Arizona Cardinals: Kliff & kyler look to take the next step
The Arizona Cardinals performed right around expectations in 2019, achieving a 5-10-1 record. Their talent level was clearly not high enough overall to threaten their high achieving division rivals, but new Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury co-ordinated a dangerous offense built around hugely talented rookie quarterback Kyler Murray. Two key building blocks are in place, but can the Cardinals build on them this offseason?
General Manager: Steve keim
Head Coach: Kliff Kingsbury
In his first season as HC, Kingsbury’s offense did not disappoint. His game planning approach kept opposition defenses perennially off balance and provides hope that if the Cardinals can produce a functional defense, they can follow the 49ers and Rams in turning their franchises around under smart, young, offensive-minded HCs.
Cap Space: $51.5 million
The Cardinals are rather flush with cap space, carrying $51.5m into the offseason. That’s good for thirteenth most in the NFL.
They don’t need to clear additional space, but the Cardinals could seek to move on from cornerback Patrick Peterson. He is heading into the final year of his contract and they may well be better served moving him to a contender for draft pick compensation this season to assist their rebuild. Given Steve Keim must be on a short leash, he is likely to look at avenues to acquire as many draft picks as possible.
David Johnson may be another player the team looks to deal, due to Kenyan Drake’s performances in relief of him. Although Johnson’s cap hit would still be painfully large, the Cardinals have the space to absorb the hit whilst a contender would be able to add Johnson for two seasons at a reasonable cost for a player of his calibre.
Impending Free Agents
Perhaps most concerningly, the Cardinals are currently slated to see offensive tackle D.J. Humphries and centre A.Q. Shipley hit free agency. Whilst neither were studs they were solid enough players who contributed to a unit that actually did a decent job blocking for Murray. The Cardinals may look to bring both back to ensure a modicom of continuity around their quarterback.
Furthermore, 2019 free agent signing Marcus Gilbert (OT), who missed the entire season with a knee injury is also out of contract. He is another player who could and arguably should be brought back to help keep the offense on track to allow the Cardinals to start rebuilding their problematic defense.
Kenyan Drake (RB) was a successful midseason acquisition from the Dolphins for a conditional sixth rounder, but his contract is also expiring. Although the compensation sent to Miami was negligible, you sense that Drake’s performances mean that he’s someone the Cardinals retain in return for moving the aforementioned David Johnson.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cardinals have no pending free agents of note. Rodney Gunter is perhaps the only one worth re-signing. He’s a stout interior linemen who would not cost much, but would be a useful piece if the team could add more talent around him.
Major Need: middle linebacker
I have gone down this avenue because I think the Cardinals should seriously look at bringing back both offensive tackles whose contracts are expiring this season, on short term deals. If they fail to do so, offensive tackle will be the team’s biggest need, for obvious reasons.
However, the Cardinals were extremely poor at middle linebacker this season. Free agent acquisition Jordan Hicks was decent but otherwise the Cardinals’ linebackers were far from serviceable. The Haason Reddick project appears to have backfired with the linebacker unable to gain any familiarity with a defensive scheme since entering the league. The Cardinals desperately need a stud defender at their heart of their defense.
Major Need: Defensive Talent
The Cardinals have several other major needs. The team looks undermanned along the defensive interior, which will only worsen if Rodney Gunter is allowed to leave. Adding a player who can rush the passer and stop the run inside would be huge.
If the Cardinals move on from Patrick Peterson, cornerback will become another need whilst the team requires additional help on the interior of the offensive line and at wide receiver. Chandler Jones is elite, but he could do with another talented, younger player at EDGE rusher opposite him. Jones would be a phenomenal mentor to a young pass rusher.
The reality, sadly for Cardinals fans, is that whilst their offense was exciting this season, personnel issues make it questionable whether they can maintain their impressive 2019 levels on that side of the ball, whilst their defense needs a thorough revamp.