Kenyan Drake, the NFL Draft, David Johnson and more: What I would do if I were the GM? By Scott Bord

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Because Cardinals general manager Steve Keim did not conduct an end-of-the-season news conference, we have no idea what he’s thinking when it comes to free agency and the draft.

What we do know is this: After re-signing wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald to a one-year contract worth approximately $11 million, the Cardinals have about $53.6 million in cap space, according to overthecap.com.

That $53 million is very much a fluid figure, though. As much as $20 million will go to tackle D.J. Humphries and running back Kenyan Drake, assuming they re-sign. Arizona also will have to set aside some of that cap space to sign other veterans, including center A.Q. Shipley, kicker Zane Gonzalez and backup quarterback Brett Hundley.

Conversely, the Cardinals could create more cap space via trade, releasing a player or restructuring a contract.

Arizona also has seven picks in the upcoming draft, although that could change as well if Keim swings a deal or two.

What will Keim do with those assets? We can’t say. But I know what I would do if I were GM. Here’s a look at how I would build the roster:

Re-sign Humphries
No other deal will give Keim as much heartburn. Humphries has played a full season just once in his four-year career. He was considered an underachiever his first three seasons before finally blossoming under coach Sean Kugler in 2019. Giving him a multi-year deal that could be worth more than $50 million, with at least $30 million in guaranteed money, is a huge risk.

But what choice do the Cardinals have? The franchise is being built around Kyler Murray. Protecting him is the No. 1 priority. If Arizona doesn’t re-sign Humphries, it will have to spend a significant portion of its cap space to sign a free agent or be forced to use its first-round pick on a left tackle.

Re-sign Drake
According to spotrac.com, Drake’s market value in free agency is a four-year deal worth $22.2 million, an average of $5.56 million per season. That would make Drake the 10th highest-paid running back in football.

Is he worth it?

Few NFL teams are willing to give running backs significant contracts. The deals given to Johnson and the Los Angeles Rams’ Todd Gurley hang over their teams like gray storm clouds. Also, because more college concepts such as the zone read are being used in the NFL, it’s easier to find running backs with mid-round picks who can contribute immediately while on inexpensive rookie deals.

But when it comes to Drake, the Cardinals should sign the check. In eight games with Arizona, Drake averaged 5.2 yards per carry and caught 28 passes. He proved he’s a No. 1 back, a fit in Kliff Kingsbury’s system, and the Cardinals have enough cap space to absorb paying their top back $5.5 million.

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Re-sign Shipley, Hundley, Gonzalez, Justin Murray, Zach Kerr, Damiere Byrd and Pharoh Cooper
The Cardinals can’t — nor should they — re-sign all 25 of their free agents. But those seven should be priorities for Keim.

A two-year, $5 million deal might be enough to retain Shipley, who already has said he wants to return. Hundley made $1.875 million as Kyler Murray’s backup in 2019, and a two-year, $4 million deal seems reasonable. Gonzalez should receive a multi-year deal worth at least $3.5 million, which would place him among the top-15-paid kickers in the league.

Kerr flashed promise in his 12 games with Arizona, and the Cardinals desperately need defensive linemen. Kerr’s market value is $4 million a year, according to spotrac.com.

Byrd and Cooper shouldn’t cost the Cardinals a lot of money. They each made $720,000 in 2019 and, by the end of the season, they were significant contributors, Byrd as the team’s No. 3 receiver and best deep threat and Cooper as the team’s top returner.

Restructure David Johnson’s contract
In order to trade Johnson, the Cardinals should emulate the Miami Dolphins’ approach when they dealt quarterback Ryan Tannehill to the Tennessee Titans in March 2019.

Miami restructured part of Tannehill’s guaranteed money into a signing bonus, thus decreasing the monetary cost for Tennessee.

Johnson is guaranteed $10.2 million this coming season. The Cardinals should turn at least $6 million of that into a signing bonus. The $6 million still will count against their cap, but it will be far easier to trade Johnson if a team has to pay him only $4 million.

Once the restructuring is complete, Arizona should place a call to Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians and ask if he would like to be reunited with Johnson in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick.

