Arizona Cardinals Most Under and Overrated 2014 Offseason Additions
Most times, sports writers place the “underrated” or “overrated” tag on NFL players themselves, not on the signing of the players—the overrated tag is usually for no other reason than to steal clicks from drama-hungry sports fans.
This piece is not meant to be a cheap way to gain clicks, but instead it is going to fill you in on which of the Arizona Cardinals’ moves fans will lament and which ones will retain fervor throughout the 2014 season.
If this were last year, one would suggest some underrated moves would have been the signing of outside linebacker John Abraham, inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, as well as draft picks Tyrann Mathieu and Andre Ellington.
The only glaringly overrated move was signing right tackle Eric Winston. Though he started all 16 games for the Cardinals in 2013, he wasn’t particularly good—not to his standard, anyway. For years, Winston was among the best right tackles in the game; but it appears he is past those days, and the Cardinals found that out the hard way.
Let’s find out which offseason additions are under and overrated.
Underrated Addition: Signing ILB Larry Foote
You’re probably wondering how a 34-year-old inside linebacker who played in one game last season could be an underrated signing—especially given that he may not start or even play much for the Cardinals. That’s understandable, but it’s not for his on-field play that he’s underrated.
It’s for what he means to Kevin Minter.
Foote spent 12 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions as an under-the-radar linebacker who always did his job, and he did it well. He was never a tackling machine like some linebackers are (he has tallied more than 100 tackles in a season just twice), but he was always in the right spots.
In 2014, Foote may earn a starting spot next to Minter. But anything the Cardinals get from him on the field is merely a bonus; his real worth to the team is in helping mentor Minter—to show him how to be the leader of not only the linebacking corps but also of the entire defense.
In talking about Dansby to Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com, outside linebacker John Abraham mentioned his leadership—not his statistics—will be what the defense misses most about the now-Cleveland Browns inside ‘backer.
Not even his physical attributes to the games, not even his numbers. Just his leadership. How he talks. How he keeps a team together…starting in Arizona, leaving and coming back.
We’re definitely going to miss his numbers, but having his leadership and having him talk to the younger guys like that is going to probably be the biggest thing we’re going to miss.
Dansby was the vocal leader of coordinator Todd Bowles’ defense last season. It’s now on Foote to teach Minter how to be the vocal leader. With Daryl Washington suspended at least a full year, Minter is the man now.
It’s his linebacking corps. It’s his defense.
Overrated Addition: Signing RB Jonathan Dwyer
Jonathan Dwyer will never start as long as Andre Ellington is healthy, and he may have trouble finding playing time if he doesn’t show he’s better than Stepfan Taylor. Is he better than Taylor is? He may be faster, but that’s about it.
Dwyer doesn’t do anything special when running; he’s a one-cut back whose one cut sometimes runs him directly into a defender.
And like the man he replaces on the roster, Rashard Mendenhall, he struggles to see open lanes at times, sometimes avoiding the lane altogether to cut outside—it’s perplexing to think how similar Mendenhall and Dwyer are as running backs and then think that Arians wanted Dwyer on the team after seeing “Meh-ndenhall” struggle all last season.
But Dwyer is here, and he will probably struggle when given a chance on the field, just as Mendenhall did.
Underrated Addition: Hiring Strength Coach Buddy Morris
For their differences, Arians relieved longtime Cardinals strength and conditioning coach John Lott this offseason. It took only four days to find Lott’s replacement, as Arians hired an old friend, Buddy Morris, to run the team’s workouts.
He preaches low weight and high repetitions in the weight room, which is a different mentality than most other NFL strength coaches. The stronger you are, the better you’ll be is not necessarily true. The workouts he has the Cardinals doing are designed to help players get faster and last longer on the field without needing a trip to the sideline for water and a breather.
His assistant, Roger Kingdom, is the real reason Morris is on the underrated side of this piece. Kingdom, a former gold-medal winner at the Olympics, is in charge of making sure the players get faster. How do you make the players faster?
He answered that question for AZCardinals.com:
Through improved mechanics. You can take a guy out there and you can hammer it home with his mechanics and so forth, make him a more efficient runner—and therefore, that’s when the power comes into play.
You can take an average person and make that person faster. How much faster all depends on where they stand and their genetic makeup.
Every player on every NFL team is there because of their impressive genetic makeup, so that’s not an issue. If players working with Kingdom want to get faster, they will be faster, thanks to the work he and Morris are doing with them.
Have you seen the video cornerback Antonio Cromartie posted to Instagram last week? It shows the All-Pro running the 40-yard dash anywhere from 4.34 to 4.36 seconds. It’s difficult to tell when he crosses the finish line, but it appears he was closer to 4.50 seconds (get out your stopwatches if you view the posted video).
Still, though, that’s great for a 30-year-old cornerback with a history of hip problems. And in working with Morris and Kingdom, Cromartie will not be lifting the heaviest weight he possibly can this offseason, which would put unneeded stress on that problematic hip joint.
