So I was looking over this ESPN.com article by Football Outsiders about the top 10 most disappointing NFL free agents of the past 25 years and it got me thinking about the Cardinals (although no, there are no Cards on the list). My first full free-agent offseason came in 2001, when the Cards — up against the salary cap — chose to sign Seattle guard Pete Kendall as their one big purchase, to team with center Mike Gruttadauria from the year before and first-rounder Leonard Davis to build the “Big Red Line.” Kendall, as always, was blunt; when he came in for his press conference and was asked, why the Cardinals, he said, “Because they paid me the most money.”
That’s usually how it goes.
The bottom line is that, occasionally, help comes via free agency. More often than not, you acquire the best players through the draft because, aside from a player here or there, there is a reason a team lets a player go. Usually it’s because they don’t see him being worth the money he commands on the open market. (Karlos Dansby? Maybe he was. Antrel Rolle? Probably not.) I would argue that, if you charted all the “bigger-name” free-agent signings in the NFL over the years, there would be more that underperformed to expectations rather than met them.
Anyway, you look back through the years and think about the “key” free agents the Cards signed. How many provided the impact that people thought they would provide the day they signed?
- 2002 – CB Duane Starks, TE Freddie Jones
- 2003 – QB Jeff Blake, RB Emmitt Smith, S Dexter Jackson
- 2004 – DE Bertrand Berry (now this one was a real winner, even with Bertrand’s later injuries)
- 2005 – DE Chike Okeafor, QB Kurt Warner (OK, that one turned out pretty well)
- 2006 – RB Edgerrin James (Edge was actually pretty effective, but certainly not the star his contract said he should be)
- 2007 – T Mike Gandy, C Al Johnson, CB Rod Hood (The Cards decide not to get FA “stars” under Whiz, just pieces to the puzzle).
- 2008 – DE Travis LaBoy, NT Bryan Robinson
- 2009 – CB Bryant McFadden
- 2010 – QB Derek Anderson, LB Joey Porter, LB Paris Lenon, K Jay Feely
Certainly a mixed bag over the years. The biggest disappointment? No, I’m not going with Anderson — remember, he was signed to be Matt Leinart’s backup, so how much disappointment can there be? (Careful now …) I think I’d probably go with Duane Starks, who parlayed his spot in that great Ravens defense into the idea he could be a shutdown corner, which he wasn’t, especially on a team that sometimes used Fred Wakefield as the right defensive end (Fred was a great guy but didn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of quarterbacks). Realistically, Emmitt probably provided what everyone expected and so did Edgerrin, especially since he never seemed to fit Whisenhunt’s style (and was clearly at the end, which was proven out after the Cards let him go).
Berry, by far, was the best signing, based on his 2004 season alone. I would have loved to see what sack numbers he would have had if he hadn’t gotten hurt every year after that. UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Some of you want to know how I could ever pick Berry over Warner. The simple fact is that Berry, as a free-agent signee, impacted imemdiately. Warner’s time in Arizona didn’t come across that well until after a change in coaches. That was Warner’s third season as a Card by then. Am I splitting hairs? Maybe. But in the context of this discussion, it’s difficult to argue that, as a free agent coming in, Berry didn’t produce better than Warner.
Tags: Al Johnson, Bertrand Berry, Bryan Robinson, Bryant McFadden, Chike Okeafor, Derek Anderson, Dexter Jackson, Duane Starks, Edgerrin James, Emmitt Smith, Fred Wakefield, Freddie Jones, free agency, Jay Feely, Jeff Blake, Joey Porter, Kurt Warner, Leonard Davis, Matt Leinart, Mike Gandy, Mike Gruttadauria, Paris Lenon, Pete Kendall, Rod Hood, Travis LaBoy
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A couple of leftovers from linebacker Clark Haggans, after talking to him about the story about he and Joey Porter I just posted:
Porter obviously delivers a love/hate relationship with many other players and fans. They love having him on their side, they hate him when he’s not. One person always on Porter’s side, though? Haggans’ mom.
“My mom loves him,” Haggans said. “He is one of her favorite people.”
Haggans said his mom used to go to sports bars (because she didn’t have a satellite NFL package) to watch the Steelers when he and Porter were there. “She used to hear a lot of flak (about Porter), ‘He’s mean, it seems like he is a crazy dude,’ ” Haggans said. “She would overhear people and she’d stick up for Joey, saying, ‘He’s not like that. He’s more misunderstood.’ “
Speaking about the linebacking corps in general, Haggans (pictured below) said it was going to be “fun.”
