Cardinals’ No. 1 free agent need should be an edge rusher, according to PFF
Jan 19, 2024, 10:11 AM
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
After going 4-13 in their first season under head coach Jonathan Gannon, there’s a lot of work to be done for the Arizona Cardinals. Fortunately, there’s a lot of room for the work that needs to be done.
Arizona has the fourth pick in the upcoming 2024 NFL Draft and $45.1 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.
The consensus of mock drafts is that Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. will be taken with that fourth pick, but what the Cardinals will do with their millions of dollars in the free agent market is yet to be seen.
Pro Football Focus’ Gordon McGuinness has the rebuilding franchise targeting edge rusher Brian Burns, who has played for the Carolina Panthers the last five seasons.
Edge defender Dennis Gardeck put together a solid pass-rushing season for the Cardinals, totaling 42 pressures from 243 pass-rushing snaps. But he was the team’s only edge defender to earn a PFF pass-rushing grade above 70.0. Burns has topped that in each of the past four seasons and, while he hasn’t broken into the elite range tier at the position yet, is still young enough to develop further.
The Cardinals’ pass rush was poor last season, bottom five of the league poor. The Cardinals were 27th, or the third lowest team in sacks last season with 33. Gardeck, who was their best pass rusher in terms of how many times he got to the quarterback, led the team with six sacks.
The outside linebacker core also includes B.J. Ojulari, Zaven Collins, Cam Thomas and Victor Dimukeje. All of those players had less than five sacks individually last season.
Burns has never had fewer than seven in a season.
The 6-foot 5, 250-pound linebacker had 7.5 sacks during his rookie season in 2019 before tallying nine in each of the next two seasons. He exploded for 12.5 sacks in the 2022 season at only the ripe age of 24. That season solidified Burns as one of the premier pass rushers on the gridiron.
2023 was rugged for Burns; the Panthers were dead last in sacks as a team this season with only 27. It didn’t help that they went 2-15 either. Despite this, the 25-year-old still collected eight sacks on the year.
Burns is one of the many edge rushers available in free agency this season. Za’Darius Smith, Carl Lawson, Chase Young and Jadeveon Clowney are the other names that highlight this position in the free-agent market.
All of those players, except Young, are older than Burns. This means that Burns still has more time to develop, as said in the PFF article.
Some of the other needs for the Cardinals this offseason include grabbing a lockdown cornerback, which could be found in L’Jarius Snead or Jaylon Johnson. The two corners were ranked at the top of PFF’s top 2024 NFL free agency cornerback rankings.
Arizona has a young bunch of corners: Kei’Trel Clark, Garrett Williams and Starling Thomas. All players are under 24 years old, and the team could be looking for a more experienced player, such as Johnson or Snead.
Another wide receiver or offensive lineman wouldn’t hurt either. With Hollywood Brown jumping into the free-agent pool, the Cardinals need yet another No. 1 guy for Kyler Murray. Tee Higgins headlines a deep free-agent class that includes Mike Evans and Michael Pittman Jr. for the wideouts.
However, finally getting that pass rusher that the Cardinals have been searching for since JJ Watt’s departure in 2022 seems to be the most viable option for a team with this many needs.