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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