The free agency effect

Posted by Darren Urban on June 9, 2011 – 4:13 pm

So I was looking over this 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.

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43 Responses to “The free agency effect”

  1. By Chris on Jun 9, 2011 | Reply

    Just keep in mind when you bring Derek’s name up. Without an offensive line and an OC that knows what he is doing, it doesn’t matter who you put back there. The QB will get crushed as all three did last year!

  2. By CardsFan on Jun 9, 2011 | Reply

    “Berry, by far, was the best signing”? Really? On a list that includes Kurt Warner, I’m going to have to hear your explanation for that one, particularly the “by far” part.

  3. By Darren Urban on Jun 9, 2011 | Reply

    CardsFan, Austin —

    RE: Warner vs Berry

    Tough to say Warner had the biggest impact as a FA when his first real impactful season came in his third year with the team, long after he signed as a free agent. Clearly he was a better overall player but again, I don’t think, in the context I am writing this, that Warner tops Berry.

  4. By AndyStandsUp on Jun 9, 2011 | Reply

    Plus side would have to also include Robinson and Okeafor, with a waiting grade on Lenon. Thumbs down to Jackson and Johnson.
    I thought Jason Wright was picked up as a FA and that Anderson was signed after the Browns cut him?

  5. By Darren Urban on Jun 9, 2011 | Reply

    AndyStands —

    RE: Wright/DA

    Porter was cut too. Emmitt was cut from Dallas. That didn’t change they were key FA signings at the time. And I didn’t list every FA signed, which is why Wright isn’t on there.

  6. By Scott H on Jun 9, 2011 | Reply

    Darren –

    Did you happen to catch the NFL Network’s Top Ten Worst Free Agent signings ( or whatever it was ) ? I found it interesting that Emmitt Smith coming to the Cardinals was on the list. BUT I also found it quite slanted in that they focused entirely on the FIRST of his two years here – which was a disaster – and completely ignored the second – which was actually pretty darn good. If memory serves, he almost reached the 1,000 yard mark AND he missed a couple of games due to injuries. He plays in those games, he goes over 1,000 yards easy. I think he also reached one of his bigger milestones with a TD he scored that year in a game against Seattle…yes? I just think the NFL Network reached a bit too far with that one. Then again, they really don’t have anything else to do these days except come up with Top Ten lists…

    By the way, I think Dexter Jackson was also pretty disappointing. As was McFadden, but then again, I don’t know how much should have been expected from him.

    I thought Kendall was very solid and the decision by Green to release him was ridiculous.

    Edge and Okeafor were also very solid. Edge is unfairly looked upon as a bust by some because of the deal he got. 2008 was truly an extreme year for him…he gets benched and forgotten about during the regular season and then comes back strong during the playoff run.

    How ’bout a list of worst free agent losses? Karlos Dansby and Jamir Miller definitely come to mind…

  7. By Darren Urban on Jun 9, 2011 | Reply

    Scott H —

    RE: FA/Emmitt/Dexter

    I think Emmitt was pretty decent in 2004. You are right he had around 935 yards (937 maybe?) although he was clearly at the end and so maybe I just didn’t have big expectations for him. Dexter actually had six picks in his lone year here, but he clashed with Denny Green from the get-go — he was on the wrong side of Denny before even Kendall.

  8. By Mattaz on Jun 9, 2011 | Reply

    I’d call Alan Faneca a pretty big name. And something of a disappointment too, IMO.

  9. By Darren Urban on Jun 9, 2011 | Reply

    Mattaz —

    RE: Faneca

    True. I just forgot him. Oops.

  10. By Austin on Jun 9, 2011 | Reply

    Berry over Warner? While Berry was a great player, IMO Warner had a far greater overall impact on the team as a whole.

  11. By Peter in Canada on Jun 9, 2011 | Reply

    A very interesting list. There are a couple of gold nuggets, some serviceable but overpaid for what they produced and some outright busts. I agree about Starks. My mother could play corner on that Raven defence because the QB was usually running for his life. McFadden was a similar case.