“We obviously lost Karlos, Bert and Chike. But with G Hayes, myself, Joey … there is still a lot of experience. There is a lot of football 101 between us.” That will hopefully pay off with young linebackers like Cody Brown, Will Davis, Daryl Washington and O’Brien Schofield, but Haggans isn’t dumb, and before I even had a chance to move on, Haggans jumped to a parallel theme, noting, “I’m guessing the next question might be how old we all are, well, I feel fine.”
“I could run for days and everyone else is fine, Haggans added. “I just think it’s like fine wine. We get better with age.”
Tags: Bertrand Berry, Chike Okeafor, Clark Haggans, Gerald Hayes, Joey Porter, Karlos Dansby
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When you talk about the Cards’ pass rush, you can’t get away from the fact the Cards were very successful this season piling up sacks. They finished with 43, sixth in the NFL and easily the most the team has had since moving to Arizona. In fact, it was the third-most in franchise history, behind the 1984 (55) and 1983 (59) defenses.
The Cards had another five sacks in the Wild Card win over Green Bay as well. But that game was a microcosm of the way the pass rush operated. All five sacks — two by Bertrand Berry and one each by Chike Okeafor, Darnell Dockett and Michael Adams — came because Aaron Rodgers couldn’t make the throw on his initial read. Adams’ sack, which led to the fumble that ended overtime, came after Karlos Dansby got his hands in Rodgers’ passing lane, forcing Rodgers to wait. The other four all came after Rodgers was flushed from the pocket. There is a bit of irony that they could be considered “coverage” sacks, given the way the Packers were able to pass on the secondary.
But flashing forward, that’s what the Cards are searching to improve — they’d love to find an edge rusher who can get a sack because he quickly whips his man and the quarterback simply doesn’t have time to react. That’s what Berry was in 2004 when he went to the Pro Bowl, and that’s why the Cards are giving a shot to CFL star Stevie Baggs. The DeMarcus Wares and Elvis Dumervils don’t grow on trees of course, so it isn’t as simple as “just go get one.”
Dockett obviously can get to the QB from inside, and I think Calais Campbell should evolve into a double-digit sack guy. But in the 3-4 alignment, the Cards need speed and youth outside. Will Davis looked decent as a rookie before getting hurt. We’ll see on Cody Brown; he’s going to go through a rookie year all over again after getting injured in the preseason. The Cards think Mark Washington looks the part and could be a find after getting him on their practice squad. Baggs isn’t young (he’s 28) but maybe he has turned the corner in the CFL.
If one of those guys — plus whomever the Cards draft at the spot, and they will take a pass rusher, I’d think — pans out, the Cards’ pass rush could be formidable, given what they already showed they can do.
Tags: Bertrand Berry, Calais Campbell, Chike Okeafor, Cody Brown, Darnell Dockett, Michael Adams, sacks, Stevie Baggs, Will Davis
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So Joey Porter wouldn’t mind playing for the Cardinals? Given the Cards’ linebacker circumstances — Bertrand Berry retiring, Chike Okeafor likely not returning, Cody Brown and Will Davis still raw — he certainly sounds attractive. Porter had nine sacks for the Dolphins, and while he is 32, he has history with Ken Whisenhunt from their days in Pittsburgh (as well as fellow former Steeler and Colorado State alum Clark Haggans). He also is good in a 3-4 alignment.
But the Cards are trying to get a little younger on defense and that doesn’t necessarily help. If Karlos Dansby leaves as a free agent, it would free up early draft picks for an inside ‘backer if the Cards could nab a pass rusher on the open market.
First, of course, the Dolphins would have to cut Porter, which is no sure thing (although it seems like, through the radio interview linked to above, the Dolphins will want to rid themselves of him). Then we’d have to see what Porter is looking for contractually — because it’s likely a big payday. Do the Chargers or 49ers — the other teams Porter is eyeing — provide a better landing spot.
Plus, I’m not sure how the final eight berth for the Cards would/could affect this situation, seeing that Porter will be released instead of just being an unrestricted free agent.
That’s a lot of hoops to get through before Joey Porter could ever land in Arizona.
Tags: Bertrand Berry, Chike Okeafor, Clark Haggans, Cody Brown, Joey Porter, Karlos Dansby, Will Davis
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Right now, the Cards are knee-deep in offseason meetings, meaning I haven’t had a chance to talk to general manager Rod Graves for a story. That will be coming. In the meantime, I have collected all the contract situations (at least, organizing what year each player is signed through, or their free agent status) in a file you can find right here. It doesn’t cover every single player on the roster but it has everyone I considered a contributor this season or someone who needed to be addressed.
