With the NFL combine only days away, the free-agency chatter around the league is picking up. The first major signing of the league took place when defensive back Stanford Routt signed a $20 million, three-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. That will be the first of hundreds of moves this offseason.
One of the biggest events of the offseason is the NFL draft. In April, each team will attempt to rejuvenate its forces and bring in the best talent from the college ranks.
When the Arizona Cardinals take control of the clock, they'll have to reinforce their offensive line, find help at wide receiver and look to add to one of the fiercest defenses in the league.
Let's see which players will be best suited for playing in the desert to fulfill these needs.
As I've noted before, Arizona hasn't drafted an offensive lineman before the fifth round since 2007 -- and it's about time. Martin may start on the right side, but he has the physical tools to become the blindside tackle here. Questions remain about what the Cardinals will do at quarterback -- my guess for now is they simply stick with Kevin Kolb and hope that investment pays off -- but there's no question they have to be better up front regardless of who is back there. Martin has a lot of athleticism, is a very good run blocker, and should continue to improve his game.
I respectfully disagree—with the pick, not Kiper's analysis.
I know the consensus is that Arizona needs help on the offensive line, and I agree with the masses.
Heck, everyone knows the offense's production starts with the big guys up front. And ProFootballFocus.com ranked Arizona's offensive line 30th in the league—above only the Bears (31st) and Giants (32nd).
So yeah, the Cardinals need to protect the quarterback better; however, they may already have the tools to do so.
This will take some explaining.
Left tackle Levi Brown was easily the weakest link on the Cardinals offensive line. He gave up 11 sacks—but of Brown's 11 sacks given up, 10 of them came in the first 10 weeks of the season. From Week 12 to Week 17, Brown surrendered only a single sack. In that same period, Brown allowed only eight QB pressures. Those numbers spread over the entire season would have Brown ranked as one of the top offensive linemen in the league.
Right tackle Brandon Keith was the other chink in Arizona's offensive armor. He surrendered five sacks and 24 quarterback pressures. However, Keith allowed three of his five sacks and more than half (14) of his 24 quarterback pressures during the first four weeks of the season. Similar to Brown, Keith improved as the season wore on.
If the tackle position is somewhat secure, the Cardinals can wait on drafting an offensive lineman and go after an immediate impact player.
That would be Baylor's Kendall Wright.
NFL Network's Mike Mayock has Wright as a player to watch at the combine. Mayock believes Wright will run in the 4.3's and improve his draft stock from late to mid-first.
That's where we find the Cardinals. At the 13th pick overall, Arizona could reach for a player Mayock likens to DeSean Jackson.
With Wright able to stretch the field and force safeties to cover the entire field, Fitzgerald would find more room to roam free. Not to mention Kevin Kolb—or John Skelton—would get a much-needed second legitimate playmaker at wide receiver.
I'll let the picture speak for itself. After all, a picture is worth 1,000 words and I can't think of 1,000 words that are better than the picture.
OK, wait. Here's two words to describe those two quarterbacks: Busting. Busted.
Now, I know I said Arizona's offensive line looked solid down the stretch of the season, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here. It needs help.
Arizona's offensive tackles Levi Brown and Brandon Keith accounted for a total of 16 of the Cardinals' 31 sacks and a combined 64 quarterback pressures. The tackle position was clearly Arizona's Achilles' heel in 2011.
Auburn's Brandon Mosley will be a solid third-round pick with tremendous upside.
Mosley is 6'5" and 305 lbs. and manned Auburn's offensive line and can add much-needed depth for the Cardinals.
Rookie outside linebacker Sam Acho solidified his position with an outstanding inaugural season. Pittsburgh's Brandon Lindsey may do the same for the Cardinals in 2012.
Clark Haggans performed well on the other side of the linebacker corps opposite Acho, but having recently turned 35 years old, Haggans' position will need to be addressed. Lindsey is the youth the Cardinals need at linebacker.
While Haggans may have another season left in the tank, Lindsey will provide rotational help to keep Haggans fresh and allow the rookie to learn the position.
Safety Adrian Wilson will turn 33 during the 2012 season and backup strong safety Hamza Abdullah has shown little to impress. Abdullah will also be 29 years old and playing in his ninth season in the NFL in 2012.
Strong safety Sean Cattouse out of California will inject youth into the safety position for Arizona.
And at 6'3" and 218 lbs., Cattouse won't force the Cards to take a hit at a big, physical safety. The Cardinals have gotten used to Wilson essentially providing them with an extra linebacker on the field. Cattouse fills that position well with both size and talent.
Inside linebacker is another position plagued by an aging vet for the Cardinals.
Paris Lenon has played all 32 games for Arizona since arriving in the desert, but at age 34, the Cardinals need to bring youth to the position.
Inside linebacker Jerry Franklin from Arkansas can fill the inevitable void.
Daryl Washington locked down one of the inside linebacker positions by his stellar play during the 2011 season. Washington will need a cohort to play alongside him. Colossal free-agent bust Stewart Bradley hasn't shown any promise to give Washington help.
At 6'1" and 245 lbs. with 4.5 speed, Franklin will fit nicely into defensive coordinator Ray Horton's attack. Franklin will provide a thumper at linebacker to stop the NFC West's power running backs, while Horton uses Washington to hound quarterbacks.
The defensive end position for the Cardinals is rock solid. Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett are an impressive duo and will provide the Cardinals with highlights for the next several years.
Arizona picking up a defensive end like Derek Wolfe from the University of Cincinnati would give the team depth at the position.
Arizona would be wise to select a young defensive end like Wolfe whom it can groom. Wolfe would be able to learn from two of the better ends in the league, making his transition into the NFL seamless. He would also provide Campbell and Dockett a breather from time to time without the Cardinals losing too much while he's in the game.
If the Cardinals make these selections this April, they will have solidified one of the strongest defensive units in the league and will propel them into the playoffs. Because as the San Francisco 49ers showed the league, you don't need a spectacular offense to make it to the postseason—a stifling defense will do.