“We want to win the game, that’s our goal,” said coach Kliff Kingsbury. “We felt like we made strides last week and we want to keep that momentum going.”
Of course, what else would the Cardinals strive for as they get near playoff time? But Arizona is dealing with injuries on offense. Both running backs James Conner and Chase Edmonds are battling injuries. Conner has missed the last two games with a heel injury and Edmonds was favoring his mid-section during their battle with the Cowboys.
Kingsbury has both listed as “day-to-day”. The two running backs showed a good sign as they participated in practice on January 5.
The Cardinals win and the Rams lose in Week 18 and Arizona wins the division. It’s taken contributions from key Cardinals members to get where they are.
Analysts had a discussion on what the future beholds for three Cardinals offensive players.
On the January 3 episode of Heavy’s I’m Just Saying, the debate on the Cardinals oriented on three impending free agent Cardinals.
You have to keep only one of the following: James Conner, Chase Edmonds or Christian Kirk.
Heavy on Jets writer Paul Esden Jr. has a strong belief that the Cardinals will let go of leading receiver Christian Kirk.
“You’re going to get Hopkins back,” said Esden Jr. “You’ve got Rondale Moore. You’ve got Wesley Snipes (Antoine Wesley) out there. You’ve got future Hall-of-Famer A.J. Green. Where does Christian Kirk fit? Where is the money under the cushions to pay this man? He’s going to be richly paid in the offseason by somebody. It just won’t be the Cardinals.”
You obviously have to factor in that Hopkins has been out for most of the season. But Kirk’s been Kyler Murray’s most reliable weapon. Kirk is just 61 yards away from breaking 1,000 yards for the first time in his career.
There also isn’t a wrong answer. The three players have been sensations in 2021, but the Cardinals signing Conner to a one-year deal has been valuable.
Esden Jr. is banging on the table for the Cardinals to keep Conner in the offseason.
“It’s James Conner,” said Esden Jr. “He has struck gold. He’s a great story. He overcame cancer, was at Pittsburgh, went to the Pittsburgh Steelers, gets to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He rises up and then Arizona came up, dusted him and said, ‘come over to the desert.’ And he has been reborn. He’s a touchdown machine.”
For the season, Conner has 16 total touchdowns and 1,034 yards from scrimmage. Just behind him is Edmonds, with 903 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns.
The only downside to Conner is that he’s injury-prone. Conner’s missed the last two games with a heel injury and hasn’t played more than 14 games in his five-year career.
I’m Just Saying host Brian Mazique is on the side of keeping Kirk.
“Almost every single time I’m going to say keep the wide receiver, replace the running back,” said Mazique. “It’s just automatic for me. There are very few running backs who have ever played this game that are special enough to put over an equally special wide receiver and certainly quarterback.”
Free Agents Galore
For management, future roster decisions are always in the back of their heads, no matter what time of the year it is. Only so many can be kept by general manager Steve Keim as the NFL is a tough business.
In terms of the wide receiver room, Kirk and Green will be free agents in 2022. It took awhile, but Kirk is finally showing the qualities of a reliable pass-catcher. With Kirk’s play comes the cost of production. His calculated market value is $12.4 million per season on a four-year deal worth $49 million, according to Spotrac.
Both Conner and Edmonds are around the $5 million range per year, per Spotrac.
It’s likely that Keim will have to choose between Green and Kirk. While Green has performed well in 2021, he’s turning 34 next season. You can make the argument that the Cardinals still have Hopkins, rookie Rondale Moore and now have journeyman Wesley emerging. And there’s always an avenue to draft or sign another wide receiver.
Money is coming off the books because the Cardinals also have to decide on keeping other unrestricted free agents like Chandler Jones, Zach Ertz and Maxx Williams as well.
There’s easily a better shot of the Cardinals keeping at least one of their two free-agent running backs over Kirk.
But Kirk was a factor even before Hopkins’ two injuries in 2021. I brought up that problem.
You’re going to be taking away 100 targets if he’s not going to be on the Cardinals next year. Okay, you could replace that with Rondale Moore, who by the way I’ve liked, but there are certain times where Kingsbury hasn’t put him downfield. It’s still a working progress.