Officially the Cards have 14 unrestricted free agents and 10 restricted (the numbers would have been 17 and 7, but Gabe Watson, Deuce Lutui and Jerheme Urban all are going to be hamstrung by the new rules when the NFL deals with an uncapped offseason). On offense, the Cards seem to be in good shape. Starters Dan Kreider (FB), Anthony Becht (TE), Sean Morey (special teams) and Mike Gandy (T) — along with Jeremy Bridges (G/T) are unrestricted. Bigger questions are on defense, where Karlos Dansby (LB) and Matt Ware (S) could walk away, and the Cards are in transition with veteran UFAs like Bryan Robinson, Chike Okeafor, Bertrand Berry, Ralph Brown and Monty Beisel.
Tags: Anthony Becht, Bertrand Berry, Bryan Robinson, Chike Okeafor, Dan Kreider, Deuce Lutui, free agency, Gabe Watson, Jeremy Bridges, Jerheme Urban, Karlos Dansby, Matt Ware, Mike Gandy, Monty Beisel, offseason, Ralph Brown, Roster, Sean Morey
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Quarterback Kurt Warner said his sore neck loosened up this morning and he felt more comfortable today than all week, and “all indications are that direction” that he will play Sunday. Warner remained cautious, saying he didn’t want to give anyone a “false sense” he was OK, but he obviously is optimistic.
LB Chike Okeafor also should play, but in both cases, coach Ken Whisenhunt said you could never know with a long plane ride how it would affect either player. Both guys — along with CB Bryant McFadden (knee), DE Kenny Iwebema (thumb) and K Neil Rackers (groin) are listed as questionable, but I’d expect all to be available.
Tags: Bryant McFadden, Chike Okeafor, Kenny Iwebema, Kurt Warner, Neil Rackers
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The good news was that QB Kurt Warner practiced today, although he’s still doing the day-by-day thing. Warner took all his normal reps and I’d still expect him to play barring setbacks. The same can’t be said for up-and-coming LB Will Davis, whose troublesome knee turned out to have a torn meniscus. Davis already had surgery but is out 4-to-6 weeks (hello Monty Beisel!).
Warner passed all his tests Tuesday, for those wondering.
CB Bryant McFadden (knee) was back in a limited capacity, but he should be OK I believe. LB Chike Okeafor was also back at practice.
I’ll have more in a notebook posted on the home page ASAP.
Tags: Bryant McFadden, Chike Okeafor, Kurt Warner, Will Davis
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Searching for depth at linebacker – especially after Gerald Hayes and Chike Okeafor missing games with back problems and having the inexperienced Reggie Walker and Ali Highsmith on the roster – the Cardinals brought back veteran Monty Beisel today. The Cards wanted Beisel when his contract expired after last season , but Beisel instead followed Todd Haley to Kansas City. Then Beisel was cut after just three games and has been searching for a job since. He had been in contact with the Cardinals in an attempt to come back since then.
To make room on the roster, the Cards decided they couldn’t hang on to four tight ends any longer. They released Dominique Byrd, who had yet to appear active in a regular-season game this season. With Anthony Becht and Ben Patrick taking hold of the two tight end spots on game day and Stephen Spach a more accomplished blocker than Byrd, Byrd was the odd man out.
The Cardinals also brought back a couple of familiar faces to the practice squad: linebacker Pago Togafau and defensive end Jason Banks. Both Banks and Togafau were injured during training camp and eventually received injury settlements. They take the place of FB Jed Collins and DT Antoine Holmes, who were released from the practice squad.
Tags: Ali Highsmith, Anthony Becht, Ben Patrick, Chike Okeafor, Dominique Byrd, Gerald Hayes, Jason Banks, Monty Beisel, Pago Togafau, Reggie Walker, Stephen Spach, Todd Haley
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Coach Ken Whisenhunt had his day-after press conference and, as you’d expect, much of the talk was about QB Kurt Warner. Not that there was anything new — Warner had a long talk with Whisenhunt on the plane flight home discussing strategy and Tennessee (Warner was even watching Titans video already) — and it certainly seems like it’ll be an upset if Warner isn’t able to play this coming week. He’ll have a baseline test (probably tomorrow) to test his head — again, at this point, he has “concussion-like symptoms” and has not officially been diagnosed with a concussion — and go from there.
– The other significant injury was the right knee bruise of CB Bryant McFadden, and as usual, Whisenhunt didn’t have anything new on that front. The injury isn’t feared to be serious, so from there, I guess we have to wait until Wednesday to see if McFadden can go. Even if he does end up playing this week, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him miss some practice time. But that’s just a guess.