    I think Whiz is right. Sign only to fill a need.

  12. By DRC #1 FAN on Jun 9, 2011 | Reply

    I think the list from Berry down is pretty solid. Gandy got us to the super Bowl and should have won it protecting Kurt who needs that pocket. McFadden is the worst one after 2004 and even he at least made our corner safe against the run(even if he got beat on a lot of passes, but he was opposite an on fire DRC) I’m actually raelly impressed with this FA list of players.
    travis Laboy was kind of a joke I guess too.. other than that. nice.

  13. By Rodgerscromartie17 on Jun 9, 2011 | Reply

    how was antrel not worth the money he wanted if the cards tried to mach new yorks offer at the last minute? I think rolle ws worth more, should of never let him go

  14. By brad oneill on Jun 9, 2011 | Reply

    nobody hits everytime but i would say the cards are ahead of most teams on value aquisitions.

    where we disapoint is in the ones we lose from our team. we seem to err on the side of not overpaying. i think dansby and rolle were both ok to let go. but there have been many former cardinals that went on to greatness without us.

  15. By NJAzCardsFan on Jun 10, 2011 | Reply

    DA (Disaster Always) line or no line is/was just god awful last year. He is most likely the worst FA sigining in recent Cards history. Why he is still on the roster is beyond me……

  16. By Jeff Gollin on Jun 10, 2011 | Reply

    There are two ways to look at a specific free agent: (1) how did he perform in the absolute? (2)how well would we have done if we hadn’t signed him.

    Example: Edgerrin James. In hindsight, he may seem overpriced for the results he delivered, but who would have run the ball for us had we not signed him?

  17. By lets talk cardinals on Jun 10, 2011 | Reply

    I think Rhodes was a good pick up, unless he got traded. Much cheaper then Rolle, believe me if Rolle would have played to his contract The G men would have made the playoffs. If we sign Dansby & Rolle no money left over, plus once we sign Kolb or as I dream every night Vince Young, Ill bet money against NY Blues & the Miami Fishes.

  18. By lets talk cardinals on Jun 10, 2011 | Reply

    Next year in the Draft I see us taking like 3 people on our offensive line, which will solve our problems. Patience is key, I hope we trade Hightower for maybe a pick or even a deal to get Palmer. Yeah I forgot to add him

  19. By bluepitt on Jun 10, 2011 | Reply

    @ Chris,
    I dont know about that, Warner did great with no line. DA couldnt hit the broad side of a barn even with time!

  20. By D on Jun 10, 2011 | Reply

    Since the draft picks are behind the 8 ball this summer, I don’t see Acho playing much as LB, but more special teams, do you think the Cards will pick up a FA LB if we have free agency or bring back Porter

  21. By Darren Urban on Jun 10, 2011 | Reply

    D —

    RE: Linebacker

    I think they will definitely try to get a linebacker or two in free agency.

  22. By cards62 on Jun 10, 2011 | Reply

    I really like Bertrand Berry and would still pay him a million a year to rush the QB.
    Even the year he retired I believe he had 7 or 8 sacks playing part time. He also came across as a great teammate.

    That said Warner is my top free agent pickup for our Cardinals, and I would also pay him a few bucks to come back and throw the old pigskin around in 2011.

    Scott H. I agree with you on Kendell. I believe Kendell turned Denny in for a rules infraction and he was gone. If I am wrong please someone correct me.

    Free agents we lost. We do not seem to do well with running backs. The top of my list is Thomas Jones and Garrison Hearst, TE Jay Novachek – sorry spelling,
    Kyle Vanden Bosch DE, and Leonard Davis all pro guard for Dallas servicable T for Cardinals. Q of course. S. Rice DE out of Illinois was a great player but I believe he was a cancer on the team so we had to let him go. A. Williams I believe we let go or traded because he wanted to go to a contender We lost others over money so I can not fault us for that and remember we tried to sign Dansby for at least 2 to 3 years..

    Cardinal fans this is my list. What do you think?
    Does anyone remember why we let Jay N, and Kyle V. leave ?

