6 Moves the Arizona Cardinals Must Avoid This Offseason
At this time in the offseason, the NFL Scouting Combine is wrapping up, free agency has yet to begin, the NFL draft is still on the horizon and the Arizona Cardinals still have to free up salary cap space to make the moves they want to.
I wrote a piece in early January highlighting five players the team must avoid in free agency. In it, I included big names like tackle Jake Long and running back Rashard Mendenhall.
The former has no chance of coming to town, but the latter has been spoken of by some in the Twitterverse as a potential free-agency target of new head coach Bruce Arians, who coached Mendenhall from 2008 to 2011 in Pittsburgh.
According to ProFootballTalk's Evan Silva via Twitter, Arians once compared Mendenhall to Edgerrin James. Considering the source, you can take that with a grain or two of salt. Silva's reasoning is hilarious (as is most of what PFT reports), and that would be a very bad idea.
I don’t feel Arians and general manager Steve Keim would pull the trigger on a player with such a checkered reputation on and off the field.
The objective of this piece is to expand on the January edition to include draft picks they must avoid, those they must not avoid, players they must not overpay and those they may have to cut loose.
Avoid Matt Barkley at No. 7
This move was not going to make the cut because before Sunday morning, there was not much mention of its possibility (other than a mock draft or two).
Then came this tweet from Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller, who said he received a text message Sunday morning from an NFL scout stating Barkley would not get past the Cardinals at No. 7.
Miller did not disclose his source, nor should he have, but it is important to note that teams are still very early in the decision-making process when it comes to draft-day possibilities, as pointed out by Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com just an hour after the tweet hit the Twitter world.
Arizona taking Barkley at No. 7 would surprise many people—Miller and AZCentral.com Cards insider Kent Somers included.
Do the Cardinals need help at the quarterback position? Of course, everyone knows they do. But reaching for a quarterback is not the way for Keim and Arians to begin their tenure as Arizona’s GM/head coach combo.
Plenty of impact players will be there at No. 7 and, the idea when drafting that high is to take the player who most has the ability to help your team early. Barkley is not that player.
Avoid Passing on a Top-Ranked Lineman
Drafting Barkley at No. 7 likely would mean leaving one of three top-ranked offensive linemen on the board.
Whether it is tackles Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher, or whether it is guard Chance Warmack, the team cannot make that mistake.
These three players are good enough to start on nearly any NFL team right now, and when Keim joined Urban for a live chat via the official team website and was asked about Warmack specifically and whether taking a guard at No. 7 is too high, he had this to say:
I’ve always said that if a player is an elite player…where you think he is a Pro Bowl-type talent, I think you take him and you don’t look back. Now, would you prefer a left tackle or a quarterback or some of those positions that are harder to find—where supply and demand is an issue? Absolutely. But at the same time, a lot of times in the draft, you’re looking at risk-to-reward-type situations, and any time that you know in your heart that a guy is that type of player, I think you take him.
These three linemen are those types of players—Warmack especially. Keim and Arians cannot pass on any of them.
Avoid Letting Greg Toler Walk
Although he missed six games due to injury, Greg Toler was the second-best cornerback for Arizona in 2012.
According to ProFootballFocus, he was the best corner on the team in coverage, allowing opposing quarterbacks a passer rating of just 51.5 in 10 games played.
Quarterbacks completed just 41.5 percent of passes intended for receivers being covered by Toler, also tops on the team.
Toler has had an up-and-down career thus far in the NFL. He has missed 24 games in the last two years after starting 13 games during his sophomore season of 2010, during which time he flashed signs that Arizona made a good choice in Round 4 of the 2009 draft.
Cardinals fans saw it again in 2012—especially at the end of the season.
He allowed just three receptions in 15 targets for 58 yards, recorded an interception returned for a 102-yard touchdown (a franchise record) and allowed a passer rating of 15.4 over the final month of the season.
Toler is a free agent as of March 12, and he impressed Pete Prisco of CBSSports, who said he is an under-the-radar guy with "a real chance to be a quality corner in the league—one worth a solid deal in free agency, but not necessarily the huge dollars.”
Letting him sign with another team would be taking a step back on defense.
Avoid Overpaying the Former Eagles
It has been well documented by now that Kevin Kolb is owed a $9 million salary in 2013 following the $2 million roster bonus he will be paid March 17.
We will keep this plain and simple.
If Kolb agrees to restructure his big contract, he will remain with the team. If he does not, the Cardinals must cut him. No one will trade for a quarterback with such injury questions as Kolb, and Arizona cannot afford him at his current cap hit.
Other than his durability, his pocket presence has been shaky at best while in Arizona.
He has not earned the money the Cardinals have paid him ($14.5 million in two seasons), and with that number reaching top-10 levels for NFL quarterbacks for the 2013 season, he must take a reduction or risk hitting the unemployment line.
The former 4-3 middle linebacker turned 3-4 backup inside linebacker and special teams player is owed $6.5 million, according to Spotrac, a healthy increase comparable in percentage to Kolb’s third year in Arizona.
The Cardinals have paid Bradley $7 million in two seasons, which adds up to over $14,500 per defensive snap he has taken with the team.
Switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 inside linebacker has clearly been difficult for Bradley, and if he will not take a pay reduction as he did in April 2012, Arizona’s decision-makers must cut him loose.
Avoid Trading Up on April 25
In early February, I laid out a definitive Round 1 draft strategy for the Cardinals.
The first scenario I spoke of suggested the team must trade up to draft Joeckel should he fall past the Kansas City Chiefs, who have the No. 1 overall pick.
My thinking has since changed on this matter mainly because I am warming to the idea of taking Warmack at No. 7, should the former Alabama left guard be available.
Trading up would cost far too much, even from No. 7. For instance, based on points alone, the Cardinals would need to make up 700 points to trade up to No. 3 with the Oakland Raiders. That means they potentially would have to surrender picks No. 38 (Round 2) and No. 71 (Round 3) if they do not add any picks from next year’s draft—in addition to swapping first-rounders.
With the combine Fisher put in, added to his Senior Bowl week success, he has closed the gap on Joeckel. It may be up in the air as to which tackle is taken first, and with free agency to come, one or more top tackles—such as Long—could sign with teams ahead of Arizona in the first round.
That means one of them could fall to Arians and the Cardinals.
I still believe both Fisher and Warmack will be available for them to take, so trading up would not be worth the reward of Joeckel. Either of the three will give the team plenty of immediate value.