in need of a revamp along the OL, with the only returning starter currently under contract being left tackle D.J. Humphries, who is coming off a back injury and only eight games played in 2022.

Josh Jones could also see his number called more at tackle after starting nine of out of the final 10 games of the season. He looked a lot more comfortable filling in for Humphries at left tackle and could swing over to the right side if need be. After struggling at guard last year, Jones was the only Cardinals lineman to post pass- (75.9) and run-blocking (74) grades in the 70s.

WR Greg Dortch

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

Light the torch!

After seeing Dortch flash whenever he got an opportunity to see the field, the restricted free agent makes a ton of sense for a position group that could look a whole lot different next season depending on whether DeAndre Hopkins is traded or not.

Filling in at the slot for the injured Rondale Moore to start the year, Dortch reeled in 20 catches for 198 yards and a touchdown over the three-game span.

The next seven games were a different story, however, with Moore back from injury and Dortch accounting for just 23 yards and a score on five catches.

Once Moore was out of the mix for the remainder of the season, Dortch’s offensive numbers kicked back up. He turned in 27 catches for 246 yards in four of the final six games played.

Obviously, Moore should be in the team’s plans moving forward. He’s shown he can be an impactful piece and carries a second-round price tag. The problem, though, is the wide receiver’s injury history and missing 11 games in the past two seasons combined.

Arizona currently has six wideouts who suited up at some point last season under contract for 2023. As a restricted free agent, the Cardinals can match any offer Dortch receives from another team. Depending on how much he might command elsewhere, that could complicate things for a Cardinals team with $15.6 million in cap space as of Friday. This past season, Dortch was a minimal cap hit of $895,000. That number should only increase given what we saw out of the 5-foot-7, 173-pound pass catcher.

If there’s a chance to bring Dortch back as a depth piece with a potential for more, the Cardinals should jump at the opportunity to bring back the wideout.

OL Will Hernandez

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

He was only with the team for a year, but Hernandez brings an enforcer presence to the interior of the line, something the Cardinals need moving forward. There’s not many that will go toe-to-toe with now-retired J.J. Watt — even if it was a silly training camp scuffle.

Aside from Humphries (80.5), Hernandez posted the best PFF grade in terms of pass-blocking (79.1). He finished third among the OL in run-blocking (61.1).

Coming off a one-year deal that carried a cap hit of just over $1 million, Hernandez is a starting option that can likely be had on the cheaper end.

Without Hernandez in the mix next season, Arizona’s current situation at guard is light, with a pair of 2022 draft picks in Lecitus Smith and Marquis Hayes the only other options under contract as of Friday. Justin Pugh, who started opposite Hernandez is also a free agent and likely contemplating retirement.

While Hayes was a rookie redshirt this past season, Smith managed to play in 10 games and started two of them. The latter could also see some time working out of the center spot, something he did last year for added depth at the position.

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