D.J. Humphries' Domino Effect: How Re-Signing Will Impact NFL Draft

Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals bolstered one of their biggest needs a month before NFL free agency begins when they announced Tuesday they will bring back offensive tackle D.J. Humphries. He will earn $45 million on a new three-year contract with $30 of that coming the first two years and $29 million guaranteed, according to an NFL Network report

It’s a hefty deal for an offensive lineman who finally played his first full season last year, but head coach Kliff Kingsbury stressed the importance of continuity and re-signing the seemingly healthy fourth-year left tackle was the Cardinals’ next step.

Arizona entered the 2019 season in dire need of improved offensive line play. In 2018, the Cardinals had 10 different starting lineups on the line of scrimmage (LOS). Injuries played a major factor, including Humphries’ own knee troubles that sidelined him after Week 10. Arizona entered this season ranked No. 30 among all NFL offensive lines, per PFF, which noted:

They allowed the league’s second-most total pressures (218), the fourth-most hurries (142), the second-most hits (42) and the second-most sacks (34), all while they ranked dead last among teams in snaps played per pressure (2.6). 

While the Cardinals didn’t completely turn things around, they managed to stay healthy and finished the year ranked No. 22, again by PFF. They slightly improved in the most important category: protecting the passer. Arizona allowed quick pressure on only 18.2 percent of its dropbacks, the sixth-best mark in the league, but still allowed the fifth-most sacks. By securing a work-in-progress in Humphries, the Cardinals can continue to improve on the LOS. But what will the new deal mean for the upcoming draft?

Three out of the four latest TDN mock drafts have the Cardinals picking wide receiver CeeDee Lamb at eighth overall and only one selected defensive tackle Derrick Brown. I have a hard time arguing either option. The Cardinals need play-makers on both sides of the ball and after securing Humphries I don’t see them selection an offensive lineman in the first round, let alone the top 10.

 Here are a couple of scenarios and things to consider:

Get playmakers around Kyler Murray

Now that the offensive line is improving, it’s time to use a top-10 pick to surround Murray with reliable pass-catchers. While veteran Larry Fitzgerald will be a welcomed presence after announcing his return on a one-year contract, it’s obviously he’s at the tail end of his career.

Kyler Murray favored Fitzgerald as he accumulated 804 yards on 75 receptions. Christian Kirk, who just finished his second season, was the only other reliable option — finishing with 709 yards on 68 catches. The next best wide receiver was running back David Johnson. 

 Lamb is the obvious choice.

Using a top-10 pick to add defensive talent

The Cardinals are far from complete and need help in almost every aspect but specifically on the defensive end. They could use edge rushers, secondary help, a linebacker and defensive linemen. It’s why slotting Brown to Arizona is hard to argue against, despite the fact that Brown might not make it that far.

I would like to think a top defensive lineman is somewhere high on the Cardinals’ board. The ripple effect of selecting one if Brown isn’t available will cause players like Javon Kinlaw or Neville Gallimore to jump inside the top 10 and make other potential suitors squirm. 

Will D.J. Humphries’ injury history call for depth on the O-line?

There is a big red flag when it comes to Humphries’ future and it’s whether or not he will be able to stay healthy. Less than a week before re-signing him, general manager Steve Keim alluded to what the Cardinals might do come April.

“One of the things I’ve always thought about philosophically was when you have a position group, and again they grade in a similar area when you look at the big picture, and you say, ‘Ok when I get to free agency, which players at that position exist in free agency,’ because, usually, people tie up left tackles, corners, quarterbacks — guys that are hard to find,” he said Friday. “So I would obviously lean in the direction of players that are hard to find and don’t really make it to free agency because they get extended.”

It’s vague and confusing but if re-signing Humphries had been a priority in the offseason like Keim also said last week and he still wants to add depth, when it comes down to having a receiver, offensive tackle or defensive play-maker graded similarly, it sounds like they would opt for a tackle. If you ignore all of the context, players like Andrew Thomas, Tristan Wirfs or Mekhi Becton are hard to pass up. 

But filling whatever void at offensive tackle is now the team's third most pressing need, something that can be addressed as late as Round 3 or Round 4. Although that would conflict with Keim's previous comments.

The Cardinals did draft quarterbacks with the third- and first-overall pick in consecutive years so re-signing Humphries and drafting a top talent at the same position isn’t completely far-fetched.