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2017 NFL Draft, Arizona Cardinals: Top needs, suggested picks, current outlook

2017 NFL Draft Reset: Cards claim victory in free agency

By
Frank Cooney, NFLDraftScout.com
Arizona Cardinals' David Johnson (R) picks up a first down as Seahawks CB Richard Sherman tries to make a tackle in the in the second quarter of the Cardinals-Seattle Seahawks game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, October 23, 2016. File photo by Art Foxall/UPI
Arizona Cardinals' David Johnson (R) picks up a first down as Seahawks CB Richard Sherman tries to make a tackle in the in the second quarter of the Cardinals-Seattle Seahawks game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, October 23, 2016. File photo by Art Foxall/UPI | License Photo

Determining if you won or lost in free agency depends on your perspective of things. Despite losing seven players to free agency this offseason, including five starters on defense, Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim believes Arizona turned out to be a big winner.

Really? Even with the loss of two of free agency's biggest names - defensive tackle Calais Campbell and safety Tony Jefferson?

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"The one thing you can see is we've obviously done a good job of identifying those players," Keim said. "When guys like (cornerback) Marcus Cooper are getting $5-plus million or (safety) D.J. Swearinger are getting big contracts, these are guys we took off the street that nobody else wanted."

The Cardinals drafted Campbell and inside linebacker Kevin Minter, who left for contracts with the Jaguars and Bengals. They traded a seventh-round pick last year for Cooper, who signed with the Bears. They grabbed Swearinger, who has signed with the Redskins, after he had been cut by two teams. Jefferson, who signed with the Ravens, was an undrafted rookie free agent.

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Arizona attempted to fill those losses with experience over youth, bringing in a 33-year-old starter at safety in free agent Antoine Bethea, a 35-year-old starter at inside linebacker in Karlos Dansby and a 42-year-old kicker in Phil Dawson.

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Dansby is now on his third stint with the team.

Replacing Campbell will be up to second-year pro Robert Nkemdiche and third-year pro Rodney Gunter. Head coach Bruce Arians also said the Cardinals will be targeting prospects to learn under Bethea, Dansby and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

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There is also the little matter of finding a quarterback to eventually supplant veteran Carson Palmer, who will turn 38 in December. The Cardinals haven't drafted one higher than the fourth round since they took Matt Leinart in the first round 11 years ago.

Arians said there is one quarterback in this year's draft that, in his opinion, has the ability to step in and start right away. He wouldn't name names, however.

Here is a closer look at where the Cardinals are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft, at No. 13 overall.

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THE BREAKDOWN

2016 finish: 2nd NFC West (7-8-1)

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STATISTICS

TOTAL OFFENSE: 366.8 (9th)

RUSHING: 108.3 (18th)

PASSING: 258.5 (9th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 305.2 (2nd)

RUSHING: 94.9 (9th)

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PASSING: 210.3 (4th)

TEAM NEEDS

1. Cornerback: With Marcus Cooper having departed as a free agent and Justin Bethel expected to primarily man slot coverage in passing situations, expect the Cardinals to look for a potential No. 2 starting corner in the draft to play opposite Patrick Peterson. Second-year pro Brandon Williams had a fantastic camp, but got overwhelmed after just one start. Arizona isn't ready to give up on him just yet, but if there's a real stud available early in this draft that the Cardinals like, they'll take him.

2. Inside linebacker: The team brought back veteran Karlos Dansby for a third time and he'll start in the middle along with Deone Bucannon, who is explosive but a little undersized. That leaves the Cardinals covered for the 2017 season, but it doesn't mean Arizona won't resist taking one of the best inside linebackers in this year's draft and Alabama's Reuben Foster could be available when the team picks with the 13th overall selection. Head coach Bruce Arians doesn't like his rookies to see extensive time in their first NFL season, but Foster has the talent and physicality that could force Arians' hand if Dansby starts to show his age.

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3. Quarterback: At some point, the Cardinals have to address the elephant in the room: their glaring need for a future franchise quarterback. Head coach Bruce Arians won't rule out veteran Carson Palmer playing for at least two more years and he is now on record as saying that adding a new, young quarterback to the roster for this season isn't a necessity. Still, the Cardinals have been eyeing several arms in advance of the draft and whether it's in the first round or the third round - or possibly even later - expect Arizona to take one at some point.

KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 6)

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

RB Andre Ellington: UFA; $905K/1 yr, $80K SB.

TE Jermaine Gresham: Potential UFA; $28M/4 yrs, $7M SB/$13M guaranteed; $3.5M injury only at time of signing.

LB Chandler Jones: FFA; $82.5M/5 yrs, $15M SB/$53M guaranteed.

LB Gabe Martin: Potential ERFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

DT Josh Mauro: Potential RFA; $2M/2 yrs.

WR Jeremy Ross: Potential UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

DT Frostee Rucker: UFA; $1.08M/1 yr, $80K SB.

C A.Q. Shipley: UFA; 2 yrs, $3.5M/2 yrs, $725K SB.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

S Antoine Bethea: FA 49ers; 3 yrs, terms unknown.

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LB Karlos Dansby: UFA Bengals; $2M/1 yr, $700K guaranteed.

K Phil Dawson: UFA 49ers; $6M/2 yrs, $1.5M guaranteed.

WR Aaron Dobson: FA; $690,000/1 yr.

LB Jarvis Jones: UFA Steelers; $2.25M/1 yr, $1M SB.

PLAYERS LOST

DL Calais Campbell: UFA Jaguars; $60M/4 yrs, $6M SB/$30M guaranteed.

K Chandler Catanzaro: Not tendered as RFA/Jets; terms unknown.

CB Marcus Cooper: UFA Bears; $16M/3 yrs, $1.5M SB/$8M guaranteed; $2M injury only at time of signing.

TE Darren Fells: Not tendered as RFA/Lions; $1.5M/1 yr.

S Tony Jefferson: UFA Ravens; $34M/4 yrs, $10M SB/$19M guaranteed.

LB Kevin Minter: UFA Bengals; $4.25M/1 yr, $2.1M SB/$1,1M WO.

OLB Alex Okafor: UFA Saints; $2M/1 yr, $1M SB.

S D.J. Swearinger: UFA Redskins; $13.5M/3 yrs, $4M SB/$9M guaranteed, $3M injury only at time of signing.

G Earl Watford: UFA Jaguars; $5M/2 yrs, $1M guaranteed.

MOCK DRAFT

NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 13 overall)

Rob Rang:

Patrick Mahomes II, QB, Texas Tech. The Cardinals have publicly stated their intention to find a young quarterback to groom under Carson Palmer and Mahomes would seem to be a perfect fit in head coach Bruce Arians' aggressive passing attack. After starring in Tech's shotgun-heavy Air-Raid offense, Mahomes is undeniably a project but he possesses the gunslinger mentality and arm that project well to the next level.

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Dane Brugler:

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson. Many believe this will be the final season for Carson Palmer in the NFL and the Cardinals need to plan for the future at the position. Watson has a winning pedigree and the physical attributes that can be molded in the NFL.

Agree? Disagree? Still shopping?

Based on the team's current status, there are our suggestions for that first pick. To double check or find another candidate check out NFLDraftScout.com's full mocks and ratings.

--Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. TSX team insiders contributed to this article.

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