Arizona Cardinals' Free Agency: Tracking 2012 Signings, Targets and Rumors
In 2011, the Arizona Cardinals had to scramble to finish 8-8, narrowly missing the playoffs after starting a paltry 1-6. Although they finished the season strong, there are some things that must be addressed if they intend to contend in the new campaign.
Have no fear, however, as you need not look anywhere else for information pertaining to the Cardinals and their offseason moves.
We will start by reviewing Arizona’s salary cap situation, then we’ll go over their most glaring roster holes. After that, we will list the team’s current free agents, estimate their average annual dollar value and forecast whether or not the Cardinals will re-sign them or let them walk.
Following that we will sneak a peek at the potential cap situation after re-signings, which free agents are available that best fit the Cardinals roster and what contracts they could potentially offer these free-agent targets.
To wrap it all up, we will look at what holes Arizona still needs to fill through the draft, then dissect the best 2012 NFL draft prospects that fit those needs.
Tracking Free-Agent Signings, Re-Signings and Roster Moves
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Mar. 26, 2012: Darren Urban of azcardinals.com has reported that LG Daryn Colledge has restructured his contract to help make room under the salary cap. Colledge will now make $3.175 million in 2012 instead of $5.5 million, saving $2.325 million that can go toward the re-signing of a free-agent or two that Arizona has yet to tender.
Also, The Arizona Republic's Kent Somers said via Twitter that the team has re-signed LS Mike Leach to a three-year deal and LB Reggie Walker to a two-year deal. It appears as though the money saved by Colledge's restructure has already been put to great use. While Walker is a depth re-signing, Leach has been the team's long snapper since 2009 and is among the best at his position in the league.
Mar. 25, 2012: Former Steelers cornerback William Gay tweeted early this morning that he has chosen to sign with the Arizona Cardinals. This is a big signing for Arizona. According to ProFootballFocus.com Gay had a 67.2 opposing QB rating.
The 27-year-old is just another in the long line of former Pittsburgh Steelers who have ventured out west to join forces with former Steelers coaches. Gay learned under Arizona defensive coordinator Ray Horton during his first four years in the league, and now will help other members of the secondary gain a full grasp of the defense their coach has implemented.
Mar. 23, 2012: Darren Urban of azcardinals.com is reporting that the Cardinals have re-signed K Jay Feely to a two-year deal. Reserve tackle D'Anthony Batiste has also re-signed with Arizona—a one-year deal.
Mar. 20, 2012: ProFootballTalk is reporting that Early Doucet has re-signed with the Cardinals. The move was to be expected after Arizona chose not to pursue any of the multitude of free-agent wide receivers that were on the market.
Doucet produced career-high numbers across the board in 2011, and if he can figure out how to reduce the amount of drops in key situations going forward, this will turn out to be a good re-signing.
Mar. 18, 2012: Mike Jurecki of Xtra Sports 910AM in Phoenix is reporting that the Arizona Cardinals have released C/G Rex Hadnot and WR Chansi Stuckey. According to Jurecki, the move saves the Cardinals about $3.45 million in cap-space.
What it also does is—more or less—guarantees free agent acquisition Adam Snyder the starting right guard spot.
Mar. 16, 2012: Adam Schefter Tweets that ESPN's Suzy Kolber reports that Cardinals' QB Kevin Kolb will receive his $7 million roster bonus.
The team and Kolb also restructured his contract in an attempt to lower his $10 million cap hit this season. At this time it is unknown what his new number will be.
Mar. 15, 2012: Adam Schefter of ESPN reports via his Twitter that two days after the Cardinals released OT Levi Brown, they have re-signed him to a "cap-friendlier" five-year contract.
The lighter contract keeps Brown in Arizona through the 2016 season, but comes with speculation that he may move back to his original right tackle spot after two tumultuous seasons on the left side. According to Kent Somers of The Arizona Republic, that decision may hinge on what the Cardinals do in free agency and the draft.
If they sign Demetrius Bell, who visited Arizona on Wednesday, the move would certainly be made. If they draft one of the available tackles with their No. 13 overall pick, he would likely remain as the protector of his quarterback's blind side.
This is particularly disturbing because it was reported later by local radio host Mike Jurecki that Marshall gave the Cardinals multiple opportunities to match the three-year, $16 million offer Miami put on the table—he even called the team himself at one point and they still declined.
Mar 14, 2012: Adam Schefter of ESPN is reporting the Cardinals have agreed to terms with OL Adam Snyder.
The 30-year-old agreed to a five-year deal Wednesday in what appears to lock up the RG spot. Snyder started 15 games at the position last year for San Francisco. He performed well, surrendering only two sacks all season.