Spend their cap space on defense
If the Cardinals re-sign Humphries and Drake, they’ll have one desperate need on offense entering free agency: a No. 1 receiver. But after giving Fitzgerald $11 million, it makes little sense for Arizona to pay big money to a free agent such as Dallas’ Amari Cooper or pursue a trade for, say, Cleveland’s Odell Beckham Jr., who has four years and $56 million left on his contract.

(Arizona also could use a right tackle but re-signing Murray and drafting a tackle between the second and fourth rounds would be palatable.)

Instead, the bulk of Arizona’s cap space should be spent on the league’s No. 32-ranked defense and specifically on a defensive lineman or edge rusher.

Keim traditionally hasn’t gone for the big-money, first-day deals in free agency in part because the Cardinals haven’t had a lot of money to spend the past five years, and he prefers to spread his cap space around.

But this is the year to change that philosophy. Keim should do what it takes to land one of three defensive linemen (assuming they do hit free agency): Kansas City’s Chris Jones, Jacksonville’s Yannick Ngakoue or San Francisco’s Arik Armstead.

The Cardinals need impact players on their front seven, and they have money to spend. Get it done.

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Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons celebrates the ACC title Dec. 7, 2019. (Photo by John Byrum / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The draft
Let’s assume our plan comes to fruition. Arizona re-signs Humphries, Drake and a few other of its free agents, is able to trade Johnson and lands an elite defensive lineman in free agency.

At that point, it will be tempting to use the No. 8 pick on one of the top three receivers in the draft: Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, or Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III or Jerry Jeudy.

But that’s not what I would do. Yes, the Cardinals need a No. 1 wideout. But I can give you three reasons to not draft a receiver in the first round:

First, Arizona averaged 23.8 points per game over its eight final games in 2019. That would have ranked the Cardinals 14th over the course of a full season. Defense, not offense, was the problem.

Second, this a deep draft for wide receivers. The Athletic’s draft expert, Dane Brugler, has 17 wideouts listed among his top 100 prospects. The Cardinals could land a potential No. 1 receiver in the second round.

Finally, Clemson outside linebacker Isaiah Simmons.

Simmons, if he’s available at No. 8, is the ideal complement to Chandler Jones. His ability to drop back into coverage will allow Jones to remain at WILL linebacker, whose primary responsibility in defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s system is to rush the passer.

Simmons not only can excel in pass coverage, he had eight sacks this past season for Clemson. Brugler called Simmons the, “ideal modern-day defender.”

Imagine how much better Arizona’s defense would be in 2020 with, say, Armstead at defensive end and Simmons at outside linebacker.
 
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I don't agree with it. Sign all those offensive players and only 1 defensive star?

But an interesting read
 

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Bordow made some rookie mistakes

Jacksonville’s Yannick Ngakoue

not a defensive lineman. Listed as a DE in Jax 4-3, but he is 240 lbs. A 3/4 OLb.

Imagine how much better Arizona’s defense would be in 2020 with, say, Armstead at defensive end and Simmons at outside linebacker.

Simmons is a ILB next to Hicks.
 
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Bordow made some rookie mistakes



not a defensive lineman. Listed as a DE in Jax 4-3, but he is 240 lbs. A 3/4 OLb.



Simmons is a ILB next to Hicks.

Could pick a hundred holes in it probably
 

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I think a guy like Kerr would be worth getting back. He is not special but at least he's solid and a pro who knows what he's doing
 

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If his numbers on Drake's value are real, then DO IT. I'm quite sure they will if they can snag him at that kind of figure.
 

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I certainly like the idea of redoing DJ’s contract to move him. But I doubt you’d get more than a 5th or a 6th.
 
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I thought last night that the numbers looked a bit iffy. Just working them out.

He starts with $53m. That's wrong anyway because he's counting a load of camp bodies that won't be on the final 53. It's more like $59m but let's start with his $53m and no backloading.

Minus Hump = $39m
Minus Drake = $33.5m
Minus AQ = $31.5m (I think this is low. You can't say "We think you are a starter but we want to pay you backup money"
Minus Byrd/Cooper = $26.5m (He doesn't give numbers but combined $5m seems right)
Minus Kerr = $22.5m
Minus Hundley = $20.5m
Minus Zane = $17m
Minus DJ trade = $5m (We already eat $6m in dead money from his original signing bonus, adding another $6m equals $12m dead cap)

Then he says spend cap space on defense. What cap space?

