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Regardless of what you think of Kyler Murray and his finish to the 2021 season with the Arizona Cardinals, it’s worth noting that the third-year quarterback wasn’t working with a full deck.
Following a season-ending injury to All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Murray was left to operate with an often exposed offensive line combined with an increasingly flawed receiving core. Veteran A.J. Green was clearly on his last legs, while pending free agent Christian Kirk was in the midst of yet another late-year disappearing act. Outside of midseason pickup Zach Ertz, the Cardinals offense finished the season starved for playmakers. That’s why the front office should attempt to clean house of the personnel with which Murray has worked during his brief NFL career.
It’s time for the Cardinals to find a new arsenal for Murray to exploit every Sunday.
Soon-to-be second-year receiver Rondale Moore is likely to see a jump in production but he and Hopkins alone are not enough to carry the weight of the passing game. Assuming that the organization is able to bring back Ertz, that still leaves several pass-catching slots up for grabs. With both Green and Kirk almost certain to play elsewhere in 2022, it provides Cardinals GM Steve Keim with an opportunity to hunt for immediate upgrades.
Free agency should offer numerous options for the team to explore, beginning with what appears will be a robust trade market. Pro Bowl talents such as Atlanta’s Calvin Ridley and Cleveland’s Jarvis Landry both appear destined for new homes, but come with lofty price tags that the Cardinals may not be willing to pay. For Arizona, there is the concern with taking on yet another big money receiver to go along with Hopkins’ $20-plus million-dollar salary in 2022.
At the same time, settling for anything less will likely produce results similar to what the Cardinals experienced with the Green this past season. He was an aging pass catcher with some mileage left in the tank, but not enough to make it to the finish line of a strenuous 18-game regular season. That why it makes sense for the Cardinals to roll with what they have until late April, with the opportunity to go both young and cheap via the NFL Draft.
In the meantime, the front office would be wise to bring back late-season sensation Antoine Wesley, who showed more promise than anyone following the injury to Hopkins. His familiarity with Kingsbury’s offense should give him a leg up in the race for the team’s number-three receiver slot heading into OTAs. Wesley also possesses something that few among Arizona’s skilled players currently have: size. He is 6 feet 4, 208 pounds.
If given a full workload next season, Wesley could put up more than respectable numbers, especially as it relates to finding the end zone. The Texas Tech product had three scores in the team’s final three regular season games. For reference, that figure ties the career total for touchdowns by fellow receiver Andy Isabella.
Looking ahead to the running back position, it’s fair to expect Pro Bowler James Conner back on a short-term deal. That means it will be fair game on the departing Chase Edmonds’ touches, most of which could default to ASU product Eno Benjamin. The more likely solution, at least long-term, is for Keim to finally spend a premium pick on a running back via the draft. In nine seasons in charge of personnel, David Johnson (2015) remains Keim’s highest drafted player at the position (86th overall). Additionally, Keim has yet to spend a first-round selection on a skilled player during his tenure as general manager.
If the much-maligned executive can somehow fight the urge to pluck yet another tweener linebacker, perhaps 2022 will be the year that he finds Kyler Murray a touchdown maker in the first round.
Given Keim’s brutal track record, however, it would be wise to temper offensive expectations, which is a shame, considering what the addition of an explosive playmaker could do for both the coach and the quarterback.
Speaking of Murray, his offseason drama could be remedied with an influx of talent on the offensive side of the football. Remember that it was Murray who lobbied for former Oklahoma teammate CeeDee Lamb ahead of the 2020 draft. Yet Keim and the Cardinals opted to go defense again with the selection of Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons. During Murray’s tenure with the team (2019-present), Keim has only selected three offensive players in the first three rounds:
WR Andy Isabella (second round, 2019)
OT Josh Jones (third round, 2020)
WR Rondale Moore (second round, 2021)
That’s not exactly a murderers’ row of offensive weaponry for Murray.
It’s no secret that Keim, along with the entire Cardinals’ scouting department, needs to overhaul the way he operates during the draft. Since Murray was selected first overall in 2019, only six teams have fared worse than the Cardinals in adding talent via the draft (via Pro Football Focus). Perhaps much of what has ailed Keim and his staff has been a philosophy that relates to position rather than the player. Going against conventional wisdom and taking a running back in the first round may garner ridicule but it may also be the safer choice for a GM on the hot seat.
For this Arizona Cardinals team to take the next step in 2022, while building a foundation of success for future seasons, it’s time that Keim finds his young quarterback some help.
It’s time to go on the offensive.
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