2018 NFL Offseason: Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals (Last Year: 8-8)

2018 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Sam Bradford, QB Mike Glennon, WR Brice Butler, OT Andre Smith, G Justin Pugh, CB Jamar Taylor, CB Marcus Williams, CB Bene Benwikere.
Early Draft Picks:
QB Josh Rosen, WR Christian Kirk, C Mason Cole, RB Chase Edmonds. Cardinals Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Drew Stanton, RB Adrian Peterson, WR John Brown, TE Troy Niklas, OT Jared Veldheer, DE Kareem Martin, NT Xavier Williams, ILB Karlos Dansby, CB Tramon Williams, CB Justin Bethel, S Tyrann Mathieu, S Tyvon Branch.

2018 Arizona Cardinals Offense:
Carson Palmer regressed in his final couple of seasons, but the Cardinals were still in trouble at quarterback in the wake of his retirement, as evidenced by their poor finish with Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert in 2017. The front office panicked and overpaid Sam Bradford in free agency. Bradford showed what he was capable of in an excellent performance in last year’s season opener, torching a Saints defense that wasn’t as bad as everyone thought it was. Unfortunately, Bradford didn’t play a full game the rest of the season, missing time with a mysterious injury and subsequently losing the job to Case Keenum.

Bradford is good when healthy, but he can’t be relied upon to be on the field for even half of a season. That would explain why Arizona traded up from No. 15 to 10 in order to draft Josh Rosen. The UCLA product is a gifted passer, but has concerns of his own. Rosen has dealt with a plethora of injuries in college, and there are questions about his dedication to football. NFL personnel do not believe Rosen will be the first-one-in, last-one-out type of quarterback, as he prefers to party hard, much like Blake Bortles.

Still, even if Rosen is forced into early action in the wake of a Bradford injury, he’ll obviously be an upgrade over Stanton and especially Gabbert. He’ll also enjoy playing with David Johnson, which the two quarterbacks last year didn’t have the luxury of doing. Johnson is one of the most dynamic running backs in the NFL, but Arizona had him on the field for just one game in 2017 because of a broken wrist. Fortunately for the Cardinals, Johnson was deemed 100-percent healthy back in January, so he’ll have a nice bounce-back campaign.

Rosen will be stationed behind a better offensive line that shielded the quarterbacks last year. The big difference is newly signed Justin Pugh, formerly of the Giants. Pugh has dealt with some injury woes himself – he’s missed 13 games in the past two seasons – but he’s been dominant when completely healthy. He’ll be one of two strong blockers on the front line, joining left tackle D.J. Humphries, who barely played last year. His return to full strength will be crucial.

Despite the improvements to the blocking group, there are still some major holes. Left guard Mike Iupati and center A.Q. Shipley both struggled last year, but there’s some hope that third-round rookie Mason Cole can overtake the latter. Meanwhile, new right tackle Andre Smith will start in place of Jared Veldheer, who signed with the Broncos this offseason. Veldheer was woeful last year, yet his play will still be better than Smith’s.

If Rosen’s pocket can remain clean, he’ll be able to connect with some intriguing weapons. A second-round pick was used on receiver Christian Kirk, a speedy receiver who runs good routes. Athletic tight end Ricky Seals-Jones flashed some major potential this past season. And, of course, Larry Fitzgerald is still a strong threat. Fitzgerald turns 35 in August, but he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, catching 109 passes for 1,156 yards despite poor quarterbacking for half of 2017.

2018 Arizona Cardinals Defense:
The Cardinals had to make a major concession when they spent tons of money on Sam Bradford, and that was giving up on Tyrann Mathieu. The ultra-talented, versatile defensive back was released in the offseason because of financial issues, allowing the Texans to sign him. Mathieu is going to be extremely difficult to replace; he was a dynamic play-maker and solved many problems for Arizona’s pass defense. The secondary will be much worse without him.

Mathieu wasn’t the only prominent defensive back to depart this offseason. The Cardinals also lost cornerback Tramon Williams and safety Tyvon Branch. Williams was an aging cornerback, but an effective No. 2 player for the team. Branch, meanwhile, was stellar until he tore his ACL in November. Arizona still has Patrick Peterson, one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, and Budda Baker, a second-round pick from the 2017 NFL Draft, who impressed in Branch’s absence. That’s about it, however, as there are some major question marks elsewhere. All of Arizona’s other cornerbacks were terrible before they spent a sixth-round pick trading for the mediocre Jamar Taylor, while the second safety, Antoine Bethea, has been inconsistent throughout his career. He turns 34 in July, so he could regress in 2018.

