Paul Kruger could be more affordable than experts think.
And Arizona didn’t have the space it does now until it released inside linebacker Stewart Bradley and cornerback William Gay on March 1.
At roughly $5.8 million of cap space after the releases, that still is not nearly enough to bring in and sign free agents, let alone re-sign Arizona's own free agents or the rookies it will draft in late April. But it’s a start toward getting where it needs to be.
More cuts, some restructures and perhaps a salary reduction or two must come before any of the moves you are about to read can happen. We will start by predicting these moves, then by predicting the free agents Arizona will sign with a potential contract for each player.
Release WR Early Doucet
The knock on Early Doucet to start his career despite showing promise was that he couldn’t stay healthy.
Injuries ended his first three NFL seasons early (please, disregard the pun).
He was able to remain healthy enough the last two seasons to play in more games (28) than he did the first three (26). Only now, he can’t catch.
Doucet has dropped 16 passes over the last two seasons—eight each season. With 36 of 51 targets this season deemed “catchable” by ProFootballFocus, that means he dropped 22.2 percent of catchable passes.
His 207 yards receiving in 2012 were his lowest output since his rookie season.
Money Saved: $2 million
Reduce QB Kevin Kolb and Restructure WR Larry Fitzgerald
At a combined salary of $23.75 million for 2013, Kevin Kolb and Larry Fitzgerald account for 20.2 percent of salary-cap money on the books for the Cardinals.
You read that right. A fifth of money paid to the current roster will go to Kolb and Fitzgerald.
That is, unless they both reduce or restructure their contracts. For Fitzgerald, a restructure is likely if he is asked. He epitomizes the “team first” mentality and would do anything for the team if it meant being able to sign someone who could help Arizona get to the playoffs.
Kolb, on the other hand, really doesn’t have a choice other than to negotiate a pay cut. He has started just 14 of a possible 32 games since being traded to the Cardinals and signing a lucrative extension he had not—and still has not—earned.
If he does not reduce his $13.5 million cap hit, Arizona could be forced to cut him. Although Arizona would still be on the hook for $6 million in dead money this season if forced to cut him, the team would save $7.5 million.
But Kolb is a reasonable and honest man. He knows he hasn’t earned the money. Some fans believe he should have come to the team already with an offer to reduce his would-be salary. Instead, we are all left waiting for it to happen.
Reducing Kolb’s salary from $9 million to $2 million saves the team $7 million. The team can save $4 million by cutting Fitzgerald’s salary for 2013 from $5 million to $1 million and diverting it to later years in his contract.
Money Saved: $11 million
Extend FS Kerry Rhodes’ Contract
Kerry Rhodes is entering the final year of his contract with the Cardinals. He is to be paid $6 million this year, with $5.5 million guaranteed and a $500,000 workout bonus added.
He will be 31 on August 2, and having started 15 games last season, upper management has to feel confident he can play at a high level for a handful more years.
To lower his cap hit, the team must extend his contract and divert some of his salary over the life of the new deal. An expected extension for a player of his caliber could be somewhere in the ballpark of three years and $21 million. This would be similar to the deal Quintin Mikell received from the St. Louis Rams in 2011.
The deal should be back-loaded very similar to that of Mikell. The Rams’ veteran safety could be a cap casualty this season, as he is owed $9 million and has not done enough to say he has earned it. But for Rhodes, he has earned an extension.
A three-year, $21 million extension could have $4 million of 2013’s $4.5 million salary converted into a signing bonus, which would be evenly distributed across the life of the deal. The first year (2013) could carry a base salary of $2 million, and with the prorated signing bonus, that would bring his cap number to $4 million (he is owed a $1 million roster bonus March 17).
Money Saved: $2 million
Total Money Saved: $15 million
There will be more movement than I highlighted, but that gives you an idea of what could and should be done to help free up cap space for the Cardinals. Now, onto those free agents.
Note: All salary-cap numbers are taken from overthecap.com.
General manager Steve Keim told Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com he wants a guy with “smarts, mental toughness, physical toughness, accuracy.”
Is that veteran backup Drew Stanton? Not necessarily.
But Keim also told Urban he could bring in multiple players every year until he finds the guy who best suits what he’s looking for at quarterback.
