Best and Worst Moves Arizona Cardinals Made in Free Agency
When the NFL’s free-agency period began on March 11, some teams made quick work of spending upward of $100 million on new contracts. The Arizona Cardinals did not do that, however the money they spent was put to good use.
That first Tuesday, teams spent over $1 billion according to Peter King. The Cardinals were responsible for $35 million of that, bringing in former Oakland Raiders left tackle Jared Veldheer to protect quarterback Carson Palmer.
Although Veldheer received the largest contract from the team in free agency, other players signed will be equally important to the success—or failure—of the team this season and down the road.
But the best and worst moves of free agency were not just players the team signed; those who Arizona released and those it did not pursue have a mention here as well.
These are the best and worst moves the Cardinals made in free agency.
Best: Signing Left Tackle Jared Veldheer
We’ll lead off with the first big splash the team made in free agency. General manager Steve Keim asked Palmer about Veldheer according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com, since the latter provided protection for the former in 2011 and 2012.
Steve had asked me a handful of questions that he’d already known the answers to, really. He had done plenty of research and turned over every stone. He asked me questions where he kind of stated the answer and I just kind of said, ‘Yeah, that’s correct. That’s correct. That’s correct.’
There is nothing you can say negative about [the signing]. It’s easy to find those things in free agency because everyone is looking for a flaw, but what you see is what you get with Jared. Old school.
With Veldheer locked up for five years, the Cardinals don’t have to force a pick at No. 20 in Round 1 of the NFL draft. They can sit back and wait for their turn “on the clock,” and when that time comes, they can take the best player on their draft board.
That’s a nice luxury to have.
Worst: Neglecting Right Tackle
The possibility still exists that Eric Winston returns next season, as he has yet to sign with another team. He was not great to begin the 2013 season, allowing a sack in each of the first five games according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
But he allowed only two sacks in the remaining 11 games. Other than a couple poor performances over that stretch, Winston was solid in protecting Palmer.
More than that, he was a leader in the locker room and an unofficial spokesman of the team.
Besides Winston remaining unsigned, Arizona had an opportunity to go out and sign any number of right tackles who would have solidified the position for years. Perhaps Austin Howard (Raiders) and Zach Strief (Saints) were unattainable because of their large contracts, but a guy like New York Giants new right tackle Geoff Schwartz could have been affordable.
Schwartz signed a four-year, $16.8 million deal with the Giants that will pay him just $2.325 million in 2014. Surely, the team could have swung that.
If you're looking for some positive spin on how right tackle is being handled, one could say Keim and head coach Bruce Arians feel Bobby Massie is ready to reassume the starting role after sitting behind Winston for a season. If that’s the case, then let’s see what he can do—neither Keim nor Arians have done anything in 14 months to warrant doubting a decision (what a nice feeling that is).
Best: Releasing Guard Daryn Colledge
Daryn Colledge has not signed with another team, so it’s feasible to think he could potentially return to the Cardinals at a cheaper rate than before. He had a price tag of $7.275 million in 2014 with $4.55 million in dead money (signing-bonus money the team owes him even after releasing him).
The Cardinals made Colledge a June 1 cut, meaning they can spread his remaining owed money over the next two seasons—that’s $2.275 million this and next season.
But being a June 1 designation means his 2014 cap savings of $5 million won’t take effect until that date; the Cardinals did not create extra cap space for free agency by giving Colledge the June 1 designation.
It will help them sign rookies this summer, however, which undoubtedly is what Keim had in mind when giving his most consistent and durable offensive lineman the boot. That reason, coupled with the possibility of his return on a cheaper deal, is why releasing Colledge is one of the best moves the team made in free agency.
Keep in mind this move would not have happened if Keim and Arians were not sold on Earl Watford being ready to compete with Paul Fanaika for the starting right guard spot.
Worst: Karlos Dansby Leaves for ‘Greener’ Pastures
Notice: Sports rant follows.
Of course, in this instance, “greener” means Karlos Dansby sought the bigger contract in lieu of the chance to lead a top-5 defense through the toughest division in the NFL en route to hosting Super Bowl XLIX.
