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Taking a bye week pulse of the Cardinals free agents to be

Johnny Venerable Avatar
November 28, 2021

One of the more unfortunate aspects of being an Arizona Cardinal fan, especially late in the year, is that you are typically forced to look past January football in favor of the inevitable changes that will take place in the offseason. Questions are usually abound as to which coaches will be fired and what players will be shown the door. Mid-season mock drafts are typically all the rage in the desert once the temperature drops below 80 degrees.

Yet for the first time in over half a decade, the Arizona Cardinals enter their bye week with championship aspirations. They currently boast a 9-2 record, which includes a ridiculous 6-0 mark on the road. Which means that no one in the organization is currently sweating out their rather robust list of impending free agents.

Not yet, anyway.

As the Arizona Cardinals are in the midst of a historic campaign, this upcoming offseason will likely present a series of difficult decisions as it relates to their bevy of soon-to-be free agents. While the team is currently projected to have somewhere in the neighborhood of $21 million in available cap space, the eventual mega-extension en route to franchise quarterback Kyler Murray figures to muddy up the situation.

Truth be told, the Cardinals and GM Steve Keim were always on borrowed time as it relates to Murray’s modest rookie contract. Like most organizations in his position, Keim wisely made the most of the past three offseasons as it related to having a top quarterback making well below market value. Additions and extensions giving out to the likes of DeAndre Hopkins, Budda Baker and J.J. Watt typically aren’t feasible when paying a signal caller upwards of $40 million dollars per year.

The Arizona Cardinals aggressive approach to adding elite level talent is a large reason the team sits atop the NFC hierarchy eleven games into the season. So while much is left to be determined as it relates to this year, it’s never too early to peruse around the roster in an attempt to analyze who may be staying or going long term.

It’s time to take the pulse of some of the Arizona Cardinals priority free agents entering this offseason.

Chandler Jones

The unquestioned leader in the clubhouse for the team’s most high profile free agent to be, Chandler Jones is once again enjoying another quality season. Pending injury, the former All-Pro is a shoe-in for his seventh double-digit sack campaign, including his fifth in Arizona. While his pressures have been inconsistent to say the least, the soon to be 32-year-old still appears to have many years of quality football ahead of him.

The problem with that, of course, being the guaranteed dollar amount it will likely to take in order to bring back the now Arizona Cardinal franchise leader for sacks. Jones was famously absent for the large majority of Cardinal offseason activities last summer, eventually reporting to training camp in early August. Jones has made it clear that he is aiming for his second mega-contract, be it the Cardinals or someone else.

Jones has been a remarkable addition for the Cardinals but he has far from perfect during the last two season. His run defense remains a liability, while over half of his 2021 sack total came in the team’s season opener against Tennessee. While flashing of greatness still remain, the inconsistencies in Jones’s game make it hard to commit again long-term.

Projected Contract: 3 yrs, $46,676,082

2022 Status – OUT

While the Arizona Cardinals may entertain the idea of franchise tagging Jones, the more reasonable solution is that Keim and company allow the potential Hall of Famer to hit the open market. The Cardinals will gladly take a 2023 comp pick for his services while likely turning their attention to a loaded 2022 NFL Draft that figures to have plenty of pass rushers available. They can also take solace in knowing that Markus Golden and his modest cap hit of just over $2 million dollars will be back next season.

Zach Ertz

After the season ending injury to starter Maxx Williams, it became all too evident that GM Steve Keim needed to make a splash move at the tight end position in order to diversify the team’s passing attack. Enter three-time Pro Bowler Zach Ertz, whom the Cardinals had secretly been coveting since the 2021 offseason. Acquired in exchange for CB Tay Gowan and a fifth-round pick, Ertz’s arrival in Arizona’s offense has been a seamless one. The former Stanford Cardinal still remains an elite red zone threat, while also possessing a second gear in the open field.

Most recently, his rapport with veteran Colt McCoy against Seattle fueled the Cardinals to their upset win over the Seahawks, with Ertz sporting a season high two touchdowns on the afternoon. His presence, both on and off the field, has been invaluable for a Cardinal team desperate for an elite play maker at the position for the first time since Jackie Smith. As the Cardinals prep for postseason football, expect them to lean on #86, who famously won a Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles back in 2018.

Projected Contract: 3 yrs, $21,297,228

2022 Status – IN

Much like the Markus Golden mid-season addition of a year ago, Keim isn’t too keen on dealing away assets for short-term value. Especially when you consider the fact that Ertz has been open and honest about his desire to stay in Arizona long term. Combine that with the fact that his wife, Julie Ertz, is from the area and it makes all the sense in the world to secure a long-term deal with west coast native.

James Conner

After numerous failed experiments, it’s become evident that GM Steve Keim no longer has the appetite for paying big dollars to free agent running backs. Add in the team’s reluctance in taking a rusher high in the NFL Draft, and the addition of veteran James Conner at near the veteran minimum has been a godsend. Conner, who was cast aside by the Pittsburgh Steelers, was initially thought of as a goal line compliment to incumbent starter Chase Edmonds.