He can play both guard and tackle, so if need be, the team can use him in different spots on the line.
Mar. 12, 2012: ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting the Cardinals are expected to release OT Levi Brown.
Brown's release frees up a massive chunk of cap-space—$16 million of his $18.225 million cap hit—that will be used to sign various free agents, potentially even 11-time Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning.
He struggled to adapt to his new left tackle position in the desert after switching from the right side to begin the 2010 season, and surrendered 21 sacks over that time.
Mar. 9, 2012: The Arizona Cardinals have signed Exclusive Rights free agents QB Rich Bartel, CB A.J. Jefferson, RB Alfonso Smith, LB Brandon Williams and DE Ronald Talley to one-year deals.
Mar. 9, 2012: The Arizona Cardinals have tendered RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, S Rashad Johnson and CB Greg Toler.
Stephens-Howling, originally a seventh-round pick, was given (as expected) a second-round tender, meaning he will make around $2 million. Johnson and Toler were given original round tenders, which means they will both make about $1.3 million.
Should another team match any of the offers, LSH would cost the signing team their second-round pick, Johnson would cost a third-rounder and Toler a fourth-rounder. Arizona would be able to match the counter-offer from any team.
Mar. 2, 2012: The Arizona Cardinals have placed the franchise tag on DE Calais Campbell. This move was expected even before the 2011 season came to a close, and simply gives the team more time to hash out a long-term deal with the 6'8" defensive lineman.
The tag is that of the "non-exclusive" variety, meaning that another team can attempt to sign him to a deal. Should that happen, Arizona would have the chance to match the offer. If they do not and Campbell signs with someone else, the Cardinals would receive two first-round picks in exchange for losing him. Should Campbell remain with the team on a tagged basis, he will earn $10.6 million in 2012.
Jan. 13, 2012: The Arizona Cardinals re-signed WR Isaiah Williams and WR Jaymar Johnson to “futures” contracts. This likely means they will be part of the practice squad once again in 2012. Williams (6’2”, 205 lbs) went undrafted in 2009 and has spent time with four teams. This is his second stint with Arizona after being released before the 2011 season began.
Johnson (6’0”, 176 lbs) was drafted in the sixth round in 2008 by Minnesota and has caught only one pass in his professional career. He originally joined the Cardinals practice squad on Sept. 20, 2011.
Salary Cap Status
Levi Brown is set to be the third-highest paid player in the NFL in 2012 if Arizona does not restructure his contract
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Cardinals’ Cap Room
According to the sports contract-tracking website Spotrac, the Cardinals currently have $120,417,091 in contracts that will count against the 2012 NFL salary cap, which is expected to jump from $120 million to an estimated $125 million. That leaves Arizona with roughly $4.5 million with which to spend before anything happens.
That number is expected to grow, however.
In order to make room for the impending free-agency period and NFL draft, some players’ contracts will need either to be restructured or eliminated. (We will cover that later.)
Also a way to grow that number is a clause in the new CBA that allows a team to carry over the cap space they had from the previous season into the new football year. Here is that clause, according to ProFootballWeekly.com:
A Club may 'carry over' room from one League Year to the following League Year by submitting notice in writing signed by the owner to the NFL no later than fourteen (14) days prior to the start of the new League Year indicating the maximum amount of room that the Club wishes to carry over. The NFL shall promptly provide a copy of any such notice to the NFLPA. The amount of Room carried over will be adjusted downward based on the final room available after the year-end reconciliation.
What that means is that if the Cardinals should so choose, they can carry over the estimated $13 million cap space from 2011 ($107 million estimated payout against the $120 million cap) and add it to the estimated $4.5 million they would have, bringing their total cap space to an estimated $17.5 million.
That is all depending on whether or not they want to use that clause, and why would they not?
Problematic Cap Hits
The most notable and obvious of contract issues is that of Levi Brown. The big tackle is scheduled to make $18.225 million in 2012, a figure that is certain to be lowered. The alternative is to cut him, and going by how he played over the final eight games of the 2011 season, allowing just three sacks and totaling three penalties, he should be around for the start of the new football year.
Kevin Kolb is due $10 million, with $7 million owed to him just for being on the roster on March 17. It is highly unlikely he is cut or traded, but something may need to be done to make room for other important pieces of the puzzle.
Next on the list is linebacker Stewart Bradley. Coming from Philadelphia via free agency in 2011, Bradley signed a five-year, $30 million deal to move from a 4-3 to 3-4 Mike backer. He is slated to haul in $6 million as a special teams player who hopes to understand the complex system put in place by defensive coordinator Ray Horton. He struggled with it in his first season, and he may be too expensive to keep around in “hopes.”
