TEMPE, Ariz. -- After the Arizona Cardinals' 2021 season ended with a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Rams during the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs, quarterback Kyler Murray sat down with coach Kliff Kingsbury to talk.
Murray aired his concerns and explained what moves he wanted the team to make during the offseason. Murray has given his opinion on personnel decisions in the past, asking for specific players such as wide receiver CeeDee Lamb and offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs. Both went in the first round in 2020. Neither went to the Cardinals.
Kingsbury declined to expound on his conversation with Murray when Kingsbury spoke at the NFL scouting combine, but general manager Steve Keim said he's a "firm believer" in getting the quarterback's -- and other's -- opinion.
"I think there's a lot of knowledge to be gained from your players," Keim said at the combine. "I don't think that we have all the answers as evaluators and NFL personnel. I think they look through a different lens, which I love, because these are guys that they work out with on a daily basis, guys that they spend time in the gym with, and I can gain a lot of knowledge that most people can't get if I dig enough holes and try to find out from people like Zach Ertz. 'You played with this guy in Philly? You played with this guy in Pittsburgh, James Conner, tell me about him? And not just about his ability because I can see that on tape. Tell me what he's like every day in the room. Tell me what he's like in terms of work ethic.'
"And those guys are usually pretty honest because they want good players around them, and, to me, again, that's a huge benefit."
Teams can begin negotiating with players Monday and free agency officially begins Wednesday. Arizona has 21 unrestricted free agents and could see a major overhaul of its offense as Murray enters his fourth season.
Among the Cardinals' free agents are running backs James Conner and Chase Edmonds, wide receivers Christian Kirk and A.J. Green, tight ends Zach Ertz (UPDATE: Ertz reached a deal with the Cardinals on Sunday night before free agency started) and Maxx Williams, backup quarterback Colt McCoy, as well as outside linebacker Chandler Jones and cornerback Robert Alford.
A look at some key positions the Cardinals could target:
Kingsbury wasn't shy at the combine about saying Arizona needs help at corner. Malcolm Butler, who was part of the Cardinals' 2021 free agency class and the presumptive No. 1 cornerback before the season started, retired in August, leaving the oft-injured Alford and third-year corner Byron Murphy as their primary cornerbacks. Rookie Marco Wilson was baptized by fire last season, playing more snaps than Arizona had anticipated when it drafted him.
"I think we all feel we need to add some pieces there," Kingsbury said. "Marco, as a rookie, I thought got better and did a nice job, but Byron is the guy we'd like to move around, play inside, play outside and so you'd like to find a couple more pieces that you feel good about going into next year."
There are plenty of signs pointing to Chandler Jones not being a Cardinal in 2022. He wanted a new contract before the 2021 season and after not getting it, he asked for a trade, which he also didn't get. He sat out organized team activities and minicamp but reported to training camp and played in 15 of 17 games, finishing with 10.5 sacks. Arizona had depth at pass-rusher last season with Markus Golden and J.J. Watt, when he was healthy, and Zach Allen. But Jones is one of the best in the business and has been for years.
"He's one of the 21 that we would obviously like to have back," Keim said. "I think we all know that market dictates that and we'll have certainly conversations with his representatives, as well."
The Cardinals may end up needing to choose between James Conner and Chase Edmonds when it comes to who they want to pay -- and even then, they may not end up with either of them.
Conner surprised Kingsbury throughout the season with his pass-catching ability and shouldered Arizona's short-down and goal-line running back responsibilities, which helped him score 18 touchdowns, the third-most in the NFL.
"James is a guy we'd obviously like to bring back," Kingsbury said. "I mean, he had a great role for us. I love everything about him on the field, off the field, how he works. His mentality is what you want in your organization."
Kingsbury understands he may not have Conner and Edmonds both back in 2022, but it's something he wants, saying they "really complement each other well."
Two of the Cardinals' top three receiving options are scheduled to become free agents and it's likely at least one doesn't return to the Arizona next season. Christian Kirk is expected to have a hot market and could command around $12 million, ESPN NFL Insider Dan Graziano reported from the combine. He led the Cardinals with 982 yards and 77 catches, and was second with five touchdowns.
"He's predominantly a slot receiver who creates some of those mismatches with nickels and safeties," Keim said. "Really good feet, really good foot speed. And I think he's a great competitor. So we would certainly love to have him back as well."
A.J. Green is also set to hit the open market after finishing with 848 yards and three touchdowns on 54 catches.