3 cut candidates on the Cardinals’ roster bubble entering 2021 training camp
The Arizona Cardinals are no doubt expecting big things in the desert in 2021-22 as the surging NFC West franchise is on quite the upswing. After improving in a big way under the direction of head coach Kliff Kingsbury and up-and-coming quarterback Kyler Murray in 2020-21, the Cardinals have kept the train rolling into this offseason as Arizona has already added players like longtime Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, former Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner and former Houston Texans defensive end and future Pro Football Hall of Famer J.J. Watt.
Even with the Cardinals adding some serious firepower on both sides of the line of scrimmage this offseason, Arizona is still trying to keep pace with the rest of the NFC West division as the Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers all figure to play a part in the lead up to the postseason in 2021-22. However, with the Rams losing starting running back Cam Akers to a torn Achilles tendon and the San Francisco 49ers seemingly unsure about the team’s situation under center long-term, it appears as though the Cardinals will need to unseat the always dangerous Seahawks in order to be crowned as divisional champions in 2021-22 — something that is actually attainable with the aforementioned Murray leading the way on offense alongside All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and the Texans legend in Watt now adding a stout presence both on the field and in the locker room.
Nonetheless, a deep Cardinals roster will cause more position battles throughout training camp while Arizona will surely have a few tough decisions to make en route to completing is 53-man roster ahead of Week 1.
Rico Gafford, Wide Receiver
Even in the absence of future Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver and current unrestricted free agent Larry Fitzgerald, who has notably spent his entire NFL playing career with the Arizona Cardinals, the surging NFC West franchise is absolutely stacked along the outside. In addition to All-Pro pass catcher DeAndre Hopkins, the Cardinals still employ former second round pick Christian Kirk while electing to sign longtime Cincinnati Bengals wide out A.J. Green. Not quite done there, the Cardinals have slot receiver Andy Isabella, who has been known to burn opposing defenses deep down the field on occasion, paired with soon-to-be rookie and former collegiate standout Rondale Moore.
With a few others in the mix for the sake of special teams and depth behind the team’s laundry list of pass catchers, there simply won’t be room for wide receiver Rico Gafford come Week 1. After spending his rookie season as a member of the Oakland Raiders, Gafford then spent last season in Las Vegas while failing to record a single reception across three appearances for the AFC West franchise. Gafford has registered just two receptions — and one touchdown — across seven career regular season appearances atop the highest level.
Jonathan Ward, Running Back
The Arizona Cardinals not only have a ton of talented pass catchers at their disposal, but the NFC West franchise also employs not one but two incredibly talented running backs in Kenyan Drake and James Conner. With Drake in the midst of a career resurgence in the desert after some not so hot years with the Miami Dolphins, Conner recently signed with the Cardinals as a free agent after initially spending his entire NFL playing career as a member of the heralded Pittsburgh Steelers.
Thanks to the presence of both Drake and Conner, who can truly split carries for head coach Kliff Kingsbury, there is simply no need for another running back in the mix near the top of the depth chart. As a result, fellow Cardinals running back Jonathan Ward unfortunately won’t make it to Week 1 on Arizona’s 53-man roster. Adding to the less than stellar chance that Ward ultimately makes his way onto the team’s Week 1 roster in 2021-22, the Cardinals selected former Arizona State Sun Devils running back Eno Benjamin in the seventh round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Due to Benjamin’s ability to make plays all over the field, the Cardinals will surely keep him around at least for the short-term to see if he can add something a little more special between Drake and Conner’s regular carries.
If Benjamin can add some value on special teams as well, that would almost certainly signal the end of Ward’s time with the Cardinals this time around. The one saving grace for Ward, though, is the fact that Drake, Conner and running backs in general have had a hard time staying healthy as of late. Ward could become a quality third down back for Kingsbury should either Drake or Conner go down with a setback.
Darrell Daniels / Ross Travis / Ian Bunting, Tight Ends
The Arizona Cardinals have a quarterback of the future already in place alongside a slew of uber talented wide outs and several more than capable running backs. Although the tight end position isn’t featured nearly as much in head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, the Cardinals still have a more than formidable option in former Baltimore Ravens tight end Maxx Williams. A former second round pick of the Ravens from back in 2015, Williams has since spent the last two seasons as a member of the Cardinals while the veteran tight end will surely remain in place for another go-round in Arizona in 2021-22.
However, the Cardinals will need a second tight end to turn to alongside Williams, who notably possesses the ability to both catch passes and block from his position. As it stands today, the Cardinals have three options behind Williams as the team presently employs the tight end trio of Ross Travis, Ian Bunting and Darrell Daniels. While Daniels will more than likely become the team’s second tight end, there is no guarantee that either Travis or Bunting doesn’t beat him out for said spot this offseason. It is also possible that Daniels becomes the odd man out with the trio of Williams, Travis and Bunting sticking around in the end.
With the majority of Arizona’s offense currently set in place, assuming everyone stays healthy, the team’s eventual decision at tight end behind Williams could get pretty interesting later on in training camp.