Center Lyle Sendlein is the seventh-highest paid man at his position in the NFL. $3.3 million sounds like a lot; however, when you factor in what he means to an offensive line that is oft criticized, he actually comes at a bargain.
An even better situation is brewing at middle linebacker. Unlike Bradley, who can’t find the field, Daryl Washington ($908,750) is No. 72 on the list of linebackers’ contracts. Washington’s 106 tackles in 2011 led the team, and his five sacks led all NFL middle linebackers.
Arizona received a nice surprise in 2011 when fourth-round pick Sam Acho stepped in for an injured Joey Porter and produced seven sacks, tied for fifth among rookies despite starting just 10 games. His $583,500 cap hit in 2012 is an even nicer surprise.
Last Year’s Holes
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Last Year’s Holes
Despite finishing the 2011 season as one of the hottest teams in the league, there are questions at many positions that need to be answered.
Some are obvious, while others might not seem like problems until they are brought to light. We’re here to illuminate them all and hopefully come up with solutions for each and every one of them.
Improving the total output of the offensive unit by over 55 yards per game from 2010 to 2011 is a good thing. Doing so and still being ranked No. 19 in the NFL? Now the quandary becomes more complex.
The improvement is welcome, but it’s not enough. How can the Cardinals improve once again in 2012 and become the force they should be?
Arizona’s tackles—left tackle Levi Brown and the combination of right tackles Jeremy Bridges and Brandon Keith—surrendered 23 sacks last season. That was the fourth most in the league behind Chicago (25), Jacksonville and St. Louis (both with 24).
That has to improve if the Cardinals plan on being a dominant offensive unit in 2012. It may improve by default, as it cannot get much worse. Can it?
No. 2 Wide Receiver
Andre Roberts and Early Doucet showed they are not No. 2 material in 2011. Both men dropped over 10 percent of the catchable passes intended for them, with some of them leaving fans saying, “I could’ve caught that.”
Doucet is an unrestricted free agent (UFA), and his return status is up in the air at this point.
Roberts will be back for sure, but with the plethora of talent available via free agency, the likelihood that he is the opening day No. 2 is slim.
The question everyone thought was answered last offseason by the acquisition of Kevin Kolb proved to bring only more questions. Not because he played terribly, but because of injuries that plagued him the majority of the year.
Kolb was decent. He has the pocket presence of a 10-year-old quarterback (too harsh?), but he was able to make some plays in his final full game before being sidelined for the remainder of the season with his second concussion in as many years.
John Skelton showed he can play well in the fourth quarter and was quite Tebow-esque at times. He did, however, struggle mightily at the beginning of games when he was called upon to fill in for the injured Kolb.
In 2011, Skelton ranked No. 17 out of 17 NFC quarterbacks, posting a forgettable 51.6 first-half QB rating. In the second half, he ranked No. 10 with an 80.9 rating, and even better in the fourth quarter, sporting an 89.3 rating and ranking No. 7 out of 17 (via STATS.com).
(The answer to this need is not another quarterback; it is a full offseason in which Kolb and Skelton can work on what they need to in order to become better-suited for the offense.)
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton got to town just before the lockout took over NFL headlines last spring, so he was not able to work with or even meet his defensive players until months after the Cardinals hired him.
That showed early on in the season as the defense struggled to stop people. Through seven games, Horton’s confused crew surrendered 277.6 yards passing per game while giving up over 300 yards through the air three times.
Something clicked for them right around Week 9, however, and over the final nine games, they gave up just 194.8 yards per game through the air—not allowing a single 300-yard performance.
They finished No. 1 in the NFL in third-down defense, allowing a minute 31.4 percent conversion. Arizona also ranked No. 7 in the league while racking up 42 sacks.
Where they struggled most was in creating turnovers. They dropped from No. 6 in the NFC in 2010 to No. 14 in 2011, causing 11 less turnovers than the previous year.
Due to projected starter Greg Toler going down in the preseason with a torn ACL, rookie Patrick Peterson was forced to step in and start from day one. He struggled early in the season, and though he ended up being a rock on the outside, things did not go as planned for Horton and the defense.
The lone bright spot in the unit was newly-acquired Richard Marshall. He played extremely well considering the situation he was thrust into, having to play three different positions in the secondary.
Joey Porter was not getting it done in the pass rush early in the year. When he went down with a midseason knee injury, rookie Sam Acho stepped in and provided a spark of youth to the lineup.
Second-year man O’Brien Schofield played well in tandem with veteran Clark Haggans, but the group as a whole lacked the voracity Horton needs from his edge rushers (see James Harrison).
Altogether, they totaled 16 sacks, 11 quarterback hits and five batted passes (ProFootballFocus.com). Defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett combined to created more pressure by themselves than the outside linebacker unit.
