When the Cardinals' 2021 season ended on a disappointing note, impending free agent Zach Ertz felt the team had unfinished business heading into next year and preferred to stick around.
The tight end got his wish on Sunday when the Cardinals re-signed Ertz to a three-year deal, keeping the veteran among the NFL's top-10 highest paid at the position and keeping the team strong at a position that has been a weakness many years.
"I love the opportunity to compete and the offseason because I want the coaches to push me to my limits and push me to get better and see how they can continue to use me," Ertz said. "I don't think this offense has ever had a tight end like me for an entire offseason. So I'm excited to see what we're able to do together."
Running back James Conner, who scored 18 touchdowns in 2021, also signed a new deal to stay in Arizona, keeping a key element in the backfield.
"My mindset coming in next year is to work even harder," Conner said. "To be the best athlete I can be, score touchdowns, and help this team win ball games. That's the main focus."
The Cardinals' offense will have a different look in 2022. Conner's backfield running mate, Chase Edmonds, landed a nice deal with the Dolphins. Wide receiver Christian Kirk received a massive contract from the Jaguars.
But with Ertz and Conner returning to join the now-healthy DeAndre Hopkins -- and with more moves doubtless still coming -- the offense around QB Kyler Murray for 2022 is starting to take shape.
General Manager Steve Keim has two vital offensive pieces under contract for the foreseeable future. The team restructured Hopkins' contract to create additional cap space. The move should help toward signing a complement No.2 wideout.
Getting Ertz and Conner back was the first step.
"I've been blessed and fortunate to play in this league for a long time and when you find a good thing, you don't go looking for something else," Ertz said when asked why he didn't test the market. "I wanted to be here and they made it known I was a priority from the moment this season ended.
"To be in a place that respects you for what you do on and off the field is valuable. You can't put a price on that."
Ertz thrived in 11 games with the Cardinals, tying the franchise record for receptions (56) by a tight end this season. He became the first Cardinals' tight end to total 500 receiving yards during a season in nearly two decades.
It's also possible the Cardinals re-sign Maxx Williams to form one of the league's best tight-end combinations next season.
"I have to prove it every time I step on the practice field," Ertz said. "I'm not going to walk in and say, 'hey, I had 50+ catches and I expect to double that this year with the whole offseason.' I have to earn it each time I step on the practice field.
Conner's 15 rushing touchdowns tied for the second-highest in the league. The impressive year turned into Conner's second Pro Bowl appearance. Conner is set to be the primary running back with Eno Benjamin and Jonathan Ward as backups, a solid backfield even with Edmonds' departure.
"Chase became a brother to me this past season and Miami got a great one, man," Conner said. "A great friend. A great football player. A great teammate. He's all of that."
Conner isn't lacking any motivation to produce another stellar season after securing a nice payday. Like Ertz, Conner didn't want to go elsewhere after his taste of playing for Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals, and is eager to help the Cardinals bounce back after their year ended on a sour note.
The other inspiration comes from a love for the game and a second opportunity to play football after his battle with cancer.
"There was a chance at one point I was out of the game," Conner said. "I had a knee injury and got infected by cancer right after in the blink of an eye. God healed me back to accomplish my dreams.
"Not everyone gets that second chance, so my motivation is for everyone who can't do it. The people sitting up in the hospital beds wishing for a brighter future like I once was. I like to be that hope for them."