While the season has unfortunately ended for the Arizona Cardinals, the front office should be working this offseason to ensure the momentum they’ve been building doesn’t slip away.
With the taste of disappointment likely to remain in the mouths of Arizona Cardinals fans for the remainder of the offseason, they’d also be remiss to forget just how much their side has improved over the past three-four seasons.
Trending in the right direction, this offseason will serve as an important one for Arizona Cardinals General Manager, Steve Keim, and the remainder of the front office. With 27 Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs) and 3 Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) this offseason, the organization will need to decide who to bring back, who they should/have to let go and who they can trust in taking a step forward in the 2021 season.
Many of the Cardinals Free Agents have been influential in the teams development over the past few seasons, and important decisions will have to be made so as to ensure this trend line continues to go up.
Keim will have to consider the backup quarterback position. Kyler Murray, their what will be third year starting quarterback is extremely agile, and his ability to maneuver through contact while still averaging starting NFL running back numbers as a rusher is unicorn like. His mortality, however, was shown in the Cardinals Week 17 matchup, and playoff deciding game against the Las Angeles Rams, where Murray missed two and a bit quarters of crucial game time following an ankle injury.
With Brett Hundley, the Cardinals third-string quarterback, an UFA this offseason, and their backup Chris Streveler struggling to hold down the fort when Murray was gone in Week 17, Keim may look to find a trustworthy second option to Murray if someone on the defense ever does catch him. This hole, exposed in Week 17, proved to be a key factor in the Cardinals missing the playoffs.
With the world very well aware of Murray’s ability to run the ball, the need for the Cardinals to maintain a healthy run game and keep defenses guessing about what he may do will be critical in the team’s success. Kenyan Drake, who averaged 955 rushing yards in the regular season, is another one of these 27 UFAs, and one of the most important.
Drake is coming off a 1-year transition tag by Arizona, which saw him make $8.483 million. Before signing this deal, it was rumored that Drake was looking for a long-term contract of around $8-10 million a year. With all the money that the Cardinals will likely have to pay players this offseason, it doesn’t seem likely they will be able to get a deal done that will make both parties happy. This means that Keim will have to either look for a rental while he lets his young running back room develop or hope that players like Chase Edmonds and Eno Benjamin can become fixtures of their run game sooner than expected.
The uneven production of the Cardinals wide receivers (outside of DeAndre Hopkins), coupled with the potential retirement of Veteran and Future Hall of Famer, Larry Fitzgerald, makes Keim’s job in securing Murray a definitive second option another priority and challenge over the offseason. They can hope to get some consistency out of Christian Kirk, or potentially see Andy Isabella take a step forward, however, look for Keim to try and find this solution in the draft.
Another consideration for Keim and the Cardinals this offseason is providing Murray a safety blanket. For any young quarterback trying to find their way, this is a good pass catching tight end. With three of the Cardinals four active tight ends this season entering Free Agency, it will be important to have someone alongside Maxx Williams as they enter the 2021 season. Resigning Dan Arnold should be the number one priority, however, if they can’t get that done, they will likely look to the draft.
On the defensive end, the movements are just as considerable. In the line backer room, UFAs Markus Golden, Haason Reddick and De’Vondre Campbell all contributed heavily to the Cardinals successes this year. With Reddick poised to have a healthy market in Free Agency look to his decision to determine what happens with Goldens future. Campbell on the other hand, who made a significant jump this year, both in the locker room and on the field, is aware of the 6’4 speedy, hybrid linebacker, Isaiah Simmons, and his presumptive jump the organization is hoping he will make next season, taking away minutes and future earnings from Campbell.
The backend of the Cardinals defense was consistently questioned this past regular season. Outside of Budda Baker, Keim will look change things up big time. The decision on whether or not the Cardinals bring back veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson, one of six safety/cornerbacks entering free agency, will determine the type of money they will be able to spend to get more depth at these positions. Keim is likely to draft a depth position in the first round of this year’s upcoming draft, and cornerback is right at the top of that list.
With a lot of moving parts this offseason, the Cardinals have 30 total free-agents, just under $7 million projected cap space, and as much of a chance as any 8-8 team to strike gold on draft day, with a pick in every single round.