The Arizona Cardinals took a huge step back in 2016, going from Super Bowl contenders to being left out of the playoffs. It was the result of poor offensive line play and Carson Palmer struggling at times, but the defense remained one of the best units in the NFL.
Entering this offseason, the Cardinals’ needs are clear. The offense is littered with talent, but the line could use some assistance. And depending on who departs in free agency, they may need to add players at linebacker and on the defensive line.
Here are five players they should target in free agency.
G Larry Warford (Lions)
The Cardinals have one pricey guard in Mike Iupati, but there’s a big hole at right guard. Warford is a road-grader at that spot and would be a huge addition to Arizona’s offensive line. He can open up running lanes for David Johnson and protect Carson Palmer on the inside. At 25 years old, he’s still extremely young and has his best years of football still to come. Warford would be cheaper than guys like Kevin Zeitler and T.J. Lang, too.
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY SportsTim Fuller
DL Calais Campbell (Cardinals)
The Cardinals are bringing back Chandler Jones for at least one more year, but retaining Campbell is arguably just as important. He’s been a stud on Arizona’s defensive line for years and has the ability to both stop the run and get after the quarterback from his interior line spot. That’s huge in a 3-4 defense, particularly with his versatility across the front. He’s one of the best interior linemen on the market, which will certainly drive his price up a bit, but his impact on the defense is much greater than even his strong numbers indicate.
USA TODAY SportsMatt Kartozian
LB Gerald Hodges (49ers)
The Cardinals are in danger of losing Kevin Minter in free agency, but signing Hodges would actually be viewed as an upgrade. He’s a good cover linebacker who can also come downhill against the run – something the Cardinals need next to the rangy Deone Bucannon. Hodges had a great season with the 49ers in 2016, recording 83 tackles and two interceptions. The Cardinals need a safety who can drop back and cover in space, which is exactly what Hodges can do.
Matt Marton-USA TODAY SportsMatt Marton
CB Morris Claiborne (Cowboys)
Patrick Peterson is going to start on one side, but there’s a gaping hole at No. 2 cornerback for Arizona. Brandon Williams hasn’t panned out in his transition to corner, while Marcus Cooper was up-and-down. Claiborne was having a terrific season before he got injured after seven games, essentially putting an end to a year that seemed to be Pro Bowl-worthy. He can step in right away at the corner spot opposite Peterson, boasting the size and length that Bruce Arians covets at that position. As long as he can stay healthy – which is a huge question – he should be a solid starter.
Matthew EmmonsUSA TODAY Sports
TE Jack Doyle (Colts)
The Cardinals don’t have many huge needs on offense, but tight end is certainly one of them. Doyle isn’t as good of a receiver as Martellus Bennett, but he’s still a good all-around tight end who graded out well in both blocking and receiving. He can add a different element to Arizona’s offense in the middle of the field, something the Cardinals lacked last season. Doyle had a great season with Andrew Luck in 2016 and he’s only going to improve as time goes on.
S Tony Jefferson (Cardinals)
The Cardinals were deep at safety in 2016, but that’ll change this offseason. D.J. Swearinger and Jefferson are both free agents, and re-signing one should be a huge priority. Jefferson is the better and more versatile player, and should be on the Cardinals’ short list of free agents. He’s only gotten better with each passing year, and is a big part of Arizona’s secondary. He won’t be cheap, considering he’s the best available safety, but Jefferson is a budding star in Arizona.