The Arizona Cardinals started the 2021 season with a 7-0 record. Their first loss came against the Packers in Week 8, when they lost on a Rasul Douglas interception. Arizona finished 4-5 the rest of the way, including embarrassing losses to the Carolina Panthers and Detroit Lions. While the Cardinals did make the playoffs for the first time since 2015, they were quickly defeated by the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams.
The offseason hasn’t even started, and the Cardinals are already running into troubles with Kyler Murray, who’s reportedly unhappy with his situation in Arizona. With that said, Arizona has a big offseason ahead of them to make Murray happy.
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Pending Free Agents
According to Over the Cap, the Cardinals have less than $1 million in cap space, coming just over $800,000. Arizona has 27 upcoming free agents, including a few major names. With so many key free agents and little to no cap space, the Cardinals could look like a much different team in 2022. Steve Keim has dug himself a hole with some of the contracts he’s made, which we’ll get to shortly, but this is a concerning situation for the Cardinals to be in right now, especially with the upcoming need to extend Murray.
The Cardinals don’t seem primed to make an offer to extend their pass-rusher, as they already low-balled him during the 2021 offseason, then there were rumors that Arizona would cut him. With pass-rushers being one of the most important positions in the league, Jones will likely find a new contract coming in at over $20 million per year on the open market. It will ultimately be a surprise if Arizona brings him back.
Arizona signed Conner to a one-year contract late in the free agency period for less than $2 million. Well, he far outplayed that contract, as he had over 1,100 scrimmage yards and had 18 total touchdowns. The duo of he and Chase Edmonds made the offense hum for Arizona, but both are impending free agents, and it is highly unlikely for both to be back. Conner could sign a relatively cheap contract, around $6-7 million per year, and still give the Cardinals what they got last year.
Kirk was finally moved to his slot receiver role this year and, unsurprisingly, posted career-highs in catches and receiving yards. Unfortunately for Arizona, they will likely not have the cap space to match an offer that another team makes on the open market for the 25-year-old receiver. Thankfully, the Cardinals seem to have a backup option in place, as they selected Rondale Moore in the second round of last year’s draft. While Moore was a good slot receiver in college, he struggled to stay healthy and seemed more like a gadget player his first year in Arizona.
Potential Cap Casualties
With less than a million in cap space, the Cardinals are going to restructure, extend, or cut some of their players. With many important players set to become free agents, Arizona would be wise to get this done quickly. Unfortunately, some of the cap casualties listed below would open up other holes on the roster.
D.J. Humphries ($15 Million Saved)
While cutting Humphries would open a massive hole at left tackle, the Cardinals need to think of ways to open up the most cap space possible. The left tackle holds the second-biggest cap hit on the roster behind Deandre Hopkins, coming in earning over $19.3 million against the cap for this upcoming season. Keim gave Humphries a three-year extension in 2020, but he hasn’t lived up to that billing. If the Cardinals opt to release the veteran, there are plenty of better options in free agency, or they could address the need early in the draft.
Justin Pugh ($9.8 Million Saved)
Continuing on the offensive line, Pugh will be making almost $12 million this season, which is the seventh-most on the team. He isn’t the player he once was. While Arizona doesn’t have many options behind him, they could address the interior of the offensive line in free agency with someone who would cost less or add a player in the middle rounds of the draft.
Jordan Hicks ($6.5 Million Saved)
The Cardinals have taken both Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins in the last two drafts. Many thought Hicks would be cut after Collins was drafted, but the rookie didn’t seem ready to get onto the field. Now, Arizona may have no choice but to play their first-round choice from last year due to the amount of money they would save by cutting Hicks. Saving over $6 million and having a player ready for when he leaves allows Arizona to get out of this contract.
Open Market Free Agent Targets
As of right now, the Cardinals have a massive hole at cornerback outside of Byron Murphy. Arizona also needs help at pass-rusher, offensive line, and defensive line, while adding in another receiver wouldn’t be too much to ask for either. With such a low cap number right now, the Cardinals likely won’t get many big-name free agents.
Akiem Hicks, Chicago Bears
Corey Peters is an impending free agent for the Cardinals, and they have needed to look for reinforcements at this position for a while now. They do have a few young players at the position including Zach Allen but adding a veteran that can teach the younger players while giving the Cardinals a defender to clog the run game would be an excellent addition for the Cardinals on the cheap.
Charvarius Ward, Kansas City Chiefs
Outside of Murphy, Arizona desperately needs help at the cornerback spot. Adding a player like Ward would allow the Cardinals to sign a number two corner on a short deal while adding another rookie with an early pick when Ward’s contract expires.
Mark Glowinski, Indianapolis Colts
The offensive line will be a massive weakness if either Humphries or Pugh are released to create cap space. Max Garcia is an impending free agent as well, which opens up a hole at right guard. Glowinski has consistently put up good performances for the Colts, and while they would be smart to re-sign him, they have a cheap option, as well as some younger options behind him. Glowinski would immediately align as a starter at either of the guard spots in 2022 and would be cheaper than some of the other options on the open market.
Previewing the 2022 NFL Draft
The Cardinals are projected to have eight picks in the draft, with their first three selections in the top 100. Unfortunately, they don’t have their fourth-round selection, as that was traded during last year’s draft to move up and take Toy Gowan, who they traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, plus their fifth-round pick this year for Zach Ertz. They will likely get a few compensatory picks in rounds six and seven to combat those two picks lost.
Round 1, Pick 23: Cornerback
As pointed out already, the Cardinals have a big hole at the cornerback spot. In a loaded class, Arizona should look to add another cornerback early. Even with potentially adding a cornerback in free agency, Keim and company should start to look to continue the growth at the position. Some potential fits at this spot would be Trent McDuffie, Roger McCreary, Kaiir Elam, or Kyler Gordon.
Round 2, Pick 55: Edge Rusher
With Jones and Dennis Gardeck as impending free agents, adding a pass-rusher is one of Arizona’s top priorities in the offseason. The second round appears to be a sweet spot for the pass-rushers, as players like Logan Hall, Boye Mafe, Myjai Sanders, Drake Jackson, Arnold Ebiketie, and many others would all be available for the Cardinals.
Round 3, Pick 87: Offensive Tackle
With Humphries a potential cap casualty, and Josh Jones not showing much promise yet, the time has come to think forward about the tackle position. Arizona desperately needs help on the offensive line already, so adding a player like Nicholas Petit-Frere or Abraham Lucas to end off the second day would be a wise move.
Early 2022 Expectations
While the Cardinals made the playoffs last year for the first time in six years, they may have some issues next year returning there. With the number of starters in free agents, paired with the lack of cap space, draft capital, and controversy surrounding the team with Murray potentially wanting a trade, the Cardinals could be in for a rude awakening next year. Keim, Kingsbury, and Michael Bidwell appear to be butting heads, which could get ugly this next year.
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