That’s not supposed to happen in the 3-4 system. The very point of the 3-4 is to have the defensive linemen take up space by occupying as many offensive linemen as possible in order to free up the linebackers to make plays on the ball-carrier—most notably the quarterback.
Listing Arizona’s 2012 Free Agents
Vonnie Holliday (91) is a UFA. Will he return to the desert?
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Spotrac lists the following Cardinals players as unrestricted free agents (UFAs), which means unless Arizona signs them to deals before the start of free agency, any NFL team can offer these players a contract:
RB Chester Taylor
OG Deuce Lutui
DT Vonnie Holliday
OT Brandon Keith
K Jay Feely
OT D’Anthony Batiste
TE/LS Mike Leach
DB Hamza Abdullah
CB Richard Marshall
LB Clark Haggans
DE Calais Campbell Update: The Arizona Cardinals have placed the franchise tag on DE Calais Campbell. The tag is non-exlusive.
The following players are listed as restricted free agents (RFAs), meaning the Cardinals can offer them a one-year tender that any other team can match with draft picks:
QB Rich Bartel Update: The Arizona Cardinals have signed Exclusive Rights free agent QB Rich Bartel to a one-year deal.
CB A.J. Jefferson Update: The Arizona Cardinals have signed Exclusive Rights free agent CB A.J. Jefferson to a one-year deal.
S Rashad Johnson Update: The Arizona Cardinals have placed an original round tender on S Rashad Johnson,giving him the value of a third-round pick.
RB Alfonso Smith Update: The Arizona Cardinals have signed Exclusive Rights free agent RB
LB Brandon Williams Update:The Arizona Cardinals have signed Exclusive Rights free agents LB Brandon Williams to aone-year deal.
DE Ronald Talley Update: The Arizona Cardinals have signed Exclusive Rights free agents DE Ronald Talley to a one-year deal.
RB LaRod Stephens-Howling Update: The Arizona Cardinals have announced they will place a second round tender on Stephens-Howling, via Mike Sando of ESPN.
CB Greg Toler Update: The Arizona Cardinals have given placed an original round tender on CB Greg Toler, giving him the value of a fourth-round pick.
WR Stephen Williams (Exclusive Rights)
QB Max Hall (Exclusive Rights)
There are three possible RFA tenders under the new CBA:
A first-round tender would allow the Cardinals to receive another team’s first-round pick, losing the RFA to a one-year, $2.846 million (estimated) deal.
A second-round tender would allow them to receive another team’s second-round pick, losing the player to a one-year, $2 million (estimated) deal.
A low tender would allow them to receive another team’s pick equal to that which the RFA was originally selected or the Right of First Refusal (ROFR) for an undrafted player, losing the player to a one-year, $1.308 million (estimated) deal.
If Arizona matches another team’s offer to a RFA, they may keep the player for what the other team originally offered him.
Determining Contract Value and Worth for Every Arizona Free Agent
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The Cardinals have a wealth of talent set to hit the free agent market.
Some will be around in 2012 due to team need; some will be let go so the team can pursue other avenues via the FA market and the draft because either they played themselves into a sizable contract the team cannot afford or they were not valuable enough on the field to keep around.
The following numbers are all estimations and in no way resemble actual contract numbers (values calculated at annual amounts):
RB Chester Taylor: $750,000
Taylor was signed in early September after the team traded Tim Hightower to Washington and rookie second-round pick Ryan Williams was lost for the season with a knee injury. Originally thought to be Beanie Wells’ backup, he was given only 20 carries the entire 2011 season and was used less down the stretch than LaRod Stephens-Howling.
There is still some value here if they lose Howling to free agency; the chances that teams come banging on Taylor’s door with offers is not good, and he would go into camp as the No. 3 option behind Wells and Williams.
OG Deuce Lutui: $1 million
Arizona cut Lutui prior to the 2011 season, but signed him on a one-year, $1.25 million deal after he failed a physical with Cincinnati. He was the backup to Rex Hadnot the majority of the season and only received major playing time in one game, his lone start, ironically, in Cincy.
If Lutui keeps the weight off and shows up to camp motivated and in good shape, he may be able to compete for the starting right guard spot with Hadnot.
DL Vonnie Holliday: $1 million
Holliday got the bulk of his playing time in the final game of the season after Calais Campbell left due to injury. He played very well, a microcosm of his play throughout the entirety of the season.
Holliday was quietly one of the best players for the defense in 2011, not showing up with big-time sacks and not stuffing the stat sheet. He was a mentor for the young defensive linemen on the team, doing more than his share of coaching on the sideline and in the huddle.
