Why Eric Winston Is Free Agency's Biggest Diamond in the Rough

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Why Eric Winston Is Free Agency's Biggest Diamond in the Rough
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Add another shrewd move to the Arizona Cardinals' offseason resume heading into the 2013 season.

First it was the decision to pair the strong-armed Carson Palmer with newly hired head coach, and vertical-passing aficionado, Bruce Arians. 

The recent signing of Eric Winston is the latest reminder that Larry Fitzgerald's club is headed in the right direction, or at the very least making a logical, concerted effort to do so.

With the free-agent market picked over, the former Houston Texan and Kansas City Chief was easily the best offensive lineman available.

To illustrate the caliber of player Winston is, here's how his 2012 season stacked up against his right tackle contemporaries, guys who are considered the best at their position:

*all statistics courtesy of ProFootballFocus.com 

Clearly, he didn't play at an elite level a season ago, but he was one of the most well-rounded right tackles in the game, excelling almost equally in run- and pass-blocking categories.

While the overall worth and amount of guaranteed money in Winston's contract are still unknown, his one-year deal is not expected to be expensive for the Cardinals. 

For more perspective on the shrewdness of the Winston signing, here's how the NFL's top right tackles are currently being paid by their respective teams: 

*figures are courtesy of Spotrac.com. All players included in the table received new deals after the 2012 season

Basically, the Cardinals, a team in dire need of offensive linemen, added an upper-tier right tackle at what will likely be a low-risk contract, especially compared to other premier right tackles playing today. 

PFF's numbers indicate Winston isn't as effective in pass-protection as his fellow right tackles, something that could be viewed as concerning for Carson Palmer in Arians' offense, which features a variety of long-developing routes.

However, Arizona's new right tackle is a stud run-blocker, and that strength can't be ignored. 

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

No team ran for fewer yards than the Cardinals (1,204) or had a lower yards-per-carry average (3.4) in 2012. 

The ultra-talented yet oft-injured running back Rashard Mendenhall was signed in March, while Stanford's productive runner Stepfan Taylor and Clemson lightning bug Andre Ellington were drafted in April.

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Also, Arizona selected the nimble-yet-powerful offensive guard Jonathan Cooper in Round 1. 

While Arians' offense relies on stretching the opposing defense with vertical passing, it's safe to assume the Cardinals want to vastly improve their running game. If the ground game develops, it should benefit the aerial attack—another reason why the Winston signing was an astute one. 

He isn't an All-Pro lock and is nearing his 30th birthday, but for a team that couldn't run the football and surrendered 58 sacks in 2012, Eric Winston was a fabulous free-agent find this close to the start of training camp for the Arizona Cardinals.

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