Even with his wrong starting number he also hasn't accounted for the rookie draft pool. That's $9m. Add $6 to the starting number and take off $9m and we have $2m left.

There are only 2 contracts we can backload and thats Hump and Drake. Backloading isn't telling the players you are only paying them $3m this year instead of $10m. It's giving them a big junk of cash upfront and spreading it out how you want.

So take Hump. Say you give him a 4 year $56m deal with $30m guaranteed ($14m per). You give him a bunch of that G money in signing bonus, say $15m. You can then play with how you spread that around the 4 years. So you could account for none of it this year but have to eat bigger chunks the following 3 years. This is what we did with the other DJ and why we have to eat so much dead cap to move him on. You are making an already risky deal even more risky with too much back loading.

Anyway, the point is there isn't that much room to backload off the only 2 long terms deals. Maybe you can get $8m back. That's still only $10m to sign defensive FA's.
 

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I thought last night that the numbers looked a bit iffy. Just working them out.

He starts with $53m. That's wrong anyway because he's counting a load of camp bodies that won't be on the final 53. It's more like $59m but let's start with his $53m and no backloading.

Minus Hump = $39m
Minus Drake = $33.5m
Minus AQ = $31.5m (I think this is low. You can't say "We think you are a starter but we want to pay you backup money"
Minus Byrd/Cooper = $26.5m (He doesn't give numbers but combined $5m seems right)
Minus Kerr = $22.5m
Minus Hundley = $20.5m
Minus Zane = $17m
Minus DJ trade = $5m (We already eat $6m in dead money from his original signing bonus, adding another $6m equals $12m dead cap)

Then he says spend cap space on defense. What cap space?

Even with his wrong starting number he also hasn't accounted for the rookie draft pool. That's $9m. Add $6 to the starting number and take off $9m and we have $2m left.

There are only 2 contracts we can backload and thats Hump and Drake. Backloading isn't telling the players you are only paying them $3m this year instead of $10m. It's giving them a big junk of cash upfront and spreading it out how you want.

So take Hump. Say you give him a 4 year $56m deal with $30m guaranteed ($14m per). You give him a bunch of that G money in signing bonus, say $15m. You can then play with how you spread that around the 4 years. So you could account for none of it this year but have to eat bigger chunks the following 3 years. This is what we did with the other DJ and why we have to eat so much dead cap to move him on. You are making an already risky deal even more risky with too much back loading.

Anyway, the point is there isn't that much room to backload off the only 2 long terms deals. Maybe you can get $8m back. That's still only $10m to sign defensive FA's.

I get what you’re saying and we have to be VERY careful / strategic about where we choose to spend. Some difficult decisions for sure.

What I’m struggling with is you keep saying $9mm for rookies, which might end up being total spend; however that’s not what hits the cap. It’s ONLY the top 51 salaries that count for cap purposes. Which means that the 1st, 2nd, 3rd , and potentially 4th round picks will be the only ones consuming cap charges. So closer to $4-5mm.

We can also save money elsewhere. There are several pieces we can cut or restructure to save $$$. For example, we may want to let Andy Lee go, keep Ryan Winslow, and spend the $2mm elsewhere. Alford is another one that we can reclaim ~$4.5mm by cutting and the list goes on.

Tbh, the one I’m REALLY struggling with is re-signing AQ. I don’t think he’s worth $1-2mm let alone $4-5mm per. He’s consistently the weak link on an average line. And don’t try to baffle me with stats. We can all see it with our own eyes.
 
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What I’m struggling with is you keep saying $9mm for rookies, which might end up being total spend; however that’s not what hits the cap. It’s ONLY the top 51 salaries that count for cap purposes. Which means that the 1st, 2nd, 3rd , and potentially 4th round picks will be the only ones consuming cap charges. So closer to $4-5mm.

I see this a lot and it's not correct. Well it is, but it makes no difference.

$9m is the rookie draft pool. That's how much the rookies cost us in cap space.

