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The Cardinals' top three internal priorities ahead of free agency

Johnny Venerable Avatar
March 8, 2022

With the NFL’s new league year just one week away (and a preamble of a legal tampering period two days prior) all 32 teams are finalizing their plans for free agency.

It began this past Monday with several teams opting to franchise tag cornerstone players such as Bengals safety Jessie Bates and Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown. In addition, teams are also making it a priority to trim their rosters in an attempt to refine their salary cap. It was reported and later confirmed that the 2022 cap will be just north of $208 million, which is a nearly $20 million increase from last season.

Amidst the league chatter, and seemingly for the first time this offseason, the Arizona Cardinals are relatively quiet. There is no logical candidate for the franchise tag, and general manager Steve Keim appears to be slow-playing several of his eventual cap casualties. At the writing of this article, the Cardinals currently sit just over $2,000 above the cap which isn’t even enough to convince this lowly beat writer to suit up for the squad.

Even with the out-of-left-field extensions for both Keim and coach Kliff Kingsbury, the Cardinals still have plenty of work to do in the coming days ahead of NFL free agency.

Designate Jordan Phillips, Devon Kennard as post-June 1 releases

The Cardinals need some breathing room if they are going to upgrade their roster beginning next week. That starts with the designated release of two of Keim’s biggest free-agent whiffs: defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and outside linebacker Devon Kennard. Both signed in the offseason of 2020, but neither defensive splurge has shown nearly enough during their tenure in the desert.

Phillips, a borderline Pro Bowler as a Bill, has missed 15 games in the past two seasons while showing a fraction of the pass rush that was on display for Buffalo. On the flip side, Kennard has at least managed to stay healthy but was quickly rushed to the bench after the 2020 midseason acquisition of Markus Golden. Kennard remains an NFL caliber player but not at his previous dollar amount.

Releasing both players after June 1 would net the Cardinals nearly $17 million in cap space (via OverTheCap.com). Even with both cut candidates representing options at current positions of need for Arizona, the Cardinals can opt to do better rather than sticking with the status quo. The reality is that Kennard isn’t a real threat to get after opposing quarterbacks, while Phillips can’t be counted on to stay healthy. Reallocating those funds to a productive player like Haason Reddick or even Amari Cooper would completely transform the makeup of this team.

For that to happen, Keim and the Cardinals need to cut their losses and move on.

Shop Andy Isabella

As crazy as it might sound, other teams were calling the Cardinals midseason to inquire about receiver Andy Isabella. Fearing an injury to their receiving corps, the Cardinals chose to keep Isabella for the rest of the season even though he was mostly inactive on Sundays. It appears the Cardinals are finally ready to admit their mistake on the UMass product.

Per numerous sources, the team has given Isabella the option to seek a trade. Considering that the Cardinals are down two starting receivers ahead of free agency in A.J. Green and Christian Kirk, allowing Isabella a potential out says everything about his current status with the organization. The fact of the matter is that, no matter what happens now, the undersized receiver will always be synonymous with disappointment amongst Arizona Cardinals fans.

There was disappointment that the team did not end up with Ole Miss pass catcher D.K. Metcalf, who was selected just two picks after Arizona drafted Isabella. Throw in the fact that Isabella was essentially acquired for the return on bust quarterback Josh Rosen, and it was always going to be an uphill climb for the former Senior Bowl standout. The good news is that it appears other teams remain interested in trading for Isabella given both his age (25) and his clean bill of health. Should the Cardinals be able to trade him, it would save the team just over $1.5 million against the cap this season.

As for the return, do not expect anything more than a depth player or a throw-away day-three pick. An Isabella trade will not be about finessing another club. Rather, it will be a move designed to get him off of Arizona’s books for 2022.

Extend Kyler Murray

At the current rate both the Cardinals and quarterback Kyler Murray are going, this entire saga screams ugly holdout unless a deal can be struck. Murray has made it clear on numerous occasions that he deserves to be extended. Meanwhile, the Cardinals appear to be holding firm on that, while they do “love” their young quarterback, they won’t be hamstrung in negotiations.

Unlike past negotiations that inevitably went sideways with Chandler Jones and Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals can’t adequately function without Kyler Murray. Any absence of their franchise signal caller, whether it be from OTAs or otherwise, would act as a huge distraction for a team attempting to tread water in the ultra-competitive NFC West. The Cardinals need Murray engaged and fully primed for a fourth-year leap, otherwise they’re looking at a disastrous 2022 campaign months before the first game kicks off.

Despite their better judgement, they need to be actively negotiating with Murray’s camp. That does not mean bow to his every command, which is supposedly part of why the team has reached this point, but set him up with a sizable amount that allows the quarterback the freedom that he needs to continue his electric style of play. For the Cardinals to remain a threat in the NFC, Murray needs full confidence in his ability to run with the football. If no contract is given this offseason, expect both a lengthy holdout and a mostly reserved Murray on the field (if it gets to that point).

A reasonable landing spot, at least to this writer, is to aim somewhere in the neighborhood of the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott who managed roughly $40 million per season. If the club finagles the deal, they can prorate a large portion of those funds into a signing bonus, which could actually reduce Murray’s $10 million dollar cap hit by $2 million for this season. An extension for Murray would also allow owner Michael Bidwill and the team a chance to put this relatively ugly public dispute behind them and focus on the big picture for 2022.

Winning a Super Bowl.

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