2017 NFL Offseason: Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals (Last Year: 7-8-1)

2017 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
G Tony Bergstrom, DE/OLB Jarvis Jones, LB Karlos Dansby, S Antoine Bethea, K Phil Dawson.
Early Draft Picks:
LB Haason Reddick, S Budda Baker, WR Chad Williams, G Dorian Johnson, OT Will Holden, RB T.J. Logan. Cardinals Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
WR Jaron Brown, TE Darren Fells, G Evan Mathis, G Earl Watford, DE/DT Calais Campbell, DE/OLB Alex Okafor, ILB Kevin Minter, CB Marcus Cooper, S Tony Jefferson, S D.J. Swearinger, K Chandler Catanzaro.

2017 Arizona Cardinals Offense:
Carson Palmer threw for 4,233 yards, 26 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions last season. Those would ordinarily be seen as quality figures, but Palmer clearly wasn’t himself. His completion percentage (61.0) was his worst since 2011, while his YPA (7.1) was his lowest since 2012. Palmer appeared to lose zip on his passes, which was evident all the way back in the preseason, when he struggled mightily and was outplayed by Matt Barkley. Ian Rapoport reported that Palmer was tired and worn down when the Arizona quarterback was considering retirement this spring. Palmer turns 38 right after Christmas, so he could be even worse in 2017.

With Palmer likely to regress, the Cardinals will have to lean on David Johnson more than ever. One of the top running backs in the NFL, Johnson eclipsed 2,000 total yards in his sophomore campaign. He also caught 80 passes and scored 20 touchdowns. What’s amazing is that Johnson did all of this despite rushing behind an injury-ravaged offensive line. That would explain why his yards-per-carry average was just 4.2.

Johnson’s blocking almost certainly will be better by default this upcoming year, but how good will it be, exactly? Well, the Cardinals lost stellar guard Evan Mathis to retirement, so the upside isn’t nearly as high. The only viable replacement Arizona found for Mathis was fourth-round pick Dorian Johnson. The Pittsburgh product has good talent, but was seen as a major risk because of a liver problem. The Cardinals don’t really have a viable starter outside of Johnson, potentially, so the rookie may have to start along with Mike Iupati and A.Q. Shipley in the interior. Shipley is a solid center, while Iupati will be looking to rebound from a down 2016 campaign, which could be attributed to a bum ankle he persevered through.

Arizona’s tackle situation isn’t much brighter, though it’s much more interesting. The two tackles from last year, Jared Veldheer and D.J. Humphries, are returning for another season, but they’re actually switching positions. Humphries will be stationed on the blind side, which is a curious decision to say the least because the former first-rounder hasn’t performed well as a pro yet. He didn’t even suit up as a rookie, and he was utterly awful in pass protection this past season. Veldheer is a better pass protector, so this move is a very strange one.

The offensive line wasn’t the only group in the scoring unit that was banged up last year. John Brown was in and out of the lineup because of a sickle-cell issue, and he was ineffective whenever he was on the field. Brown had a cyst removed from his spine in January, so perhaps that will help him rebound. The Cardinals will need that to happen, as they don’t have much else at receiver outside of the aging Larry Fitzgerald and one-dimensional J.J. Nelson. Fitzgerald, like Palmer, was pondering retirement this offseason, but opted to return for another year. Fitzgerald, 34 in August, had just one 100-yard performance in 2016, and that was against the 49ers, so that hardly counts. Nelson, meanwhile, can burn opponents with his speed, but is just an inconsistent deep threat.

2017 Arizona Cardinals Defense:
The Cardinals have been a defensive juggernaut recently, ranking in the top six in yards allowed three times in the past four years. They still have some dynamic weapons on their stop unit, but the defense as a whole could take a bit of a step backward this season because of some key departures.

Arizona’s primary loss was defensive end Calais Campbell, who signed with the Jaguars this spring. Campbell had been one of the top five-techniques in the NFL this decade, and without him, the Cardinals don’t have anyone proven on the defensive line who can put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The word “proven” is key, as Arizona has 2016 first-round selection Robert Nkemdiche waiting in the wings. However, Nkemdiche played just five games as a rookie, as Bruce Arians called out his work ethic. This is hardly a surprise, as Nkemdiche entered the league with some serious character flaws.