    Everyone have a great weekend and go Cards

  23. By Darren Urban on Jun 10, 2011 | Reply

    cards62 —

    RE: Kendall/other FAs

    The rumor was that Kendall was the one who turned Denny in for being too physical in offseason work. Kendall insisted (on and off the record) he wasn’t the one.

    Vanden Bosch was left to leave because he had blown out his knee twice and the feeling was he was never physically going to be able to hold up. I wasn’t around for Novacek, but I don’t think they ever thought he’d turn into the pass catcher he became.

  24. By Chris on Jun 10, 2011 | Reply


    Warner did do a great job, he was the OC as well as the QB. What were we the year we went to the Super Bowl 9-7? How many concussions did he have? DA made some bad decisions that is a fact but what QB in this league doesn’t. The interception that Peyton Manning threw in the final minutes of the Super Bowl, was that a bad decision? DA was bruised and beat up after the first game against the Rams and he was never able to heal, he kept getting crushed! When a QB has time that allows the receivers an opportunity to get open so the QB doesn’t have to throw into tight spots. The offensive line was horrendous and without a severe overhaul we will simply not be successful.

  25. By Mike Ellingboe on Jun 10, 2011 | Reply

    Not that anyone could have forseen it at the time, but the signing of Edgerrin could have been our mostly costly decision of all. Without him around I can’t believe we’d have passed on Adrian Peterson. Pointless as it is, I still imagine our 2008 offense with him along side Warner, Fitz, Boldin, etc. Put him in that huddle and Harrison could have run from Tampa to Arizona and it wouldn’t have made any difference.

  26. By Mike Ellingboe on Jun 10, 2011 | Reply


    No, Manning’s interception wasn’t a bad decision. Reports were that his WR ran the wrong route. Of course, when you audible as often as he does things like that are bound to happen.

    Not sure where you get the idea that Warner was our OC, I think Haley did a pretty good job with the offense that year. In the NFL the QB is almost always required to throw into tight spots, barring a defensive breakdown. DA was awful, no OL could have changed that. As Bluepitt pointed out, Warner did fine with them. Put Palmer in our huddle last year and we win a lot more than five games.

  27. By Chris on Jun 10, 2011 | Reply

    With respect I ask Palmer has done what? It is a stretch to speculate as to what any other QB would have done short of Michael Vick, he could have run away from the pressure. Have you watched how open Tom Brady’s receivers are? I seriously think he could eat a sandwich while he is waiting for someone to get open. In the Super Bowl against the Giants Brady was pedestrian at best, why. . . because of the pressure that the Giants put on him. As is the case with most NFL QB’s.

    Inside information is how I know for a fact that Warner came in on Monday with a game plan and 15 or so plays that he wanted instituted into the game plan. Make no mistake Warner ran the offense much the same way Manning does.

    You are mistaken to say “always” when it comes to tight spots. Sometimes that is necessary but that is not the ideal scenario, ask any NFL QB.

    With regard to whether or not Manning made a bad decision on that particular play, I agree with you. As I heard it, again from inside sources, the receiver was suppose to cut that route off and cross the face of the defender. That said, in Manning’s 6 interception game not all of those could be attributed to bad routes. There had to be bad decisions mixed in as well.

  28. By Scott H on Jun 10, 2011 | Reply

    One thing is for sure – last season was DEFINITELY the worst collective off-season ever since the beginning of free agency. When you weigh the additions ( which amounted to very litttle once you get past Rhodes ) against what we lost ( WARNER, BOLDIN, BERRY, DANSBY, ROLLE )…I think tragic is the word I would use.

    Darren – just a quick reply re- Emmitt Smith, I think he was actually around 975 yards during that second season here. I remember he was REALLY close to 1000.

  29. By sport245245 on Jun 10, 2011 | Reply

    62 Joe Bugel became coach and his offense didn’t incorporate a tight end, but like the Redskins, an H back, so he was let go. That’s my recollection. VanDenbosch, was knee injuries. Pete Kendall was the Cardinals player representative, so he reported the offense at someone elses request, which he was obliged to do. Green was a “jackwagon”.

