The Cardinals are hoping for a major turnaround in 2020 behind quarterback Kyler Murray, but the roster still needs to be upgraded. General Manager Steve Keim has some cap space this offseason and will aim to plug holes on both sides of the ball. We will break down each position group leading up to free agency, which begins with the legal tampering period on Monday, March 16.
Free agent primer: Linebacker
Cap hit of players under contract for 2020 (via OverTheCap.com): OLB Chandler Jones ($21.3 million); ILB Jordan Hicks ($10 million); OLB Haason Reddick ($4.29 million); ILB Tanner Vallejo ($735,000); ILB Dennis Gardeck ($662,000); ILB Ezekiel Turner ($661,000); OLB Kylie Fitts ($660,000); ILB Keishawn Bierria ($660,000); OLB Vontarrius Dora ($660,000).
Scheduled free agents: ILB Joe Walker; OLB Cassius Marsh Sr.; OLB Brooks Reed.
Analysis: The Cardinals have two key pieces leading the way in All-Pro outside linebacker Chandler Jones and inside linebacker Jordan Hicks. Beyond that, the position is fuzzy. Terrell Suggs was released late in the year, which makes the edge-rusher spot opposite Jones a position that must be addressed.
Haason Reddick would love to fill it, and there were some encouraging returns after a late-season position switch from inside linebacker, but it would be hard to pencil him in as a starter because of his inexperience and smaller frame. The Cardinals could look for an outside linebacker on the open market, but because it's a premium position, an impact player would cost a significant chunk of the cap. Cassius Marsh and Brooks Reed are scheduled to hit free agency, and it's unclear if either will return.
Reddick didn't pan out at inside linebacker, so the Cardinals also need a starter next to Hicks. Joe Walker filled in down the stretch but is a free agent, and may be more suitable as a reserve. Tanner Vallejo flashed near the end of the year but then got hurt. Dennis Gardeck and Ezekiel Turner are special teams standouts but have been unable to crack the defensive rotation.
There are some intriguing scheduled free agents at both inside and outside linebacker. Some of the top inside linebacker names include the Rams' Cory Littleton, the Browns' Joe Schobert and the Packers' Blake Martinez. The top outside linebacker options include the Seahawks' Jadeveon Clowney, the Buccaneers' Shaquil Barrett and the Rams' Dante Fowler.
There will also be plenty of less-expensive options in free agency, and if the price is right, the Cardinals could look to fill one or both of their starting spots on the open market.
Notable past free agent linebacker signings: Jordan Hicks (2019); Terrell Suggs (2019); 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).
Images of some top linebacker on track to hit the open market on March 18