If Nkemdiche makes it into the starting lineup, he’ll start next to nose tackle Corey Peters, who is the only viable player on the defensive line. Peters is solid at stopping the run, but doesn’t provide much else. Arizona is lacking talent elsewhere up front.

The second big departure was safety Tony Jefferson, who had an exceptional 2016 campaign. Jefferson was one of the top safeties in the NFL last season, so he’ll be missed. The Cardinals signed Antoine Bethea and spent a second-round selection on Budda Baker to compensate, but unless Baker can have a terrific rookie campaign, the Cardinals will have a drop-off at the position. The good news for Arizona, however, is that Tyrann Mathieu should be better. Mathieu didn’t look like the same player last year because he tore his ACL late in 2015. Now that he’s more than a year removed from the injury, he can be a dominant player once again.

Rounding out the secondary is Patrick Peterson, and, well, Patrick Peterson. That’s about it for the Cardinals at cornerback. Peterson is one of the top players at his position, but the Cardinals have lacked a viable second cornerback ever since Antonio Cromartie departed. Various players were tried across from Peterson in 2016, but they all failed. Arizona shockingly did not address this situation in free agency or the draft, so it’s a position opposing passing offenses will attack. Tyvon Branch, meanwhile, is a solid nickel when he’s on the field, but considering that he has played just 27 of 64 possible games in the past four years, the Cardinals can’t count on him being healthy.

There was a third important loss this offseason, as Kevin Minter signed with the Bengals. The former second-rounder had been a bust, but finally performed well in 2016. This hole has the greatest chance to be filled adequately, as the No. 13 overall pick was used on the highly athletic Haason Reddick. The former Temple walk-on figures to push the decrepit Karlos Dansby for the right to start next to the solid Deone Bucannon.

Meanwhile, the edge rush is at least still intact. With Jefferson gone, this is the strength of Arizona’s defense, as Chandler Jones has recorded 23.5 sacks over the past two seasons. With Jones thriving, teams couldn’t pay as much attention to Markus Golden, who recorded 12.5 sacks across from Jones. Jarvis Jones, a former first-round pick, was signed to provide depth.

2017 Arizona Cardinals Schedule and Intangibles:
Something that was apparent during Arizona’s postseason run in 2008 was the home-field advantage the team unceremoniously established. Including the playoffs, the Cardinals are 51-24-1 as hosts the past seven years. They were 4-3-1 in 2016, which isn’t impressive, but was better than their road record of 3-5.

Losing Ted Ginn two offseasons ago hurt the Cardinals in terms of special teams. They’ve been outgained on both punts and kickoff returns as a result ever since.

Chandler Catanzaro missed too many kicks for Bruce Arians’ liking. He was replaced by Phil Dawson, who can still be effective despite his creaky 42-year-old legs. Dawson was 42-of-48 with the 49ers over the past two seasons.

Drew Butler finished dead last in terms of net punting average in 2016. Ryan Quigley wasn’t much better. They’re both gone, so someone named Matt Wile will be punting instead.

Arizona has four easy games versus the 49ers and Rams. The Jaguars also provide an easy matchup, but that’s about it. The rest of the schedule isn’t horrible, but it isn’t easy either.

2017 Arizona Cardinals Rookies:
Go here for the Cardinals Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2017 Arizona Cardinals Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2017 Arizona Cardinals Analysis: The Cardinals are one of the most overrated teams in the NFL. They can be found in the top 10, or even the top five of some NFL Power Rankings, yet they have a regressing quarterback, an offensive line and receiving corps with major question marks, and a defense that saw three key pieces depart. The Cardinals will have some free wins against the 49ers and Rams, but even those may not save them from having a losing record.

Projection: 8-8 (2nd in NFC West)

2016 Projection: 13-3. 2016 Actual Result: 7-8-1.

NFL Draft Team Grade: B+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2017 NFL Draft: The scuttlebutt is that the Cardinals plan on using this selection to find a replacement for Carson Palmer. The Cardinals are usually tight-lipped about their plans, so perhaps they’ll wait on a signal-caller. That seems the better option, as Arizona needs to find some defensive answers to upgrade holes vacated by departed free agents. A receiver and a guard are needed on offense.

2017 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Take note that if you ever hear rumors leaking out from the Cardinals under this current regime, they’re probably wrong. Arizona is tight-lipped, so speculation about a quarterback being chosen at No. 13 was false, as Haason Reddick was the preferred target with Marshon Lattimore off the board. Reddick, as well as second-rounder Budda Baker, will fill serious holes at inside linebacker and safety, respectively, helping a defense that lost some personnel this offseason.

