Cardinals Rumors

Cards Keep J.J. Watt's Cap Hit Low

  • In order to preserve some cap space in a year in which the cap is expected to decline for only the second time ever, the Cardinals structured J.J. Watt‘s contract unusually. Watt’s two-year, $28MM deal ($31MM max value, via incentives) will only count $4.9MM on Arizona’s 2021 cap sheet, per OverTheCap. The Cards have tacked on three void years to prorate Watt’s signing bonus. Those years will void in 2023, creating $7.2MM in dead money, CBS Sports’ Joel Corry tweets. With the cap expected to go up again starting in 2022, it is not surprising to see the Cardinals opt to preserve cap space this year and worry about additional charges down the line. They still hold $12MM-plus in cap room; that sits in NFL’s top half.

Cardinals GM: Free Agency Not Deadline For Larry Fitzgerald Decision

Larry Fitzgerald has played the past five seasons on one-year contracts, but the future Hall of Fame wide receiver had decided on a return by this point in each of those preceding offseasons.

Over the past three years, Fitzgerald decided to return in February 2018 — honoring a one-year extension he inked the previous November — and in January of 2019 and 2020. In each of the past five seasons, Fitzgerald’s going rate has been $11MM. Another such payment will be difficult to justify, given the Cardinals’ cap situation and Fitz’s performance in 2020.

But the 37-year-old wideout still appears to have a place on the 2021 team, Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com writes, should he decide he wants to play an 18th season. Fitzgerald said in February he did not have a timetable on whether he would retire or return. He was similarly mum when the topic resurfaced last week.

I’ve said it a few times that you know he deserves that space,” Cards GM Steve Keim said. “At some point in time, I’m sure we’ll talk to him here in the near future.”

Last season, Fitzgerald fell off the consistent track he had traveled. He averaged just 7.6 yards per reception (54 catches, 409 yards, one touchdown) and missed three games. Fitz was one of many NFLers to contract COVID-19, and he experienced symptoms that sidelined him for two games. He then missed Week 17 because of a groin injury — his first injury-related absence since the 2014 season.

The Cards have DeAndre Hopkins signed to a $27.3MM-per-year pact, but he is on their 2021 cap sheet at just $12.5MM. Christian Kirk has one season remaining on his rookie contract. Arizona has $12.5MM in cap space and has younger pending free agents in Patrick Peterson, Haason Reddick and Kenyan Drake.

Even if Fitzgerald comes back, the team will still likely add at the receiver position to provide Kyler Murray more help. But a decision should be expected soon, and it will almost certainly determine if Fitzgerald heads to Canton in 2027 or 2028. He ranks second all time in receptions, with those 1,432 catches leading active active pass catchers by more than 500. Fitz’s 17,492 receiving yards are also second; that number leads active players by over 4,500 yards.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Minor NFL Transactions: 3/5/21

We’ll keep track of the latest minor moves here:

Arizona Cardinals

Los Angeles Chargers

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Tennessee Titans

Details On J.J. Watt’s Cardinals Deal

Earlier this week, J.J. Watt joined up with the Cardinals on a two-year deal. Now, we have most of the major details, courtesy of NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo (Twitter links). Here’s the breakdown of Watt’s shiny new contract: 

  • Two years, $31MM maximum value
  • $28MM in base salary + $3MM in incentives based on sack totals
    • 10 sacks in 2021 = $1MM in 2021 + $1MM escalator for 2022
    • 10 sacks in 2022 = $1MM incentive
  • $12MM signing bonus
  • $14.5MM Year 1 base value
  • No-trade clause

After the Texans granted Watt’s request to be released, the veteran said that he wanted to join a contender. In Watt’s estimation, young head coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray are ready to win straight away. It also helps that the Cardinals appear to have submitted the highest offer for his services.

The Browns and Colts — who both made the playoffs in 2020 — didn’t match the Cardinals on compensation. The Titans, Packers, and Steelers were also connected to the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Watt is now one of just nine players whose contract includes a no-trade clause.

Now, with Watt in the fold, the Cardinals may allow Haason Reddick to walk while putting their available dollars elsewhere.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns, Colts Did Not Match Cardinals’ J.J. Watt Offer

The Cardinals came out of the J.J. Watt sweepstakes a surprise winner. It took a two-year, $31MM deal, with $23MM guaranteed, for Watt to head to the desert. This was not the only offer the former Texans great received.

A report indicated the three-time Defensive Player of the Year turned down more money from the Browns and Colts. However, that may not be the case. Both 2020 playoff teams did not top the Cardinals’ offer, according to cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot and The Athletic’s Stephen Holder (on Twitter).