If only there were a “dating” website out there to match quarterbacks with teams based on the traits a QB possesses and the traits teams want—I checked, “QuarterbackMatch.com” does not exist.
So Stanton could be signed as a backup; perhaps even a backup’s backup.
Head coach Bruce Arians has been said to like Stanton as a player. According to Dan Pompei of National Football Post (h/t Chris Wesseling, NFL.com), Stanton impressed Arians during preseason and practices all season while with the Indianapolis Colts.
Stanton knows Arians’ offense, so while he may not have the best chance to start in Arizona—but with the current roster, I suppose there’s always a chance—he could help the other quarterbacks with the terminology and intricacies of the system.
Contract: One year, $700,000 (six-year player minimum)
He may not be the most intelligent of NFL players, but Josh Cribbs is fast and can serve as Arians’ deep threat from the slot in four-receiver sets.
Not to mention his kick-returning ability.
Can you imagine the returning tandem of Cribbs on kicks and Patrick Peterson on punts? Two of the best in the business on one team would give Arizona’s special teams a big boost.
Cribbs struggled to see the field consistently as a receiver last season, tallying just 63 offensive snaps in 2012 after averaging 438 from 2009 to 2011 (stats via ProFootballFocus).
His seven receptions were the fewest since he caught just two passes in 2008.
But some of that can be attributed to the arrival of receiver Josh Gordon in Cleveland, the speedy, supplementally-drafted rookie who took the NFL by storm last season, notching 50 receptions for 803 yards and five touchdowns—all coming from at least 20 yards out, and three from 44 yards and further.
Cribbs was left out in an offense that relied heavily on the short to intermediate passes of Pat Shurmur’s West Coast offense. But in Arizona, he would be on the field to run posts, post-corners and go-routes.
Basically, anything deep.
Contract: Two Years, $5 million ($1 million signing bonus)
Jake Scott was available for anyone to pick up last offseason. No one did.
I wrote about it while he was still sitting at home every Sunday, back in October when I asked why the Cardinals had neglected offensive line help.
He has been one of the NFL’s most consistent interior linemen since being drafted in 2004 by the Colts. After protecting Peyton Manning for four seasons, he signed as a free-agent with the Tennessee Titans and helped turn running back Chris Johnson into “CJ2K.”
Cardinals current right guard Adam Snyder had a poor first season in the Valley—as expected, perhaps—and has four years remaining on a five-year, $17.5 million contract he signed last offseason.
Signing Scott means Snyder would be out. Despite not saving the team a dime upon his release, it is still worth making the change.
Scott will be 32 on April 16, so he doesn’t have a plethora of seasons left within him. Getting the most of what he has to offer now would be a great choice by Keim and Arians.
Contract: Three years, $12 million ($3 million signing bonus)
You’re calling me names because you don’t believe Arizona can afford Paul Kruger.
Before you hit the comments section with insults of epic proportion, finish reading what I have to say. Then comment.
Kruger had a good season in 2012. He totaled nine sacks during the regular season and notched another 4.5 in the postseason—two of Colin Kaepernick in Super Bowl XLVII.
But last year was a breakout year for Kruger. Before the season, not many outside Baltimore knew his name. That’s because in the three seasons prior to last year, he notched just 6.5 sacks.
It wasn’t because he was incapable; he simply did not get the snaps until 2012. Moving from defensive end to outside linebacker proved to be the difference for Kruger.
Doing it for one season doesn’t make him a star, but he certainly earned a lot of money in performing the way he did. But how much money? This tweet from Baltimore Ravens beat writer for the Carroll County Times, Matt Zenitz, puts a number on it:
Per a league source, impending free agent Paul Kruger is expected to command a contract in the range of 5 years/$40 million after the season— Matt Zenitz (@mzenitz) January 7, 2013
That’s huge for a one-year wonder. Had he done what he did the previous three seasons, $8 million on average per season may be warranted. But calling for James Harrison-type money now is premature.
He will have to settle for a bit less than $40 million, and that makes him affordable to the Cardinals—especially after more cuts and restructures are dealt with.
Contract: Five years, $32.5 million ($10 million signing bonus)