The Cardinals couldn’t fill all of their needs, however, as they failed to replace Calais Campbell or find a solid No. 2 cornerback to play across from Patrick Peterson. That’s going to hurt next year, as their defense won’t be as potent as it has been in the past, especially if Reddick or Baker take longer to develop than expected.

That said, Arizona made some nice choices on Day 3. Will Holden and T.J. Logan provided quality value in the fifth frame, while fourth-rounder Dorian Johnson will be a steal if his health holds up. Johnson has liver problems, but possesses second-round ability. He was a nice gamble on the third day of the draft.

I’m giving the Cardinals a B+ overall. I wish they could’ve addressed more of their needs, but they had a lot of them. They made quality selections throughout the draft, and I didn’t give any of their individual picks anything lower than a “B.”

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

13. Haason Reddick, LB, Temple: B Grade
This is exactly where I had Haason Reddick, so I think the value is about right. I was tipped off here though, as I had Reddick slotted earlier beforehand (No. 20 to the Broncos), which is where I thought he should’ve gone. Reddick is a very talented player, so he’ll help the Cardinals, who are desperate for linebacker help. Reddick will fill a huge need for sure. However, with Malik Hooker, Jonathan Allen and O.J. Howard still on the board, I would’ve thought Arizona would have gone after one of them. Still, I can’t blame them for choosing Reddick, who should be a very good player for them.

36. Budda Baker, S, Washington: B Grade
The Cardinals surrendered two fourths (one this year, one next year) and they swapped picks late to move up to this spot. Many thought the Cardinals would do that to trade up for a quarterback, but I don’t think I would’ve liked that as much. Budda Baker makes more sense to replace Tony Jefferson. Baker is very talented, and I’m not sure he could’ve lasted to Arizona even though I had it that way in my mock draft. The thing is, there are a number of talented safeties available, so the Cardinals could’ve been more patient to fill this need.

98. Chad Williams, WR, Grambling: B+ Grade
The Cardinals have taken chances on troubled players, and they’re doing that once again here. Chad Williams was arrested for firearm and marijuana possession a year ago. Thus, talent level is not the concern. It’s definitely a risk, but it could pay off, and Arizona is desperate for a receiver. Besides, the Cardinals moved down 21 spots to take Williams, so that helps this grade a bit.

115. Dorian Johnson, G, Pittsburgh: A- Grade
Dorian Johnson would’ve been a likely second-round pick had he not dealt with any injury concerns. Unfortunately, he has a liver issue, and some teams had him off the board as a result. However, he’s very much worth the risk in the fourth round. Arizona will have a solid starter if Johnson can stay on the field.

157. Will Holden, OT, Vanderbilt: B+ Grade
Another team was set to take Will Holden several picks later than this in the fifth round, so the value is certainly right. The Vanderbilt blocker has done well in pass protection, but he’s not athletic, so he could be stuck at right tackle. Still, the Cardinals needed depth up front, and Holden won’t embarrass himself if he has to start.

179. T.J. Logan, RB, North Carolina: B+ Grade
This pick makes a lot of sense, as the Cardinals needed some insurance behind David Johnson. T.J. Logan could’ve been chosen a round earlier, so it’s not a surprise that Arizona was able to obtain value with the sure-handed Logan, who ran a 4.37 40 at the combine.

208. Johnathan Ford, S, Auburn: B+ Grade
Johnathan Ford is still relatively new to playing safety, as he’s a former running back. However, he performed well at Auburn and then went on to post strong testing numbers. Ford was at his best on special teams in Auburn, so the Cardinals undoubtedly selected him so that he could help them in that regard. I had him off the board 26 selections earlier than this, so there’s some value.

Season Summary:
Much was expected from the Cardinals in 2016. They were coming off a season in which they advanced to the NFC Championship, and they made some quality moves in the offseason, acquiring Chandler Jones and Evan Mathis. However, Carson Palmer’s regression and injuries to the offensive line capsized Arizona last year.

