How the Cardinals can become Super Bowl contenders in 2020

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals pulled off one of the biggest trade heists in years this offseason by acquiring DeAndre Hopkins. Bringing in the All-Pro receiver upgrades this offense dramatically, especially with this team already on the rise. But if the Cardinals want to potentially contend for a Super Bowl in 2020, there’s more work to be done.

The skinny: While the Los Angeles Rams are tumbling towards the bottom of the NFC West, the Cardinals are set to take flight in 2020. Arizona’s front office kicked off the offseason with a flurry of moves that will already make this a competitive team next season.

  • Placing transition tag on RB Kenyan Drake – The lone team to use the transition tag, Arizona will pay Drake $8.48 million next season after he signed the offer. The 26-year-old will return to the Cardinals after racking up 814 scrimmage yards and eight touchdowns in eight games with the team. Big things are in store for him next year, but he would benefit from a running mate.
  • Re-signing OT D.J. Humphries – While Humphries isn’t a great player, he gave this team consistency at left tackle for the first time in years. By re-signing him, Arizona made sure it didn’t enter the offseason with holes at both tackles spots. Protecting Kyler Murray will be crucial and Humphries can do that.
  • Improved pass rush with EDGE Devon Kennard – Arizona desperately needed to provide All-Pro edge rusher Chandler Jones with some help around him. In Kennard, who signed a three-year deal, the Cardinals land a team captain with seven sacks and 14-plus quarterback hits in each of his past two seasons. The icing on the cake, Kennard is returning home to his roots and will be extra motivated to play in front of friends and family.
  • Strengthened linebacker corps with De’Vondre Campbell – The Cardinals wanted to be aggressive this offseason and it has helped fill plenty of holes on defense. The 26-year-old can make some plays thanks to his standout athleticism and it fills an immediate need at linebacker for Arizona. Plus, the Cardinals will still have the flexibility to draft a linebacker since this is a one-year deal.
  • Anchored the defensive line with Jordan Phillips – It’s been quite some time since the Cardinals had a strong, massive-framed player in the middle of the trenches to eat up space. Phillips, a 6-foot-6 and 341-pound defensive tackle, recorded 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss with the Buffalo Bills in 2019. He’ll create interior pressure, eat up running lanes and make life easier for the linebackers behind him.

It’s not often a team will go out and add three starters on defense, all while bringing back two important players on the other side of the ball. But the Cardinals knew what areas they needed to address early this offseason and they struck immediately to address their weaknesses.

Adding more veteran talent: Even with those signings, though, more improvements can be made. While squeezing everything into their dwindling cap space will be tight, it’s worth it to bring in the right talent from free agency.

  • Shelby Harris, DL If the Cardinals can add one more piece this offseason, it must be Harris. He is another piece that can be added to this defensive line, giving them the depth to rotate players in certain situations.
  • Delanie Walker, TE – The 35-year-old tight end is coming off two injury-riddled seasons and nearing the end of his career. In Arizona, he can be a complementary weapon in an offense that will create openings for him. He might need to take a discount, but it’s a good spot and he would be on a contender.

Similar to the team’s other signings, these two additions won’t attract headlines. However, Harris and Walker would fill needs and allow the coaching staff to deploy personnel in a variety of ways. By putting together a defense that can mix its personnel, show different looks to opposing teams and constantly keep its most talented players fresh, the Cardinals will have a well-rounded team.

These two additions would be significant for the Cardinals. But there would still be a little more work to be done in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Finishing the offseason strong: After devoting most of their spending to the defensive side of the ball, the Cardinals can focus their draft efforts on helping Kyler Murray. Protecting the franchise quarterback is the most important step, but it will also be crucial to surround him with even more weapons.

  • 1.08 – Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa – The moment the Cardinals acquired Hopkins, it locked in its No. 8 pick for a tackle. Wirfs is an outstanding athlete for his position with the traits to become an All-Pro tackle. He can step in immediately on the right side and help protect Murray for the next decade. If Humphries doesn’t work out, Arizona will already have its replacement for him by moving Wirfs over.
  • 3.72 – Darrell Taylor, EDGE, Tennessee –  A team can never have too many edge rushers. Taylor, standing at 6-foot-4 with unmatched athleticism, offers the size-speed combo that coaches drool over. Taylor flashes immense upside as an edge rusher and will benefit from learning from guys like Jones and Kennard. He can begin his career as a situational rusher and develop into a Pro Bowl player if he reaches his potential.
  • 4.114 – Thaddeus Moss, TE, LSU – Following in his father’s footsteps to the NFL, Moss plays a different position than his legendary dad. The 6-foot-3 tight end put his skills on display in the national championship game with two touchdowns. He can be a weapon in the red zone for Murray, is an effective blocker and could be mentored by Walker. Getting him in the fourth round is a steal for the Cardinals
  • 4.131 – A.J. Dillon, RB, Boston College – Drake is a fantastic fit in this offense, but the Cardinals would benefit from adding a player to complement his skills. Dillon called his shot years in advance, blowing up at the NFL Combine with numbers that would make Derrick Henry jealous. He’s known for his power running, but he also packs explosiveness into his runs

The Cardinals come out of the 2020 NFL Draft with a red-zone weapon for Murray, the perfect complement for their thunder and lightning backfield and a top offensive tackle.

It will give Murray everything he needs to be successful. He’ll play behind an excellent offensive line and the pressure will be further taken off of him by a strong running game. On the outside, in Kliff Kingsbury’s spread offense, there will be an All-Pro receiver (Hopkins), an outstanding vertical and YAC threat (Christian Kirk) and a trusted slot receiver (Larry Fitzgerald). Plus, the Walker-Moss combo opens things up for even more two-tight end sets and will allow Kingsbury to use a variety of offensive formations.

All of these moves together create an offense that can be among the NFL’s most potent and unstoppable. A brilliant offensive mind with weapons all over the field and a quarterback with unmatched skills and a dual-threat ability that makes him even more lethal with the football. Pair that with a defense capable of making big plays and it creates a formula that leads to a championship-caliber team.

The bottom line: The NFC West will be more competitive than ever this season. The San Francisco 49ers want to rebound after a Super Bowl title slipped through their fingers and the Seattle Seahawks are a perennial contender. The road to a playoff spot will be difficult for the Cardinals, let alone contending for the Super Bowl, but it can be achieved.

Murray showed the traits to be a great quarterback in his rookie season and he accomplished that with a bad offensive line, an average supporting cast of skill players and a first-year head coach. Now with a year in Kingsbury’s system under his belt, which will be opened up even more next season, he can make further strides as a passer and join the upper-echelon of great, young quarterbacks.

When Arizona’s elite offense comes off the field, an upgraded defense will take over. Chandler Jones already caused problems for opposing teams and now they’ll no longer be able to focus on the All-Pro edge rusher alone. The Cardinals will pressure quarterbacks far more often next season, which will allow the secondary to make more plays. If Patrick Peterson can return to form and Byron Murphy builds off his strong finish to his rookie season, this defense will help the Cardinals contend in 2020.

The Cardinals are already set to take flight and contend next season, but the rest of their moves this offseason will determine just how high they will fly.