  30. By Mike Ellingboe on Jun 11, 2011 | Reply


    Good post, I respect your reply but with a few more counterpoints to throw in. My thought on Palmer vs Anderson is based on their careers. It’s not an accident that one QB has a career completion of 62% and the other is 52%. Part of the reason, as you well know, for the pressure Anderson gets is his inability to react to anything at NFL speeds. He’s set one way, waits too long, finally makes an adjustment and throws without being physically set. It was an issue for him at OSU and it’s never gotten better. No way Palmer misreads the TB defense and guns a game winning TD into coverage when he had Williams one on one (and as the NFL goes, wide open) on the other side.

    To that point part of the reason Brady always appears to have so much time is no one that I can think of does of better job of manipulating the pocket than he does. I can’t remember the last time he ran himself into a sack or bailed on the pocket prematurally. His ability to read defenses has to keep them off-balance and irritated as hell. Put DA in the NE offense and their OL gets exposed as well. Brady had absolutely no running game to work with last year (statistically about equal to ours) and Welker led the league in dropped passes. Their defense wasn’t a whole lot different from ours either. Yes, the Giants “D” did a great job against him but if DA had a few more “pedestrian” games of 30 completions, 266 yards with a TD and no pics we’d have won our dazzling division going away.

    Again, I liked your post and it’s refreshing to read a response that is well thought out and isn’t laced with juvenile replies, but I strongly disagree that DA wasn’t the major reason for our downfall last year. He took over a playoff team and guided them to last. Bradford, a rookie, took over arguably the worst franchise in the league and had them in the running. If his receivers had caught anything in the Seattle game they would have been the rightful division “champs” (term used loosely there).

  31. By yuna81 on Jun 11, 2011 | Reply

    Travis LaBoy was a huge bust. He was a one trick pony…. a very wide speed rush that would allow any team to gain 10 yards running off tackle. Especially drove me nuts during the Super Bowl. I believe he was waived partially because he was injured but still managed to be paid the remaing signing bonus. I don’t know what the final sum was for one year, but he is #1 in my book.

    Al Johnson would be #2

  32. By Brandon on Jun 11, 2011 | Reply

    I think DA could have been better with an o- line take his 2007 season goes 10-6 throws 29 touchdowns. They had just drafted Joe Thomas to protect his blindside. We drafted Levi Brown 2 picks later see how that turned out. And actually Warner’s O-line was different he had Mike Gandy at LT and Reggie Wells at guard two proven guys who took us to SB43. This year we had Brown at lt fanneca at lg and Brandon Keith at RT. Darek Anderson and Max Hall got sacked 9 times against the chargers. and Levi Brown cant even hold of Nate Clemmons for 3 seconds in the final snap against the sehawks. Big mistake letting Mike and Reggie go and I think we definatley need to blame the o line.

  33. By D on Jun 11, 2011 | Reply

    Appears in a few weeks we may have the season to talk about, which means free agency. Cards have much work to do and by my count, could be needing up to 5 Free agents, which by AZ standards is a lot.
    First- Need to resign own players:
    (no brainers)
    A Branch
    Probably a few special teamers too

    50-50 chance to return
    Which leaves a possible of 5 spots needed to be filled.
    1) QB
    2) Maybe G / Tackle (depending if they keep Deuce or not)
    3) TE depth (need blocking help)
    4) DT depth. (nothing right now behind Williams)
    5) OLB depth (Porter will be gone-too soon for Acho and OBrien is young)
    Any thoughts?

  34. By D on Jun 12, 2011 | Reply

    Depending on the new free agency rules and if their teams can’t resign them, here are some names the Cards may be interested in:
    QB- Kolb or Orten
    G/T- David Joseph or Willie Colon
    TE-Bo Scaife or Reggie Kelly
    DT- Aubrayo Franklin or Ron Edwards
    OLB- Antwan Barnes or Stewart Bradley

    Most likely if they sign Kolb to a big time salary, knowing they will give Fitz a huge deal, I see them going after the players that may not be super expensive
    players that not everyone may know…

  35. By Logan cooper on Jun 12, 2011 | Reply

    I thinking back on it now, I always thought Dennis Green was a pass happy coach.

