A big reason why many teams like having free agency ahead of the draft is simple: Through free agency, a team can plug some holes, making it much easier in the you-don’t-know-who-will-be-available world of the draft to take the best player available.
(OK, OK, it’s not usually straight BPA, but those are details best served for a blog closer to the draft. Work with me here.)
But plugging holes sounds good only when you can get players to plug. For the Cardinals, that’s where reality and the basic concept of supply and demand can impact the shopping coming up March 13. If I had to carve out a list of prioritized needs, it’d start with tackle and then outside linebacker, both of which would be much higher up the chain than, say, wide receiver (although, with Early Doucet hitting the market and looking for upgrades, receiver fits in on the list too.) Finding tackles and/or outside linebackers though — good ones, with which you feel like you’ve upgraded — aren’t easy to find.
At linebacker, a potential free agent like Dallas’ Anthony Spencer is going to get the franchise tag. Someone like Mario Williams will be way, way too expensive. Maybe Kamerion Wimbley is cut by the Raiders, but with such a dearth of 3-4 pass rushers available, his price tag will likely jump quickly if he does become free. Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield made big strides last season but the Cards need to add at least a piece there, but again, that doesn’t make it a simple move.
(They were probably looking around last year too, but again, teams just don’t let good 3-4 rushers hit the market.)
Tackle is a similar issue, only perhaps more pressing since in theory the Cards could lose both starters in left tackle Levi Brown and right tackle Brandon Keith. As I have mentioned more than a few times and as what was brought up again today on NFL.com, Brown would seem more likely to force the Cards to let him go so he can test the market and his value rather than restructure his deal first. That makes sense. It doesn’t mean Brown is looking to break the bank, but realistically, he could end up as one of the most attractive tackles available in that situation. Such is the state of potential available tackles. (To a lesser extent, this applies to Keith as well.)
There are guys like the Lions’ Jeff Backus, the Raiders’ Khalif Barnes and the Steelers’ Max Starks who could be had, but the Cards would like Brown back. The Bills’ Demetrius Bell and the Chargers’ Jared Gaither are popular suggestions because they are younger, but neither have impressively long resumes either — again, their teams aren’t rushing to make sure they stay. Some of these guys might not even make it to market either, if their teams re-sign them over the next two weeks.
And that doesn’t even include all the teams that would like to upgrade at tackle, which, when you look around the league, seems like about half the NFL.
It’s why general manager Rod Graves talked about setting a value for Brown and sticking by that evaluation, and why other decision-makers around the league talked at the combine about not getting caught up in a feeding frenzy. It’s never easy when you want a player but as with anything in life, a big price tag brings with it big expectations, whether the player is capable or not. It’s a fine line that must be walked for the Cards and every other team in free agency.
Tags: free agency, Rod Graves
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