Arizona Cardinals' NFL free-agent signings 2022: A.J. Green returns on a one-year deal

A.J. Green caught 54 passes for 848 yards and three touchdowns for the Cardinals last season. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

NFL free agency is underway, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2022 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began March 16 at 4 p.m. ET, which means free-agent signings began to be made made official after that. The first round of the 2022 NFL draft begins April 28 on ESPN.

After starting 7-0, the Cardinals reached the playoffs for the first time since 2015. But they struggled down the stretch and were blown out in the wild-card round by the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. They're set to lose the core of their offense in running back Chase Edmonds as well as wide receivers A.J. Green and Christian Kirk. But they did announce a deal with tight end Zach Ertz on the Sunday before free agency even began and have a deal with running back James Conner.

Rebuilding their offense will be the Cardinals priority in free agency and the draft along with strengthening cornerback and pass rush since they're expected to lose outside linebacker Chandler Jones. Entering free agency they have approximately $2.4 million in cap space.

Here's a breakdown of every 2022 NFL free-agent signing by the Arizona Cardinals, and how each will impact the upcoming season:

Zach Ertz, tight end

The Cardinals and Ertz agreed to terms on a three-year contract, the team announced. The deal is worth $31.65 million with $17.5 million guaranteed, a source told ESPN. Ertz wanted to stay in Arizona and quickly received his wish, at $10.55 million per year.

What it means: The Cardinals keep one of the NFL's best tight ends for the next three seasons and, in the process, give quarterback Kyler Murray one of his top targets for the foreseeable future. Ertz came to the Cardinals in a trade from the Philadelphia Eagles midseason last year and instantly contributed. He caught 56 passes for 574 yards and three touchdowns with the Cardinals. He’ll continue to be an integral part of the Cards’ scheme, giving them an extra receiving option while having a sturdy presence on the edge in the run game.

What's the risk: There really isn't a risk besides the typical slowing with age. But Ertz, who will turn 32 in November, is a top 5 tight end so keeping him was really the only option the Cardinals had if they wanted to compete for an NFC West title in 2022.

James Conner, running back

The Cardinals are giving running back James Conner a three-year deal worth $21 million that could grow to $25.5 million and includes $13.5 million fully guaranteed.

What it means: The Cardinals are officially a one-running back team after agreeing to a three-year deal with Conner and watching Chase Edmonds agree to a deal with the Miami Dolphins. Keeping Conner gives Arizona stability in the backfield and keeps one of the NFL's most dynamic offensive players at home. Conner impressed coach Kliff Kingsbury last season with his receiving ability as well as his ability to get tough yards and produce in the red zone. As of now, he'll be the primary rushing option, so a 1,000-yard season isn't out of the question.

What's the risk: The risk with any primary ball carrier is durability and that's no different with Conner. Add in his role as a receiver and the risk increases. But his body type gives Conner an advantage when it comes to taking hits and lasting an entire season as an integral piece of the Cardinals' offense.

A.J. Green, wide receiver

The Cardinals brought back Green for a second season, re-signing him to a one-year deal.

What it means: The Cardinals bring back a productive receiver to pair with DeAndre Hopkins. Green, who signed with the Cardinals last year after playing a decade for the Cincinnati Bengals, showed that he had plenty left in the tank, catching 54 passes for 848 yards and three touchdowns while compiling two 100-yard receiving games, the first time he had done that since 2018. Green provides a big, physical target for quarterback Kyler Murray to go along with the All-Pro Hopkins and shifty second-year receiver Rondale Moore.

What's the risk: Green turns 34 in July, so there could be a concern about age catching up with him at some point. But the Cardinals signed him to a one-year deal, so there isn't much of a downside for Arizona. With Hopkins struggling with injuries last season and Christian Kirk having departed for the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency, the Cardinals need quality players for Murray to throw to. Green is definitely that.

Will Hernandez, guard

The Cardinals signed former New York Giants guard Will Hernandez to a one-year deal.

What it means: Hernandez will come in and either be slotted as the Cardinals' starting right guard or will compete with Josh Jones and Justin Murray for the job. If he doesn't end up as the starter, then Hernandez will be a solid backup, giving Arizona significant depth at both right and left guard.

What's the risk: Hernandez may not be the answer at right guard for the Cardinals. Only five other right guards ranked worse than him last season, according to Pro Football Focus, with one being new teammate Josh Jones. The Cardinals need to bolster their ability to protect quarterback Kyler Murray and Hernandez may not be the answer to that.

