CARDINALS CORNER

Christian Wilkins among 5 intriguing free agent options for Cardinals in 2024

Mar 6, 2024, 2:54 PM

With the deadline to designate franchise and transition tags passing on Tuesday, the Arizona Cardinals have a better idea of what the free-agent landscape looks like ahead of the new league year, which begins next week.

But which of the players hitting the open market next Wednesday stand out when it comes down to Arizona’s roster needs and its projected $45.6 million of cap space?

Here are some of the high-end players who could move the needle for what head coach Jonathan Gannon and general manager Monti Ossenfort are building:

Christian Wilkins, DT

The Miami Dolphins surprised many by not franchise-tagging Wilkins. The 6-foot-4, 310-pound defensive tackle tops the list for me in terms of the immediate impact he would bring to a Cardinals defense that was near the bottom of the league in getting to the quarterback in 2023.

An absolute beast in the trenches, Wilkins racked up career highs in sacks (nine) and quarterback hits (23). He added 10 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and two passes defensed.

He logged 58 pressures, per Pro Football Focus, while continuing to prove he can get it done against the run.

Among the biggest positives to Wilkins’ game is his availability, with 61 consecutive starts across the past three seasons and appearing in no fewer than 14 games in his five-year career.

The icing on the cake? His familiarity with Cardinals defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc, who coached Wilkins in 2022 while an assistant DL coach with Miami.

But with the success on the field comes the hefty price tag.

Wilkins is bound to have plenty of suitors this offseason and will want to cash in after not getting a deal done last year.

PFF projects Wilkins’ contract to be in the four-year, $100 million range. Is that too much to spend for a team that needs help in multiple areas of the roster?

It might be, but the talent he possesses and potential impact he could bring to Arizona’s front cannot be denied.

Patrick Queen, ILB

Kyzir White is the man in the middle for the Cardinals. His running mate in 2024 is yet to be determined, however, with Krys Barnes and Josh Woods hitting the open market next week.

Why not boost the middle of the defense that much more with an addition like Queen?

Starting every game for the Baltimore Ravens for a fourth consecutive season, Queen set a new career high in tackles with 133 to go along with 3.5 sacks, an interception, six passes defensed, six QB hits.

PFF views Queen as a top free agent target this offseason and projects his contract to be in the four-year, $72.5 million range.

Does adding a talent like Queen make up for not spending at other positions with greater needs?

Dalton Risner, OG

Among the biggest positions of need inside the trenches for the Cardinals is left guard.

Tackle seems to be set with Paris Johnson Jr., Kelvin Beachum and likely rookie-to-be-named later taking over the bulk of the work in the absence of D.J. Humphries, who is recovering from a torn ACL suffered last December.

Will Hernandez is locked in at right guard, while Hjalte Froholdt should be the starting center.

That leaves free agency as Arizona’s best avenue to add some size along the left side of the interior.

One name to watch is the Minnesota Vikings’ free agent, Risner.

After playing out his rookie deal with the Denver Broncos, he signed on with the Vikings midseason before taking over as the team’s starting left guard and appearing in 15 games.

Risner’s run-blocking ability doesn’t jump off the charts, but his ability in the passing game has been a constant positive throughout his career.

The lineman wouldn’t break the bank, either, with PFF projecting a contract in the range of three years worth $16.5 million.

Jonathan Greenard, DE

Let’s turn our attention back to the defensive line with Houston Texans free agent and defensive end Jonathan Greenard.

The 6-foot-3, 263-pounder showed out in a contract year, registering career highs in sacks (12.5), tackles for loss (15) and quarterback hits (22).

Adding his blend of size and strength to Arizona’s defensive line would help immensely in shoring things up in both the run and pass games.

He also likely won’t require the type of payday Wilkins is expecting with PFF projecting Greenard’s next deal to be in the four-year, $76 million range.

Darious Williams, CB

The Cardinals have three young cornerbacks — Garrett Williams, Kei’Trel Clark and Starling Thomas V — they hope can take that next step in 2024 following earning reps as rookies.

And while Arizona could be inclined to nab a cornerback in the 2024 NFL Draft, signing a veteran free agent to blend with the young guns should be high up on the list.

Darious Williams, who the Jacksonville Jaguars are reportedly releasing to help free up cap space, fits that mold.

Serving as Jacksonville’s No. 1 cornerback last year, Williams tied a career high in interceptions with four, took one back for a touchdown and set another high mark in passes defensed with 19 across 17 starts.

Williams has appeared in at least 14 games since 2020 and didn’t miss a game the past two seasons.

The cornerback was playing on a three-year, $30 million contract signed in 2022 and could be eying something in the $40 million range coming off a career year.

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