Offseason Moves:
  • Cardinals sign QB Blaine Gabbert
  • Cardinals sign G Tony Bergstrom
  • Cardinals re-sign DE Frostee Rucker
  • Cardinals sign DE/OLB Jarvis Jones
  • Cardinals re-sign RB Andre Ellington
  • Cardinals sign K Phil Dawson
  • Cardinals sign LB Karlos Dansby
  • Cardinals re-sign C A.Q. Shipley
  • Cardinals re-sign DE Chandler Jones
  • Cardinals sign S Antoine Bethea
  • Cardinals re-sign TE Jermaine Gresham

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: Carson Palmer was definitely not the same player in 2016. Bruce Arians has attributed that to injuries, but the fact remains that Palmer turned 37 in December. Arizona will have to think about finding a successor this offseason.

    2. Cornerback: Patrick Peterson is obviously a shutdown cornerback, but the Cardinals could not find a viable No. 2 option across from him. Former running back Brandon Williams was tried there initially, and he was abysmal. Marcus Cooper was next, and while he was better, it was only by default. The front office will have to find a strong second corner.

    3. Inside Linebacker: Reuben Foster and Zach Cunningham will be options for the Cardinals in the opening round of the 2017 NFL Draft, as they’ll be looking to replace Kevin Minter. Signed Karlos Dansby

    4. Guard: The Cardinals thought they solved all their issues at guard when they signed Evan Mathis, but Mathis missed most of the year with an injury, and now he’s a free agent.

    5. Defensive End: The Cardinals spent last year’s first-round pick on Robert Nkemdiche, but the position will need to be addressed again if Calais Campbell leaves via free agency.

    6. Wide Receiver: Larry Fitzgerald is mulling retirement; Michael Floyd is gone; and John Brown struggles to stay healthy. The Cardinals could add another receiver early in the 2017 NFL Draft.

    7. Safety: Tyrann Mathieu will be better next year once he gets over his injuries. However, Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger are set to hit the market. One will need to be re-signed. Signed Antoine Bethea

    8. Edge Rusher: Chandler Jones could be franchised. If not, edge rusher becomes an obvious need. If he is, depth is still needed with Alex Okafor having an expiring contract. Franchised Chandler Jones

    9. Offensive Tackle Depth: Arizona will have to find help at offensive tackle in order to protect either Palmer or a young quarterback. Jared Veldheer is great on the blind side, but his absence demonstrated the lack of depth the team has at the position.

    10. Center: A.Q. Shipley is another starting offensive lineman who will be hitting free agency this spring, but I’m listing center low on this list because the front office spent a fourth-round pick on Evan Boehm last April. Boehm struggled in the preseason, but perhaps he’ll be able to develop. Re-signed A.Q. Shipley

    11. Punter: The Cardinals had one of the worst punters in the NFL last year.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2017 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Phil Dawson, K, 49ers. Age: 42.
      Signed with Cardinals

      Phil Dawson turns 42 in January, but he’s still good at directing the ball through the uprights and can probably creak out another positive season or two. Dawson nailed most of his attempts in 2016.

    2. Antoine Bethea, S, 49ers. Age: 33.
      Signed with Cardinals (3 years)

      Antoine Bethea used to be a talented player, but he has declined in recent years. The 49ers decided he wasn’t worth the $5.75 million cap hit, and they’re right. Bethea can still tackle well and not be a liability in run support, but he struggles to cover at this stage of his career.

    3. Jarvis Jones, DE/OLB, Steelers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Cardinals

      Jarvis Jones is one of countless busts from the 2013 NFL Draft. However, he hasn’t been nearly as bad as some of the other players from that class. Jones hasn’t put much pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but he’s been solid in run support at least.

    4. Karlos Dansby, OLB, Bengals. Age: 35.
      Signed with Cardinals

      Karlos Dansby has been an outstanding linebacker for many years, but he regressed this past season. He wasn’t horrible, but he definitely declined in pass coverage. He turns 36 in November, so he could be done.

    5. Tony Bergstrom, G, Texans. Age: 31. — Signed with Cardinals
    6. Blaine Gabbert, QB, 49ers. Age: 27. — Signed with Cardinals

    Arizona Cardinals Free Agents:

    Salary Cap Space: $38.9M.
    1. Chandler Jones, DE/OLB, Cardinals. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Cardinals (5 years, $83 million)

      The Cardinals stole Chandler Jones away from the Patriots, and they’ll be the clear winners of the trade if they manage to re-sign him. Jones is a stellar pass-rusher who routinely records double-digit sacks each year. He’s only 27 in February, so he still has at least four seasons of high play remaining in the tank, so he deserves a huge contract.

