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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Final draft thoughts

Posted by Darren Urban on April 24, 2010 – 3:26 pm

Well, I don’t think anything could have prepared anyone for today’s final day of the draft Cardinals-wise. Heck, when the O’Brien Schofield story came down — stud pass rusher who just ripped up his knee three months ago — I was just happy there was something interesting to write about. Then the Cardinals traded cornerback Bryant McFadden. Then they took a quarterback. Then we’re in the press room trying to find stats on CB Jorrick Calvin, not realizing at first he didn’t play in 2009. Even the last pick, Stanford tight end Jim Dray, had his own backstory — in 2007 covering a punt, he tore the ACL, MCL, LCL meniscus and hamstring in his left leg. Yikes.

Stories galore. But before I rush off to coach my son’s basketball game (yes, thank you NFL for hustling through this last day), some kibbles and bits I didn’t get to elsewhere:

— Calvin is intriguing. Coach Ken Whisenhunt even said the fact he didn’t play in 2009 probably helped the Cards wait until the sixth round to get him. You like the idea he took responsibility — “I had to live with the consequences,” Calvin said when he didn’t turn in an assignment and was flunked. “It was all my fault.” — and Whiz and Rod Graves sounded sure they knew what they were getting. It helped that Troy assistant coach Maurea Crain took part in training camp last year as part of the NFL’s minority coach intern program. They reached out to Crain and got all the info they needed on Calvin.

— That said, I wonder like everyone about cornerback depth. I do think Greg Toler was going to end up as the starter, so that part doesn’t concern me when it comes to the McFadden trade. And knowing McFadden was supposed to make almost $5 M catches your eye. Will they sign a vet? I think they will consider it. And this may end up being a situation where they nab a guy when final cuts come at the end of training camp too, a la Jeremy Bridges last year.

— The Cards sent both Mike Miller and Chris Miller from the coaching staff to work out QB John Skelton about 10 days ago. I was hearing his name connected with this team since the combine. I think they’ve liked him for a while. And he them. “In the back of my mind I always thought I would be a Cardinal.”

— I can’t see Brian St. Pierre signing now, though. I think the Cards get an undrafted rookie arm, but between Skelton and the work needed for both Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson, I don’t know how many reps a fourth QB would even get. And I don’t see anyone beating out the two vets and a draft pick for a roster spot either.

— Dray, on his injuries: “I knew coming back from a big knee injury like that, my way to get back on the field wasn’t going to be running double move routes or deep routes because my knee wasn’t up to that level. I knew I would have to come in right away and try to get back on the field blocking.”

— After listening to Schofield this morning, it’s tough not to feel good about the pick and what he’ll do to return to his pass-rushing ways. You look at the numbers — 12 sacks, 24 tackles for loss — and you can understand why the Cards took a chance. And coming back from ACLs isn’t the same as it used to be. I remember covering Kyle Vanden Bosch back in 2001-2003 when he blew out his knee twice and look how he turned out after he left. It takes so much less time to recover too. Whisenhunt pointed out that when he played in the 1980s, you put a guy in a cast for six weeks after tearing an ACL, and then going from there. Schofield was walking around the combine without a limp about a month after his injury.

OK, that’s all for now. I’ve gotta go. I’m sure there will be much more to talk about soon. I’ll monitor the comments on the blog, but otherwise, I’m off until Monday.

Unless the Cards make another trade … or news of their undrafted guys leak … who am I kidding. I’ll probably write again tomorrow.

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Toler says he’ll “keep working”

Posted by Darren Urban on April 24, 2010 – 12:48 pm

Greg Toler answered his phone and was clearly surprised teammate Bryant McFadden was gone.

“He was traded?” Toler said. “I just woke up … No wonder I have all these people calling me.”

Toler was going to get calls. The second-year cornerback had a good chance of unseating McFadden as a starter across from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in 2010 but the McFadden deal sealed it. Not that Toler wanted to dwell on it. “You know me,” Toler said. “I just want to keep working. Coming from a small school (St. Pauls) you have to keep working. You’ve just got to be ready and capitalize when the opportunity comes.”

Toler had one interception in limited defensive work last season, one more pick than McFadden. His tools have been compared with DRC and now, he’s one of the “veterans” of a very young cornerback group which grew when the Cards drafted Troy’s Jorrick Calvin Saturday.

“I just want to fill a role,” Toler said.

Now, that role is of starter.

