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Offseason Team Previews

2022 Arizona Cardinals Offseason Preview

by Kyle Dvorchak
Updated On: March 14, 2022, 10:33 am ET

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The final whistle of the Super Bowl marks the end of the 2021 season. That solidifies all draft positions and gets us looking to free agency as the next chance for teams to make significant changes to their rosters. In this series, I’ll break down the needs and goals of every team as it relates to the 2022 offseason. Included will be cap space, cut candidates, positions of need, and plenty of other useful stats and notes as we prepare for free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft. Special thanks to Over the Cap, Pro Football Reference, Pro Football Focus, and Ben Baldwin’s RBSDM.com for all of the useful stats they track and house. 

Cardinals 2021 Recap

The Cardinals were the hottest team in football through seven weeks. They hadn’t lost a game and Kyler Murray was a serious candidate in the MVP race. Poor play plus injuries to Murray and DeAndre Hopkins would send the team careening to an 11-6 finish which included losses in four of their final five games. They limped into the postseason and were buried by the Rams in an 11-34 loss. With Hopkins sidelined, James Conner banged up, and Murray playing well below his midseason-peak, the Cardinals had no life on offense. Even if their defense had been able to keep the Rams in check, the game looked like a lost cause. Reports would later say that Murray refused to re-enter the game after it had been all but decided. This would be the first indication that Murray and his team were at odds. After a public back-and-forth, the young quarterback is now demanding an extension with two years left on his rookie deal (factoring in the fifth-year option).

Key Offensive Stats

  • Points per game: 26.4 (11th)
  • Dropback EPA: .15 (10th)
  • Passing yards per game: 252 (10th)
  • Rush EPA: -.04 (10th)
  • Rushing yards per game: 122 (10th)

 

Arizona was one of just five teams to finish top-10 in both dropback and rush attempt EPA per play. Murray taking the next step as a passer was the biggest factor in the team’s efficiency. His completion rate jumped by two percent while his yards per attempt went up by .8. Though his rushing output dropped significantly, he still ran for 423 yards at 4.8 yards per carry. James Conner joined the team on a one-year deal looking to revitalize his career and did just that. He punched in 15 rushing touchdowns while operating as the team’s goal line back. Then, when Chase Edmonds went down, Conner thrived as a receiver. He finished the season with a 37/375/3 line through the air. Before missing the final quarter of the season due to an MCL injury, Hopkins was the only Cardinal having a down year. His target share dropped by nine percent compared to 2020 and he posted the worst receiving line of his career. Even on a per-game basis, only his rookie season was worse

Key Defensive Stats

  • Points per game: 21.5 (11th)
  • Dropback EPA: -.02 (6th)
  • Passing yards per game: 214 (7th)
  • Rush EPA: -.13 (3rd)
  • Rushing yards per game: 115 (20th)

 

The Cardinals have spent the past two offseasons retooling their defense through the draft and free agency. They have spent consecutive first-round picks on the defensive side of the ball and signed J.J. Watt last spring. They were rewarded for their efforts with a top-10 defense in both EPA metrics. Arizona and Tampa Bay were the only teams to reach top-10 status on both sides of the ball, passing and running. The Cardinals also dipped below 22 points per game allowed for the first time since 2015.

Cardinals 2022 Offseason

Notes

 

Cap Space

-$813K 

First Pick

No. 23

Total Draft Value

26th

Notable Free Agents

WR Christian Kirk, RB James Conner, OLB Chandler Jones, WR A.J. Green, TE Zach Ertz (re-signed), RB Chase Edmonds, CB Robert Alford, CB Antonio Hamilton

Cut Candidates

OG Justin Pugh ($9.8 million in savings), OLB Devon Kennard ($4.9 million), DT Jordan Phillips ($4.1 million), WR Andy Isabella ($1.1 million)

Notes: Arizona's total draft value is the sum of the value of every pick they own using the Fitzgerald-Spielberger NFL Draft Trade Value Chart. The values are only estimates until the NFL announces compensatory picks. Cap savings are listed assuming the player is cut before June 1st.

Arizona fielded an incredibly well-rounded roster last year but their tight cap situation makes it nearly impossible for everyone to return. Coming off a career year at the age of 25, Kirk is going to be a hot name on the open market. Jones, while much older, is still playing at a high level and requested a trade last summer. He will likely walk in free agency. Even Conner dropped 18 touchdowns last year and will now be seeking a multi-year deal.

Team Needs

Running Back
With Edmonds and Conner both impending free agents, the Cardinals have the second-most unaccounted for carries heading into the 2022 season. Eno Benjamin and Jonathan Ward are the teams only returning running backs. The duo combined for 43 carries last year. 

Cornerback
The Cardinals are losing nearly 900 defensive snaps at cornerback in free agency. They are also losing their two highest graded corners according to PFF. Cornerback was already a weak point on this roster. The departures in free agency will only amplify the issue.

Outside Linebacker
The Cardinals were able to hide their middling cornerback play behind a ravenous defensive line last year. Jones and Watt were both ranked as top-25 defenders by pass rush grade, per PFF. Replacing Jones will allow Arizona to invest lightly at corner instead of overspending on one big name.

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Coaching Changes

The Cardinals didn’t make any changes to their staff this offseason. General manager Steve Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury were both extended. At this point, Kliff’s shtick is a known quantity and unlikely to change. One shift the offense desperately needs and may be forced to make is more creativity with the receivers. Last year, Hopkins line up out wide, on the left side of the formation on 83 percent of his snaps. Rondale Moore was hardly allowed to go past the line of scrimmage. His 1.3 aDOT was the lowest PFF has recorded since they began tracking the stat in 2008. With Green and Kirk both possibly gone, Arizona’s offense will stagnate if Kliff can’t do more with his wideouts

Offseason Outlook

Arizona has to address their soft feud with Murray before moving forward but both sides are committed to working things out, so we’ll proceed as if a new contract is already a done deal. Beyond that, replenishing Murray’s weapons is a must. He has taken a step forward as a passer every year but taking two of his top three pass-catchers by targets away will almost certainly keep him from progressing any further.

After replenishing the defense and giving Murray another option or two to throw to, the Cardinals need to lift up their current talent. Arizona has drafted five receivers over the past four years including three in the second round. Not a single one has topped 1,000 yards in a season. First-round rookie Zaven Collins was benched at the end of his debut campaign while Isaiah Simmons, in his second season, was a liability in run defense and coverage. It’s time for Arizona to get more than Kyler out of their previous three drafts.