The 2020 NFL season was one of two halves for the Arizona Cardinals. They started the year with a 6-3 record over their first nine games, capped off with a game-winning touchdown by DeAndre Hopkins against the Buffalo Bills in Week 10. However, Kyler Murray got hurt the following week, causing the Cardinals to finish 2-5 over their final seven games to end the season with an 8-8 record. Entering the offseason, the Cardinals are in a better cap position than most teams. However, they have several critical decisions to make.
Pending Free Agents
Currently, the Cardinals have $11.8 million in cap space, according to Over the Cap. While the Cardinals have 32 players scheduled to be free agents next month, many of them are replaceable and not core members of the roster. Given that, fans can expect the team to allow most of their free agents to test out the open market.
Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver
The one player who won’t hit the open market is Fitzgerald. He will either retire or re-sign with the Cardinals. Fitzgerald has publicly stated that he is a Cardinal for life and has no interest in playing for another team. If Fitzgerald decides to play in 2021, expect the Cardinals to get a deal done quickly with the future Hall of Famer.
Haason Reddick, Outside Linebacker
A year go at this time, the Cardinals declined the fifth-year option on Reddick’s contract. Then, Reddick had a breakout season in 2020, finishing fourth in the NFL with 12.5 sacks. After declining his fifth-year option, the Cardinals have to determine if his 2020 season was a breakout or a one-year wonder. Don’t be surprised if the Cardinals place the franchise tag on Reddick and see if he can repeat his success in 2021.
Patrick Peterson, Cornerback
Recent reports state that Peterson and the Cardinals have agreed to part ways this offseason. However, Peterson has rebutted those reports. Either way, the Cardinals will likely let Peterson test the open market before offering the soon to be 31 year old a new deal.
Kenyan Drake, Running Back
After trading for Drake at the 2019 trade deadline, the Cardinals placed the transition tag on him. However, his production fell off in 2020, as he averaged 1.2 fewer yards per carry. Furthermore, the Cardinals believe Chase Edmonds is capable of being the starter and will likely let Drake leave in free agency.
Kelvin Beachum, Offensive Tackle
Even though the Cardinals used a 2020 third-round pick on Josh Jones, Beachum started all 16 games at right tackle. He had only six penalties on 1,128 snaps this season. While he will turn 32 years old in June, expect the Cardinals to offer Beachum a new contract as he has experience starting at both tackle spots.
Potential Cap Casualties
The Cardinals have several ways to create cap space. One is by cutting veterans who are no longer worth the cap hit they cost. Another way is by restructuring some players’ contracts to open up cap space. The two most likely players to have their contract restructured are D.J. Humphries and Jordan Phillips. Restructuring both contracts would open up $13.1 million in cap space for Arizona.
Chandler Jones, OLB ($15.5 Million Saved)
Jones is coming off a season-ending biceps injury and is entering the final year of his deal. The Cardinals could lower his cap number by working out an extension but could also decide to trade or release Jones. While that is unlikely, if the Cardinals feel the need to sign Reddick to a long-term deal, the need to keep Jones becomes less critical.
Robert Alford, CB ($7.5 Million Saved)
A year ago, Alford signed a three-year deal worth $22.5 million with the Cardinals. However, Alford suffered a torn Pectoral muscle during an offseason practice and missed the entire 2020 season. Unfortunately, Alford hasn’t played in an NFL game since 2018 with the Falcons. Meanwhile, 2019 second-round pick Byron Murphy has earned a starting spot which means Alford will likely never play a down for the Cardinals.
Maxx Williams, TE ($3 Million Saved)
After spending four years in Baltimore, Williams signed with the Cardinals in 2019. In his two seasons in Arizona, he has a total of 22 catches on 29 targets. Furthermore, his snap percentage dropped by almost 20 percent from 2019 to 2020. The Cardinals have to rethink the tight end position, and Williams isn’t likely to be back with the team next season.
