After a successful first week of free agency, the Arizona Cardinals are slowly building a team that could become a serious division contender for the 2020 season.
Amidst a very concerning and turbulent time, mostly due to the coronavirus pandemic that has completely paralyzed the American sports universe, the NFL free agency process has completed its first week, and we can already include the Arizona Cardinals among the big winners of the transfer market.
The Birds’ key to their spectacular offseason so far has been their uncompromising ambition and quick actions when it comes to the signing process, and even in this whirlwind of a free agency period, where all NFL teams are engaging in a surprisingly intense, rarely seen set of negotiations, the Arizona organization has quietly constructed a team that could challenge the rest of the NFC West, opening the window for — finally — a playoff berth.
First of all, they have successfully secured the position of wide receiver, which was something they desperately needed, perhaps the most necessary element in an offense that severely underperformed in 2019. This time, they outlined a deal with the Houston Texans that solidified on March 20th, for star receiver DeAndre Hopkins. They traded Hopkins for RB David Johnson, and they even threw in a 2020 second-round draft pick and a 2021 fourth-rounder.
Hopkins had a very solid season last year, collecting a total of 1,165 receiving yards, with seven touchdowns. Most importantly, he had an average of 11.2 YDS/REC and reached long receptions of 43 and 41 yards in week 13 versus Denver and wild-card game versus Buffalo, respectively.
This means great potential for a stunning partnership with QB Kyle Murray, who now can go as long as he wants, knowing he can rely on such a stable, skillful pair of hands. Murray in his rookie season accounted for 3,722 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, and his dynamic focus can benefit from Hopkins’ prowess and leadership, and even when he showed a strong running game in 2019, Murray will not have much of a need to resort to that, since both Hopkins and recently-extended Larry Fitzgerald could play different roles, opening up his offensive options.
When it comes to rushing yards, Arizona placed a transition tag on promising RB Kenyan Drake. The young player showed signs of greatness since he entered the team last October, strengthening the offense even with such an irregular, performance by both receivers and the offensive line.
The Cards also made key signings in the defensive department; they have recently added DE Jordan Philips on a three-year contract and secured OLB Devon Kennard, also for three seasons. Philips had a great season with Buffalo, collecting 9.5 Sacks and a total of 31 tackles, of which 26 were solo, and Phoenix native Devon Kennard had a 7-sack season with the Detroit Lions, matching his 2018 mark, but seriously improving in quarterback pressures and total tackles. They have also signed ILB De’vondre Campbell from the Atlanta Falcons, who saw a lot of action last year, collecting 129 tackles.
These changes have come to complement the massive overhaul of their entire coaching staff, at the beginning of the year. The hiring of Brentson Buckner as defensive line coach, Jim Dray as offensive quality control coach, Mark Naylor as the assistant strength and conditioning coach, and Derius Swinton as the assistant special-teams coach, combined with the promotion of Charlie Bullen to outside linebackers coach, Don Shumpert to the offensive assistant and Spencer Whipple as assistant wide receivers coach, means that we’ll see a radically different team in 2020.
This could play to the stars’ strengths and could make the younger players finally reach their potential. They still have a long way to go, especially in the NFL Draft, where they can add a few more pieces to a team that is slowly coming of age, and in the rest of free agency, they still need important additions, most crucially in the offensive line, which remains the weakest point in the team.
However, these last few acquisitions open a new world of possibilities for the Cardinals. They live in a very tough division, and the competition is only getting harder, but now they have built the foundations of a team that could contend for a wild-card spot, and even challenges the supremacy of the San Francisco 49ers. Cardinals fans should rejoice — the playoff are finally in sight.