Josh Weinfuss, ESPN Staff WriterAug 25, 2023, 09:00 AM ET
- Josh Weinfuss is a staff writer who covers the Arizona Cardinals and the NFL at ESPN. Josh has covered the Cardinals since 2012, joining ESPN in 2013. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a graduate of Indiana University. You can follow him via Twitter @joshweinfuss.
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- To say the Arizona Cardinals were busy Thursday would be an understatement.
While the players were practicing in Minnesota against the Vikings, Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort orchestrated three trades. He sent safety Isaiah Simmons to the New York Giants for a seventh-round pick, offensive lineman Josh Jones to the Houston Texans for a fifth-round pick, and a fifth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for quarterback Joshua Dobbs and a seventh-round pick.
The Simmons trade raised some eyebrows, but the last trade of the day was the most intriguing because of how it impacts the Cardinals leading into Week 1 while they wait for quarterback Kyler Murray to return from January ACL surgery to his right knee.
What does acquiring Dobbs mean for the QB room, Murray's timeline?
Trading for Dobbs does shake up the Cardinals' quarterback room some. He was brought in as an insurance policy for presumptive starter Colt McCoy, in part because of McCoy's injury history and in part because Dobbs worked with new Cardinals offensive coordinator Drew Petzing last season in Cleveland, where Petzing was the quarterbacks coach. Dobbs, 28, also started two games for the Tennessee Titans last season, passing for 411 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
There'll be some carryover from what Dobbs ran in Cleveland to what Arizona will run offensively, so his learning curve will be shortened a bit, getting him up to speed quicker than he would if he had gone to another situation. Trading for Dobbs, who'll likely start his Arizona tenure as the Cardinals' backup, also knocks rookie Clayton Tune down to third string after he spent all of camp running the second-team offense and getting meaningful first-team reps.
Coach Jonathan Gannon has refused to name a starter with less than three weeks to go until Week 1, but McCoy started both preseason games. With the NFL's new rule allowing for an emergency quarterback to dress on game day, Tune will almost certainly be in uniform on Sundays as long as Murray isn't on the 53-man roster.
As far as what trading for Dobbs means for Murray's timeline, it's a sign Murray may start the season on the physically unable to perform list, which means he'll have to miss the first four games of the season before he could be activated. Then he'll have 21 days to begin practicing and be named to the 53-man roster. In theory, Murray may not be back until Week 7. But he could also be back, if he starts the season on PUP, in Week 5.
Why did the Cardinals give up on Simmons, who was the No. 8 overall pick in 2020?
Sometimes change isn't the best thing. In the case of Simmons, the experiment to move him exclusively to safety failed. Simmons, whose fifth-year option was not picked up by the Cardinals this offseason, didn't want to play linebacker anymore -- logging over 400 snaps at either inside or outside linebacker in 2022 -- so the Cardinals granted his wish. At one point this offseason, he was playing slot corner in nickel, but he was eventually moved to free safety with Jalen Thompson taking over in the slot.
Gannon didn't criticize Simmons on Thursday after the trade, telling reporters: "I don't think it was an issue with Isaiah; he did everything we asked him to do."
But Simmons' progress was slow, as was evident Saturday night against the Chiefs, when he didn't really contest Kansas City wide receiver Justin Watson on a touchdown catch, allowing Watson to cut inside and get a step on him while not closing in on Watson. What may have sealed his fate was the touchdown run by Kansas City quarterback Shane Buechele where he outraced Simmons, who didn't appear to make much of an effort to cut Buechele off before he scored.
And if there's one position group that Gannon knows inside and out, it's the secondary, having been a defensive backs coach before becoming a defensive coordinator and then head coach. He knew exactly what he wanted from a safety. It's telling that Arizona received just a seventh-round pick in return for Simmons, a former first-round pick.
"We're going to try to put the best guys out there who can function and do a good job for us," Gannon said of the trade.
Who replaces Simmons in the lineup, and what can we expect?
There are a few options for the Cardinals to find Simmons' replacement.
He could come from the second-team defense, because Simmons took the vast majority of first-team reps at free safety. If that's the case, someone like Andre Chachere could be in the mix.
Or Arizona may use a third cornerback as the nickel, sending Thompson back to roam the deep secondary with Budda Baker. That corner could be the likes of rookie Kei'Trel Clark, veteran Antonio Hamilton or Christian Matthew. It's likely that Marco Wilson will remain outside as the CB1.
Why trade away Josh Jones instead of develop him?
This trade was a bit head-scratching at first, considering the 26-year-old Jones could have competed for a starting spot in the future. But the Cardinals may have been looking ahead to next offseason in making the decision.
Jones, who started 21 games for the Cardinals over the past two seasons at both guard and tackle -- including when they started 7-0 in 2021, is in the last year of his rookie deal. He's not slated to start this season at either tackle position. D.J. Humphries is the starting left tackle and rookie Paris Johnson Jr. is the right tackle. So, even if they wanted to keep Jones around for next season, they'd likely have to pay him the market rate for either a starting tackle or a backup swing tackle. Instead, Arizona moved on from him and got a pick in return.
Are the Cardinals done trading? Who could be next?
It seems like they're done for now. With that being said, Ossenfort is still in the process of reshaping the roster. The name that'll keep popping up until the trade deadline will be Baker, who asked for a trade in April. Arizona placated Baker by giving him a $300,000 bonus and the opportunity to earn another $2.4 million in bonuses and incentives this season, so it's unlikely he'll be on the move.
With the team trading away talent, what are expectations for the season?
The players Arizona traded away seemed unlikely to make a meaningful impact on how the 2023 season played out. That may sound surprising considering one of those players was a former first-round pick, but Simmons might have been more of a liability in the secondary. Even with a level of versatility seen from only a select few in the NFL, Simmons' instincts as a safety hadn't yet kicked in. Jones was a backup who wouldn't have seen the field unless there were injuries, but Arizona's offensive line is still deep without him.
The Cardinals are not projected to be near the playoff race this season; Caesars Sportsbook's over/under for Cardinals wins is 4.5. Their trajectory this season is relatively unchanged after Thursday's moves.