Arizona Cardinals

Evaluating Arizona Cardinals’ Free Agency Needs

  • arizona cardinals
  • chandler jones
  • NFL
  • nfl free agency
By Alexander Mann February 28, 2020 0 Comment
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The NFL Combine has now come and gone. For the casual fans among us, it now becomes a daily check of mock drafts, and the inevitable bad news surrounding a prospect or two. However, we have one thing to cushion the two-month wait until the Draft. Free Agency.

For the Arizona Cardinals, the 2019 season was both positive and a bit of a letdown. The defensive unit was supposed to help the offense out to start the season, but poor performance and the loss of Patrick Peterson to suspension really hurt a lot of development on that side of the ball. Offensively, the Cardinals struggled out of the gate. And that is to be expected with a rookie head coach and quarterback.

In order for the team to continue to develop, they have several positions that need to be addressed. We’ll examine two of the bigger needs to address, and whether the team should pursue that in free agency, or wait until the April draft.

Evaluating Arizona Cardinals’ Free Agency Needs

Edge Rusher Opposite of Chandler Jones

Chandler Jones finished his 2019 season with a fantastic sack total of 19. That was good for second in the league, behind Shaq Barrett and his 19.5. Since coming to the desert via a trade with New England, Chandler has amassed a whopping 60 sacks in four years, topping his 36 in New England. To go with his 19 sacks, he picked up eight force fumbles, three recoveries, and 11 tackles in the backfield.

While Jones is statistically dominating, there is a clock slowly ticking in the background. His age. Jones turned 30-years young on February 27th. While Arizona still has sometime before he ultimately begins to decline, it’s time for the team to start looking.

Free agency is filled with top-end talent, headlined by Shaq Barrett. At 27-years old, the Cardinals could pursue, and pay top money for a guy who had his best statistical season since entering the league. He does have a history with Vance Joseph, but only saw more than 50% of the defensive snaps once under him.

After Barrett, the next best candidate is Dante Fowler. Fowler is only 26, and coming off a 12-sack season. He too will cost a pretty penny, but there’s a difference between a 26-year old with a stronger track record.

Fan-favorite Markus Golden is also scheduled to hit free agency. Golden is 29, and looking for a long-term deal. The Cardinals had their chance last season, but despite Golden reportedly giving Arizona every available chance, was allowed to walk after the arrival of Terrell Suggs.

I am subscribed to the idea of addressing the position in the draft. The Cardinals likely don’t use their eighth overall selection on an edge rusher, despite interest in AJ Epenesa and K’Lavon Chaisson. But with a deep defensive class, the Cardinals have the opportunity to develop a day two pick to be the successor the Jones. For the time being, the team could address the role opposite of Jones with an older, cheaper veteran, who can give the team a 16-game schedule and another two or three years.

Future Cornerback Duo

The saga of Patrick Peterson has been well documented in the last few seasons. From requesting a trade during a tumultuous 2018 season to backing off that offseason. From that to a “Snakes in the Grass” Instagram picture shortly after being suspended for PED’s, to Steve Keim recently saying they have been in extension talks with Peterson’s camp. There has certainly been a lot of drama surrounding the Cardinals lockdown corner.

Peterson is in a similar dilemma as Jones, however. He turns 30 before the start of the new season, and while a corner’s career does last longer than a man in the trenches, the decline is getting closer.

Opposite of Peterson is Robert Alford. Alford missed his first season in the desert thanks to a broken leg late in training camp work. Alford turns 32 late in the season. He has two-year’s left on his three-year deal, but again, the decline is coming sooner than later.

With both of the Cardinals opening day starters on the wrong side of 30, the team needs to start looking at their future options. They started that last year by drafting Byron Murphy in the second round of the draft. He had his ups and downs as a rookie corner, but you saw what he could become at times. I don’t think he’s the heir apparent to Peterson, leaving the door open for another player.

Free agency does not offer much and would be unwise, as you have your top two corners under contract still. Adding a free agent perhaps hurts Byron’s development even.

The draft will feature two likely first-round corners. Jeffrey Okudah and Kristian Fulton. There have been rumblings about a possible Okudah slide, and he would be my top option at eight if there is indeed any chance. Fulton intrigues me, though I am not as high on him as most, and would not use the number eight pick on him. A trade back would be fine, but there are better options at eight.

The rest of the draft class at the cornerback position are day two picks who would benefit from learning from an Alford and Peterson duo. They likely won’t be asked to contribute much early, as long as everyone stays healthy.

Important Stretch

Beyond the regular season, and of course the postseason when the Cardinals make it, this three-month stretch is my favorite portion of the NFL. With rumors circulating, and everyone trying to figure out if there’s truly a fire where the smoke is, it’s easy to find excitement.

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