The Arizona Cardinals finished the 2023-24 season as the best 4-13 team in the league! Congratulations! You now have the fourth pick in the NFL draft. To be fair, the Cardinals were without their starting quarterback, Kyler Murry for half of the season, AND they were tied with the New England Patriots for the ninth most difficult schedule. They can also give themselves a ribbon (like a home-made “participation” type ribbon) that says that they beat three playoff teams last year by defeating the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Philadelphia Eagles. Who cares if none of those teams made it past the Wild Card Round, right? Arizona is the only team that finished in the bottom five teams that is keeping their current head coach! Way to go, Jonathan Gannon! He’ll be celebrating his one-year anniversary as the Cardinals HC on Valentine’s Day this year. How sweet. The Cardinals had one Pro-Bowler this year with Free Safety, Budda Baker, who also just happens to be a Free Agent (with a Club Option). Outside of the ONLY Cardinal who was selected to the Pro Bowl this year, let’s see who else they should try to re-sign for the upcoming season!
It’s hard to gauge the Arizona Cardinals offense seeing as how they were on the quarterback carousel until Kyler Murray returned. Running Back, James Connor did an admirable job rushing for over a thousand yards, over five yards per carry, and running for seven TDs in 13 games. The Cardinals offense as a whole, ended the season fourth in rushing yards. However, it didn’t seem like anyone knew how to THROW the ball, being 26th in passing yards, which led to them to a 24th place finish in scoring and 19th in total yards. There are only two “Must Re-Sign” players on this offense. First is Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Hollywood is a high end WR2 at best who caught 51 passes for 574 yards (73rd) for 4 TDs in 13 games before injuring his heel. I wouldn’t give him any more than four years for $40M, but only because you don’t have many other current options. Second is Left Guard, Trystan Colon who’s only 26 years old, and was a big part for why they were so good running the ball. I would lock him down to a four-year deal similar to Hollywood.
The rest of the Cardinals Free Agents on offense can go UNLESS, of course, they want to re-sign for a backup deal. There aren’t too many other guys either; mostly just backup interior linemen. Backup Center, Pat Elfein was placed on the IR, and he’ll start next season at 30 years old. Guards Elijah Wilkinson, Carter O’Donnell, and Keith Ismael are all expendable as well. Wide Receiver Greg Dortch who is primarily a kick and punt returner, will likely not be missed, except by quarterbacks who constantly overthrow his 5’7” frame.
There are about a dozen players on the Cardinals defense who will be hitting free agency this year, which might be the only thing they’ve hit all year! It may be just as easy to let most of these guys walk away as well. Arizona was dead-last in rushing yards allowed, 31st in points allowed, 30th in sacks, 28th in takeaways, and 25th in total yards allowed. Ouch. Their defensive backs were the only “bright spot” as they were 21st in interceptions, and 13th in passing yards allowed. However, that could also be because other teams were too busy running all over them. There are only three “Must Keep” players from this defense. Most obvious is Safety Budda Baker. There is a Club Option on Budda Baker for $14.75M, that the Cardinals should try to negotiate into a nice four or five-year package. I don’t think it’s likely that Baker will stay, but the Cards should exhaust all options before trying to trade him if they can’t re-sign him long-term. I would try to re-sign Middle Linebacker Krys Barnes (26) too, in order to backup Kyzir White, who’s coming off a season-ending biceps injury. Arizona should be able to re-sign Barnes on a minimal contract as well. Finally, I would re-sign Defensive Tackle, Leki Fotu, who should come reasonably priced after missing a few games last year.
This defense has got to get better up-front, which is why I would opt to let some of the free agents go, and search for some more talented players. You can’t be in the bottom five in several key defensive categories and NOT expect some kind of shake-up. That’s why I would let defensive linemen L.J. Collier and Carlos Watkins walk. Neither one has really been that healthy since the 2020 season anyway. Linebackers Ezekiel Turner, Jesse Luketa and Josh Woods can all be shown the exit door as well. I was a little torn on Turner because he has been a solid backup during his time with the Cards, but practically this entire defense is made up of backups, so you need to get more high-profile guys to raise the bar. Cornerback Antonio Hamilton Sr is going to be 31 years old at the start of next season, and his production of 40 tackles, 1 INT and 11 passes defended this year was way below average for a CB1. Bobby Price (another CB) did next to nothing in his first year with Arizona as well.
Special Teams and More
This might be the only time this offseason that I’m emphatic about a team keeping a Punter! Blake Gillikin is 26 years old, and he averaged over 50 yards per punt last season, with a long of 77 yards! I believe that he’s one of these Punters that might play into his 40’s! I wouldn’t re-sign Long Snapper, Aaron Brewer though in hopes that LS, Matt Hembrough can return healthy from his back injury.
The focus for Arizona this offseason needs to be on signing new (better!) talent that elevates the rest of the team. I’ll be honest, I don’t think Jonathan Gannon is going to have a second anniversary with the Cardinals, because I don’t think they’ll do any better than fourth in their division…again. The 49ers are…well, the 49ers. You better believe that Seattle is going to be a playoff team next year with Mike McDonald as their new Head Coach too. For now, the Rams still have a powerful offense with Stafford, Willilams, Kupp, Nacua… The Cards have an aging running back with James Connor (30), no solid WR1 talent, and a bust for a QB in Kyler Murray. IF Gannon makes it through the entire season next year, I’d be surprised…UNLESS they do an A+ job in free agency AND the draft. Thanks for the “read” everyone!