Through eleven weeks into the season, however, it’s clear that Conner still possesses much of what made him a Pro Bowl player during his tenure in the Steel City. Leading the NFL with an astounding 13 total touchdowns, Conner has been one of the best bargains of the season. His physical and emotional presence has helped the Cardinal offense transform from finesse to fearsome as Conner is routinely called upon late to finish off opposing defenses.

Despite his pursuit of numerous franchise records, the Cardinals could still find themselves in a precarious position when it comes to retaining Conner at a reasonable price. Regardless of what his year end statistics may look like, the perception of his season may be skewed by the fact that many running backs (see Kenyan Drake) experience career years when paired with Kyler Murray. The veteran is also tagged with a preexisting injury label thanks to a couple banged up years in Pittsburgh.

So what do the Cardinals opt to do?

Projected Contract: 2 yrs, $4,127,103

2022 Status – IN

At the end of the day, the Cardinals will likely be forced to pick between either Conner and Chase Edmonds. Given the fact that Conner’s game (which is largely dictated on power) should age better when compared to the undersized Edmonds, and the choice should be clear. The logical solution long-term will likely be to pair Conner, at relatively low cost, with another mid-round speedster capable of catching the football.

Chase Edmonds

Much like Kenyan Drake last offseason, the status of Chase Edmonds feels like it’s going to be determined by how other clubs view the former fourth-rounder. Even with his sparkling 5.7 yards per carry to begin this season, unlike the aforementioned Drake, Edmonds may be viewed as a complimentary option. Up until this year, the former Fordham product never started more than two games in a single season, losing playing time on multiple occasions thanks to injury.

The Cardinals entered this season staunchly committed in giving Edmonds every opportunity to solidify himself as an every-down back. Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania native is currently on the injured reserve thanks to a high ankle sprain that could sideline him well into December.

Projected Contract: 3 yrs, $15,822,447

2022 Status – OUT

It’s not a question of whether or not the Cardinals would like Edmonds to return, rather the cost analysis when compared to another four years of cheap labor via a fresh-legged college prospect. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury likes having a stable of quality running backs at his disposal. There’s a place in the desert for Edmonds if he’s willing to continue at his current role, with the best guess seeing him bolt for bigger dollars.

Christian Kirk

There’s no disputing that, after numerous disappearing acts during his career, Christian Kirk has been the most consistent receiver on the Cardinals this season. The fourth-year player out of Texas A&M has been greatly aided by a move to the slot, putting up career numbers in the process. His value to the Cardinals this season has been undeniable, filling in admirably for the likes of DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green on numerous occasions.

Yet when you look at the investments made at the receiver position by the organization, it is difficult to envision a scenario in which the ubber-talented Kirk returns next season. While Hopkins remains the highest paid receiver in pro football, rookie Rondale Moore figures to have a more prominent role given his immense ability and lofty draft status. Throw in a sneaky good campaign by former Raven Antoine Wesley, and Kirk’s money is likely to be allocated elsewhere by Keim.

Projected Contracts: 4 yrs, $49,804,412

2022 Status – OUT

Like many others on this list, Christian Kirk is the ultimate luxury for a Cardinal team with their sights set on winning a Super Bowl. The sad reality of the club’s ever dwindling salary cap is that players like Kirk will be set free to an open market that could see a competing organization prepared to pay the former second-rounder upwards of $15 million per season.

Kirk has been a quality pick for Arizona, with the unfortunate reality for the Redbirds being that his best football is indeed ahead of him.

The Cardinals just won’t be able to afford it.

A.J. Green

Frequently considered an afterthought by many who cover the league, Green’s ascension back into respectability has been one of the better stories this season. Outside of his Green Bay blunder, the veteran has been the perfect compliment to All Pro DeAndre Hopkins, frequently taking advantage of single coverage on the outside. He has also been much more physical with the ball in his hands, as #18 is routinely seen dragging opposing DBs toward the goal line.

Depending on how the season ends, Green may opt to remain in Arizona given his comfort level with both quarterback Kyler Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury. The veteran pass catcher had competing offers last offseason, but opted for Arizona in large part to the presence of fellow standout DeAndre Hopkins.

Projected Contracts: 4 yrs, $27,695,403

2022 Status – OUT

On the books this season for a mere $3.5 million, it is fair to wonder if Green may again venture out into the open market that suddenly won’t be hampered by a pandemic salary cap. It also should be noted that Green has thoroughly outperformed many of his 2021 free agent contemporaries in the likes of Curtis Samuel, Will Fuller, and Corey Davis. This renewed league-wide confidence in the former Georgia Bulldog will likely end his tenure in the desert.

Rapid Fire

Colt McCoy – Barring the unforeseen, given his relationship with head coach Kliff Kingsbury, it would be shocking to see McCoy not finish his career with the Arizona Cardinals.

2022 Status – IN

Robert Alford – Assuming that the Cardinals can postpone Vance Joseph’s inevitable return as a NFL head coach, Alford appears worth investing in for another season.

2022 Status – IN

Corey Peters -At some point, the Cardinals are going to have to hit on a high-end draft pick on the defensive line as opposed to relying on aging vets.

2022 Status – OUT

Andy Lee -Until the team can find someone better, it would be foolish for him not to return.

2022 Status – IN

Maxx Williams – While much of it will depend on his rehab, there is interest by both parties in making it happen.

2022 Status – IN

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