There was one point in the 2020 season where the Arizona Cardinals had the No. 1 offense in the NFL. It’s not completely surprising; after all, head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who was hired, in part, to unleash college football’s spread offense, was running the unit. Quarterback Kyler Murray, who won the 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year award, was getting more comfortable at the professional level; and Arizona pulled off the trade of what feels like the decade, securing three-time All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
While the Cardinals finished with a disappointing 8-8 record and their fifth consecutive missed postseason, it would have been even more concerning if they didn’t—again, at one point—have the best total offense. It happened through Week 8. The halfway point of the season gave Arizona good indicator things were going well—the team was averaging 419.1 yards per game. The Cardinals were eighth in points per game (29) and seventh in yards per play (6.1). They weren’t the best—Arizona was also fifth in expected points added, according to Pro Football Focus and 10th in offensive efficiency, per Football Outsiders—but they were productive. Things went downhill after the team’s bye. It went 3-6
If the Cardinals want to continue their development on this side of the ball, something Kingsbury praised, they’ll need to address some glaring needs. Murray needs more protection, and Arizona could eye an offensive lineman in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Cardinals also have a big need at running back, tight end, and wide receiver. Arizona will have a little over $13.5 million to work with when free agency opens on March 17, according to Over the Cap, assuming no other cuts.
Leonard Fournette, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Cardinals’ running back room is bare. Behind the 2020 leader, Kenyan Drake, is Murray and Chase Edmonds; but none of these players reached the coveted 1,000-yard mark. Drake was just shy at 955 and Edmonds finished with 448. Murray had a whopping 819, which was the second most for a quarterback, behind Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson (1,005). Arizona needs an influx of talent in the backfield—especially with Drake being a pending free agent—and who better to target than one of the players largely responsible for the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl run?
Fournette, who will become an unrestricted free agent after a one-year contract in Tampa Bay, was nearly cut by the team before its playoff push. Fortunately for the Buccaneers, and Fournette, that didn’t happen, and he had his most productive stretch of play all season. In four games, Fournette rushed for 300 yards and three touchdowns on 64 carries—this included 89 yards and a score in the Super Bowl—with 148 yards and another touchdown on 18 catches. Fournette’s asking price surely went up along with his productivity. It would be wise for Arizona to make an effort to bring in the 26-year-old, who could carve out a feature role like he had in Jacksonville.
Kenny Golladay, WR, Detroit Lions
Hopkins is one of the best receivers in the NFL, but he can’t carry the weight of the Cardinals’ passing attack alone. He currently has very little help down the depth chart, which features Christian Kirk, who just finished his third season with meager production, tight end Dan Arnold, who is not a long-term answer, and Larry Fitzgerald, a future Hall of Fame pass-catcher likely to retire in the immediate-to-near future.
The 2021 free agent class is full of talented wide receivers, and Arizona could go with a number of players here, but one that could make a lot of sense is the Detroit Lions’ Kenny Golladay. He wants to stay in Detroit, but the Lions’ looming re-build could alter his trajectory. Golladay had consecutive 1,000-plus yard seasons in 2018-19 but totaled 338 in five games during the 2020 season. Golladay’s lack of productivity last season was solely due to injury, and he could earn top dollar from a team needing to bolster its receiving corps. The Cardinals, however, might be able to take advantage of the loaded talent pool available this offseason, which could affect Golladay’s payday. Another enticing point for Golladay would be similar to Fournette’s, or whoever the Cardinals add to the backfield: He could carve out a big role on a potentially high-flying offense. By taking attention away from Hopkins, the Cardinals could have a very dangerous and effective 1-2 punch in the passing game—but it’ll come with a big price tag.
Hunter Henry, TE, Los Angeles Chargers
Arnold is also slated to be a free agent. Arizona will have to make a decision to re-sign him or let him walk, but either way, the team needs to add more talent. Arnold has been long admired by Cardinals fans and it’s not completely unwarranted, but there isn’t just an overwhelming lack of talent here. There’s a lack of personnel.
Arizona needs more (and better) options at tight end. The Cardinals would benefit from, first and foremost, a good blocker and pass-catching option. There’s a good tight end available in the draft, but if Arizona doesn’t select Kyle Pitts (he likely won’t fall to them), it’ll need to fill out the position during free agency. Henry would be one of the best options. The Chargers tight end would be a young, healthy fit for the Cardinals. Henry would help with Murray’s reliance on Hopkins and provide the team with more of a long-term option than other tight ends on the trade market, including Zach Ertz and Jimmy Graham. Henry finished the season with 613 yards and four touchdowns on 60 catches and was targeted heavily in the red zone, which will be a point of emphasis for Arizona.