OT Brandon Keith: $850,000
Before being placed on IR with multiple injuries, Keith was a swinging door at right tackle. He allowed only five sacks on the year, and it’s “only” five because there would have been many more if not for the escapability of quarterback John Skelton in the latter part of the season.
If he were to return, it would be merely as depth on the roster. This seventh-round project pick did not work for head coach Ken Whisenhunt and GM Rod Graves.
K Jay Feely: $1.8 million
Although he struggled at the start of the 2011 season, Feely gained a lot of confidence as the year wore on. He concluded the campaign connecting on his final 11 field goal attempts, finishing 19 of 24 (79.2 percent) on the year.
Beyond the field goals, he is a fan favorite because of his work in the community and his willingness to help charities any time he can.
Oh, and scoring touchdowns as a kicker doesn’t hurt, either.
OT D’Anthony Batiste: $650,000
Batiste has been nothing more than depth on a roster his entire career. He was originally signed by the Cardinals in November 2010 after Keith was placed on IR the first time.
Batiste has started four games in his three-team career, but none since being a member of the Falcons in 2007. He appeared in three games this past year.
TE/LS Mike Leach: $875,000
Leach has been the Cardinals long-snapper since Arizona signed him in 2009. As a tight end, he doesn’t have a single catch in his career; however, it is good to have that option in case of an injury or two—there’s no telling how close he came to seeing action at the position last season due to injuries.
DB Hamza Abdullah: $650,000
Hamza has been a solid special teams player and very part-time safety for Arizona since being added to the roster in 2009. He notched only four tackles in 2011, but his play on kickoff coverage is notable because of how often he is caught out of position down the field—which is never.
WR Early Doucet: $2.5 million
Entering his fourth NFL season, Doucet had recorded only 57 receptions for 595 yards and two touchdowns. In a pivotal contract year—which some attribute to his numbers—he matched that production, totaling 54 receptions for 689 yards and five touchdowns.
He did, however, drop nearly 13 percent of all catchable passes intended for him (via PFF.com). That is a large number, and if not for those many drops at the back end of the season, he would likely command much more annual money.
He may still receive a larger offer elsewhere, but his role here in Arizona is picture perfect for the player he is—which is nothing more than a slot receiver.
Mar. 20, 2012: ProFootballTalk is reporting that Early Doucet has re-signed with the Cardinals.
CB Richard Marshall: $4 million
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton called Marshall his defensive MVP as a result of his role in saving the day after free safety Kerry Rhodes broke his foot.
Marshall finished the 2011 season as the No. 1 cornerback in stopping the run and No. 3 in coverage, according to PFF.com, and his play is part of the reason the defense did an about-face midway through the year.
He may be highly sought-after in free agency.
LB Clark Haggans: $1.5 million
Haggans was a coach on the field for the young linebackers last season. He played well to boot, ranking No. 7 in coverage for all 3-4 outside linebackers, according to PFF.com.
His leadership was and is a valuable asset for a young defense learning a brand-new, complex scheme on the fly.
DE Calais Campbell: Update:The Arizona Cardinals have placed the franchise tag on DE Calais Campbell.
QB Rich Bartel: Update: The Arizona Cardinals have signed Exclusive Rights free agent QB Rich Bartel to a one-year deals.
CB A.J. Jefferson: Update: The Arizona Cardinals have signed Exclusive Rights free agent CB A.J. Jeffereson to a one-year deal.
S Rashad Johnson: Update: The Arizona Cardinals have placed an original round tender on S Rashad Johnson,giving him the value of a third round pick.
RB LaRod Stephens-Howling: Update: The Cardinals have announced they will place a second round tender on Stephens-Howling, via Mike Sando of ESPN.
CB Greg Toler: Update: The Arizona Cardinals have given placed an original round tender on CB Greg Toler, giving him the value of a fourth-round pick.
WR Stephen Williams: $400,000 (Exclusive Rights)
Williams’ rookie year was better than that of his sophomore year. Meaning, of course, that he played in actual games as a rookie and was inactive the vast majority of year two. At 6’5”, he is the tallest receiver on the Cardinals roster.
All that needs to happen in order for Williams to return to Arizona is for the team to offer him a deal and for the University of Toledo product to accept and sign it.
There is potential for him to produce in the league. 2011 should have been an eye-opener that nothing is a given in the NFL and he needs to work to earn a spot in the huddle.
QB Max Hall: $400,000 (Exclusive Rights)
Like Williams, Hall was given playing time as an undrafted rookie. Also like Williams, he did not see the field last year (he was stuck on IR all season).
He has little upside as a professional, but he can serve as an emergency quarterback when needed.
