Arizona Cardinals 2021 Offseason Preview

The Cardinals finished last season with a disappointing 8-8 record in head coach Kliff Kingsbury & former 2019 1st-overall pick QB Kyler Murray second season paired with one another in the NFL. This offseason is very important for them if they want a chance at qualifying for a playoff berth; they must upgrade in several positions.

They’ve already came firing out of the gates making noise by landing the first major significant free agent signing of the offseason so far, with the surprise signing of former 3x Defensive Player of the Year, J.J. Watt, who reunites with his former teammate DeAndre Hopkins.

Current Estimated Available Cap Space: $21.4M

Draft Picks: 5 Picks: 1st Round (16th overall), Rounds 2, 3, 4 & 7.

Offense:

Free Agents: Brett Hundley, Kenyan Drake, Larry Fitzgerald, Dan Arnold, Darrell Daniels, Kelvin Beachum, J.R. Sweezy, Max Garcia

2020 Rankings: Passing: 17th (244.8 yards per game); Rushing: 7th (139.8 yards per game); Scoring: 13th (25.6 points per game)

Key Positional Needs: RT, RB, TE, WR, RG, Backup QB

Quarterback

Starter: Kyler Murray

Backups: Chris Streveler, Cole McDonald, FA: Brett Hundley

The former 2019 No. 1 overall pick enters his 3rd season as the Cardinals starting QB, with the aspirations of leading his team to the playoffs for the first time. Murray received additional help last offseason, with the acquisition of All-Pro WR DeAndre Hopkins. Murray threw for 3,971 YDS, 26 TD-12 INT in 2020, while also rushing for a very impressive 819 YDs for 11 scores. They should look to address the backup spot for Murray this offseason. Brett Hundley has been the backup for the past few seasons, but they should look to find a veteran to mentor Murray, somebody that has had a similar experience as Murray

Player to Target: Robert Griffin III: RGIII was let go by the Baltimore Ravens, but he proved that he was an extremely valuable mentor towards Lamar Jackson. It would make a lot of sense to sign the former Heisman Trophy winner to mentor another Hesiman winner, just like he successfully did in Baltimore.

Running Back:

Chase Edmonds, Johnathan Ward, Eno Benjamin, Khalfani Muhammad, FA: Kenyan Drake

Kenyan Drake (27) is an unrestricted free agent, and after 1 ½ years as the Cardinals starting RB, it would not be surprising to see them move on from Drake and replace him as the starter. Drake had 955 rushing yards for 8 TD last season, averaging only 4.0 YDS per attempt. Arizona was the 7th-best rushing offense in the NFL last season, but a lot of that was due from Kyler Murray rushing for 819 YDS. They need to find a RB that is comfortable in RPOs, Options and Zone Reads; as that is a focal point of their running attack.

Chase Edmonds did a nice job when called upon last season, he provided a nice source of receiving for them out of the backfield — catching 53 passes for 402 YDS & 4 TDs, along with 448 rushing yards. Edmonds has proved he is more than capable of being the No. 2 RB, but drafting a RB in the 2nd-4th round would make a lot of sense.

Players to Target: NFL Draft Prospects: North Carolina RB Javonte Williams, Memphis RB Kenneth Gainwell

Both running backs are similar size towards Kenyan Drake, but would offer an upgrade in terms of athleticism and contract value since Drake enters free agency. Williams and Gainwell would be nice early-round targets for them that could potentially be able to start for them in their rookie season.

Wide Receiver:

DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella, KeeSean Johnson, A.J. Richardson, Krishawn Hogan, JoJo Ward, Issac Whitney, FA: Larry Fitzgerald, Trent Sherfield

The Cardinals have a No. 1 receiver and one of the best receivers in the NFL in DeAndre Hopkins, but they really can benefit from adding at least 1 or 2 receivers. Christian Kirk has proven he is a reliable receiver, but has dealt with an injury at some point in each of his first 3 seasons. The Cardinals are definitely regretting their selection of Andy Isabella in 2019 over DK Metcalf.. Isabella only has 30 receptions in his first two seasons and they really need him to start stepping up his production next season. Future HOF & 11x Pro Bowl WR Larry Fitzgerald is mulling over whether he’s returning next season, that will play into huge factor in how many receivers they need to upgrade, but either way they need to add at least 1 to 2 receivers in either the draft or free agency.

Player to Target: Antonio Brown: Antonio Brown just won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and he may be looking to go elsewhere, even though he loves and admires playing for Tom Brady. Brown has expressed he is a huge fan of Kyler and has been very vocal about it. AB’s cousin Marquise Brown was Kyler’s receiver at OU, they have thrown with each other in the offseason in the past. Brown would be a great upgrade in the slot and would give Murray another HOF-caliber receiver to throw to.

Tight End:

Maxx Williams, Ian Bunting, FA: Dan Arnold, Darrell Daniels

Tight End has been a very weak spot for them for years, as they haven’t had a true No. 1 TE in a quite some time. Murray needs to be able to rely upon a tight end that can become a true pass catcher in this offense, as well as a reliable blocker. Free agent Dan Arnold played pretty well last season for them (31-438-4), but they really can use an upgrade to a true No. 1 TE, it should be one of their biggest needs to address this offseason.

Player to Target: Jonnu Smith: Former Tennessee Titans TE Jonnu Smith has demonstrated he has the talent to be a No. 1 TE, but the Titans don’t appear to have cap flexibility to re-sign him. Smith scored 8 TDs in 15 games last season, with 41 Rec for 448 Yds. He would bring an immediate upgrade to their passing offense, giving Murray another weapon to utilize in the middle of the field.

