Cardinals Can Replace 3-Time Pro Bowler with ‘Perfect Fit’

JC Tretter

Getty The Cardinals can replace a 3-time Pro-Bowler with one of the best remaining free agents.

Rodney Hudson’s uncertain future has created a potentially debilitating hole at the heart of the Arizona Cardinals’ offensive line. Hudson could be headed for retirement and it would be difficult to replace one of the more accomplished centers in the NFL.

Difficult, but not impossible. Not when there’s a pivotman with a pedigree comparable to three-time Pro-Bowler Hudson still available on the free-agent market.

This tough and resourceful blocker would be a more than adequate replacement and add some oomph to the Cardinals’ ability to knock open holes in the running game.

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Browns’ Castoff a ‘Perfect Fit’ for Cards

JC Tretter is still looking for a new home after being cut loose by the Cleveland Browns back in March. It’s more than a little surprising the president of the NFL Players Association is still without a team.

There’s a simple answer, according to Alex Sutton of Cards Wire: “Former Browns and Packers center J.C. Tretter is one of the top free agents available and was an integral part of a dominant offensive line in Cleveland. Tretter has dealt with various knee and ankle injuries that kept him out of practice, but was readily available for the Browns on game day. There are some concerns about his injuries contributing to him still being on the market, but if healthy, he is by far the best option.”

The Cards have to at least be kicking the tyres on Tretter, given Hudson’s situation. It’s one defined by more questions than answers.

Hudson was an “unexcused” absence from minicamp, according to head coach Kliff Kingsbury, per ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss. Sutton’s Cards Wire colleague Chuck Harris later confirmed Hudson is thinking about calling time on his playing career:

Hudson deciding the 2021 season was his last would be an obvious blow for the Cardinals, at least in terms of what it would mean on the field. As for off the field, Jess Root of Cards Wire explained how Hudson’s possible retirement would save the team money:

Speculation is that Hudson might retire. If that is the case, then he would forfeit his salary for the season. The Cardinals would not be responsible for it.

They would carry a $1.76 million charge to this year’s salary cap and $5.28 million in dead money in 2023.

However, the Cardinals, if they chose, could get cap relief by seeking repayment of as much as $7 million of the signing bonus they gave Hudson when he signed his three-year, $30 million contract extension last year. That could remove all the dead money charges they would carry, but only if they seek repayment.

A big part of the problem is nobody appearing to know for sure how this situation will play out. That uncertainty was summed up by Darren Urban of recently admitting: “I don’t know if we will get any clarity on the subject until we get much closer to training camp at this point.”

In this case, it would make sense for general manager Steve Keim to add another proven commodity to the position as insurance. Tretter makes the most sense above fellow free agents like Matt Paradis and B.J. Finney.

Tretter would have a greater impact, particularly in one phase of Arizona’s offense.

Tretter an Obvious Asset for the Running Game

Tretter may not be the most physically-imposing lineman in the game, but the 6’4″, 307-pounder can still move people in the trenches. It’s no coincidence the Browns have averaged 4.5 yards or more per rushing attempt every year since Tretter joined the team as a free agent from the Green Bay Packers in 2017. He’s missed just one start in that time, per Pro Football Reference.

Part of the reason for the Browns’ success on the ground has been the quality of their running backs. Workhorses as good as Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt can gash any defense, but it helps to have superior blocking in front of them.

Tretter has provided that, notably when he helped spring Hunt for two touchdown runs against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC wild-card playoffs following the 2020 season. The first of those scores happened because Tretter secured enough of a block on inside linebacker Vince Williams to create a lane for Hunt to plough through:

Hunt’s second touchdown was made possible by Tretter pulling into space and sealing the edge by flattening Williams again:

This combination of athleticism and toughness is how teams win in the running game. The Cardinals need those qualities if their runners are going to average more than the 4.2 yards per attempt they managed last season.

Tretter would bring a smash-mouth edge to the Cards’ rushing attack, but he’s no slouch protecting the passer. His numbers against pressure compare favorably to the best pass-blockers in the game, per Pro Football Focus:

Signing Tretter is a move the Cardinals can afford, with crediting the team with $9,942,275 worth of space under the salary cap. There’s little reason for Keim to hold off any longer.

Tretter’s arrival would ensure the Cards keep some Pro-Bowl talent directly in front of franchise quarterback Kyler Murray. It’s a better idea than trusting veteran Justin Pugh or rookie Lecitus Smith to slide from guard to over the ball.

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