The Cardinals need to upgrade the roster after a poor 2018 season, and while the No. 1 overall pick awaits in April, first comes free agency. General Manager Steve Keim has significant cap space to use for the first time in his tenure and could be aggressive. We will take a look at each position group in the days leading up to free agency, which begins on March 13.
Free agent primer: Linebackers
More free agent analysis: WR
Cap hit of players under contract for 2019 (via OverTheCap.com): OLB Chandler Jones ($19.5 million); ILB Haason Reddick ($3.68 million); ILB Josh Bynes ($2.09 million); OLB Cameron Malveaux ($645,000); ILB Joe Walker ($645,000); OLB Vontarrius Dora ($645,000); ILB Dennis Gardeck ($572,000); ILB Zeke Turner ($571,000); ILB Pete Robertson ($570,000).
Scheduled free agents: OLB Markus Golden; ILB Deone Bucannon; OLB Benson Mayowa; ILB Gerald Hodges; ILB Jeremy Cash (restricted); OLB Zach Moore (exclusive rights).
Images of notable linebackers scheduled to hit free agency
Analysis: The Cardinals have Jones, an elite edge rusher, at one outside linebacker spot, but there is plenty of murkiness after that. Golden is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, and his market will be interesting. Golden has a 12½-sack campaign on his resume but tore his ACL in 2017 and finished 2018 with 2½ sacks in 11 games. Golden wants to return to the Cardinals and a reunion would make sense, but an outside offer could always foil those plans. Mayowa rotated with Golden throughout the season and is also a free agent after a four-sack season. The Cardinals signed Brooks Reed to a one-year deal last month, and he is projected to be a rotational piece on the edge.
Reddick has not yet lived up to his status as a first-round pick but is projected to start at one of the inside linebacker spots in 2019. Bucannon never found his role in former coach Steve Wilks’ 4-3 system, but the switch back to a 3-4 makes his return a possibility. That could also depend on outside interest. Bynes is a trustworthy veteran who could either start or be a valuable reserve. Gardeck and Turner made plays on special teams as undrafted free agents in 2018 and would love to compete for a defensive role.
If the Cardinals re-sign Golden and Bucannon, they wouldn’t need to be very active at linebacker in free agency. If one or both leave, it could be a position Keim targets. Two of the top players in the draft – Ohio State’s Nick Bosa and Kentucky’s Josh Allen – are edge rushers, which could factor into the free agency thinking.
Notable past free agent linebacker signings: Josh Bynes (2017); Karlos Dansby (2017); Dwight Freeney (2015); LaMarr Woodley (2015); Larry Foote (2014); Dansby (2013); John Abraham (2013); Joey Porter (2010); Paris Lenon (2010); Clark Haggans (2008); Travis LaBoy (2008); Seth Joyner (1994).