The Arizona Cardinals have a hole on the defensive side of the ball after losing All-Pro edge rusher Chandler Jones to the Las Vegas Raiders in free agency.
It’s highly unlikely the Cardinals can replace Jones’ production, who logged 10.5 sacks in 15 games in 2021. Arizona will have to find his replacement either through the talent left in free agency or the NFL Draft.
There are still big names left in free agency such as Stephon Gilmore, Tyrann Mathieu, Bobby Wagner, and Jadeveon Clowney. But the Cardinals have just $7.7 million in cap space, per Over The Cap and likely won’t tread in any pricey waters.
Still, Arizona shouldn’t be complacent. One writer has the Cardinals possibly signing a less-talked-about defensive free agent.
ALL the latest Cardinals news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Cardinals newsletter here!
Cardinals Linked to Browns Pass Rusher
Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox believes the Cardinals should explore adding defensive end Takkarist McKinley as a “bargain-bin” option. McKinley has struggled with injuries throughout his career, including suffering a torn ACL in Week 15 last season.
Knox notes McKinley was productive in his limited action prior to the season-ending injury.
“Despite playing only 43 percent of the defensive snaps last year, McKinley logged 2.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and 14 quarterback pressures,” said Knox. “His best season came with the Atlanta Falcons in 2018, when he produced seven sacks and 25 pressures.”
McKinley was drafted 26th overall in the first round by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2017 draft. After disappointing injury-riddled seasons, the defensive end was waived by the Falcons mid-season in 2020. He was then claimed by the Bengals and then the 49ers, but was unable to pass both physicals due to a lingering groin injury.
The LSU product signed with the Browns in 2021 and recorded 18 total tackles, three tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble despite limited playing time.
After suffering a late-season injury, Knox thinks McKinley’s market will attract budgeted teams.
“Given his injury, McKinley should be a very affordable option,” Knox wrote on March 26. “He played on a one-year, $4.3 million deal last season and might take even less in an effort to reestablish his market. A return to Cleveland would be sensible. He would also be a good fit for the Cardinals, who have lost pass-rushers Haason Reddick and Chandler Jones in consecutive offseasons.”
When to Expect McKinley Back?
It appears that McKinley won’t rush to sign with a team as the 26-year-old is concentrating on his health, via Camryn Justice of ABC News 5 Cleveland.
“McKinley is said to be considering making a decision about signing, with Cleveland or elsewhere, while continuing to focus on his health,” Justice said. “The decision may come further along in recovery, sources said.”
An ACL injury usually takes ten to twelve months in recovery time, which could have McKinley back in action in October of 2022 at the earliest. That doesn’t sound intriguing for any team that’s desperate for pass-rushing help and in win-now mode, like the Cardinals.
McKinley’s profile is simply a complementary piece and wouldn’t be the sole answer to the Cardinals’ problems. McKinley graded at 58.4 in 2021, according to PFF, and is now coming off a season-ending ACL injury. Arizona could add a free agent pass rusher that wouldn’t break the bank as well as find younger talent through the draft.
That doesn’t mean the Cardinals shouldn’t at least explore McKinley later on. The Cards will be receiving $10 million in cap space after the June 1 post-release of defensive lineman Jordan Phillips and could add additional depth in McKinley.
Pro Bowler J.J. Watt, Markus Golden, Rashard Lawrence and Zach Allen make up the Cardinals’ defensive line.
While it won’t be easy replacing Chandler Jones, general manager Steve Keim has to find a respectable answer or two on the defensive line.