Arizona Cardinals face tricky offseason in regards to re-signing, adding free agents
At some point next month or early March, the NFL and the Players Association will agree on a final number for the 2021 salary cap. The news can’t come fast enough for several teams, including the Cardinals, who have a staggering 27 players set to hit unrestricted free agency.
Finding a way to bring most of them back, in addition to having enough money to sign quality free agents from the outside, was already going to be a difficult ordeal. It could become even more restrictive, however, if it is determined this year’s salary cap will be lowered from $198.2 million to $175 million, as was proposed prior to the start of the 2020 season.
That decision was made because of expected financial losses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced most NFL teams to play in front of nearly-empty or entirely-empty stadiums. The NFL and the NFLPA may consider keeping the cap at around $195 million this year, though, if revenue losses from 2020 can be further absorbed during the next few years.
That could happen with the potential of a return to something normal, especially if the COVID vaccines are distributed effectively across the country and the virus can be controlled or eliminated. The forthcoming new TV contracts with the league will also ease a lot of monetary concerns.
No matter what happens, though, this figures to be a very tricky offseason for the Cardinals and General Manager Steve Keim and Owner Michael Bidwill to navigate. And there is a mountain to maneuver considering the Cardinals are coming off an 8-8 season and they can’t afford any mistakes with how they choose to spend their allotted funds.
“It’s definitely going to be unique,” said cornerback Patrick Peterson, who is set to hit free agency for the first time in his 10-year career with the Cardinals. “Teams are going to have to do a great job of making sure that they’re putting their money in the right place to make sure they’re keeping the key guys that they need to help them win a championship. It’s going to be a difficult offseason for upstairs management and it’s going to come down to guys making some tough decisions.
“We’ll have to see how this offseason is going to play out. We know it’s going to be different. We’ve got a lot of key guys who are possibly going to be free agents, but you’ve also got teams that aren’t going to be able to spend money like they have previously, so it’s going to be very, very interesting and I can’t wait to see what happens.”
Keim wasn’t made available to discuss the offseason, but during a recent appearance on Arizona Sports 98.7-FM, he intimated the Cardinals will be operating under the assumption that the salary cap will be in the $175 million range “and if somehow it changes, that’s icing on the cake for us.”
But are there enough slices available to bring back Peterson and a host of other key players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents such as wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, linebackers Haason Reddick, Markus Golden and De’Vondre Campbell, defensive lineman Corey Peters, running back Kenyan Drake and right tackle Kelvin Beachum?
“Obviously, there are a number of them we’d like to have back,” Keim said.
The most interesting free-agent question that needs to be answered is what will the Cardinals do with Peterson, the eight-time Pro Bowl selection? He is the highest-paid impending free agent, but he turns 31 in July and it’s unlikely the team will pay him anything close to the $14 million he made this past season.
Dre Kirkpatrick, the team’s other starting cornerback, is also set to hit free agency and if the Cardinals let both of them walk, that would likely force them to move nickel cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. to the outside. That’s not something they necessarily wish to do, and there are no guarantees the team can count on veteran corner Robert Alford, who has missed each of the past two seasons to significant injuries.
The Cardinals, who own the 16th overall pick in this year’s draft, could use their first-round selection on a corner and hope they can find a competent and affordable cornerback in free agency. Teams can begin negotiating with free agents on March 17, although they could start talking with Peterson about a new deal right now.
“Everything is going to take care of itself,” Peterson said last month. “I’ve done all I can to present that I would love to be here, but at the end of the day, it’s up to them. We just have to wait and see what the future brings after the season.”
During his postseason news conference with reporters, coach Kliff Kingsbury was asked directly about Peterson and the team’s perceived need to make upgrades to its defensive secondary.
“We’re evaluating everything,” he said. “I love Patrick Peterson. He knows that. We’ll see where that all goes. Every year you’re going to have positional needs that come up that are viewed as more important than others. We’ll address all of that moving forward this offseason.”
If Fitzgerald, 37, returns for an 18th season, it will be interesting to see what the Cardinals are willing to pay him. His annual salary has been $11 million each of the past six years. Negotiations could get tricky. Kingsbury has said he’d love to have Fitzgerald back, but it’s uncertain what Fitzgerald will do.
“It will be a while before anybody knows,” Kingsbury said. “He’s got a lot to think about.”
Things are even more up in the air regarding Reddick and Golden, who stepped in and helped Arizona’s pass rush after the season-ending injury to Chandler Jones, who is under contract for one more season with a base salary of $15.5 million. Reddick could decide to test the market and find he can make a lot more than the $3.4 million he earned in 2020. Golden has professed his desire to remain in Arizona, but if Reddick re-signs, it’ll be curious if the Cardinals keep both.
Drake’s future will be another intriguing situation. He’s rushed for 18 touchdowns in a season and a half for the Cardinals, but his market value is projected to be significantly less than the one-year, $8.48 million deal he signed in 2020. Arizona could choose to go with backup Chase Edmonds and find another running back in the draft, but that’s to be determined.
“He’s been durable and healthy and brings explosiveness to that position,” Kingsbury said of Drake, adding, “We’ll kind of season where that thing plays out.”
Campbell, meanwhile, proved to be a dependable free-agent addition, but the team is expecting Isaiah Simmons to make a second-year jump and be a starting inside linebacker next to Jordan Hicks, who is signed through 2022.
Peters and Beachum are valuable leaders that would seem to warrant new deals, unless the Cardinals decide to go younger – and cheaper – by relying on 2020 rookies Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence and Josh Jones, respectively, at those two positions.
Other notable players set to become unrestricted free agents include right guard J.R. Sweezy, tight end Dan Arnold, kicker Zane Gonzalez, punter Andy Lee, cornerback Kevin Peterson and safeties Chris Banjo and Charles Washington. Key restricted free agents include linebackers Dennis Gardeck and Zeke Turner and wide receiver Trent Sherfield.
Have an opinion on the Arizona Cardinals? Reach McManaman at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac. Listen to him live on Fox Sports 910-AM every Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 on Calling All Sports with Roc and Manuch.
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