Arizona general manager Steve Keim is facing a problem all of us have faced in our lives. We only have so much money in our wallet and we want to spend it as smartly as possible to get as much out of the money as we can.
The Cardinals have to make wise decisions with the limited amount of money they will have under the salary cap. Let’s take a look at where things stand and where the Cardinals need to spend.
Let’s begin with where the Cardinals stand with their contracts. The cap information is courtesy of Spotrac.com and the data is in the 2014-2015 column.
There are several things to notice in the data. First, the Cardinals have three players who will count at least $10 million against the cap in the coming season. Carson Palmer, Calais Campbell and Larry Fitzgerald are each going to count for more than $10 million against the cap in 2014. Fitzgerald is the highest with an $18 million cap number for 2014.
Arizona is scheduled to have 16 free agents. See the list here from Darren Urban of the team's official website. So where does Arizona spend its money?
The first spot is the offensive line. The line played better as the season progressed, but there are some potential question marks. Right tackle Eric Winston is set to be a free agent, so a need is there on the right side. Guard Daryn Colledge might be a salary-cap casualty with his $7.275 million cap number. Bradley Sowell was forced into starting the final 12 games after Levi Brown was traded to Pittsburgh. Arizona is seeking stability at the left tackle position and money could be spent there according to Urban.
The tight end spot is another position where money might be effectively spent. The Cardinals have gotten little production from their tight ends in the passing game in the last few seasons. If Arizona can shore up its offensive line, the Cardinals can start using the tight end in the passing attack.
It would make the position much more valuable than just an extra blocker. Jake Ballard will be a restricted free agent. An inconsistent Rob Housler is in the final year of his contract in 2014. Arizona would be well-served to spend money at the position to get results from one player instead of a committee. Bob McManaman of The Arizona Republic points out Arizona had a good season, statistically, at the tight end position when the stats of all players were combined.
The linebacker positions are going to be key for Arizona. They have to decide if they will pick up the $10 million roster option on Daryl Washington. All-Pro Karlos Dansby is a free agent and might test the free-agent market. His performance from this season could drive his price tag too high.
Kent Somers of the Republic wrote that the Cardinals "will pay the bonus, keeping Washington under contract for the next four seasons."
Arizona might be able to survive losing one of those linebackers. If neither Dansby nor Washington were on the roster, it would force Arizona to look at free agents at that position.
Running back is another position that should be looked at. Rashard Mendenhall is set to be a free agent. Andre Ellington had a solid season, but it remains to be seen how he would hold up as a featured back. Maurice Jones-Drew is set to try free agency, according to an Associated Press article in USA Today. He might be considered an upgrade over Mendenhall.
Other positions to consider are punter and kicker. Both Jay Feely and Dave Zastudil are set to be free agents. Over the last two seasons, Zastudil has punted 190 times for Arizona. He averaged 46 yards per kick and dropped 81 punts inside the opposing 20-yard line. Zastudil is key in the field-position battle.
Feely's final performance of the season left Arizona fans unhappy. He missed two field goals in a 23-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. A win, combined with a New Orleans Saints loss, would have put Arizona in the playoffs. Arizona could be in the market for a new kicker for the 2014 season.
When it's all put together, there are a lot of places for Arizona to spend its money in free agency. Making the right decisions will play a big role in what the Arizona roster looks like in 2014.