The Arizona Cardinals sprinted out to a 7-0 record before collapsing to finish the season 4-7, cooling off for the second season in a row. The Cardinals also have a long list of key players slated to become free agents in 2022, and if they don’t want to face a slew of roster turnover and give themselves the best chance to venture deeper into the playoffs, they must find ways to hang onto several contributors. To best uphold their winning ways seen during the first half of 2021, the Cardinals must re-sign the following players.
Five Key Players Arizona Cardinals Must Attempt to Retain for 2022
Running Back James Conner
James Conner had a renaissance season in 2021. Logging 752 yards on 202 carries, Conner had his most prolific year since his initial Pro Bowl appearance in 2018 when he rushed for 973 yards. And although Conner did little in the yards-per-carry department (3.7), he scored 15 rushing touchdowns and added another three through the air.
Conner was always a threat in the receiving game during his time in Pittsburgh, and he ended up with a career-high 94.9% catch percentage, hauling in 37 of 39 targets for 375 yards and 10.1 yards per reception. The latter of which was a career-high. While Conner didn’t look like a true featured back having split carries with Chase Edmonds, he showed enough on his one-year prove-it deal that he deserves a long-term deal in the desert.
Wide Receiver Christian Kirk
After posting good but not great numbers during his first three seasons, Christian Kirk broke out in 2021, hauling in 77 receptions for 982 yards and five touchdowns. Even more impressive, he stepped up as the WR2 when longtime receiver Larry Fitzgerald opted not to return. He also had some of his best games following DeAndre Hopkins’ injury on December 13th, collecting 30 receptions in five games (four regular seasons, one playoff), logging a catch percentage of 66.7% or higher in four of those contests.
With Hopkins entering the 2022 season coming off of an injury and A.J. Green potentially leaving along with Zach Ertz and Maxx Williams, the Cardinals need a budding playmaker. They can always turn to the NFL Draft, but Kirk is a proven player who stepped up big in 2021. He broke out and, while he made splashes here and there, became a consistent playmaker in his fourth season.
Tight End Zach Ertz
Zach Ertz burst onto the scene on October 24th via a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles and never looked back. He recorded 56 receptions on 81 targets during his 11 games with the Cardinals. And while he scored just three times, he provided a big-bodied target for Kyler Murray and Colt McCoy following Maxx Williams’ injury.
Ertz started off slow for the Cardinals, never recording more than four receptions in a game until Week 11 against the Seattle Seahawks. From Week 11 until Week 18, he logged five or more catches in all but two outings. Ertz will turn 32 this season, but he showed he’s still the productive player he was in Philadelphia. Ertz gives Murray yet another reliable target, especially in the middle of the field. And given his overall production since joining the Cardinals, the front office must make him a top off-season priority.
Defensive End Chandler Jones
Like Ertz, Chandler Jones is another aging player on this list. And while he will come with a price tag, the Cardinals need him in the desert until they find a replacement on the edge. And Jones proved he can still produce, having registered 10.5 sacks, including five during Week One versus the Tennessee Titans.
Jones, who had disputes with the team last off-season, returned and logged another Pro Bowl campaign, the fourth of his career. Since arriving in the desert in 2016, Jones has proven his worth, chasing down quarterbacks and logging double-digit sacks in each of his five full seasons with the team. And while the Cardinals will pay a ransom to bring back the 32-year-old, he and Markus Golden are the team’s only two capable edge rushers. But until Jones shows signs of a decline, the Cardinals need to pay him top-notch money to produce.
Tight End Maxx Williams
Maxx Williams hadn’t caught more than 16 catches in a single season since his rookie year with the Baltimore Ravens when he logged 32 receptions. In 2021, he was on pace to have a career year before a torn ACL ended his season with 16 receptions on 17 targets in five games. And while the Cardinals should also bring back Zach Ertz, they will have a valuable second tight-end in Williams should they re-sign him.
Williams, whose performances until last season never turned heads, would return on a smaller contract, giving the Cardinals an excellent bang for their buck. His return will add another dimension to the team’s offense, allowing them to lineup in two tight-end sets and giving Murray more legitimate threats in the passing game. Williams is also a phenomenal blocking tight-end, which adds value to the running game.
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