Who Wil Help Improve The Cardinal Offense?
By Rod Villagomez
Last season, the Arizona Cardinals finished with a disappointing 8-8 record. They missed the playoffs even with the expansion. It was a team that seemed loaded at the start of the season. But, for some reason, it never quite fell into place for Kyler Murray and company.
Recently, they acquired a major improvement on the defensive side of the ball. In a move that sent tremors through the free agent market, J.J. Watt announced he would be leaving Houston for Arizona. That addresses one aspect of building a 2021 powerhouse team. There is still work to be done on the other side of the ball though.
The Cardinals are still waiting to hear whether or not 2020 was the last season for their mainstay wideout Larry Fitzgerald. They will also likely watch Kenyan Drake explore running back opportunities elsewhere. This opens the door for Arizona to shop around for new offensive faces.
This can be accomplished via trade, but the free agent market offers a lot of value to potential suitors. Between the two, the Cardinals would benefit more by signing one or more of the many names on this list. The following are four suggestions to beef up the offensive side of the ball much the same as Arizona has defensively.
Will Fuller – FA (Houston Texans)
If the Cardinals are intent on becoming the Texans 2.0, grabbing Will Fuller will help their collection along. He’d be reunited with his fellow Houston wideout DeAndre Hopkins as well as newly acquired J.J. Watt. The three made considerable contributions to a stretch of three AFC South Championships in four years. Were Arizona to consider getting that band back together, they would quickly become a favorite to win the NFC West.
With the future of Larry Fitzgerald still uncertain, there is certainly a need to address new targets for Kyler Murray. Last season, Hopkins didn’t miss a beat as he transitioned from being Deshaun Watson’s number one weapon to becoming Murray’s go to wideout. Christian Kirk settled in as the second option much like Fuller did in Houston, with similar numbers. In 2020, Kirk put up 621 yards on 48 catches. In 2019, Fuller accumulated 670 yards catching 49 passes in Hopkin’s last year as a Texan.
It would have been a strong assumption that with Hopkins out of the picture, Fuller would become his successor. Unfortunately for him, the addition of Brandin Cooks once again relegated him to second fiddle status. While Fuller did enjoy a production boost gaining 879 yards and eight touchdowns on 53 receptions, Cooks still outpaced him. Those who have been waiting for that breakout season from Fuller might wait a while. He seems to be settled into the complementary role.
With that, rejoining Hopkins as an Arizona receiver would only add to the firepower they already have. It will also add a familiarity in the receiving corps as the former teammates already know how the other operates. This can only benefit Murray who will have two proven winners catching his passes.
T.Y. Hilton – FA (Indianapolis Colts)
There is little doubt that Colts fans are not ready to part ways with their favorite receiver. Unfortunately, they may have to as T.Y. Hilton may take off the only jersey he’s ever worn and enter the 2021 free agent pool. Of course, Indianapolis may decide to make an offer at the last minute to avoid that. But, it’s seeming less and less likely the two will come to terms. This will allow Hilton to ride into the sunset somewhere else. That somewhere could be Arizona. It could make sense to replace one legend with another should Fitzerald decide to hang it up for good.
Arizona is not looking for a new number one option nor is Hilton expecting to be the lead wideout on his next team. Even if he were to stay with the Colts, Michael Pittman Jr. has put himself in position to be the top receiver. Add to that with the departure of Philip Rivers and the uncertainty of the quarterback situation. Basically, it all signals a fine time for Hilton to take his leave.
If he’s looking for one last opportunity to be a member of a championship team, Hilton could do worse than the Cardinals. They are not so quietly assembling a team that could take the reins of a turbulent wild west in the NFC. He’ll serve as a veteran presence on the squad and another mentor to an up and coming Kirk. It’s a no lose situation for everyone involved and certainly one worth exploring.
Cam Sims – ERFA (Washington Football Team)
To stay on top, accumulating young talent is a must. In that vein, grabbing an up and comer like Cam Sims could add tremendous value to the Cardinals. The third year receiver is an exclusive rights free as of the expiration of his two year deal with the WFT. He has spent the last two seasons in the heavy shadow cast by his teammate Terry McLaurin. Even still, he’s managed to show that he is capable of big things. Given a more stable quarterback situation, he could shine even brighter.
That would be the situation he would find himself in with the Cardinals and Kyler Murray. He’ll look to improve on his 477 yards and 32 receptions from last season. Sims would offer a solid support effort on a roster with DeAndre Hopkins and potential Larry Fitzgerald. Granted he would do the same in Washington. In Arizona though, he’d have a shot to move up a spot or two on the depth chart. Last season, he was buried as the fourth option for the Football Team.
At the top of the pecking order was McLaurin with 134 total targets. J.D. McKissic and Logan Thomas were next with 110 targets apiece. If you’re keeping score, he found himself getting less looks than a tight end and a running back. This had much to do with the inconsistency at the quarterback position. It will be a tough sell to ask Sims to stay with a team where he is losing looks to players outside of his position group. Especially if the lead offensive position does not get an upgrade. If Fitzgerald does retire, taking on Sims would add youth and speed to the roster which will only help Murray in the long run.
Leonard Fournette – FA (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Last season, Leonard Fournette won the Super Bowl lottery. Joining the Buccaneers at the absolute right moment took the still young former Jacksonville Jaguar from the bottom to the pinnacle of the NFL. Now, he has the opportunity to take that success and turn it into a decent payday. It’s highly unlikely he will decide to stay with Tampa Bay even with most of the Championship team still intact. Despite playing a large role in the 2020 season, he still had to split time with Ronald Jones and Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Both of which find themselve still under contract. Fournette will likely want to find a spot where he won’t have to share the load quite as much. Enter the Arizona Cardinals.
As Kenyan Drake is set to depart the backfield he leaves behind Chase Edmonds. Edmonds hasn’t broken out as a true number one back in his three seasons in the league. He had his shot in 2019 to claim the spot. That was the year Arizona brought in Drake from the Dolphins mid season. Should they lose Drake to free agency, it’s highly likely they will start shopping for his replacement.
Of all the backs on the market not named Drake, Fournette is the most attractive. He’s still young and has proven he can handle being an every down back. He’ll certainly be the most coveted of the running back free agents out there. Pairing him with an already mobile quarterback would be a nightmare for opposing defenses.