The Arizona Cardinals’ defense made astronomical improvements from 2019 to 2020. Arizona went from allowing the most total yards per game (402) of all teams in 2019 to finishing just outside the top 10 in total yards allowed per game (351.9) this past season. It helped that the defensive unit had multiple breakout performances.
Budda Baker showed non-believers why he was worth the four-year, $59 million extension to make him the highest-paid safety in NFL history. Outside linebacker Haason Reddick had his best season to date, finishing the year with 12.5 sacks after consecutive seasons of mediocre to poor play after the Cardinals selected him 13th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Now, Arizona also has some big decisions to make when free agency begins on March 17. Reddick, and a handful of other defensive contributors, are set to hit the market.
The Cardinals don’t have a lot of money to work with. The team’s $11.8 million in cap space is the fourth-lowest among NFL teams operating within the league’s salary cap, according to Over the Cap; there are currently 13 teams over the projected $180.5 million cap. It leaves Arizona with little wiggle room to help fill out their budding defense—or at least makes it more difficult to pursue some of the bigger names approaching free agency, including J.J. Watt or Ndamukong Suh.
Richard Sherman, CB, San Francisco 49ers
Cornerback is one of Arizona’s biggest needs this offseason. It has been rumored that veteran Patrick Peterson and the Cardinals will part ways after spending a decade together, to which Peterson called a “dirty rumor.” Either way, the parties will have to agree on a new deal with the 31-year-old defensive back or look to fill the position; cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick is also set to become a free agent. If Arizona is looking for experience and proven talent, it doesn’t have to set its sights any further than NFC West foe, the San Francisco 49ers and cornerback Richard Sherman. He would eat up the majority of their available cap space, but is a good veteran presence to have for the young secondary, including Baker and Byron Murphy—who, in his second season, also progressed extremely well. Sherman wouldn’t be a long-term solution; the cornerback said he only wants to play for two more seasons. He’s found multiple homes in the NFC West, first in Seattle and then in San Francisco. After being a thorn in Arizona’s side for years, the team could try and secure Sherman until he retires.
Cameron Sutton, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers
If Sherman is too high of a price for the Cardinals, they could look to the rich defensive back market and find both a long-term option that doesn’t take up too much of their already tight available cap space. The Steelers’ Cameron Sutton is a good option for depth behind Murphy. Sutton’s market value is $7.2 million a year, according to Spotrac. With cornerback being one of the team’s biggest priorities this offseason, securing Sutton, who has been a reliable backup nickel in Pittsburgh after an injury hampered his rookie season, would give defensive coordinator Vance Joseph more of the coverage he likes. Last season, in man coverage, Sutton allowed .86 yards of separation per target on 28 overall targets.
Mario Edwards, DE, Chicago Bears
Arizona’s defensive line was riddled with injuries last season; so much so it had, at one point, five defensive linemen on the injured reserve. Still, the Cardinals generated the fourth-most sacks (48) last season. Reinforcements would help Arizona cope with injuries next season, and add to its pass rush. The Cardinals can pursue a budget-friendly option in Bears defensive end Mario Edwards. Arizona still has room to add talent around Edwards, who is coming off a one-year, $915,000 deal. He’ll have to serve a two-game suspension at the beginning of the 2021 season for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy, but can work into Arizona’s rotation in an effort to strengthen its interior.
Click here for three offensive free agents the Cardinals should also target.
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