Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort tweaking approach to free agency in Year 2

Mar 12, 2024, 5:01 PM | Updated: 6:57 pm

General manager Monti Ossenfort and the Arizona Cardinals were among the busier NFL teams when the legal tampering window opened for free agency ahead of the new year.

And while the Cardinals didn’t make that big splash signing during the first wave of free agency, there’s a clear change in philosophy afoot for Ossenfort and Co. as they look to expand upon last year’s positives.

So, what changed?

Among the biggest trends to Arizona’s free agency this offseason is the three-year deals the team has already reportedly agreed to terms on with external free agents and defensive tackles Bilal Nichols and Justin Jones, cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and linebacker Mack Wilson Sr.

Handing out just one three-year deal would have been more than what we saw last offseason as Arizona focused more on adding bodies on low-risk, one- to two-year deals in 2023.

Even a guy like starting MIKE backer Kyzir White, who was easily the Cardinals’ biggest free agent signing this time last year and had familiarity with head coach Jonathan Gannon and defensive coordinator Nick Rallis from their time together in Philadelphia, inked a two-year deal worth just $10 million.

Speaking of money, there’s a clear bump in spending coming out of Arizona’s front office, too, with Jones ($10.3 million), Bunting-Murphy ($8.5 million) and Nichols ($7 million) averaging more dollars per year than any of last year’s batch of free agents. Wilson ($4.25 million) is also seeing more cash on average than most of the 2023 class not named White.

Bigger investments for the future are being made and it’s more than evident there’s a focus on the defensive side of the football.

There’s also something to say about the caliber of free agents Arizona is adding to the mix.

Obviously, there’s still a lot of time between now and the start of the regular season. A lot can happen throughout the rest of the offseason, training camp and preseason.

But from an on-paper standpoint, there’s a realistic chance that first wave of free-agent additions mentioned above could make a real impact one way or another.

On top of addressing a big need along the interior of the defensive line, both Nichols and Jones are coming off back-to-back seasons of logging 17 starts and should fit into the rotational philosophy Rallis likes to run up front.

Murphy-Bunting meanwhile gives the Cardinals a versatile option that can play both inside and out. He’s also coming off 14 starts in 2023 and has played — and won — on the biggest stage the sport can offer.

While Wilson made just four starts the past two years combined playing in a more situational role defensively — the linebacker saw more time on special teams — he brought an ability to rush the passer and get out in coverage across 34 games played.

Even with the limited defensive showing the last two seasons, Wilson still managed to record 73 tackles, five sacks, three passes defensed, two forced fumbles and four QB hits.

The signing is reminiscent of Arizona adding linebacker Josh Woods, a player who went from working primarily on special teams in Detroit and Chicago to being a meaningful contributor at inside linebacker.

The Cardinals are banking on Wilson taking a similar transition and the talent gap that was more than apparent last year to shrink that much more.

What’s next for the Arizona Cardinals this free agency?

Day 2 of the negotiating period has been a lot quieter for the Cardinals outside of agreeing to terms with former Seattle Seahawks running back DeeJay Dallas and offensive lineman Keith Ismael.

It’s not all that surprising, though.

After that first wave of signings, it makes more sense to take a step back, reassess the NFL landscape and who is headed where and take a closer look at some of the in-house options.

Positions to watch for the Cardinals this free agency

The Cardinals took some steps forward roster-wise this legal tampering period.

There’s still a ways to go in reconstructing the roster, with both sides of the line, cornerback, pass rusher, wide receiver and backup quarterback among the biggest positions to watch moving forward.

Those moves likely won’t break the bank, either, as the Cardinals should focus on filling out the roster through cost-effective and short-term deals.

And remember, there’s still the 2024 NFL Draft and 11 picks for Ossenfort to cook with come April.

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