PFF’s Spielberger grades Cardinals’ free agent class among worst in NFL

Mar 18, 2024, 8:52 PM

Monti Ossenfort looks on...

General manager Monti Ossenfort of the Arizona Cardinals before the NFL game at State Farm Stadium on September 17, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. The Giants defeated the Cardinals 31-28. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PFF’s Brad Spielberger gave the Arizona Cardinals’ free agent class a “C” grade in his latest free agency grades.

Despite the Cardinals’ plethora of moves, Spielberger ranked their early free agency efforts as the worst in the league. No other team got a “C” or lower.

While the Cardinals didn’t sign a premier free agent, they did spend starter-caliber money on five projected starters — none of whom ranked higher than 55th on PFF’s list of top free agents by grade — at positions of need this offseason.

One of those five is defensive tackle Justin Jones, who inked a three-year deal worth $30.1 million with $19.75 million guaranteed. In 34 starts, Jones tallied 7.5 sacks and 101 tackles for the Chicago Bears.

Jones brings a high motor and was the Bears’ Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee in 2023, always quick to talk some trash and energize the defense. Nonetheless, this payday dramatically outpaces his down-to-down production. He does have some occasional splash plays that illustrate what made him a Day 2 draft pick, but this is probably the deal we view as the most player-friendly signing so far this offseason.

Cornerback was another one of the Cardinals’ biggest needs going into this offseason, especially with the youth at the position in Kei’Trel Clark, Garrett Williams and Starling Thomas all coming off their rookie seasons.

To help balance out the room, Arizona brought in a corner with more experience in Sean Murphy-Bunting, who is 26 and has five NFL seasons under his belt.

Murphy-Bunting started 14 games for the Titans last year and had two interceptions and eight passes defensed in his one season with the team.

With the added and important context that there were virtually zero free-agent options at cornerback not nearing 30 years old, it makes sense that Murphy-Bunting was able to cash in big time. The former No. 39 overall pick has good size at 6-foot and 195 pounds, and he recorded four interceptions to go along with nine more pass breakups over the past two seasons. Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon used to coach defensive backs, so he’ll try to tap into Murphy-Bunting’s physical gifts in his third stop.

Offensive tackle Jonah Williams joined Arizona on a two-year deal after spending the first four years of his career in Cincinnati. He was drafted 11th overall out of Alabama in 2019 and was a key part of the Bengals’ Super Bowl LVI team that lost to the Rams.

He’ll join Paris Johnson Jr., who started all 17 games and never missed a snap at right tackle as a rookie.

Arizona also signed Bilal Nichols and Mack Wilson to strengthen the defensive front. Nichols had two sacks last season, while Wilson had 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. The three players combine for less than $15 million in cap space.

Nichols is a rock-solid player on the interior who can contribute on all three downs, and he has some wiggle to get upfield as a pass rusher, with a low center of gravity that helps him weaponize his undersized frame. Arizona needs all the help it can get along the defensive line, and Nichols is a good start.

Arizona still has a good chunk of money it can spend this free agency with an estimated $30.5 million left in cap space, according to Spotrac.

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