– Whiz said LB Chike Okeafor (back) should return to practice. He didn’t make the trip to St. Louis because they didn’t want him sitting on a plane for three hours.
– Finally, Whisenhunt again was talking a lot about backup QB Matt Leinart. One key point: “There were a lot of things we didn’t allow him to do,” Whisenhunt said, noting the Cards preferred to stay “close to the vest” and avoid big losses or turnovers as the Rams dialed up heavier pressure.
Tags: Bryant McFadden, Chike Okeafor, Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart
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An odd game in St. Louis. More late-game heart stoppage when you didn’t think there would be any. Heck, before Kurt Warner left the game – probably right about the time Beanie Wells powered over in a manly one-yard touchdown run – I wondered how much yardage Warner was going to pile up throwing to Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin before coach Ken Whisenhunt put Matt Leinart in.
Instead, Leinart had to come in.
There will be plenty of people breaking down Leinart’s time in the game. It didn’t make you forget the starter was out with a possible concussion, but it wasn’t the disaster some will inevitably make it out to be. Under different circumstances, for instance, Whisenhunt might have let Neil Rackers try a 51-yard field goal – in a dome, remember – on the first drive of the second half. Leinart took the Cards from their own 15 to the cusp of field-goal range before Whisenhunt stayed conservative and punted.
It makes sense. The Rams had done nothing offensively and there was little reason, with an 18-point lead, to give them life with good field position (and indeed, punter Ben Graham pinned the Rams at their own 2). But maybe points there changes how Leinart’s day went, especially since the next possession was the one where the Cards couldn’t convert on third-and-1.
Anyway, on to other thoughts in the wake of the win:
– The running game has been tremendous. The Cards have 487 rushing yards the past three games, an average of 162.3 per game. The first seven games of the season, the Cards totaled 454 rushing yards, an average of 64.8. Their overall ranking will still be low, but it’s clear the Cards are a better running team than that ranking.
– Rookie linebacker Will Davis – who got his second sack Sunday — might be a find as a sixth-round pick. With Chike Okeafor out, the Cards have needed Davis, and seems to have surpassed veteran Bertrand Berry for playing time in some key spots.
– The Cardinals used running back Jason Wright as a fullback on one play Sunday. You have to give Whisenhunt props in his ability to shuffle his personnel and use them in different ways. RB Tim Hightower spent some time split wide too.
– Quietly, Anquan Boldin had another big game. It got lost in the running exploits of Hightower and Beanie Wells and the injury to Kurt Warner, but he’s back to playing at a Pro Bowl level. If he can just stay healthy, it’s going to be a bi.. err, very difficult to defend the Cards.
– Wide receiver Steve Breaston was shut out of making a catch for the first time since playing in Washington the third game of last season. Breaston doesn’t really care about such things, but it does hurt him in his quest to get to the 75-reception mark. Then again, if anyone noticed, not only is Fitz on pace for Pro Bowl numbers but Boldin’s pace (85 receptions, 1,020 yards) is getting back there too.
– Leinart acknowledged he had a little problem with high throws. Whisenhunt said it’s partially because Leinart just hasn’t gotten enough playing time. It is an issue Leinart has worked with a lot with quarterbacks coach Chris Miller. “It’s been my little problem this season and I have been working hard to fix stuff on my release,” Leinart said. “I know when I throw a high pass, I know exactly why so I have to correct those things and that’s what I try to (fix) during the week.”
– With Bryant McFadden out with a knee injury, the Rams did their best to pick on 5-foot-8 backup Michael Adams. But there was one play where anyone could see why the Cards like Adams. The Rams ran a pitch wide left for 235-pound Steven Jackson. The only man in his way was Adams, all 181 pounds of him. Adams came up and stuck Jackson with a textbook tackle at the knees. One yard gain. It’s all about angles.
– Safety Adrian Wilson didn’t get his 20th sack, but he did get his 21st interception (Didn’t seem like Wilson was given many shots to rush the QB in St. Louis). That’ll have to be good enough for this week. Wonder if he can chase down the elusive Vince Young.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Anquan Boldin, Beanie Wells, Ben Graham, Bertrand Berry, Bryant McFadden, Chike Okeafor, Chris Miller, Jason Wright, Ken Whisenhunt, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Matt Leinart, Michael Adams, Neil Rackers, Rams, Steve Breaston, Steven Jackson, Tim Hightower, Vince Young, Will Davis
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