The top 51 helps in the offseason to SIGN players if you don't have a lot of cap space but it doesn't lower the ultimate cap hit and thats what we are all thinking about when we talk about cap space right? How much the final 53 is going to cost.

When it gets to cut week and we go down to 53 and the top 51 ends those rookies cost us $9m of cap space (if we keep them all on the 53). More likely the 7th goes to the PS and and its $540,000 less.
 

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I agree with his plan up to the draft. Then, I don’t know.

I do for the most part minus spending all of their cap space on a single defensive player in FA. Would rather they get 2-3 defensive starters via FA over a single player with a monster contract.
 

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I thought last night that the numbers looked a bit iffy. Just working them out.

He starts with $53m. That's wrong anyway because he's counting a load of camp bodies that won't be on the final 53. It's more like $59m but let's start with his $53m and no backloading.

Minus Hump = $39m
Minus Drake = $33.5m
Minus AQ = $31.5m (I think this is low. You can't say "We think you are a starter but we want to pay you backup money"
Minus Byrd/Cooper = $26.5m (He doesn't give numbers but combined $5m seems right)
Minus Kerr = $22.5m
Minus Hundley = $20.5m
Minus Zane = $17m
Minus DJ trade = $5m (We already eat $6m in dead money from his original signing bonus, adding another $6m equals $12m dead cap)

Then he says spend cap space on defense. What cap space?

Even with his wrong starting number he also hasn't accounted for the rookie draft pool. That's $9m. Add $6 to the starting number and take off $9m and we have $2m left.

There are only 2 contracts we can backload and thats Hump and Drake. Backloading isn't telling the players you are only paying them $3m this year instead of $10m. It's giving them a big junk of cash upfront and spreading it out how you want.

So take Hump. Say you give him a 4 year $56m deal with $30m guaranteed ($14m per). You give him a bunch of that G money in signing bonus, say $15m. You can then play with how you spread that around the 4 years. So you could account for none of it this year but have to eat bigger chunks the following 3 years. This is what we did with the other DJ and why we have to eat so much dead cap to move him on. You are making an already risky deal even more risky with too much back loading.

Anyway, the point is there isn't that much room to backload off the only 2 long terms deals. Maybe you can get $8m back. That's still only $10m to sign defensive FA's.
More or less I get to the same result...

We can't sign all this players, not to this numbers and expect to get a Defensive Player in FA.

Signing Drake to over 3.4 Mio $/year is even with a DJ trade, not possible.
Signing Byrd will not happen maybe Cooper
A DJ trade is probably unlikely due to the cap ramifications, but before the draft and maybe for a 3rd or 4th could be an argument, having him off the books next year would help too.
Kerr I dunno, we need an upgrade there before I spend 4 mio on him I spend on one big guy

So basically we save up 12 Mio$ with trading DJ and maybe 13 without.

With 10-11 Mio $ you might get good starter on DL/OLB not a great one but a good one. And 2 Mio you need to save up for in season money.
 

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I see this a lot and it's not correct. Well it is, but it makes no difference.
it is correct

an easy way to think about it:

NFL minimum is ~$510k per year

7 draft picks. Each draft pick you sign bumps a NFL minimum salary guy out of the top 53. 7 X $510 = $3.57m

so $9mm ( the sum of all your draft picks 1 year cap number) only impacts the cap by $5.43mm
 
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it is correct

an easy way to think about it:

NFL minimum is ~$510k per year

7 draft picks. Each draft pick you sign bumps a NFL minimum salary guy out of the top 53. 7 X $510 = $3.57m

so $9mm ( the sum of all your draft picks 1 year cap number) only impacts the cap by $5.43mm

It is correct, I said so, but not in the way people try to use it.

They will only cost around 5.5m on the day of signing because of offsetting from the top 51. So if you don't have much cap space it's a help while signing your picks in the offseason.

But its no use for the purpose of planning the cap for the final 53 because the offsetting stops and they cost the full charge against the cap. Which is 9m.

If you are doing any kind of cap planning and FA spending like this article then it's 9m.
 

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Send DJ and a 4th rounder to Tampa Bay for Cameron Brate.

Fills a need for both teams. We get out of DJ's contract and we get a useful piece to add to our offense.
 
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