    2. Calais Campbell, DE/DT, Cardinals. Age: 31.
      Signed with Jaguars

      Calais Campbell is one of the top defensive linemen in the NFL. He’s outstanding in every regard, placing tons of pressure on opposing quarterbacks and clamping down against the run. He would be a five-star free agent if he were a couple of years younger, but he turns 31 on the first day of September.

    3. Tony Jefferson, S, Cardinals. Age: 25.
      Signed with Ravens

      Tony Jefferson evolved into one of the better safeties in the NFL last season. Given that, as well as the fact that he turns just 25 at the end of January, Jefferson could be offered a huge contract this offseason. The only thing I’d worry about is that Jefferson is a bit of a one-year wonder.

    4. Evan Mathis, G, Cardinals. Age: 35.
      Announced retirement

      Evan Mathis was the top guard in the NFL a few years ago, but he’s been bothered by injuries the past couple of seasons. Age is also a factor, as he’ll turn 36 in November. However, Mathis is still a solid blocker, especially when it comes to opening up running lanes. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be a quality starter for someone next year.

    5. D.J. Swearinger, S, Cardinals. Age: 26.
      Signed wih Redskins (3 years, $13.5 million)

      The Texans gave up on D.J. Swearinger after spending a second-round pick on him back in 2013. Perhaps they did so prematurely, as Swearinger performed well for the Cardinals in 2016. He missed some tackles, but was generally decent in coverage.

    6. A.Q. Shipley, C, Cardinals. Age: 31.
      Re-signed with Cardinals (2 years)

      A.Q. Shipley is a late bloomer, finally developing into a solid center this past season after bouncing around the league for a while. Unfortunately for Shipley, he turns 31 in May, but could still play well for a while.

    7. Kevin Minter, ILB, Cardinals. Age: 26.
      Signed with Bengals (1 year)

      Kevin Minter had been a disappointment as a former second-round pick, until this past season when he played well. Minter is a one-year wonder, but he has upside, and he’s also still young, having turned 26 prior to the end of the 2016 campaign.

    8. Chandler Catanzaro (RFA), K, Cardinals. Age: 26.
      Signed with Jets

      Chandler Catanzaro struggled this past season, but given that he converted 87.9 and 90.3 percent of his field goals in 2014 and 2015, respectively, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

    9. Andre Ellington, RB, Cardinals. Age: 28.
      Re-signed with Cardinals (1 year)

      ‘Member when Andre Ellington was seen as a great, young running back for the Cardinals? Ellington was fantastic, but hasn’t done much the past two years. However, he’s been stuck behind David Johnson and Chris Johnson on the depth chart. He caught 46 passes in 2014, so perhaps he can serve as a third-down back for some team.

    10. Daryl Washington, ILB, Cardinals. Age: 30.
      Daryl Washington was a fantastic player years ago, but he hasn’t played a single game since 2013 because of domestic violence and substance-abuse issues. Washington will be 31 in October, so perhaps he’s cleaned up his act. On the flip side, he hasn’t played in nearly half of a decade, so who knows what sort of playing shape he’s even in.

    11. Jermaine Gresham, TE, Cardinals. Age: 29. — Re-signed with Cardinals
    12. Marcus Cooper, CB, Cardinals. Age: 27. — Signed with Bears
    13. Alex Okafor, DE/OLB, Cardinals. Age: 26. — Signed with Saints
    14. Chris Johnson, RB, Cardinals. Age: 31. — Re-signed with Cardinals
    15. Jaron Brown, WR, Cardinals. Age: 27.
    16. Darren Fells (RFA), TE, Cardinals. Age: 31. — Signed with Lions
    17. Frostee Rucker, DE, Cardinals. Age: 33. — Re-signed with Cardinals
    18. Sio Moore, ILB, Cardinals. Age: 27.
    19. Earl Watford, G/OT, Cardinals. Age: 29. — Signed with Jaguars
    20. Brittan Golden (RFA), WR, Cardinals. Age: 29.
    21. Ulrick John (RFA), OT, Cardinals. Age: 25.
    22. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Cardinals. Age: 26.


    Fantasy Football Rankings - May 23

    2025 NFL Mock Draft - May 21

    NFL Power Rankings - Feb. 22

    NFL Picks - Feb. 12