UPDATE (Friday, Aug. 5, 1:20 p.m.): Now that Larry Fitzgerald’s contract has been extended a year, one complexity to the Cardinals’ 2017 offseason has taken care of itself.
Many feel the clock is ticking on the Arizona Cardinals’ championship window because of aging quarterback Carson Palmer and aging coach Bruce Arians.
That’s a bit agist.
Even objectively, it might not be Arizona’s biggest problem in terms of retaining the recent success. Just look at the 2017 free agent crop on the team.
After signing Tyrann Mathieu to a five-year extension to avoid his free agency next offseason, the Cardinals will still have to consider re-signing starters at inside linebacker (Kevin Minter), guard (Evan Mathis), defensive tackle (Frostee Rucker), tight end (Jermaine Gresham) and likely center (A.Q. Shipley).
Backups on the offensive line (Earl Watford) and at outside linebacker (Alex Okafor), safety (D.J. Swearinger) and running back (Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor) are among those that have expiring contracts.
That doesn’t even include the five most important free agent Cardinals come next season.
Who are The 5?
Larry Fitzgerald, WR
Duh. The Cardinals reworked Fitzgerald’s contract last summer to open cap space while also extending the receiver’s deal through the 2016 season. Prior to Friday’s extension of his deal through 2017, ESPN’s John Clayton called Fitzgerald’s free agency “fascinating.”. It would seem like a necessity for Arizona to bring back its longtime receiver. While Fitzgerald is 33 years old, he was still wildly productive in 2015, amassing 1,215 yards while eclipsing the 100-catch mark for the first time since 2007. If he wants to keep playing (why wouldn’t he?), Fitzgerald’s situation might have dictated the rest of the Cardinals’ very large free agent crop. But how would keeping the face of the franchise affect Arizona’s shot at re-signing a deep roster? Now we have a better idea of that financially. How he performs this upcoming season will change the narrative about his new contract.
Michael Floyd, WR
Michael Floyd just might make a ton of money coming off his rookie deal. The Cardinals will have to think twice about giving him, loosely, “a ton” as they face losing two jump-ball type of talents. Fitzgerald’s future with the team will dictate how general manager Steve Keim attacks Floyd’s free agency, both financially and in terms of wideout production. For what it’s worth, Floyd certainly sees himself as an elite receiver. One could argue he’s not put up the big numbers playing alongside the likes of Fitzgerald, so that dynamic in 2016 could change the approach in free agency. Or maybe it doesn’t change it a bit. Even another year of producing 849 yards, six touchdowns and 52 receptions like in 2015 could be enough to get Floyd a nice salary-bump from a $7.5 million cap hit this coming season.
Calais Campbell, DE
A top NFL defensive lineman but also a top target for Arians’ criticism, the 6-foot-8, 300 pound Calais Campbell has a complex free agency period upcoming. The 2008 second-round pick by Arizona will be 30 years old come September, and his sack totals have dipped from a career-high nine in 2013 to seven in 2014 and then five in 2015. No, the Cardinals have not surrounded him with ideal pass-rush talent to make opponents think twice about sending double-teams at Campbell. Arizona’s offseason trade for Chandler Jones and its drafting of Robert Nkemdiche lines up pass-rush replacements, but the moves also take Campbell’s excuse for lacking in sacking. Nonetheless, there’s a reason Campbell is so well-respected across the league. He’s very good, no matter the meager sack totals.
Chandler Jones, OLB
With two double-digit sack seasons under his belt through four NFL campaigns, Jones heads into his first year as a Cardinal with more to prove. It would be surprising for Arizona to thrown big money at both Jones and Campbell, and it remains to be seen how the 6-foot-5, 265 pound Jones will transition to playing as more of an outside linebacker in coordinator James Bettcher’s defense. Arizona, as of now, gave up little — offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper and a second-round pick — to acquire Jones. Failing to re-sign him wouldn’t be the end of the world, but putting him in position for another big season will only add to his price tag.
Tony Jefferson, S
The final of this week’s The 5 was a tough one. While players like Mathis, Rucker and Minter will be fellow starters hitting free agency, it’s the loss of Jefferson that would threaten Arizona’s success the most. He’s recorded 78 total tackles the past two seasons and played in every regular season game since he entered the league. At 24 years old, Jefferson is still young and still a member of a secondary No Fly Zone that should remain steady with Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu also in tow for the next few seasons.
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