Offensive Line:

LT: D.J. Humphries, Joshua Miles, Josh Jones

LG: Justin Pugh, Sean Harlow; FA: Max Garcia

C: Mason Cole, Lamont Gaillard

RG: Justin Murray, Shaq Calhoun; FA: J.R. Sweezy 

RT: Justin Murray, Branden Bowen, Koda Martin; FA: Kelvin Beachum

The offensive line took a massive step in the right direction in 2020, after an extremely disappointing campaign in 2019. Murray was sacked 27 times last season, which was 21 less times than 2019 (48 sacks). Murray’s % of times pressured per dropback was an impressive 16.6% in 2020, which was the 2nd-best in the NFL behind Green Bay. The group did improve last season, but they should still look to upgrade as they have a couple of notable free agents. Starting RT Kelvin Beachum, as well as guards J.R. Sweezy & Max Garcia are free agents. They should look to address the holes in the right side of their offensive line by signing a veteran free agent who can immediately come in and help bolster their line.

Player to Target: Germain Ifedi: Former Chicago Bears G Germain Ifedi would both be a nice affordable upgrade to the right interior side of their line.

Defense (3-4):

Free Agents: Angelo Blackson, Corey Peters, Domata Peko, Haason Reddick, Markus Golden, Isaiah Irving, De’Vondre Campbell, Patrick Peterson, Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Peterson, Johnathan Joseph, Chris Banjo, Charles Washington

2020 Rankings: Pass: 10th (226.4 yards per game); Rush: 22nd (125.5 yards per game); Scoring: 12th (22.9 points per game)

Key Positional Needs: CB, EDGE, NT, SS, ILB  

Defensive Line:

Ends: J.J. Watt, Jordan Phillips, Rashard Lawrence, Shareef Miller; FA: Angelo Blackson

Tackles: Zach Allen, Leki Fotu, Michael Dogbe, David Parry, FA: Corey Peters

The Cardinals rush defense struggled last season finishing 22nd in the NFL – allowing 125.5 yards per game. The first thing they did this offseason was began addressing this need by signing J.J. Watt. Watt will help anchor their run defense and pass rush, but they will need to at least add another run stopper to this defense. Veteran NT Corey Peters is a free agent, so if they are unable to bring him back, they should look to replace him with another starting caliber veteran.

Player to Target: DT Johnathan Hankins (29) is a quality veteran starting tackle who would make a great replacement if they are unable to bring back Peters.

Linebacker:

Outside: Chandler Jones, Devon Kennard, Dennis Gardeck, Kylie Fitts, Terrance Smith, Reggie Walker, FA: Haason Reddick, Markus Golden, Isaiah Irving

Inside: Jordan Hicks, Isaiah Simmons, Tanner Vallejo, Ezekiel Turner, Evan Weaver, FA: De’Vondre Campbell

Former 1st-round pick Haason Reddick had an unbelievable breakout 4th-season. Reddick racked up 12.5 sacks in 2020, while his first 3 seasons combined he only had 7.5 sacks. It’s the perfect timing for Reddick to hit free agency, as he’ll look to receive a deal that is way more than he would have been offered before his breakout season.

Assuming Reddick departs to another team, they would really need to add another pass rusher to go on the other side of All-Pro Chandler Jones. At inside LB, they just re-signed Tanner Vallejo and will need last year’s rookie 1st-round pick Isaiah Simmons to take the next step in his 2nd season.

Players to Target: EDGEBud Dupree & Matthew Judon: The two former AFC North pass-rushers create a ton of pressure on the outside from the OLB in a 3-4 defense. Signing either Bud Dupree or Matthew Judon would immediately replace Reddick if he leaves in free agency and would really help their pass rush.

Secondary:

Cornerbacks: Byron Murphy, Robert AlfordJalen Thompson, Jace Whittaker, Rico Gafford, Picasso Nelson Jr., FA: Patrick Peterson, Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Peterson

Free Safeties: Budda Baker, Chris Miller

Strong Safeties: Deionte Thompson, Jamal Carter, Donald Rutledge, FA: Chris Banjo

Cornerback is arguably the biggest need of any position this offseason for the Cardinals. 8X Pro Bowl & 3x All-Pro CB Patrick Peterson’s future in AZ remains unclear as he enters free agency at 31-years old. Even if Peterson returns, CB is still a huge need as they are extremely limited in depth. Former 2019 2nd-round pick Byron Murphy has been a bright star, locking down slot-receivers as their primary Nickel-CB. 

They just re-signed Robert Alford who has had difficulty staying healthy after he came over from Atlanta. They will need to add a starting CB if Peterson stays, but if he leaves they will need to add 2 starters. At free safety they fortunately have one of the best in the league with Budda Baker, and Deionte Thompson is the other safety, but they definitely should consider adding another safety to compete with Thompson.

Players to Target: Draft: South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn; Free Agent CBs Jason Verrett, Xavier Rhodes, S Damontae Kazee:

The Cardinals pick 16th overall in the 1st round, and with a huge need at CB; a prospect they should consider is CB Jaycee Horn. Horn, is a 6-1 corner who excels in man coverage and is the son of former New Orleans Saints WR Joe Horn. He would be an immediate upgrade to their secondary. Former 49ers CB Jason Verrett was supposed to be a star with the Chargers, but was unable to stay healthy. He finally stayed healthy last season with San Francisco, and had a very impressive season. Xavier Rhodes changed scenery from Minnesota to Indy, and it worked out very well for him. Both corners would provide them with a starter that can be considered reliable if they can stay healthy..Former Falcons safety Damontae Kazee would be a nice addition to their secondary, giving Deionte Thompson competition to start.

Special Teams:

Kicker: Mike Nugent, Brett Maher, FA: Zane Gonzalez

Punter: N/A, FA: Andy Lee

Stay tuned for more offseason previews for all 32 NFL teams!

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