OT Levi Brown: $8 million (Restructured Contract)
Finally, we get to the enormous payout set to be decreased by GM Rod Graves. If nothing happens on this front, Brown, as noted earlier, will make $18.225 million in 2012, making him the third-highest paid player in the NFL right behind Fitzgerald and Dwight Freeney.
This restructure frees up an additional $10.225 million, bringing the estimated total cap space to $27.725 million.
Projecting Which Free Agents the Cardinals Will Re-Sign, Which Will Walk
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Unfortunately, not all fan favorites can stay. Some players who everyone thought would surely leave will be back around next season. That’s just the business of the NFL.
Over the next few weeks, Graves, Whisenhunt and team president Michael Bidwill will sit down and evaluate the worth of every free agent—as we have already done—and determine which of those players deserve a new contract and those with which they can afford to part ways.
Once again, these contracts are estimated and in no way resemble actual contracts given to players. Here we go:
Chester Taylor: Released
Taylor was brought in as help after Ryan Williams injured his knee. Although he had a few moments in the spotlight in Arizona, there is no room for him any longer. At 32-going-on-33, he likely does not have much left in the tank to be a productive option, especially with Wells (who will be 24) and Williams (will be 22) expected to carry the brunt of the load for the foreseeable future.
Deuce Lutui: Re-signed
This is a large (no pun intended) assumption that Lutui can keep the weight off and show up in shape. Don’t be shocked if he has to take a fitness test and a physical before being offered a contract.
He still has some value at right guard, with Rex Hadnot still being on the team and playing well—but not that well—last year.
Estimated contract: One year, $1 million
Vonnie Holliday: Re-signed
One of those locker room guys you don’t want to leave simply because he means that much to your younger players. Holliday was a leader and mentor for the defense last year and played well when called upon by Horton. He probably won’t get much playing time, but he will make the most of it while coaching up the young talent around him.
Estimated contract: One year, $1 million
Brandon Keith: Released
Keith has found himself on IR to end the past two seasons in Arizona. An array of injuries longer than one would like to face over a lifetime has hindered his development as an offensive lineman. He was not able to make the necessary strides that coaches and front-office personnel were hoping for after taking a chance on him in the seventh round of the 2008 draft.
Jay Feely: Re-signed
Teams go through kickers like old ladies go through nickels at the casino. When you find a good kicker, you hang on to him for a while. When you find one like Feely, who gives back to the community and is a staple at other local professional sporting events, you do not let him go.
Estimated contract: Two years, $4 million
D’Anthony Batiste: Re-signed
This is strictly depth. He is no threat to start any games at either tackle position, but will fill in when an injury occurs. He played only 44 snaps in 2011.
Estimated contract: One year, $650,000
Mike Leach: Re-signed
Leach is another guy the team must keep. He has been the long-snapper since he arrived in 2009, and that connection with the holder and punter is important these days.
Estimated contract: One year, $875,000
Hamza Abdullah: Released
Although he has been solid on special teams, he has not proven himself a worthy successor to either Adrian Wilson or Kerry Rhodes. He will be on an NFL roster in 2012, likely with the role he has carried with him since showing up in the desert: A special teams monster not quite good enough to crack the defensive depth chart.
Early Doucet: Re-signed
Despite struggling with dropped passes, Doucet showed he can be an explosive receiver from the slot. His career-high 54 receptions could be a sign of good things to come down the road, just as long as he can limit the number of drops every year.
Estimated contract: Two years, $5.5 million
Mar. 20, 2012: ProFootballTalk is reporting that Early Doucet has re-signed with the Cardinals.
Richard Marshall: Re-signed
Aside from Campbell, this re-signing is the most important of the offseason for the defense. Marshall can play multiple positions in the secondary and is solid on special teams as well. Horton named him the defensive MVP for a reason: The kid can play.
Estimated contract: Three years, $15 million
Clark Haggans: Re-signed
As important to the development of the defense as he was, Haggans played well and was a veteran in the locker room young players could look to for guidance. This is a tougher decision than most realize, mainly because he is 34 years old and will not play much longer in the league—and possibly not much in 2012. He will stick around and continue his leadership one more year.
Estimated contract: One year, $1.7 million
Calais Campbell: Update: Calais Campbell has been given the franchise tag.
Rich Bartel: Update: The Arizona Cardinals have signed Exclusive Rights free agent QB Rich Bartel to a one-year deals.
A.J. Jefferson: Update: The Arizona Cardinals have signed Exclusive Rights free agent CB A.J. Jeffereson to a one-year deal.
Rashad Johnson: Update: The Arizona Cardinals have placed an original round tender on S Rashad Johnson,giving him the value of a third round pick.
LaRod Stephens-Howling: Update: The Cardinals have announced they will place a second round tender on Stephens-Howling, via Mike Sando of ESPN.
