Cardinals Murmuration Expands

Nov 15, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals players celebrate the hail mary catch by DeAndre Hopkins in the closing seconds of the game against the Buffalo Bills at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After a lackluster season in 2020, the Arizona Cardinals have entirely shifted their attention to 2021. The Cardinals made headlines before the start of free agency and are continuing to in the first couple of days of free agency. Infusing their roster with veterans at critical positions, the Cardinals are poised to make a playoff run for the first time since 2015. Surrounding Kyler Murray with weapons across the board seems to be their mission, in that case, mission accomplished. Simply put, there is no excuse for Murray in 2021.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

As the song lyrics go, Bang! Bang! Bang! Yes, the Cardinals did precisely that two-weeks before the start of free agency. They landed former Texans DE, J.J. Watt on a two-year $28 million deal, kicking their offseason start with a bang. With Watt’s addition, the Cardinals add a much-needed veteran presence and leadership to an overall young locker room. While his injury history is undoubtedly a concern, at $14 million per year, it is well worth the gamble if Watt can stay healthy for the season’s duration. In 2020 Watt finished the season with a PFF overall grade of 85.4, forced two fumbles, and contributed eight sacks.

Watt brings a significant upgrade to the defensive line and will team up with Chandler Jones to form one of the best edge-rushing duos in the league. Chandler Jones finished the 2019 season with 19 sacks and takes plenty of the offensive line’s attention. At the end of the day, between Watt and Jones, one of them should absolutely feast, depending on who offenses choose to double.

The Cavalry Arrives

After adding Watt, the Cardinals were by no means done. Instead, they shifted their focus to supplying Kyler Murray with weapons for days. Even after adding D-Hop in 2019, the Cardinals weren’t satisfied. Forming a dynamic trio between D-Hop, Christian Kirk, and Larry Fitzgerald, Murray had plenty of options to distribute the ball.

The offensive line, however, did not always hold up their end of the deal. D.J Humphries was elite at the tackle position with an overall grade of 88.3. Their centers and guards, not so much. The starting centers averaged a grade of 52, and their guards produced an average grade of 60. On the other end of the line, Kelvin Beachum held his own. Resulting in the Cardinals re-signing him to a two-year deal. With Beachum’s pass blocking grade of 76.8, the Cardinals are set at both the tackle positions. The Cardinals also have second-year tackle Josh Jones waiting in the wings. If he is ready to contribute, they could slide Beachum to an interior position and solidify another position.

The Cardinals did make a significant upgrade to their line. Moments ago, they traded a third-round pick to the Las Vegas Raiders in exchange for center Rodney Hudson. Another move indicating the Cardinals are going all-in and a move that JJ is certainly happy about (see tweet below). A nine-year veteran in the league, Hudson looks to bring durability and experience to an otherwise weak IOL. In 2020 Hudson finished the season with an overall grade of 73.6. Hudson also only surrendered one sack and committed one penalty.

All in all, Hudson will be a massive upgrade to the IOL. If Josh Jones can contribute this season or if the Cardinals can solidify at least one guard position, this unit could quietly turn into an elite group in 2021. The Cardinals are doing everything they can to keep Murray upright; the pressure (or lack thereof) now lies on Murray getting the job done.

But wait, that’s not all. Even with two significant additions in the trenches, the Cardinals weren’t quite finished. They recently inked AJ Green to a one-year $6 million deal. After six 1,000 yard seasons in Cincy, Green will be taking his talents to the Red Sea, another move Watt appears to approve. The addition of Green could create a top duo in Hopkins and Green. It will also allow head coach Kliff Kingsbury to utilize even more three and four wide receiver sets. However, this might not be possible, considering they already led the league in doing so.

Adding Green does carry some risk, as in 2020, he averaged a career-low 11.1 yards per catch and only found the end zone twice. However, given his quarterback history, it would not be surprising at all to see him put up big numbers once again with Murray the helm. At only $6 million, this is a low-risk, high reward situation that could ultimately push the Cardinals into Super Bowl contenders if the gamble pays off.

Future Outlook and other Moves

The Arizona Cardinals have certainly been active players in acquiring the guys they want. Additionally, they have also re-signed vital role players such as LB Tanner Vallejo, OLB Markus Golden, and punter Andy Lee. All these moves combined signal a team that is going all-in for the 2021 season. After all, they have yet to have a free-agent departure so far. However, that might be changing with Patrick Peterson, Kenyan Drake, and Haason Reddick yet to find homes. 

One free agent to watch will be Larry Fitzgerald. Given that they just signed AJ Green, it seems unlikely Larry Fitz will be re-signed, considering the market he could have. However, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take a hometown discount to remain with the team, given his loyalty to the organization. Where the future Hall of Famer finishes out the remainder of his career will certainly be a story to monitor as the rest of free agency unfolds.