Morris could be a godsend to the Cardinals.
And ppl say I've lost a step. Only thing I can do laugh at you all. Ran 4.34 & 4.36 in the 40 today… http://t.co/3GVPHhIDRc— ANTONIO CROMARTIE (@CRO31) June 27, 2014
Overrated Addition: Signing TE John Carlson
Not known as a speedster, John Carlson does fit the prototype head coach Bruce Arians looks for in a tight end. He’s big, at 6’5” and 248 pounds, but he’s not the blocker you’d think he would be given that he lacks elite tight end speed.
That said, Carlson is a solid receiver when he’s healthy. Of 192 “catchable” targets throughout his career, he has dropped 17 of them for a drop rate of 8.85 percent, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
That’s a bit high, but he dropped only one pass on 33 catchable balls in 2013, a much better 3.03 drop rate. He also had his best offensive output with the Minnesota Vikings last season, hauling in 32 receptions for 344 yards (10.8 yards per catch) and a touchdown.
It was his best season since 2010 while with the Seattle Seahawks.
But Carlson may not be the receiving threat he once was ever again for the simple fact that the Cardinals don’t need him to be what he once was. The team has so many big weapons that he may not get many red-zone targets. Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd will see most of the red-zone targets; then there’s Jake Ballard, Rob Housler, Troy Niklas and even receiver Jaron Brown.
All stand at least 6’2”. That’s a lot of big bodies to consider when in the red zone. Granted, not all of them will be on the field all the time when the Cardinals are in the red zone. But the fact remains that Carlson is not going to be the target he once was as a young buck in Seattle.
He’s a 30-year-old tight end on what could be the last leg of his career. It began as a career full of promise, but injuries turned what may have been a career full of Pro Bowls and All-Pro honors into one of what might have been.
Carlson isn’t the same tight end he used to be. Could he start for the Cardinals this season? Sure. But if he does, don’t expect 50-plus catches for a bunch of yards and touchdowns. His best attribute now is his blocking, which he will do plenty of while in Arizona.
Underrated Addition: Drafting QB Logan Thomas
Fourth-round pick Logan Thomas will not play a snap in 2014, unless both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton are concurrently injured. That means he will have the time he needs to adjust his game and get better in preparation for whenever he will get the chance to play for Arians and the Cardinals.
And he needs it.
Entering the 2014 NFL draft, there wasn’t a quarterback whose play was more scrutinized. No one thought Thomas was ready to be an NFL quarterback. I’m sure you remember hearing the “Draft Logan Thomas to be your next starting tight end” jokes. They all were stupid.
Thomas will be a quarterback, and if he develops as some think he can, he could be the next Ben Roethlisberger. Greg Cosell of Yahoo Sports even went as far as saying Thomas is more pro-ready than Cam Newton was in 2011. Here is what Cosell said of Thomas and Newton:
There are certainly concerns with Thomas as he projects to the NFL. The biggest is his somewhat scattershot accuracy; he missed too many routine throws that you have to make.
On the flip side, he delivered a significant number of throws that few, if any of the quarterbacks in this draft, can make. The same was said of Cam Newton when he came out of Auburn in 2011; he also was an erratic passer who frustrated and thrilled. …
Of course, outcomes in the minds of most always supersede process. Newton won a national championship in his single year at Auburn; Thomas was 26-14, with few signature wins in his three years as Virginia Tech’s starter. Cam is a winner, and therefore a special talent; Logan is raw and unrefined, with more questions than answers.
Here’s the reality, which to many is inconceivable given the negative perception of Thomas, and Newton’s relative success in the NFL after three seasons: Thomas is further along as a natural passer than Newton was at the equivalent point in time, having played more games in college, and learning an offense with far more complexities than Newton’s Auburn offense.
That bodes well for Thomas.
Overrated Addition: WR Ted Ginn Jr.
At first, the free-agent signing of receiver Ted Ginn Jr. seemed like a good one. It’s a three-year, $9.75 million deal Arizona can get out of cheap should things not work out in 2014.
He should be fine in Cardinal Red; that’s not the point. The point is that third-round pick John Brown is already in the mix for the No. 3 receiver spot after part of one offseason.
Ginn needs to play the best football of his life to remain the team’s No. 3 receiver, and even that may not be enough. He will return either punts or kicks, or both, and catch passes from Palmer this season. Whether he’s the No. 3 or No. 4 wideout in Arians’ offense may not be up to him. Brown may have more say than Ginn does when it comes down to it.
This puts the Cardinals in an interesting position. If Brown overtakes Ginn on the receiver depth chart and Arizona decides to keep the former Ohio State star as a return man the next three seasons, it will pay nearly $10 million for a kick returner and No. 4 receiver who will play roughly 20 to 25 percent of offensive snaps at the most.
That is not good.