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Skelton: A Card “in my heart of hearts”

Posted by Darren Urban on April 24, 2010 – 10:24 am

Quarterback John Skelton said “in my heart of hearts, I always hoped the Cardinals would pick me.” That’s not a surprise. The Cards worked him out at Fordham just 10 days ago, and when Skelton — 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds — compares himself to anyone, it’s Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. You know, the guy who coach Ken Whisenhunt coached in Pittsburgh and with whom passing game coordinator Mike Miller is also very familiar.

He’s raw. He threw for 3,708 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this past season and in his own words, he has “the leadership qualities to be a starter in the NFL and the arm to make all the NFL throws.” But the Cardinals needed a young quarterback to try and groom for the future. I don’t know if they would have considered anyone else but him, at least in the draft.

It took trading CB Bryant McFadden to move up to get him, but McFadden struggled last season and I am thinking the Cards are fine with this swap.

“In the back of my mind,” Skelton said, “I wanted to be a Cardinal.”

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Cards trade McFadden to Steelers, get Skelton

Posted by Darren Urban on April 24, 2010 – 10:07 am

The Cardinals have traded cornerback Bryant McFadden and their own sixth-round pick (195) for the 155th pick in the fifth round to nab Fordham quarterback John Skelton. I am sure there will be plenty of fans happy with this, and I know the Cards were looking hard at Skelton. Greg Toler is your starter now that McFadden is a Steeler again.

And here I thought taking injured LB O’Brien Schofield was going to be the big news of the day.

I know the Cards liked Skelton; he was probably the only lower-round quarterback they were really interested in. And they needed to trade into the fifth round to get him. The question is whether the Cards can find another cornerback going forward; they have signed Trumaine McBride in the offseason and have Michael Adams and Rashad Barksdale. But this puts some pressure on Toler to step up soon — and DRC has to be the leader of the corners now.

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Numbers, they are a-changin’

Posted by Darren Urban on April 15, 2010 – 9:48 am

Bryant McFadden actually had eyed uniform No. 20 since he showed up in Arizona as a free agent last year. But the cornerback ran into a veteran – cornerback Ralph Brown – who already had it and “Ralph wasn’t going to budge.”

“I was stuck with 25 and I wasn’t really a fan of 25,” McFadden said.

So when safety Kerry Rhodes arrived in a trade this offseason seeking that same 25 – since 25 had been Rhodes’ number since he got into the league – McFadden wasn’t going to be like Brown.

“I told him, ‘We’ve got to make a switch,” Rhodes said. “He said, ‘Is 20 open?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, but 21 is.’ ”

Rhodes had been issued 21 – Antrel Rolle’s old number – when he arrived. But Brown’s 20 was also going to be available since the team wasn’t going to re-sign Brown. There were a couple hoops to jump through with the NFL, since McFadden “25” jerseys were made, but it’s official now. And it was relatively peaceful.

“No fights about it,” Rhodes said with a laugh. “We kept it civil.”

Civil, but not necessarily free. Asked if Rhodes was going to have to cough up any compensation for giving up 25, McFadden smiled and said, “We’ll leave that undisclosed.”

It wasn’t the only flip-flop. The Reggie Walker-Joey Porter switch recently came down, and veteran linebacker Monty Beisel also convinced fellow linebacker Cody Brown to flip-flop. Beisel had been 52 in his first stint with the Cards, but when he returned last season he took 50 because Brown already had 52. Brown had been 50 in college.

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A number of options

Posted by Darren Urban on March 23, 2010 – 4:10 pm

Monday, second-year linebacker Reggie Walker — a one-time undrafted guy, although a player who earned time last season as a rookie — was working out when I asked perhaps the most important question … at least right now, given that on-field work is still weeks away, and given that the Cardinals just signed free-agent linebacker Joey Porter.

“Are you keeping 55?” I asked, as in the jersey number he currently wears and the jersey number Porter has had his whole career. “I hope so,” Walker said, before pausing and acknowledging, “I hope I get something.”

Officially, Porter hasn’t been issued a jersey number. I asked Clark Haggans, a good friend of Porter’s, and he just shook his head and said, “I’m staying out of that one.” My guess is that, eventually, Porter and Walker will come to a meeting of the minds and Porter will end up with 55, but you never know. Already, Paris Lenon started as 51 and got 53 got 51 from fellow newcomer Stevie Baggs, who is now 57. I’m expecting possible flip-flops in the secondary too, now that Antrel Rolle (21) is gone, newcomer Kerry Rhodes (currently 21) is on the lookout for the 25 he had in New York and last year’s 25, Bryant McFadden, suddenly may have the shot at his Steelers’ number (20) assuming Ralph Brown doesn’t return.

