5 Players the Arizona Cardinals Must Avoid in Free Agency
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The free-agent pool is not as deep as in recent years, but there will be players available who can help the franchise rebound from the dreadful 2012 season through which we all just suffered.
The pool does consist of players who are nothing more than a mirage, however—players who have gotten respect in the past for great seasons but have fallen off in recent years.
There are players who may be rated highly by one coaching regime, but who have never performed at a level worthy of the lofty five-year contracts they receive.
Here are five players the Cardinals must avoid in free agency.
Jason Campbell, QB
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The deal was for one year, likely with the thought that he could earn another contract next season.
It’s probable he did not earn another contract with the team.
Campbell started one game for Cutler in 2012, a Monday night game in San Francisco against the 49ers. He completed 14-of-22 for 107 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for a 52.7 passer rating. The Bears lost, 32-7.
It's not the worst ever, but that stat line looks a lot like how the Cardinals quarterbacks play the 49ers.
Chicago’s offensive line has just as many issues as Arizona’s, and Campbell did not look comfortable behind the Bears' leaky line.
Bringing Campbell in to play backup to (presumably) Kevin Kolb next year would be a huge mistake. For what it’s worth, the team may as well keep John Skelton and Ryan Lindley on the roster.
At least hope remains for their respective careers.
Jake Long, LT
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In a contract year, many NFL players would step their game up as they try to earn a big, fat contract the next offseason.
Not Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long.
Cards LT Levi Brown sustained the same injury during the preseason, forcing him to the season-ending IR list.
Long was rated as the 46th-best tackle in the NFL this season—far-removed from the pure domination he displayed in the four seasons prior (ranking per ProFootballFocus).
Throughout his first three seasons, Long was consistently rated in the top 10 for tackles. But he faltered during his fourth season, dropping to No. 21 before plummeting to his 2012 position.
The upcoming NFL draft could feature two tackles from Texas A&M who are every bit as capable as Long without the concern of performance drop-off and minus half a decade in years. Either Luke Joeckel or Jake Matthews will suffice.
The Cardinals must realize Long is on the downswing of his career.
Paris Lenon, ILB
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This list includes Arizona’s own free agents, yes.
Paris Lenon gave his all while in the Valley, but his all is not good enough anymore.
The 35-year-old linebacker has seen better days, and the time has come for the organization to move on from him. His three-year ride in Arizona was fun—he led the team with 350 total tackles during that span.
But his play has faltered since moving from strong-side inside linebacker to the weak side to make room for Daryl Washington.
Especially in run defense.
The team can stick with what it has on the roster to replace Lenon, which is the so-far failed experiment of Stewart Bradley and the up-and-coming Reggie Walker.
Or, the Cards can go out and sign a young free agent like Baltimore Ravens four-year pro Dannell Ellerbe. He played extremely well in replacing Ray Lewis after the first-ballot Hall of Famer tore his triceps.
He is just an example, but the team has options.
Shaun Phillips, OLB
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Cardinals outside linebacker O’Brien Schofield has underperformed to this point in his career.
Add in the fact that he is coming off surgery to repair damaged ligaments in his left ankle, and there may be a need to add depth.
San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Shaun Phillips has become a liability on the field after just completing his ninth season in the league.
His successor in San Diego is likely Melvin Ingram, so letting him go—especially with a new coach and GM—will be an easier decision than people may think.
Phillips was the worst-rated 3-4 outside linebacker against the run in 2012 (per PFF), and in pass-rushing situations, he was ranked No. 28 of 34 despite recording 9.5 sacks.
Why was he ranked so low?
He is an inconsistent pass rusher who gives up on plays at times and is over-powered by even the no-namiest of no-named tackles—he made Oakland Raiders right tackle Khalif Barnes look like a Pro Bowler during the final game of the regular season.
The needed depth mentioned above is already in the vicinity by way of Quentin Groves.
Groves played well in Schofield’s absence. He is set to be a free agent as well, but he has earned a contract for next season. Giving him a multi-year deal would be a good thing and would give the team continuity in the outside pass-rush.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB
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With so many interchangeable running backs within the Pittsburgh Steelers organization—and with so many of them free-agents-to-be—one or more will end up leaving town this offseason.
Rashard Mendenhall will be among those not in black and yellow next season.
Mendenhall failed to show up for a game against the Chargers earlier in the year after being told he would not be active for the contest. That prompted a one-game suspension from the franchise.
That punk-like attitude does not fly in Pittsburgh, and it should not fly in Arizona.
He has sparked controversy before with this tweet about Osama bin Laden’s death, so his behavior is nothing new. It may have been his opinion, but some opinions are better kept to one’s self.
The five-year pro played in only six games this season, carrying 51 times for 182 yards, no touchdowns and a 3.6 yards-per-carry average—all are the lowest totals he's recorded since his rookie season of 2008.
Arizona has issues with the run game, but Mendenhall is not the answer to those issues. His poor on-field play this season could be cast aside as a running back still in the recovery stage from offseason ACL surgery, but the off-field shenanigans are too much of a red flag.