5 Cost-Effective Moves the Arizona Cardinals Can Make This Offseason
That undoubtedly means there will be players asked to restructure contracts and take pay-cuts, and a few who may be cut from the roster entirely. Whether a player is popular with teammates and fans is irrelevant—the NFL is a business, and popular players come and go frequently (see Karlos Dansby).
Team president Michael Bidwill and new GM Steve Keim have a lot of work to do to make new head coach Bruce Arians' roster more affordable. It will be difficult to do so, as free agency and the NFL draft have yet to occur.
Here are some cost-effective moves the Cardinals can make this offseason to aid them down the road by way of a game called Restructure or Release.
Darnell Dockett, DE
Defensive end Darnell Dockett had his best seasons as a 4-3 defensive tackle.
The potential move back to four down-linemen could be a good one for No. 90, and it is one reason he needs to stick around next season.
He is a veteran leader on a young defense that shined at times in 2012, and if the scheme changes, he could get back to his Pro Bowl ways.
Dockett has been one of the sturdiest players in the league since his arrival in 2004. He has missed just two games due to injury and is among 16 players to start at least 140 games in that time (per ProFootballReference).
With Ray Horton hired on as the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns, and with Todd Bowles replacing him in Arizona, the defensive scheme will change. Not necessarily to a true 4-3—which Bowles’ Eagles ran—but there will be several different looks, according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com.
In a four-year span from 2007 to 2010—and while the team utilized the 4-3—Dockett racked up 25 sacks, forced five fumbles and totaled 210 tackles. His sack total was No. 1 over that time among other defensive tackles—four more than No. 2, Albert Haynesworth.
He is set to make $7.7 million next season—$4.45 million in salary and $3.25 million in bonuses—in what will be the fourth of a six-year, $56 million contract he signed in 2010.
Lowering that cap hit is important. Getting Dockett to agree to that could take some coaxing, as he has not been the most trusting player in the league.
Transitioning the Cardinals’ defense back to a base 4-3 scheme could help gain his trust.
Levi Brown, LT
Left tackle Levi Brown was not a popular player under Ken Whisenhunt.
The calling for his benching by fans was a weekly hot-button issue.
The much-maligned, overpaid man who was reached for in the 2007 NFL draft was released last April so Arizona could avoid paying a gargantuan salary he was owed for the final year of his rookie contract.
He then was re-signed to a cap-friendlier five-year, $30 million deal that will see him paid $6.4 million next season.
Coming off a torn triceps, and with rookie Nate Potter playing well, his services will not be guaranteed under new coaches. If he wants a starting spot in 2013, he must earn it.
Depending upon who is drafted this April, that spot could be fought for by three players.
Or, if they so choose, Bidwill, Keim and Arians could take a tackle in the first, leave the starting spot to he and Potter and move Brown to guard, where he may be better-suited anyway.
That is just an idea, however, and may not even be a thought in anyone’s mind yet.
Stewart Bradley, ILB
Stewart Bradley could not find the field with the Cardinals.
The former 4-3 standout for the Philadelphia Eagles played in just 274 of a possible 2,291 defensive plays over his two seasons in Arizona—or 11.96 percent of plays (per ProFootballFocus).
His five-year, $25 million contract is back-loaded, and as of today, Bradley has made $7 million with the team.
Put another way, he has raked in $25,547.45 for every snap he has played on defense.
The change from being a 4-3 middle linebacker to a 3-4 inside linebacker has been a difficult one for Bradley, and if Bowles transitions the defense into a base 4-3, Bradley’s time in the desert likely will end. With only one middle linebacker on the field at any given time, he would be an expensive backup.
And he could be a third-stringer, depending on what happens over the next several months.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR
Asking the best player on the team to restructure the contract of which every penny has been earned can be risky.
Doing so two consecutive years is even riskier.
It’s a good thing Larry Fitzgerald is one of the best men in the NFL, otherwise this may break him.
He is a team player who has done everything within his power and will to help the team. Last season, Fitzgerald took a pay-cut, as did many Cardinals players.
His 2012 season was statistically his worst as a professional; he set career lows for yards per catch (11.2), touchdown catches (4) and was close to doing so for receiving yards (798), long reception (37) and yards per game (49.9).
Fitzgerald’s $5 million salary for 2013 is steep enough, but here’s a whopper of a number: he is set to make $10 million just for being on the roster on March 15.
If that can be lowered, the financial picture will begin to look better in Arizona.
Verdict: Relea…just kidding. Restructure
Kevin Kolb, QB
Quarterback Kevin Kolb has not earned the substantial paychecks the Cardinals have given him.
In two seasons with Arizona, he has missed more games due to injury (17) than those in which he has played (15).
When he has played, the results have been a mixed bag. His record as a starter is 6-8; he completed 58.5 percent of his passes for 3,124 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for an 83.2 passer rating.
He was sacked 57 times in the 14 games he started.
Next season, Kolb is owed $9 million in salary—the highest on the team for 2013—plus another $2 million in signing-bonus money, a $2 million roster bonus due March 15 and $500,000 in workout bonuses.
That $13.5 million price tag is far too steep.
While the $4 million in bonuses likely will stick, he must help the team by restructuring his salary. Either diverting a large portion of it to later years in his contract, or by simply taking a pay-cut, that $9 million must come down.
Refusing to restructure may force Bidwill's hand, causing him to cut ties with the oft-injured signal-caller.