Arizona lost a key member of its front seven as well, seeing nose tackle Xavier Williams sign with the Chiefs as a restricted free agent. Williams was an excellent run-stuffer, but the Cardinals at least still have Corey Peters to fill that role. The coaching staff will be hoping for former first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche to finally step up next to Peters, but the former has yet to live up to expectations. Olsen Pierre, an undrafted free agent from 2015, showed some promise in the second half of this past season.

With the secondary and defensive interior worsened, the edge rush has to be considered the strength of Arizona’s stop unit. Chandler Jones is one of the top pass-rushers in the NFL, and he’s coming off a magnificent 2017 campaign that saw him record 17 sacks. He’ll play across from Markus Golden, who notched 12.5 sacks in 2016, but missed all but four games last year because of a torn ACL.

Rounding out the defense is another weak group, as the linebacking corps will need to perform better in 2018. Deone Bucannon was atrocious this past season, but it could be possible to see him improve his play, as he could fit nicely into Arizona’s new 4-3. Haason Reddick also struggled last year, but was considered a raw prospect out of Temple when the Cardinals spent the 13th-overall pick on him in the 2017 NFL Draft. Josh Bynes, meanwhile, will serve as a two-down player who helps stop the run.

2018 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 56-27-1 as hosts the past eight years. They were 5-3 in 2017, which isn’t impressive, but was better than their road record of 3-5.

Losing Ted Ginn three offseasons ago continues to haunt the Cardinals’ special teams unit. They’ve been outgained on both punts and kickoff returns as a result ever since.

Phil Dawson replaced Chandler Catanzaro last offseason. He went 32-of-40, including 4-of-5 from 50-plus, proving that he does not have creaky, old legs despite his age (43).

Andy Lee was Arizona’s punter last year, and he did not do a very good job. He finished 25th in net average.

Arizona has some winnable games to start the year, hosting the Redskins, Bears and Seahawks in the first four weeks. Things get much more difficult after that, however.

2018 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.

2018 Arizona Cardinals Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2018 Arizona Cardinals Analysis: The Cardinals have some star power on their team, including David Johnson, Patrick Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald. However, they lack substance. Their offensive line is mediocre at best; most of their back seven is filled with giant question marks; and the depth on their defensive line is lacking. Throw in the fact that the Cardinals likely won’t have positive quarterbacking for most of the season, and you have a team that will likely win five or six games in 2018.

Projection: 5-11 (4th in NFC West)

2017 Projection: 8-8. 2017 Actual Result: 8-8.
2016 Projection: 13-3. 2016 Actual Result: 7-8-1.

NFL Draft Team Grade: A- Grade

Goals Entering the 2018 NFL Draft: The Cardinals can’t count on Sammy Sleeves – as Kenny calls Sam Bradford on our podcast – staying healthy for more than a month. They have to find a quarterback of the future at some point. They also have some other glaring holes to address, including some on the pedestrian offensive line. Otherwise, receiver, cornerback and the defensive line must be addressed.

2018 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Josh Rosen is a scary prospect. He’s a great passer, which makes him so tantalizing. However, there are concerns about his passion for football as well as his partying ventures. Injuries are also a worry. I did not blame teams that didn’t want to take him in the first round despite their need at quarterback.

That said, the Cardinals can’t be blamed for trading up for him either. It would’ve been a mistake to surrender a first-round pick next year, but Arizona didn’t do that. The Cardinals didn’t even give up their second-rounder. They sent one of their two third-round choices, as well as a fifth-rounder, to Oakland for Rosen. They certainly won the trade, obtaining a potential franchise quarterback in the process. This was brilliant management by Steve Keim.

Rosen actually tied for the worst individual grade (“B”) for all of the Cardinals’ choices. The highest grade was given to Christian Kirk in the second round. Some thought Kirk could have been selected at the end of the first frame. He’s a play-maker who will be a nice secondary weapon in the offense. Meanwhile, center Mason Cole will help bolster Arizona’s hapless offensive line.

Keim did a great job with this draft. Again, I’m not crazy about Rosen, but Keim did the best he could with what he had to work with.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

10. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA B Grade
I worry about Josh Rosen. There are stories about his lack of dedication to football. There are partying issues as well, which is why I thought his fit in New York would’ve been a disaster. He also has an injury history. There were also some unreported things about him that I found troubling as well.

That said, I can’t hate on this pick. Rosen is the last of the “top” quarterbacks available, and Arizona’s only viable player at the position is Sam Bradford, who may not make it to Week 2. All the Cardinals surrendered were third- and fifth-round picks, so this is a good deal.

47. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M A Grade
I’ve had Christian Kirk slotted to the Cardinals at this pick for a long time, as the fit absolutely made sense. Kirk, once considered a first-round prospect of some sort, can be considered a steal in the middle of Round 2. The Cardinals desperately needed receiving help, and Kirk will provide that as well as a boost in the return game.

97. Mason Cole, C, Michigan A- Grade
The Cardinals found their next quarterback, then they gave him a dynamic weapon to work with. Now, it was time to give him better protection, which was essential, given the state of the poor offensive line. Mason Cole played left tackle at Michigan, but he’s a natural, fundamentally sound center. I think Cole could’ve gone about 20 picks earlier than this, so I like the value.

134. Chase Edmonds, RB, Fordham B Grade
Chase Edmonds is the sort of running back Bill Belichick would like, but Steve Keim is the one taking another Pennsylvania prospect. Chase Edmonds is a nice third-down back who can contribute on special teams. This is a solid pick, as Arizona needed better insurance for David Johnson.

182. Christian Campbell, CB, Penn State B+ Grade
Christian Campbell is a great athlete, but hasn’t been able to translate that to on-field play yet. If the Arizona coaches can mold him into the player he should become, he could be a starter in the near future. He could also flop easily, but it’s a good decision to take this sort of a shot in the sixth round.

254. Korey Cunningham, OT, Cincinnati B Grade
Korey Cunningham possesses plenty of upside. He’s very athletic, and he was also productive at Cincinnati. The problem is that he lacks the length to be a tackle and the strength to be a guard. If he can develop some strength, he might be able to stick around as a backup lineman.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
Arizona had way too many injuries to compete for a playoff spot. The trouble started right away when David Johnson and D.J. Humphries suffered injuries in the opener. The Cardinals still had a chance going into the London game, but that’s when Carson Palmer went down for the year. And just like that, all hope was lost.

Offseason Moves:
  • Cardinals sign FB Derrick Coleman
  • Cardinals sign WR Brice Butler
  • Broncos acquire OT Jared Veldheer
  • Cardinals sign CB Bene Benwikere
  • Cardinals sign G/OT Justin Pugh
  • Cardinals sign OT Andre Smith
  • Cardinals sign QB Mike Glennon
  • Cardinals sign QB Sam Bradford
  • Cardinals cut RB Adrian Peterson

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: Carson Palmer announced his retirement, so Arizona has to find its quarterback of the present and future. The team has won too many games to select the top rookies, so perhaps they’ll go after a veteran prior to the draft. Signed Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon

    2. Offensive Tackle: Protecting the new quarterback will be paramount. Jared Veldheer is likely to retire, but he played so poorly in 2017 that the Cardinals need to upgrade him anyway. Signed Andre Smith

    3. Two Guards: New blockers in the interior are needed as well. Mike Iupati is likely to be a cap casualty, and the Cardinals don’t have anything else at the other guard spot. Signed Justin Pugh

    4. Two Wide Receivers: Larry Fitzgerald is Arizona’s only viable receiver. There’s no guarantee he’ll be around much longer, so the Cardinals need to obtain multiple receivers to pair with their new quarterback. Signed Brice Butler

    5. Safety: It was a foolish idea to cut Tyrann Mathieu. He’ll need to be replaced.

    6. Cornerback: Arizona’s greatest defensive priority is to find a starting cornerback to play across from Patrick Peterson, as this is something the team has needed for a long time. Signed Bene Benwikere

    7. Defensive End: Robert Nkemdiche hasn’t lived up to his first-round billing yet, so the Cardinals need to find a replacement for Calais Campbell.

    8. Center: This position isn’t as dire as tackle or guard, but A.Q. Shipley performed very poorly in 2017, so finding an upgrade should be considered.

    9. Running Back Depth: Arizona needs to make sure it has a solid running back to take over for David Johnson if Johnson were to suffer another injury.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2018 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Justin Pugh, G/OT, Giants. Age: 28.
      Signed with Cardinals (5 years)

      Justin Pugh is one of the best guards in the NFL, but had to play out of his position at right tackle this year. He’s a mediocre right tackle, but he needs to start in the interior to be most effective.

    2. Sam Bradford, QB, Vikings. Age: 30.
      Signed with Cardinals (1 year, $20 million)

      Sam Bradford would be rated much higher than this if he weren’t such an injury liability. Bradford played just one full game in 2017 because of a knee injury that just wouldn’t go away. He’s made out of glass and can’t be relied upon to stay healthy.