    Who would have thought that getting a coach from the Steelers would have made us even more pass happy.

  36. By Brandon on Jun 12, 2011 | Reply

    The only decent fa tackle is Jamal Brown and Jeremy Bridges did a pretty good job at the end of last year should have drafted a lineman I’d like to resign Reggie Wells but I don’t think he is available should have drafted a guard for qb Kevin Kolb, or Marc Bulger. TE just resign B. Patrick and train young OLB Manny Lawson is the only one that makes any sense. Think we should have targeted it more in draft. DT resign Gabe Watson maybe Cullen Jenkins.


  37. By Mike Ellingboe on Jun 12, 2011 | Reply


    Fair points, but unfortunately for us his 2007 season is starting to look more like an aberation, because he hasn’t done a thing since then (we can’t say that Thomas regressed at all after his rookie season). While I agree w/you, in that I think Gandy and Wells were better than given credit for, most are going to remember Gandy as Harrison’s turnstyle in the ’08 Super Bowl, but as great QB’s often do Warner managed to adjust and work around it. Wells was pretty average as well, it’s not like we lost Boselli and Allen.

    While our O-Line has been nothing more than average since the Whiz took over (which is still an upgrade over the sieve it was under Green) it’s time to concede that DA isn’t anyone’s answer at QB (not that he was supposed to be here, either).

  38. By Haggis Bob on Jun 13, 2011 | Reply

    So here is a worse case scenario:


    Do you now throw money into a front line and TE that can protect what you have already or expect to get, OR.
    Do you throw money into the defense to keep games close so your talent in offensive weapons can take charge and win games?

  39. By SteveDCO on Jun 13, 2011 | Reply

    Not sure if I’m the only one but the lack of a new CBA is affecting my love of football. In the past I would be checking here and a few other sites for the latest rumors and visits and getting ready for camps. I had actually planned to travel to Flagstaff for a weekend this year.

    Now I find myself checking this site once a week and PFT maybe once a day. I’m not watching guys on Twitter (even though I was shocked to see A0Dub on there).

    They have a small window left before they start loosing fans.

  40. By Scott H on Jun 13, 2011 | Reply

    SteveDCO –

    No, you are not the only one. I feel the same and I’m not DOING the same things I would normally be doing this time of year. It sucks, but…what can ya do? If / when the NFL starts to care about me again, then I’ll care about them. Until then? Why should I bother? I should suffer because they can’t agree on a reasonable way to split a 9 BILLION DOLLAR pie??? Please. They get NOTHING more from me until I am getting what I want as a fan.

  41. By Don Short on Jun 14, 2011 | Reply

    The 2011 FA’s will be the best. BY FAR!!

  42. By Paul Liccardi on Jun 14, 2011 | Reply

    i thimk the offesive line as well as the inability to rush the passer was the biggest issues last year, i think we need to see what beanie wells can due, i didnt think he got the carries that he should have and also losing antrell rolle didnt help either.

  43. By Scott H on Jun 14, 2011 | Reply

    Brandon –

    With all due respect, I have to disagree with your opinion of Derek Anderson. While I do agree that the O-line did a poor job last year and did not help any of our many QB’s, this does not get Anderson off the hook for being what he truly is – just a bad QB. I don’t understand how people can look at the one good season he had ( 2007 ) and ignore the fact that it was just that – the ONLY good year he has ever had. His career numbers tell the story and they do not lie. I don’t think last year was anything other than exactly what we should have expected from Anderson.

    I think another angle to consider is that perhaps the QB’s and how bad they were last year were partially responsible for how bad the O-line looked. Let’s be honest – opposing defenses did not have to respect the abilities of Derek Anderson, Max Hall, or John Skelton. Put Kurt Warner behind the same line last year and you know it’s a different story. Regardless, we all have to hope for better thie year!

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