— CJ Fogler AKA Perc70 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) January 18, 2022
This was a team that started 7-0 and was 10-2 after 13 weeks and looked to be cruising to a number one seed in the NFC. They then proceeded to lose four of five games before the playoffs started. In those five games, they gave up 30+ points three times after they allowed that many just twice in their first 12 contests. They settled for a wild-card berth and a trouncing at the hands of Sean McVey. It was safe to say with offseason acquisitions like A.J. Green, J.J. Watt and James Conner, the Cardinals were all-in this year. Now what?
They are another year older and about to be ravaged by free agency, especially on offense. For the 2022 version of the Arizona Cardinals, who are we buying and selling as we look ahead to dynasty drafts and a tumultuous offseason?
BUY: Eno Benjamin, RB
Just two days ago, they Cardinals had four running backs under contract on their roster. Now that their 2021 season is over, they now have one. Eno Benjamin. I’m sure the Cardinals would love to retain both James Conner and Chase Edmonds, but both are going to be seeking lucrative deals. Someone is going to empty the wallet for Conner’s 19 total touchdowns in just 16 games. Edmonds is one year younger and is coming off a season where he saw 5.1 yards per rush and 7.2 yards per reception. Maybe one of them makes it back to Arizona, but the chances both do are nil.
That’s excellent news for Benjamin. He is on a team-friendly rookie deal making less than $1 million in 2022 and will be just 23 years old. Arizona ran the ball 43.6% of the time in 2021, 12th-highest in the NFL. Their 496 rush attempts were seventh-most this year. The Cardinals’ running backs also rushed 66 times in the red zone plus added 11 targets, good for 4.5 opportunities per game.
When given the chance, Eno Benjamin was able to show his playmaking chops. Benjamin created 0.68 fantasy points per opportunity in 2021, essentially the same marks as Saquon Barkley and Dalvin Cook. In his limited touches, his juke rate (35%) beat Christian McCaffrey, Javonte Williams and even Chase Edmonds.
The concern for Benjamin is if the Cardinals decide to sign a starter-level running back in free agency and spend a high draft pick on a back. Assuming that doesn’t happen, Benjamin is going to come into 2022 with a chance to play a major role on a run-heavy team who have shown their commitment to the dual-back strategy.
SELL: A.J. Green, WR
In the 2021 offseason, A.J. Green signed a $6 million deal with the Cardinals that lasts for three seasons. Except that it actually doesn’t. The way the contract was structured, the last two years were to be immediately voided after the end of the 2021 season so Arizona could spread out the cap hit over three seasons. That means that even though Green will make $2.5 million going forward from the Cardinals, his services are very unlikely to be renewed going forward.
The Cardinals have DeAndre Hopkins and his $25 million salary next year as well as Rondale Moore, Andy Isabella, and exclusive rights free agent Antonie Wesley still on the roster. They also lose Christian Kirk to free agency this season. The priority will surely be to re-sign Kirk or look for a suitable replacement.
Green, who will be 34 years old next season, is not that replacement. Green finished 2021 with a 58.7% catch rate, ranked 84th in the league and he had the 12-most drops in the league. He was only 90th in target separation rate which led to just 1.7 fantasy points per target – ranked 63rd among wide receivers. The 92 targets were nice, but he did little with them apart from a few big plays.
The other issue with Green is he was just misused relative to why they brought him to Arizona. He was brought in to be a big-play threat opposite Hopkins. But the Cardinals decided to play him in the slot 35% of the time (22nd in the league) which adversely affected Kirk who should have been their primary slot receiver. Kirk lined up there 49% of the time this season (13th among WR). Kirk is about eight years younger than Green and would presumably be the Cardinals’ preference to re-sign.
Beyond the wide receivers, re-signing Chandler Jones and Zach Ertz would also seem like a greater priority. Green will likely catch on somewhere with another one-year deal that will put him at WR3 or WR4 on some team’s depth chart. But it’s not likely to be as good a scenario as he had in Arizona where they finished the year fifth in yards per pass attempt.