The Browns were viewed as an early Watt finalist, and while the team may well have been in it until the end, Cabot notes Cleveland’s offer did not reach the $15MM-AAV place. The Browns’ proposal likely landed in the $12MM-per-year range, per Cabot. Under Chris Ballard, the Colts are known for their patience with free agency and trades — as was the case with the team’s Matthew Stafford talks — and Holder wonders if the team was even a high bidder for Watt.

Watt targeted a team with a sound quarterback situation. The Cardinals have that box checked in Kyler Murray, with Watt indicating Tuesday that his belief in the young dual-threat star helped lead him to Arizona (Twitter links via ESPN.com’s Josh Weinfuss). Cardinals DC Vance Joseph, who was with the Texans during Watt’s early years in Houston, is believed to have led the Cards’ recruitment effort, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Watt confirmed Joseph was a key factor in his decision to head west.

Cleveland still intends on adding a major piece to team with Myles Garrett, while Indianapolis currently resides in the top five in cap space. The Browns and Colts, respectively, have Olivier Vernon and Justin Houston on track for free agency. The Colts have not ruled out re-signing Houston — whom they gave a two-year, $24MM contract in 2019 — but he will turn 32 this year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Cardinals, Haason Reddick

The Cardinals’ newly formed Chandler JonesJ.J. Watt pass-rushing duo doubles as one of the most accomplished in modern NFL history, though assembling this tandem may leave the team’s breakout pass rusher in search of a new home.

Haason Reddick was hopeful he could stay with the Cardinals, despite his rocky tenure prior that led to the team declining the linebacker’s fifth-year option. And the Cards, prior to their Watt signing, expressed interest in bringing Reddick back, according to ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler (on Twitter).

Pre-Watt, the Cardinals were carrying more than $11MM in cap space. While the team does have a rookie quarterback contract around which to build, it will certainly be a more difficult task to re-sign Reddick now. The Cards also expressed interest in keeping Patrick Peterson. A scenario in which Peterson and Reddick return now appears extremely unlikely. And cornerback will be a much greater Arizona need entering free agency.

Of course, Steve Keim‘s splashy Watt transaction points to the franchise’s interest in contending for a Super Bowl now. Reddick returning would certainly strengthen that prospect, after his 12.5-sack season, and Watt’s extensive experience as an interior pass rusher would seemingly leave a fit for the former first-round pick on the edge opposite Jones.

Markus Golden could serve as a cheaper option for the Cards to retain. He did not draw much interest after his 10-sack season with the 2019 Giants and expressed a desire to stay in Arizona this year. Golden did not record a sack in nine games back with the Cardinals last year but did post 14 QB hits — just two shy of Reddick’s total last season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cardinals To Sign J.J. Watt

The J.J. Watt sweepstakes are over. The heavily decorated pass-rusher has chosen his next team, and that’ll be the Cardinals, Watt announced himself on Twitter.

This was no cheap signing for a veteran player chasing a ring, Watt got paid. He’s getting a two-year deal worth a whopping $31MM with $23MM of that guaranteed, a source told Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). Watt made it known from the outset that he only wanted to go to a place where he could win a Super Bowl, and clearly he’s excited about what Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray have cooking.

We heard last week that Watt had received an offer in the $15-16MM range, and that turned out to be spot on. He was also connected to playoff teams like the Browns, Titans, Packers, Steelers, and a couple of others. Watt will now rejoin former Texans teammate Deandre Hopkins, who recruited him on social media, in the desert.

Hopkins won’t be the only familiar face for him, as Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph was on staff in Houston for Watt’s first three pro seasons. It’s a coup for Joseph, who will now have an intimidating pass-rushing duo with Watt lining up opposite fellow All-Pro Chandler Jones.

As Josh Weinfuss of ESPN tweeted, Jones is first in the NFL in sacks since 2012, and Watt is second. They’ll be a problem for any offensive line. The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year had struggled with injuries for a few seasons, but he played all 16 games in 2020.

He only registered five sacks but was a constant disruptor, and had 14 tackles for loss and seven passes defended. He still graded out very well in most pass-rush pressure metrics.

