The Arizona Cardinals could look alarmingly different next season. Several cap hit increases to key players will make re-signing Arizona’s bevy of free agents exponentially more difficult; cap hits for the likes of DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt will double in 2022. Yet, despite their impending struggles, the Cardinals have to focus on re-signing tight end duo Zach Ertz and Maxx Williams.
They’ve never played together, but the projection is that the pair can add a new dimension to an Arizona offense that got figured out in 2021. This off-season, Ertz and Williams could be two of the more low-key, although vastly important, priorities for the Cardinals.
Arizona Cardinals Should Re-sign Tight Ends Zach Ertz and Maxx Williams
The Tight End Duo That Wasn’t
In 2021, the Cardinals got production out of the tight end position that the franchise hasn’t seen for some time. Maxx Williams, a three-year Cardinal, entered the season as a starter, a blocking guy supplementing a pass-heavy offense. Williams’ role in that offense, though, was unexpectedly expanded in 2021. Williams established himself as a genuine option in the passing game, demonstrating a two-way ability that had been previously unexplored in the Minnesota product. He was a significant component of Arizona’s league-leading offense through the first five games. His performance against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2 was his best in a Cardinals uniform, and his season-ending ACL injury suffered in Week 5 was a cruel conclusion to a promising season.
However, Williams’ injury was somewhat of a blessing in disguise for the Cardinals, finally forcing a move for Philadelphia Eagles tight end, Zach Ertz. Linked with Arizona for some time, a midseason trade involving Tay Gowan brought Ertz to the desert. He may have been a bit-part player initially, but Ertz’s value became apparent when Kyler Murray returned to the lineup. The burgeoning relationship between the two was a bright spot throughout a disappointing stretch for the Cardinals. Ertz became Murray’s top target in place of DeAndre Hopkins, whose own injury struggles hampered his season. Playing in just 11 games, Ertz totaled the second-most receptions and third-most receiving yards for Arizona in 2021.
Zach Ertz or Maxx Williams?
The pair were, separately, very good for the Cardinals last season. Projecting how the two might perform together is a tantalizing prospect for 2022, although the reality of such may never be realized. There is a chance that the Cardinals may be forced to choose between the pair in free agency.
A season ago, the ability of Maxx Williams paled in comparison to an All-Pro caliber guy like Zach Ertz. Yet Williams proved in 2021 that he’s far more than the ‘meat and potatoes’ guy. His performance against the Vikings revealed a two-way skillset that offers such versatility at the tight end position, an undiscovered receiving ability complimenting his prowess as a blocker.
However, while Williams may have become a player in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, Ertz was a star in the system. The Cardinals lacked the true pass catcher at tight end, but they found it in Ertz. In Hopkins’ absence, he was Arizona’s top receiver and Murray’s primary target in the passing game. He proved to be the most reliable option in a Cardinals offense that completely ran out of steam. If the Cardinals were absolutely forced to choose one or the other, then the consensus is that Ertz would have to be the guy. His value to the passing offense was immeasurable. Continuing to develop the relationship between Ertz and Murray can yield some impressive results going forward.
The Cardinals Should, And Can, Bring Back Their Tight End Duo
Schematically, the perfect option is to bring back both Williams and Ertz to the desert this off-season. The pair have never actually played together, but their skills project to complement one another in an ideal way; Ertz’s proficiency in the passing game is a luxury buoyed by Williams’s ability to do some two-way work from the trenches. Bringing the pair back allows the Cardinals to explore some schematic fluidity in their personnel groupings next season; the two are ideal for a 12-personnel formation (2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB). In light of how the unit stalled in 2021, the Cardinals must build a roster capable of refreshing its offensive looks midseason.
In terms of spending, bringing both guys back is not out of the realms of possibility, pending decisions at some other key positions. Ertz will be to be a premium target, with a suggested free agency value of $7.6 million annually. At that price though, considering his value to Murray and the offense, Ertz is coming back. The key will be how the open market values, or undervalues, Williams; the Cardinals may be able to bring back Williams on a good-value deal. His ACL injury is certainly going to impact his value, but, perhaps more significantly, Williams’ two-way ability doesn’t seem to be appreciated league-wide. His $6.6 million yearly average projection reflects Williams’ prototype as a blocker rather than the guy he proved he can be last season. Williams is worth more in Arizona than he will cost on the open market, and the Cardinals must take advantage.
Both have stated they desire to remain in the desert, suggesting chemistry that Arizona could benefit from in 2022. If all goes their way in free agency, the Carindals must re-sign both tight ends.
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