The most unique draft ever, the 2020 NFL Draft, has now concluded and it is time to look back at what has happened over the last 2 months in free agency and the draft. The Arizona Cardinals entered the 2020 offseason with optimism that they could build a team around reigning offensive rookie of the year, Kyler Murray and their moves surely didn’t disappoint. Lets start with the free agency period.
The Cardinals started the new league year off with a bang by receiving Deandre Hopkins and a 4th round pick from the Texans for a 2nd round pick (Ross Blacklock), David Johnson, and a 2021 4th round pick. Deandre Hopkins’ relationship with Houston Texans GM and Head Coach Bill O’Brien had deteriorated to a point where he claims that he wanted out and therefore asked for a pay raise. Hopkins is an area code receiver who did wonders for his former quarterback Deshaun Watson in his first 3 years in the league. He will be the ultimate security blanket for Kyler Murray for at least the next 4 years. He provides an offense that could not generate separation last year with a top 5 receiver who knows how to shake open and he also provides Kliff Kingsbury the option to run 10 personnel with much more success.
After the Hopkins deal, the Cardinals made it a focus to add defensive talent to a front seven that was one of the worst in the NFL last year. Jordan Phillips is a pass-rushing interior defensive lineman who can play DE in a 3-4 scheme. He provides some much needed interior pocket push that was lacking last year. He is set to start alongside Corey Peters and Zach Allen on the interior defensive line and this should lead to an improvement in play from last year as long as he keeps his 2019 form. With the Buffalo Bills in 2019, Phillips racked up 9.5 sacks in a career year under Bills head coach Sean Mcdermott. There is lots to like but there are two points of concern that come with Phillips. Phillips’ contract is backloaded just like other players Steve Keim signed on defense and that means that the cap room the Cardinals have next year is going to diminish by a slight margin. Another red flag is Phillips’ inability to produce during his stint in Miami and maybe his production will diminish again in Arizona.
Kennard was released during free agency by the Detroit Lions and that came to some as a surprise but the Cardinals did not hesitate to add the Arizona native to the roster. Kennard was a hybrid linebacker and team captain in Detroit’s defense after being drafted by the New York Giants in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL draft. Kennard produced 7 sacks in each of the last 2 seasons and could be poised for a breakout year when only asked to rush the passer in Arizona. The concerns I have him are that I see him as a possible system’s fit in Detroit as being a hybrid linebacker produced his best seasons. Kennard’s numbers on the New York Giants were largely unimpressive in New York and like Phillips, that must be pointed out. His contract is also backloaded as Steve Keim attempted to get as many impact players as he could with very limited cap space and that could hurt in the long run. I view this pick up as less concerning than Phillips because he brings leadership to the defense and also doesn’t have a 10 million a year contract
Campbell was a tackle machine in 2019 with the Atlanta Falcons and signed a 1 year deal with the Arizona Cardinals this offseason to man the 2nd inside linebacker spot next to Jordan Hicks. He came with the whopping price tag of 7.5 million and has a backloaded contract which technically makes it a 4-year deal. Campbell was struggled to keep his own in coverage against running backs and tight ends last year but is very physical in the run game. The addition of Campbell might look worse after the draft because of the fact that Isaiah Simmons slipped to the Cardinals and is likely the future at the spot.
Notables Resigned: Marcus Gilbert, Justin Murray, Zane Gonzalez, Chris Banjo, Kenyan Drake, DJ Foster, Larry Fitzgerald, D.J. Humphries
Simmons unexpectedly fell to 8 after the Carolina Panthers took Derrick Brown and all the talk about an offensive tackle went out the window in one moment. Simmons is a versatile defensive piece that played 100+ snaps at 6 different positions at Clemson. Simmons can rush the passer, tackle in open space, and most importantly for the Cardinals, guard tight ends. Simmons is the ultimate chess piece for a defensive coordinator as he can be put anywhere and the quarterback has to look for him on every down. Some say that Simmons isn’t physical enough but his prowess in coverage, open field tackling, and pass rush make him hard to pass up on.
Josh Jones took an unexpected fall in the draft after being mocked in the late first round in many predictions. Jones is familiar with the scheme that Kliff Kingsbury runs as he played in a similar Big 12 offense. Jones is also familiar with blocking for a mobile quarterback like Kyler Murray which makes him an ideal fit for the Cardinals. Because the Cardinals retained Justin Murray and Marcus Gilbert, there will be no pressure for Jones to start immediately and he should be able to make the transition to right tackle by year 2. In the 3rd round, Jones provides immense value even with players such as Zach Baun on the board. Take note that Jones’ handwork is sloppy at times and his footwork needs refinement in pass protection
Fotu is a large presence on that interior defensive line and provides the Cardinals with a player who takes up space and swallows running plays when given the opportunity. He does not provide much as a pass rusher as he only had 2 sacks last year at Utah but he gives the Cardinals at the minimum a nice rotational piece in year one.
Lawrence was a team captain for the national champion LSU Tigers in 2019 and is known to be a strong, persevering player. He fights through injury and provides some interior pass rush. One thing that is rather impressive about him that i find is his ability to get his hands up when he knows he is not going to get to the quarterback. In the game against Alabama, Lawrence showed his ability to get his hands up by swatting down 2 of Tua’s passes at the line of scrimmage. Lawrence played injured in 2019 and put up better numbers in 2018 but his grit and toughness seems to be what attracted the Cardinals toward him. Like Fotu, he provides a rotational defensive line player that will see the field on obvious passing situations.
Weaver’s production for the Cal Bears over his 4 years at the university in terms of tackles is rather insane but he is very limited as a coverage linebacker. Weaver is relentless in chasing down running backs and is a physical tackler at the point of contact. The Cardinals already have a linebacker in De’Vondre Campbell that compares to Weaver but with Campbell presumably gone after this upcoming season, Weaver could be ready to take on the run-stopping linebacker role for Vance Joseph’s defense come 2021. Weaver is too one dimensional to expect anything from right away and will likely not see the field at all year one
Benjamin became the first ASU player that the Arizona Cardinals have drafted since the late and legendary Pat Tillman. Benjamin is a physical runner who can break tackles at the second level but lacks the speed to get further up the field. Benjamin also proved to be a reliable pass catcher for Jaydon Daniels this last season but should not be expected to be used in the same role in Arizona. One could project Benjamin to be used as a goal line and short yardage back behind Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds. Nevertheless, the Benjamin pick is great value in the 7th round.
The Cardinals addressed multiple needs 2 months into the new league year and have added firepower on both offense and defense. Most needs were addressed apart from CB and C but there are some players there that can certainly hold down the spot for 1 more year. Giving up future cap space to sign players right now is somewhat questionable but they indicate that Steve Keim and the Arizona Cardinals are doing whatever they can to get impact players right away and maximize on Kyler Murray’s rookie deal. With an ascending quarterback and weapons added, the Cardinals are certainly a team to look out for over next season.