Open Market Free Agent Targets
Depending on how the Cardinals address restructuring deals and releasing veterans, they could become very active in free agency. However, fans shouldn’t expect the Cardinals to hand on several massive contracts this year. Instead, the Cardinals are likely to sign one free agent to a big contract and sign a few bargain deals.
Brandon Scherff, G, Washington Football Team
The offensive line has been a problem for the Cardinals for years. Murray’s ability to extend plays and create outside the pocket has helped but upgrading the offensive line is a must for the Cardinals. Scherff played last season on the franchise tag for Washington and reportedly won’t hit the open market. However, if he does, his first call should come from the Cardinals.
Dalvin Tomlinson, DT, New York Giants
Both Corey Peters and Domata Peko are free agents, leaving the Cardinals without a true nose tackle on their roster. Tomlinson likely will hit the market as the Giants have other players they value re-signing over him. However, adding Tomlinson would be a great addition for the Cardinals as he started every game in his career, totaling seven sacks and 15 tackles for loss over the past two seasons. Putting Tomlinson in the middle of the Cardinals’ 3-4 defense might be the best move the team can make this offseason.
Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
More than likely, David will be back with the Buccaneers next season. However, if he hits the open market, he would be a great replacement for De’Vondre Campbell. David has been a tackling machine so far in his career, finishing with 100 or more in eight of his nine seasons. Adding Davis to pair with Jordan Hicks and Isaiah Simmons would give the Cardinals the best linebacker core in the division.
Jacob Hollister, TE, Seattle Seahawks
Three of the Cardinals’ four tight ends will be free agents next month, while the fourth is Williams. Dan Arnold played well last season but likely receives a better offer on the open market. A cheap replacement would be Hollister, as he never got a chance as the full-time starter in Seattle. Despite starting only eight out of a possible 27 games over the past two seasons, Hollister had 66 catches and six touchdowns. Joining the Cardinals’ offense, Hollister could match those totals in his first year in Arizona.
Mark Ingram, RB, Baltimore Ravens
When the Ravens drafted J.K. Dobbins last season, the writing was on the wall for Ingram. After their elimination from the playoffs, the Ravens released Ingram. Currently, he’s a street free agent and able to sign with a team at any moment. If the Cardinals want a veteran to pair with Edmonds, Ingram would be a cheap option and provide a veteran voice in the locker room.
Previewing the Draft
Last year every mock draft had the Cardinals selecting an offensive tackle with the eighth overall pick. However, they threw the world a curveball by selecting Simmons. While the offensive line needs work, don’t expect the Cardinals to use their top draft picks on the offensive side of the ball and, instead, focus on improving their defense.
Round 1, Pick 16: Cornerback
The only starting cornerback under contract for next season is Murphy. Even if Peterson re-signs, the Cardinals have two other cornerbacks entering free agency. In a division full of talented wide receivers like D.K. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Cooper Kupp, and Robert Woods, the Cardinals can’t have too many talented cornerbacks. A name to keep an eye on is South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn.
Round 2, Pick 49: Outside Linebacker
Depending on how free agency plays out, the need for an outside linebacker could become very critical. Even if Reddick is back on a long-term deal, the position isn’t solved. Jones is entering the final year of his contract, while Devon Kennard could be a cap casualty. After Jones’ suffered his season-ending injury, the Cardinals traded for former starter Markus Golden. However, he is a free agent, and the Cardinals need to add some youth at outside linebacker.
Round 3, Pick 79: Wide Receiver
On paper, adding a wide receiver isn’t a critical need for the Cardinals but expect them to use a middle-round pick on one. Whether Fitzgerald is back next season or not, he will retire at some point. Furthermore, Christian Kirk is entering a contract year, while Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson haven’t turned into consistent contributors. The wide receiver draft class is so deep this year the Cardinals can find a starter in the third round.
Early 2021 Expectations
After their strong start to the 2020 season, the Cardinals believe they are a playoff team in 2021 and maybe even Super Bowl contenders. However, they must improve the defense and offensive line in the offseason. If they don’t, the team will struggle in arguably the toughest division in the league. However, the future is bright in Arizona with Murray and Kliff Kingsbury with the right moves this offseason.