    3. Mike Glennon, QB, Bears. Age: 28.
      Signed with Cardinals

      Mike Glennon had a career completion percentage of 59.4 and a YPA of 6.5 entering the 2017 season, so it seems so asinine that the Bears signed him to a big contract. Glennon predictably flopped as a starter, but should be a solid backup.

    4. Brice Butler, WR, Cowboys. Age: 28. — Signed with Cardinals
    5. Marcus Williams, CB, Texans. Age: 27. — Signed with Cardinals
    6. Andre Smith, OT, Bengals. Age: 31. — Signed with Cardinals (2 years)
    7. Bene Benwikere, CB, Cowboys. Age: 26. — Signed with Cardinals
    8. Derrick Coleman, FB, Falcons. Age: 27. — Signed with Cardinals

    Arizona Cardinals Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Tyrann Mathieu, S/CB, Cardinals. Age: 26.
      Signed with Texans (1 year)

      Wow, this is a stunner. The Cardinals wanted Tyrann Mathieu to take a pay cut, but when he wouldn’t budge, they just cut him. Mathieu was one of the top defensive players in the NFL in 2015, but tore his ACL. He struggled the following year because he returned way too early. He was better this past season, but not quite himself yet. There’s a very good chance, however, that Mathieu will finally be 100 percent in 2018, and if so, he’ll arguably be a top-five defensive back. Mathieu can play anywhere you ask him in the secondary, and he’ll turn only 26 in May, so he still has a very bright future ahead of him.

    2. Tyvon Branch, S, Cardinals. Age: 31.
      Tyvon Branch was exceptional for the Cardinals in the first half of the season. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in early November. There’s a chance he could be ready for training camp, but he may not be completely healthy to start the season.

    3. Tramon Williams, CB, Cardinals. Age: 35.
      Signed with Packers

      Tramon Williams surprisingly played extremely well for the Cardinals this past season. Unfortunately for Williams, he may not be able to repeat that in 2018, as he’ll be 35.

    4. Xavier Williams (RFA), NT, Cardinals. Age: 27.
      Signed with Chiefs

      Xavier Williams showed major signs of improvement this past season, serving as a stout run-plugger in the interior of Arizona’s defensive line. He also wasn’t horrible as a pass-rusher.

    5. John Brown, WR, Cardinals. Age: 28.
      Signed with Ravens (1 year, $5 million)

      John Brown had an explosive first two seasons in the NFL, eclipsing the 1,000-yard barrier in 2015. Unfortunately, his previous two years have been devastated by injury, and he has long-term health concerns. He’d be a great bargain if he could get over those, but his career might be over soon.

    6. Olsen Pierre (RFA), DE/DT, Cardinals. Age: 27.
      Olsen Pierre was an undrafted free agent in 2015, and he hadn’t seen any action prior to this past season. Pierre was given an opportunity because of injuries, and he made the most out of it, clamping down as a tough run defender. He also produced several sacks.

    7. Kareem Martin, DE/OLB, Cardinals. Age: 26.
      Signed with Giants

      Kareem Martin has never registered multiple sacks in a season throughout his career, but he’s a solid, jack-of-all-trades outside linebacker who is solid in run support and coverage.

    8. Adrian Peterson, RB, Cardinals. Age: 33.
      Adrian Peterson had two great performances for the Cardinals last year, but did nothing otherwise, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. In fact, he failed to average better than two yards per carry in three of his final five games in Arizona. He’s done, unfortunately.

    9. Karlos Dansby, ILB, Cardinals. Age: 36.
    10. Justin Bethel, CB, Cardinals. Age: 28. — Signed with Falcons
    11. Troy Niklas, TE, Cardinals. Age: 26. — Signed with Patriots
    12. Drew Stanton, QB, Cardinals. Age: 34. — Signed with Browns
    13. Frostee Rucker, DE/DT, Cardinals. Age: 34.
    14. Kerwynn Williams, RB, Cardinals. Age: 36.
    15. Jaron Brown, WR, Cardinals. Age: 28. — Signed with Seahawks
    16. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Cardinals. Age: 28. — Signed with Titans
    17. John Wetzel (RFA), OT, Cardinals. Age: 27.
    18. Ifeanyi Momah (RFA), TE, Cardinals. Age: 28.
    19. Brittan Golden, WR, Cardinals. Age: 30.
    20. Vinston Painter (RFA), OT, Cardinals. Age: 28.
    21. Khalif Barnes, OT, Cardinals. Age: 36.

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    Top 90 | QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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