The NFL’s new league year technically doesn’t begin until Wednesday when trades and free-agency signings become official, but the Cardinals have already filled two of their biggest needs this offseason in the past two days alone.
On Monday, word came about the blockbuster trade that sent running back David Johnson to the Texans in exchange for superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in a deal involving three draft picks. On Tuesday, the Cardinals signed Bills free-agent defensive tackle Authentic Jordan Phillips Jersey, according to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the deal for Phillips is worth $30 million over three years.
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Also on Tuesday, the Cardinals announced they have offered an exclusive rights tender to right tackle Justin Murray and, as previously reported, tendered a one-year qualifying offer to restricted free agent kicker Zane Gonzalez.
Exclusive rights free agents – players with two years or fewer NFL experience – who are offered tenders such as Murray are essentially bound to their teams. They can’t negotiate with other teams and must sign the contract offer or sit out the season. Murray, the starter 12 games at right tackle last season, appeared in 14 games overall, and the Cardinals have said they’d be content if he returns as a started again in 2020.
Wide receiver, defensive tackle and right tackle were three key positions the Cardinals were targeting to upgrade the roster.
They were in search of a No.1 wideout who could play on the outside and be a regular target for second-year quarterback Kyler Murray. In sending Johnson, their second-round pick this year and a fourth-round pick in 2021 to Houston, the Cardinals stole one of the best receivers in the league by acquiring Hopkins, along with a fourth-round pick in 2020.
Hopkins, 27, is a three-time, first-team All-Pro whose 632 career receptions in his first seven seasons are tied with Antonio Brown for the second-most in NFL history over that span. He immediately lifts the Cardinals’ offense to greater heights and will pair with future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald and third-year pro Christian Kirk to form an ideal three-wide receiver set.
In adding the 6-foot-6, 341-pound Phillips, the Cardinals also improved their situation on the defensive line, which had become perilous. Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, the former first-round pick, was released last summer along with defensive end Darius Philon, a free-agent addition who was expected to be reliable starter.
Meanwhile, a group of four other defensive linemen led by Rodney Gunter are set to hit free agency. Arizona might try to bring one or some of them back, but Phillips, who is coming off a career season with the Bills, will slide into a starting role next to veteran nose tackle Corey Peters with second-year pro Zach Allen a likely starter at defensive end.
Phillips, originally a second-round pick out of Oklahoma by the Dolphins in 2015, set career highs in 2019 with 31 tackles, 9½ sacks, 13 tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hits. He hasn’t missed a game in the past three seasons and in 76 career games overall, has 113 tackles, 15 sacks and 27 tackles for loss.
He joined the Bills five weeks into the 2018 season after being placed on waivers by the Dolphins, for whom he played his first three and a half years. His signing won’t become official until Wednesday.
Other defensive linemen presently under contract with the Cardinals include nose tackle Authentic Miles Brown Jersey and ends Authentic Kylie Fitts Jersey, Authentic Michael Dogbe Jersey and Authentic Lyndon Johnson Jersey, who was signed to a futures deal that also won’t become official until Wednesday.
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Besides Gunter, Arizona’s other defensive linemen set to hit free agency are Jonathan Bullard, Caraun Reid, Clinton McDonald and Zach Kerr.
With Hopkins and Phillips on board, the Cardinals likely won’t be targeting a receiver or defensive lineman with the No.8 overall pick in next month’s draft. They’ll be looking for help along the offensive line, outside and inside linebacker, and probably at safety and can use free agency and the draft to find it.
Meanwhile, the team also took steps to help ensure the return of running back Kenyan Drake by placing the transition tag on him on Monday. It allows the team to match any offer Drake may field on the open market, although it is Arizona’s hope to sign him to a multi-year deal, especially after trading away Johnson.