Watt is the first massive domino to fall with the start of free agency right around the corner. This signing could mean the Cards are planning to move on from impending free agent Haason Reddick, who just registered 12.5 sacks in a breakout 2020 campaign. Arizona will host Houston in 2021, so Watt will have a chance at revenge on his old team. The question now becomes whether he’ll be chasing Deshaun Watson or not when that game happens.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

The Only NFL Players With No-Trade Clauses

It’s fairly common for disgruntled NFL players to give their teams a short list of acceptable trade destinations. However, it’s still quite rare for players to hold contractual veto power over a trade. Currently, there are only nine NFL players with a no-trade clause in their deals, as ESPN.com’s Field Yates tweets

▪️ Drew Brees, QB (Saints)
▪️ Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, OL (Chiefs)
▪️ Jimmy Garoppolo, QB (49ers)
▪️ Jimmy Graham, TE (Bears)
▪️ DeAndre Hopkins, WR (Cardinals)
▪️ Patrick Mahomes, QB (Chiefs)
▪️ Deshaun Watson, QB (Texans)
▪️ J.J. Watt, DL (Cardinals)
▪️ Russell Wilson, QB (Seahawks)

The Chiefs, who represent 25% of the list, furnished LDT with a NTC as a part of his contract restructure. Historically, there haven’t been many offensive lineman to secure the clause. However, Duvernay-Tardif had a bit of leverage in 2020 when the Chiefs needed extra cap room. He was scheduled to count for nearly $9MM, $6.45MM of which was comprised of base salary. Instead, he converted some of that money into a signing bonus over the remaining three years and came away with a perk typically reserved for quarterbacks.

Watson and Wilson are among the QBs who can block trades. They’re both putting it to use, albeit in different ways. Watson wants out — even after finally meeting with new head coach David Culley – and he’s steering himself towards a small group of teams, including the Dolphins and Panthers. Wilson, meanwhile, says that he doesn’t want to get traded and doesn’t expect to get traded. But, if the Seahawks do shop him, he wouldn’t mind joining up with the Bears, Cowboys, Saints or Raiders. In beating out several other teams for Watt, the Cardinals included the clause in the star defender’s contract.

Latest On Cardinals, Kenyan Drake

Two Cardinals all-time greatsLarry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson — are unsigned for 2021. Arizona’s breakout pass rusher, Haason Reddick, is weeks from free agency as well.

The player that received Arizona’s tag last year, Kenyan Drake, joins them in being without a 2021 contract. He would be interested in staying in Arizona but sounds eager to see what his options are. The Cardinals have until March 15, when the legal tampering period opens, to negotiate exclusively with Drake.

I would love the opportunity to come back to Arizona but also do want to get the most of what I feel I deserve, so we’ll see,” Drake said during an appearance on The Jim Rome Show (via the Arizona Republic).

However, Drake said during an interview on the NFL Network’s Good Morning Football there has not been much dialogue between he and the team. After trading for Drake at the 2019 deadline, the Cardinals transition-tagged him last year. Drake, 27, has never been a free agent.

It hasn’t really been too much dialogue right now. I know the league and the teams are trying to figure out the cap room,” Drake said during the NFL Network appearance. “So like I said, once we cross that bridge, we’ll get there.

… There are gonna be several different circumstances that I guess I’ll come together with my team to kind of deliberate with exactly who we feel will be the best fit. But right now, I feel like anything is up in the air. I would just appreciate a team coming in and allowing me to continue playing my game, help the team win games, be a versatile playmaker out the backfield.”

Drake totaled 955 rushing yards (4.0 per tote) and 10 touchdowns last season. The Cardinals have Chase Edmonds under contract for 2021, though he is going into a contract year. Edmonds averaged 4.6 yards per carry and operated as Arizona’s primary receiving back. Drake amassed just 137 receiving yards in his first full Cardinals slate.

As of now, the 2016 Dolphins third-round pick stands to join 2017 draftees Aaron Jones, Chris Carson, James Conner and Marlon Mack as first-time free agent backs. Leonard Fournette may also hit the market, and 2018 UDFA Phillip Lindsay is set for restricted free agency. Jones profiles as the top target, but the Packers could keep him off the market via the franchise tag — which is expected to be cheaper than it was last year. Drake made $8.5MM on the transition tag.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Keim: Cards Will Not Cut Chandler Jones

  • A more proven pass rusher does not have to worry about any release. Asked about an NFL.com list of prospective cap casualties that included Chandler Jones, Cardinals GM Steve Keim rejected the notion that is on the table during an appearance on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM (via the Arizona Republic). Jones is due to count $20.8MM against Arizona’s 2021 cap. The two-time All-Pro is entering the final season of a $16.5MM-per-year deal that has fallen to 13th among edge rushers, pointing to a potential extension that would lower his cap hit.