Tight end and cornerback are still the biggest needs that must be addressed
The 2021 NFL Draft is over and the Cardinals still have quite a few holes on the roster that they must fill.
Tulsa’s Zaven Collins and Purdue’s Rondale Moore are the Cardinals’ top two draft selections this year but they were chosen based on them being the best players available on their board and not necessarily filling positions of need.
Cornerback by far was the position that many thought would be addressed by General Manager Steve Keim earlier in the draft but he was still able to trade up for Florida’s Marco Wilson in the fourth-round and selected Central Florida’s Tay Gowan in the sixth-round.
It is difficult to imagine the Cardinals relying on two day three draft picks and the oft-injured Robert Alford to man the starting job opposite Malcolm Butler. However, it would not surprise me at all if Butler, Alford, Wilson, Gowan, and Byron Murphy is the cornerback group on the final roster.
Tight end is also a position of need and Keim has made it clear he will add one in free agency,
“We will address [the tight end] position in free agency,” Keim said in the Cardinals draft recap press conference. “And we feel like there are a couple guys who could potentially help us.”
Here are my top-5 free agents for the Cardinals to consider:
Tyler Eifert – Tight End (6’6’’ 255lbs)
The first thing people think about when it comes to Tyler Eifert is his injury history and fans have every right to be concerned. He has missed a whopping 54 games in his eight years in the NFL.
For what it is worth, Eifert missed only one game over the last two seasons. His 436 yards in 2019 and 349 yards in 2020 are consistent with the production the Cardinals normally get from their tight ends. Considering he had struggling quarterbacks during those two seasons, his production could be better with Kyler Murray under center.
The Cardinals do not have any receiving threats at the tight end position after Dan Arnold signed with the Panthers. Maxx Williams is primarily a blocker and Darrell Daniels is a special teams player. Undrafted free agent Cary Angeline could make some noise but there are still plenty of unknowns about him. Signing Tyler Eifert would be an inexpensive “low-risk, high-reward” option for the Cardinals.
Sheldon Richardson – Defensive Tackle/Nose Tackle (6’3’’ 294lbs)
The Cardinals are clearly trying to improve the trenches on both sides of the ball, especially on the defense. They gave Jordan Phillips a three-year $30 million contract last season and shocked the NFL when they landed All-Pro J.J. Watt on a two-year $31 million deal in March. They drafted Zach Allen, Michael Dogbe, Leki Fotu, and Rashard Lawrence in the last two drafts.
Why not continue to strengthen the defensive line with Sheldon Richardson?
Richardson is entering his ninth season in the NFL and is arguably the top available free agent remaining with his release from the Cleveland Browns. He has played in 3-4 and 4-3 fronts as a defensive end, defensive tackle, and nose tackle. In the NFL these days, versatility is highly valued. The 30-year-old might not have the sack numbers but he is great at creating pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, he has created 80 total pressures since 2019 which is tied for 13th among defensive lineman.
Bashaud Breeland – Cornerback (5’11’’ 195lbs)
The Cardinals may or may not add a cornerback following the two additions to this position via the draft but how comfortable would Steve Keim be in relying on two rookies and oft-injured Robert Alford, who missed the last two years with season-ending injuries?
Probably not very comfortable.
Breeland would be a plug-and-play cornerback on day one as Marco Wilson and Tay Gowan start their careers on special teams. The 29-year-old cornerback has 14 interceptions in his career. He might be the best, most durable player currently available at his position in free agency. He missed four games last season due to a suspension and sat out in Week 17 with a playoff spot secured.
Adding another veteran cornerback to the roster would be a wise move that the Cardinals should do.
Trey Burton – Tight End (6’2’’ 238lbs)
Steve Keim said there are a couple tight ends that he feels can help this football team and one of them could very well be Trey Burton. The former Indianapolis Colt had five total touchdowns in 2020, including two in Wildcat formations. He missed the first three games of the season on injury reserve.
Burton might not be a towering tight end like most are at his position but what he has is athleticism and playoff experience. It was not that long ago when he threw a touchdown pass to Nick Foles on the Philly Special play in Super Bowl 52 against the New England Patriots.
He was used in an H-back and tight end role in his time with the Eagles, Bears, and Colts. Burton would be primed for a big role at the tight end position with his pass catching and ball carrying experiences.
Gareon Conley – Cornerback (6’0’’ 190lbs)
Cardinals wanted to get younger at the cornerback position so they let Patrick Peterson, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Jonathan Joseph walk in free agency. They signed Malcolm Butler, re-signed Robert Alford, and added two cornerbacks in the draft.
If Steve Keim wants to go the younger route, Conley could very well be their guy and he turns only 26 in June.
Conley had three interceptions in 2018 but really has not had much success the next two seasons. He was out all of 2020 following an arthroscopic ankle surgery with rehab that apparently did not go well. Though it is unclear whether Conley is fully healthy but if he is, he is another “low-risk, high-reward” option as a former first-round pick that is trying to get back onto the football field.
Zach Ertz – Tight End (6’5’’ 250lbs)
Any team that trades for Zach Ertz would have to take in his hefty $8.5 million base salary and that is not something that I believe the Cardinals would do.
However if he is designated a post-June 1st release, the Cardinals will likely be interested in signing him. Ertz was a three-time Pro Bowl selection (2017-19) before going through an injury-plagued 2020 year.
He posted career low numbers in receptions (36), receiving yards (335), and touchdowns (one) last season. To be fair, the Eagles were one of the worst teams in the NFL dealing with a fractured relationship between head coach Doug Pederson and struggling quarterback Carson Wentz.
Ertz has had an impressive eight-year career in the NFL with 561 receptions, 6,078 receiving yards, 36 touchdowns, and a Super Bowl Championship. He could return to form as one of the best tight ends in the NFL this season especially if he has stability at the quarterback position.