Andy Lee, punter

The Cardinals are re-signing Lee, who originally joined the team in 2017, to a one-year deal.

What it means: Lee has been consistent throughout his time in Arizona and has been a weapon the Cardinals have had to utilize more than they would've liked, so bringing him back means that they won't have to go through the rollercoaster of finding another punter.

What's the risk: Lee will be 40 when the season starts, so his age and durability might become an issue, but he's only played less than a full season twice in his 18-year career.

Colt McCoy, quarterback

McCoy will be re-signing with the Cardinals on a two-year, $7.5 million deal.

What it means: Arizona keeps stability in the quarterback room and continues to give Kyler Murray a veteran backup to lean on. McCoy was good influence on Murray during his season in Arizona and when Murray missed three games with an ankle injury, McCoy went 2-1 to keep the Cardinals' great start on track. He's proved himself as more than a viable backup. The Cardinals' offense ran nearly as smooth with McCoy at the helm as with Murray.

What's the risk: It's not as much of a risk as it is a question: If Murray holds out, can McCoy be the answer for the Cardinals for more than just a handful of games? He showed last season that he can command the Cardinals' offense.

Dennis Gardeck, linebacker

Gardeck will return to the Cardinals on a three-year, $12 million deal.

What it means: Gardeck brings a lot of energy to the Cardinals' locker room as well as the field, especially on special teams. He'll add more depth to the Cardinals' pass rush and has been a major piece of Arizona's special teams during his four seasons with the Cardinals.

What's the risk: Gardeck hasn't played a full season since his rookie year of 2018, so his health will constantly be monitored. He also didn't have a sack last season despite recording a career-high 23 tackles.

Jeff Gladney, cornerback

The former Vikings cornerback, a first-round pick in 2020, signed a two-year deal with the Cardinals.

What it means: The Cardinals needed depth at cornerback and Gladney gives them that in the sense of another body. He'll likely enter OTAs and minicamp as a backup but with Arizona's need for quality cornerbacks, he could play himself into a starting role. The former first-round pick started 15 of 16 games as a rookie.

What's the risk: Gladney hasn't played since 2020. He was released in August 2021 following an indictment on felony domestic violence charges, but was found not guilty after a trial last week. Whether Gladney can regain the form that made him a first-round pick is yet to be seen but the Cardinals clearly saw enough upside to take a flier on him. They'll see this offseason just how much rust Gladney has on him after a year away from football.

Maxx Williams, tight end

The Cardinals reinforced themselves at tight end by signing Williams to a one-year contract.

What it means: The Cardinals bring back another key component to their tight end room. Williams, who tore his ACL in Week 5 and missed the rest of the season, gives the Cardinals a complementary tight end to Zach Ertz. He's a bruising blocker who can make his presence felt in the run game and contribute when needed in the passing game. His return helps improve Arizona's physicality in 2022. On top of what he can do on the field, Williams' has been a solid locker room guy for Arizona since he joined the team in 2019.

What's the risk: The question surrounding Williams is whether he can return to his pre-injury level. If the can, the Cardinals will get the Williams they knew during this first two seasons and five games. If not, Arizona might be looking for a new No. 2 tight end in 2023.

Michael Dogbe, defensive end

Dogbe will return to Arizona on a one-year deal after a career-best season.

What it means: Dogbe adds significant depth to the Cardinals' defensive line. He's coming off a career year with 27 tackles. With Chandler Jones not likely to return, Dogbe could see more snaps this season off the edge.

What's the risk: Giving Dogbe too large of a role might not be the answer for the Cardinals in replacing Jones. He's been better in a bit role, but personnel may dictate how much time Dogbe gets.

Zeke Turner, linebacker

Linebacker Zeke Turner returns to the Cardinals on a one-year deal.

What it means: Turner is one of the Cardinals’ top special teamers, so bringing him back is a boost for that unit. He can also give Arizona’s defense reps at linebacker, if needed.

What's the risk: There’s little risk to bringing Turner back.

Aaron Brewer, long snapper

The Cardinals are bringing back Brewer on a one-year deal.

What it means: The Cardinals re-signed Brewer because of his consistency. As the Cardinals and every team has seen, a negative change at long snapper can be the difference between winning and losing. It also keeps the Cardinals' special teams trio intact.

What's the risk: There really isn't one.