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3 post-draft veteran free agent targets to solidify Cardinals' roster

Johnny Venerable Avatar
May 9, 2022

With the 2022 NFL Draft now in their rearview mirror, the Arizona Cardinals have begun to reprioritize what’s left of the veteran free-agent market with the hope of bettering their roster.

At this point forward, any additions made by general manager Steve Keim will not impact his precious compensatory picks earned thanks to the departures of Christian Kirk, Chandler Jones and Chase Edmonds. In many ways, the free-agency period is only just beginning for Keim and company.

After a large stretch of inactivity to begin the offseason, the Cardinals has already made some noise in putting some post-draft feelers out to players that could fill vacancies left on the roster. Most recently, it was a visit with free-agent center Billy Price, a former first-rounder, who spent last season with the New York Giants. Price remains an incredibly flawed player, but the Cardinals likely value his starting experience behind Pro Bowler Rodney Hudson. While backup center may not exactly move the needle, the departure of former Cardinal Max Garcia leaves a spot open for Price should the two parties come to an agreement.

If you didn’t have backup center on your post-draft free-agent bingo card for Arizona, you’re not the only one. Nearly three months into the offseason, there is still work to be done to the starting 11 on both sides of the ball for Arizona. Thankfully, following the post-June 1 release of defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, the Cardinals are set to have just over $13 million in cap space to play with.

This, of course, begs the questions as to where the Cardinals should dish out their newly found free-agent dollars with training camp a mere 10 weeks away.

Here are my suggestions….

Akiem Hicks, DT

It’s no secret that the Cardinals once again struck out on finding a capable defensive tackle high during last month’s NFL Draft. That means, for a fourth consecutive offseason, they’ll attempt to bolster their defensive line with a noteworthy free agent.

After spending the last six years of his career in the Windy City, free-agent defensive tackle Akiem Hicks is looking for a new home. While the 32-year-old veteran does have significant mileage on the tires, he still presents a force when rushing opposing quarterbacks (3.5 sacks in 2021). In fact, Hicks’ 2021 Pro Football Focus grade of 72.3 would rank second among all Cardinal defensive linemen only behind J.J. Watt.

Interior pressure is something all NFL teams value. Arizona is no different, which is why it would be wise to invest more upfront, especially when you consider the injury history of both Watt and Zach Allen.

Given that DT Corey Peters has likely spent his final season in Arizona, Hicks would be the obvious choice to replace him while acting as the logical mentor for youngsters Rashard Lawrence and Leki Fotu. His positional versatility would also allow the near 6-foot-5, 320-pound monster the option to move around no matter the scheme.

The bottom line is that the Cardinals remain vulnerable upfront, and the addition of Hicks would go a long way in aiding a front-seven that was pushed around too often last season.

Melvin Ingram, OLB

It’s early May, and the Arizona Cardinals have yet to seriously address the departure of former franchise icon Chandler Jones. While their pass rush remains stable with fellow double-digit sack artist Markus Golden in house, the vacancy left by Jones remains massive when you consider the attention he commanded by opposing teams.

Even with the returning Devon Kennard on a greatly reduced salary, not to mention rookies Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders, Arizona still needs a veteran to supplement Jones’ impact on obvious passing downs.

Enter the 33-year-old Melvin Ingram, who, despite the presence of gaudy statistics, still offers more than a quality punch when applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks. With a robust 79.7 grade via PFF, Ingram is an ideal one-year signing to aid in the slow-play development of both Thomas and Sanders under defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.

This move would mirror that of former Arizona outside linebackers Jonathan Abraham and Dwight Freeney, as both edge rushers were signed post-draft to minimal expectations. Each would go on to dominate the trenches during their inaugural seasons in the desert; something that is not out of the realm of possibility for Ingram.

Say what you want about Joseph as a coordinator, but the man has always been able to generate a pass rush when given quality resources. A partnership with Ingram may be just what the doctored ordered for the Cardinals’ post-Chandler Jones reality.

Will Fuller, WR

After the recent suspension to All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the Arizona Cardinals have some work to do during the early portion of their schedule in order to effectively score points. While the receiver group remains one of the deepest on the team, losing Hopkins for over a third of the season is going to carry massive ramifications. That means Keim must be creative in supplementing the workload currently scheduled to be dished out to the rest of the pass-catching core for the Redbirds.

While Hollywood Brown is likely the biggest benefactor in terms of increased targets, the Cardinals would be foolish to put more of their eggs in the diminishing basket of one A.J. Green. Adding another quality veteran on the outside to complement the speed of Brown is unquestionably the Cardinals’ best route to ensure the passing game does not miss a beat minus DHop.

Will Fuller, Hopkin’s former teammate in Houston, is coming off a disastrous season in Miami in which the former first-rounder played a mere two games while failing to eclipse 30 yards of offense. Couple that with prior health concerns, and you’ve got the ideal reclamation project for an Arizona team looking to add bodies in a temporary world without Hopkins.

Fuller, at his best, was a consistent 600-700 yard receiver in Houston with an upside that could see the speedster nab 16.6 yards per catch. In an offense that would ask very little of the Philadelphia native, his addition would act as a necessary insurance policy should another hit come to the Cardinals’ receiving core.

Fuller may also be tempted by the presence of one Kyler Murray, who undoubtedly carries with him the necessary arm talent to maximize his abilities on the perimeter. Given Green’s age and Hopkins’ current status with the team being dicey at best, Fuller would be wise to insert himself into the picture within Kliff Kingsbury’s offense that could soon have several vacancies.

In today’s pass-happy NFL, where weapons are king, the Cardinals could do far worse than investing more into their already stout receiver room.

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