Greg Toler: Update: The Arizona Cardinals have given placed an original round tender on CB Greg Toler, giving him the value of a fourth-round pick.
Stephen Williams: Re-signed
Many fans have wondered why Williams was not given a chance to perform on Sundays in 2011 with the way receivers not named Fitzgerald performed at times. He will get a chance to show why he deserves a shot, and with an offseason to work with one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the game, John Lott, he should show up for camp bigger and stronger than ever.
Estimated contract: One year, $400,000
Max Hall: Released/Retired
Hall was released last offseason but brought back, only to be placed on IR for the duration of the season. He will not be so lucky this time, and this may spell the end of a career that lasted a handful of games and one massive shot from then-Saints’ DE Anthony Hargrove.
Available Cap Space After Re-Signings
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Available Cap Space (projected): $2.5 million
This number does not assume any front or back-loading of contracts; therefore, it seems like there is very little to work with.
And though in reality there will likely not be much more than this, there will not be many free-agent signings to speak of in Cardinal Country; the unit they have in place is a good one.
There may be players who are not free agents, however, that end up being cut because of cap space and performance. As mentioned earlier, linebacker Stewart Bradley is a high-price/low-productivity player, and the Cardinals may need to shed his $6 million contract to make things easier for them in free agency and the draft.
As stated above, the estimated contracts do not take into account the possibility of a back-loaded agreement. So, for example, if Levi Brown agrees to restructure his contract and his average annual income drops to $8 million, the most likely occurrence would be to back-load the deal so that the team is on the horn for less money now than in the future.
A great example of that is Brown’s rookie contract.
Other players may be asked to restructure as well. Kevin Kolb has a $7 million roster bonus due March 17. That means as long as he is on the roster, the team must pay him that money. Even cutting that in half would be beneficial to the team.
No matter what happens, this offseason is set to be an exciting one, filled with familiar players leaving, new players arriving and the usual over-analysis of deals before they’re even made.
Biggest Needs After Re-Signings
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Even if all free agents were brought back, there would be needs to fill from a talent perspective on the Cardinals’ roster.
With Brandon Keith no longer in the way, Levi Brown can move back to his natural right tackle post in order for the Cardinals to bring in a good option at left tackle.
Or, if they feel Brown has actually turned a corner and can be good in protecting the blind side, they can bring someone in to play the right. Either way, the position needs help. Giving up 23 sacks from the outside is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated any longer.
No. 2 Wide Receiver
With Doucet re-signed to play the slot and Roberts set to resume his role as the other starter, something needs to be done here. There is an unbelievable array of talent in this year’s free agent pool of receivers; surely Arizona can snag one of them.
The re-signing of Toler and Jefferson help, and Toler’s return is, by itself, like a free-agent signing. He wasn’t there in 2011 when there was a need, and now he will be.
If they choose to target another free agent, it would likely be a veteran who will not command top-dollar and who would be comfortable in a coach/player role to help guide young talent.
With the impending departure of Haggans, there will eventually be a void in veteran leadership. Joey Porter should be back after being placed on IR midway through the season, but it is doubtful he will get a large amount of playing time.
A younger veteran may be targeted here, but in all likelihood, this need will be filled through the draft.
Identifying Potential Free Agents the Cardinals Could Sign
Anthony Collins (73) in a game against the Cleveland Browns in 2009
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With the overabundance of good, young receivers ready to test the open waters of free agency, there will be many different options at the Cardinals’ disposal.
Some of the top talents potentially available but perhaps out of Arizona’s price range include Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston and Vincent Jackson.
The guys who will be available and would realistically fit the mold Rod Graves and the coaches are looking for are Mario Manningham, Robert Meachem, Pierre Garçon, Reggie Wayne and possibly Steve Johnson.
The class of offensive tackles in 2012 is not overly exciting. There are some good players available, but none who you can say would command a fat wad of cash and completely deserve it.
Some big uglies who would be an upgrade for Arizona, however, are Demetrius Bell, Anthony Collins and Jared Gaither.
Collins would be the best choice, with Bell likely commanding too much money. Collins has yet to play a full season in the NFL, but he is a perfect fit. Gaither is young, but with his history of back problems, it would be a risk to bring him in.
As stated earlier, the return of Greg Toler helps fill this hole. If Arizona does go get someone, it would be a veteran who is familiar with the defense Ray Horton has implemented. Fits here would be William Gay or Bryant McFadden—and McFadden is inactive but has played with both the Steelers and Cardinals.