Stay on board for that possibility? Nope. A longer contract and winning six games per season was more attractive to Dansby.
How do you go from this...
Karlos Dansby will be a cardinal... Simple as that..I said it!!!!— DARNELL DOCKETT (@ddockett) February 28, 2014
...to this (NSFW) in 11 short days? Greed and ignorance.
Loyal Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett should have known the person Dansby is rather than listen to the BS he was spewing. Dansby had this to say following the 32-year-old signing with the Cleveland Browns according to Vince Marotta of ArizonaSports.com:
It definitely surprised me, I wasn’t expecting that. I was called supernaturally, man. It was something I can’t explain. It was like, ‘It’s time to go.’ […]
[…] They [the Cardinals] showed me what they valued me at and I was like, ‘OK, that’s cool.’ But when you get called, you’ve got to drop everything and roll.
Do you have to “drop everything and roll,” Karlos? What happens when Cleveland cuts you in two years because you're a 34-year-old linebacker still on the books for $13 million over two seasons?
Now you’ve signed a two-year, $15.5 million deal instead of the four-year, $24 million you thought you signed. That’s pretty close to what the Cardinals offered you, isn’t it?
But hey, if you can convince the Browns to pay a 34-year-old linebacker $13 million over two years, more power to you.
The Cardinals move on without you—onward and upward to greatness. Have fun in meaningless cold-weather games late in the season.
Notice: Sports rant complete.
Best: Hosting Mike Jenkins After Antonio Cromartie Departed
Remember back to the days after cornerback Antonio Cromartie had spent two days in Phoenix talking with the Cardinals. Cromartie left without a deal, and all was quiet on the cornerback front.
Keim had a backup plan.
He had Mike Jenkins in for a visit last Tuesday according to Kent Somers of AZCentral.com. His plan, though it is not certain, may have been to reel in Cromartie by making it seem as though he’d moved on from the All-Pro CB. Yes, Jenkins was in on a visit. But did Keim have any intention of signing the former Dallas Cowboys first-round pick?
Two days after Jenkins visited Arizona, Cromartie signed a one-year, $3.25 million prove-it deal with the Cardinals that has a $500,000 bonus attached to it. He gets that bonus if he plays all 16 regular-season games.
Is that a great deal for Cromartie? Not really. But, like Dansby’s 2013 one-year deal with Arizona, it should force him to play his best football in hopes of earning a bigger contract next offseason.
Well done, Keim.
Worst: Not Redoing Deals for Palmer And/or Dockett
Together, Palmer and Dockett will account for $20.75 million in 2014. Palmer, who essentially is in the final year of his contract, will make $12 million while Dockett is scheduled to make $8.75 million.
It’s always Larry Fitzgerald taking the restructure, it seems.
Others have large contracts as well, and though their restructures wouldn’t individually save the team what Fitz's did (nearly $10 million), together, Palmer and Dockett could have moved around enough money to match what Fitz saved Arizona.
That extra $9 or $10 million could have gone toward signing either Howard or Strief to play right tackle, or it could have gone toward luring a safety to the Valley. Safety is one of the biggest needs on the roster, and a handful of good ones were available during the first week of free agency—Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward and Donte Whitner, to name a few.
Best: Signing Receiver Ted Ginn
Former Ohio State receiver and return specialist Ted Ginn Jr. has spent his seven-year career with three different teams since the Miami Dolphins took him ninth overall in 2007. He’s provided sporadic highlights since then, but it appears he’s becoming more of a receiving threat rather than just a threat in the return game.
He entered 2013 with six career touchdown receptions—none in 2011 or 2012. He hauled in a career-best five touchdowns last season with the Carolina Panthers, which enticed Keim to give him a three-year, $9.75 million contract with $5 million in guarantees.
Ginn will serve as the team’s No. 3 receiver behind Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.
Equally important, he will return kicks and very likely punts for the Cardinals, allowing Patrick Peterson to focus on playing defense. And Ginn is just as big a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball as Peterson is.
In one fowl swoop, Keim signed a replacement for Andre Roberts (slot receiver), Javier Arenas (kick return) and Peterson (punt return) while not breaking the bank to do so.
The man is brilliant.