Arizona Cardinals: Grading big free agent additions so far

J.J. Watt, Arizona Cardinals. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
J.J. Watt, Arizona Cardinals. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /
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Arizona Cardinals free agency grades
J.J. Watt, Arizona Cardinals (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) /

The Arizona Cardinals are going all out in a busy free agency period and here are the grades for all their major additions so far this offseason

The Arizona Cardinals improved on a tough 2019 season where they went 5-10-1 by going 8-8 in one of the toughest divisions in football last year. It was an incremental improvement for a team with future star quarterback in Kyler Murray and a well regarded young coach in Kliff Kingsbury but still missed the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season.

The Cardinals started the season 6-3 but went 2-5 down the stretch including four losses in the NFC West that severely dented their playoff hopes. They finished tied with the Chicago Bears for a wildcard spot but Chicago had a better record against common opponents and won the tiebreaker.

Offensively, the Cardinals were middle of the pack and while they could move the ball with relative ease they were just 13th in points scored. On defense, they were 12th in points allowed and good enough to compete but fell short when it mattered most at the end of the season.

This offseason, they recognized the opportunity they have in Kyler Murray being on a rookie contract and have decided to take some big swings in NFL free agency to become true contenders and end their playoff drought. Here are the grades for their major additions so far this offseason.

J.J. Watt, DE/OLB (Houston Texans)

Grade: A

JJ Watt was one of the marquee free agents of the 2021 class and it was rumored that he was headed to a playoff team such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, or Buffalo Bills. Instead Watt chose another path and announced that he would be heading to Arizona to join up with the Cardinals on a two-year contract worth up to $31 million, with a reported $23 million guaranteed.

It is not known if those other teams offered Watt anywhere near the same amount but this is a big payday for a player that is a future hall of famer but has a lengthy injury history as well. Watt has played just 48 games over the last five seasons but does have two 16-game seasons in 2018 and 2020. His production decreased in 2020 despite playing 16 games but the Texans defense was undermanned and teams could focus on blocking him almost exclusively.

The grade for this signing comes down to Watt’s health as the Cardinals have other impact players on the defense in Chandler Jones and Markus Golden and can’t focus solely on slowing him down. Even if he is not the all pro player he once was, Watt can still make a massive impact for this team and help get them over the hump.

If his previous injury issues crop up and he is forced to miss significant time then the Cardinals will surely regret giving him this large a contract with so much money guaranteed. As usual, health and availability is the deciding factor here but Watt and the Cardinals don’t seem concerned.