Kenyan Drake has provided a spark to the Arizona Cardinals offense since the team acquired him at the trade deadline in October. The Cardinals have a crowded running back puzzle at the moment, which made general manager Steve Keim’s recent comments regarding Drake eye-opening. Keim wants Drake back with the Cardinals in 2020, wanting to get a deal done with the soon-to-be free agent as soon as possible.
“As far as waiting until after the season (to re-sign Drake), that’s not necessarily the thing either. I would certainly love to have Kenyan Drake back,” Keim said on the “Doug and Wolf” show on 98.7 FM in Arizona, via the Cardinals website. “I think he fits in this offense and he really has given us a spark in many ways.”
Drake has become the No. 1 running back since his arrival in Arizona, having 87 carries for 417 yards and five touchdowns (4.8 yards per carry) in six games with the team. He also has 22 catches for 130 yards. The Cardinals traded for Drake after injuries to David Johnson and Chase Edmonds, the team’s top two featured backs heading into the season. Drake has played well enough to retain the job — the Cardinals relegated Johnson to the No. 2 job and Edmonds to special teams duties.
If the Cardinals do bring Drake back, where does that leave Johnson in the team’s plans at running back? Johnson is owed $26.25 million over the next two years of his contract and is currently the fourth-highest paid running back in the league, so the Cardinals will have a decision to make on their high-priced backup. Keim addressed where the team stood with Johnson last week.
“Those are the kind of conversations that will certainly be held internally,” Keim said. “I’m not going to have them on the radio. I will say this: We’ll take a deep dive into this roster and take a look at every guy. Not only their contract situation, but as I said earlier, identifying the core of players moving forward and making sure we can build around them.”
The Cardinals would actually owe $1.95 million towards the 2020 salary cap if they were to cut Johnson, who has $10.2 million in guaranteed salary. That alone will make it difficult to trade him.
Johnson has 92 carries for 342 yards and two touchdowns this season, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. He also has 35 catches for 366 yards and four touchdowns, despite playing a limited role. Johnson has played just 86 snaps since returning to the lineup, having 15 carries for 42 yards and five catches for 51 yards and a score.
Based on Keim’s plans, the Cardinals want to build their team around cheaper running back options like Drake and Edmonds and attempt to move on from Johnson. That’s easier said than done, making Johnson’s future even more uncertain.