Projecting Contract Values for Arizona’s Free-Agent Targets
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Now let’s isolate the names from the jumble of words in the last slide and determine which are most possible to sign:
WR Mario Manningham
WR Robert Meachem
WR Pierre Garçon
WR Reggie Wayne
OT Demetrius Bell
OT Anthony Collins
OT Jared Gaither
CB William Gay
CB Bryant McFadden
Those are potential targets—only realistic choices—Arizona may look to sign. Now, we will shed away the pretenders and highlight the players who realistically could end up wearing a Cardinals uniform in 2012 and his potential contract:
WR Robert Meachem: Three years, $10.5 million
Of all the receivers in the 2012 free-agent pool, Meachem might be the most like Larry Fitzgerald.
That is not to say he is one of the best players in the game, but more in terms of how he carries himself on the field. He is not one of the divas you see pointing at his back after a big catch, and he doesn’t over-celebrate touchdowns. It’s all about the team for Meachem, and that is just one of the reasons I am so drawn to him.
Other than that, he is a speedy receiver with good hands and great awareness. He plays hard and can go over the middle and make tough catches. Most importantly, he is a true No. 2 receiver.
OT Anthony Collins: Two years, $7.5 million
As Collins has yet to play an entire season, it is unlikely he will be signed to a massive contract. That number is still pretty good considering his first contract was a four-year, $2.175 million rookie deal.
Collins has the potential to be one of the best tackles in the league on either side. That is why this works perfectly for Arizona. If they want to keep Brown on the left side and see if the final half of 2011 was a sign of things to come, they can do that and stick Collins on the right side. If Brown doesn’t work out on the left, they can simply flip them and all will be well and good.
That is, of course, if Collins can stay on the field the whole time without getting himself hurt.
I honestly do not foresee the Cardinals bringing in a corner. They will look around, but ultimately decide they like what they have at the position. Coach Whisenhunt has stated that the team is not expected be very big players in the free-agent market, so only signing two players is a highly likely scenario.
Analyzing Arizona’s Draft Strategy
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In the past, the Arizona Cardinals have drafted largely on need. That didn’t come close to working out well for them (in 2007, they took Levi Brown instead of Adrian Peterson).
Things have changed over the past two seasons. No longer do they take need over the best player available (taking Patrick Peterson instead of, say, Blaine Gabbert in 2011).
GM Rod Graves and Coach Whisenhunt have even become adept at picking well late in the late rounds. Just the past three drafts have produced the likes of Greg Toler, LaRod Stephens-Howling, O’Brien Schofield, Sam Acho and starting fullback Anthony Sherman from the fourth round or later.
Much should remain the same this time around. Major needs will be filled through free agency, while early-round picks will be used on the best available talent and late-round picks will be reserved for finding more diamonds in the rough.
Draft Names to Keep an Eye On
Melvin Ingram is the next great pass rusher in the NFL
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These are some potential players the Cardinals may select should they be available at the time they are on the clock:
Melvin Ingram, LB, South Carolina
Two words: Man crush. This is the ideal pick for Arizona at No. 13 in the first round. Ingram is a monster in the pass-rush and can drop into coverage when asked to do so.
He is unbelievably athletic and is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker. He is everywhere on the field and can even serve as a third or fourth-and-short power back in a pinch. (Watch this.)
Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama
Also a possibility if Ingram is taken early, Upshaw reminds me of the Steelers’ James Harrison. Not only the style in which he plays, but he is also similar in his movements on the field.
Upshaw is a pure pass rusher and would likely be used on third-down passing situations early while he studied the complex playbook.
Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
Should they choose to avoid the free-agent tackles, Adams would be a great option to fill the position. This is unlikely because we just covered the fact that Arizona does not draft for need first, but many mock drafts have them taking an offensive lineman with the No. 13 pick.
Adams is long and strong, but he is raw. He can start almost right away because of his talent-level, but to be safe, he would probably need to sit part of the year while he hones his technique and works on foot speed.
Trumaine Johnson, CB, Montana
Another man crush of mine. Johnson is big for a corner (6’3”, 210 pounds) and is a big hitter. He hits with tremendous force. He may need to move to safety in the future, and that would work out perfectly for Arizona.
Eventually, Adrian Wilson will need to be replaced. Johnson has the potential to be that replacement whenever Wilson is ready to call it a day.
He should be available in the third round.
Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas
If the last name sounds familiar, it should. Acho is the younger brother of Sam Acho, the Cardinals’ fourth-round pick in 2011, and he is thought to be better than his older brother.
Acho is explosive, fast and he wraps up well when tackling. He could be a weak inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, which would be a perfect fit for what Arizona needs. Acho can develop quickly into a starter alongside Daryl Washington in the middle, and that should make many fans happy. He’s going to be a good one.
Acho could be available in the fourth round, though he has been climbing up draft boards lately and may go higher than that.