It matters. I mean, I remember Cardinals safety Ifeanyi Ohalete dealing with courtrooms back in 2005 when he sued former teammate Clinton Portis, who got 26 from Ohalete when Portis arrived in Washington and then didn’t pay off the deal after Ohalete was cut from the Redskins. It’s about more than a number. It’s about an identity. Just ask 9-0, er, Darnell Dockett.

That doesn’t mean a guy like Walker won’t have to carve out a different identity, though. Only one guy is going to be able to drive 55 in the Cards’ locker room.

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No comp draft picks

Posted by Darren Urban on March 22, 2010 – 3:40 pm

The NFL released the compensatory picks for the 2010 draft today and the Cardinals did not get one. While there had been a lot of talk earlier about possibly getting one after losing defensive end Antonio Smith last offseason, I guess it was offset by signings like cornerback Bryant McFadden, to the point where comp pick guru AdamJT13 had already guessed the Cards were out of the loop (that link, by the way, explains well how the comp pick formula basically works).

The picks announced today, again, were based on last offseason. This month’s free agency transitions will affect the 2011 draft. In short, the Cards could come out ahead — possibly. Players have to be actual free agents (the contracts expiring) and not released, meaning the loss of Antrel Rolle won’t help but the signings of Joey Porter and Derek Anderson won’t hurt either. For now, the Cards’ 2011 comp formula will be Karlos Dansby/Jerheme Urban vs. Paris Lenon/Rex Hadnot.

UPDATE: Here is AdamJT13’s explanation on the Cards’ situation for this draft: “Arizona signed two qualifying players and lost two qualifying players, so the best the Cardinals could hope for was a net value pick, but as I projected, the difference in values was not enough to warrant one. Had the Cardinals not signed Jason Wright, they would have received a third-round pick for Antonio Smith.” I believe the players were McFadden/Wright vs. Smith/Terrelle Smith.

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Divisional Playoff Aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 17, 2010 – 12:38 am

Last year at this time (at least, as I am writing) I was also sitting on a plane coming back from a road trip in the second round of the playoffs. Obviously, that had a whole different feel. Saturday certainly didn’t go the way the Cardinals wanted it to go. There really aren’t any true regrets, because it felt like the Saints were going to find a way on their home turf.

I mentioned about a billion times (OK, exaggeration) this past week how, if the Cards could not lose the turnover battle, they had a good chance to win. Saturday, they come up with that amazing 70-yard run to start, and, even after the Saints answered (a little too easily), that next play was a 28-yard gain to a wide-open Jerheme Urban … and then Urban allowed himself to get stripped from behind and the ball was lost.

That was the beginning of the end.

Had Urban hung on, maybe the Cards march down and take a 14-7 lead. But the injuries mounted. Had Antrel Rolle not suffered a concussion, maybe he makes the tackle missed by Rolle backup Hamza Abdullah on the screen to Devery Henderson – which, after the blown tackle, was the play on which DRC wrecked his left knee. Maybe if the game was closer Kurt Warner doesn’t throw the pass picked off by Will Smith and, in the process of chasing the play, gets hurt when he is drilled by Bobby McCray.

Teams need health to win, however. Even the kickers were banged up. Neil Rackers knew it was going to be tough to make that 50-yard field goal at the end of the first half his right groin was hurting so bad. He had no chance on the second-half kickoff either. And punter Ben Graham would’ve had a little better opportunity to at least angle Reggie Bush out of bounds on his 83-yard punt return, except Graham can’t sprint with a bad left groin pull.

No use dwelling, however. As for a few other kibbles and bits from the game …

— The defense played arguably the two best offenses in the NFL the last two weeks and had trouble stopping them. The Packers scored 35 second-half points last game and the Saints had 35 in the first half Saturday. There was more bad tackling but the Cards needed more of everything. “It’s frustrating,” defensive lineman Darnell Dockett said. “You want to win every down and you can’t win every down.” It doesn’t need to be every down, but it has to be more downs that what was happening.

— Who says Tim Hightower can’t break away for a home-run sprint like his 70-yarder (pictured below). How the Beanie/Hightower combo continues to evolve when it comes to playing time may be one of the more interesting  — and crucial – stories of this team heading into 2010.

— It’s always tough to pressure Drew Brees anyway, and the Cards were limited when Rolle and DRC got hurt. Greg Toler was going to play more in lieu of Michael Adams, but Adams was forced in once the injuries cropped up. The Saints took advantage, and that’s why coach Ken Whisenhunt didn’t want to blitz more. It was an ugly catch-22.

— Cornerback Bryant McFadden had his issues and it will be interesting to see if the Cards go try for veteran help or if Toler can wrest the starting job away. Toler is still very raw. And now you have the knee issue of DRC that, if indeed needs major surgery, will keep DRC off the field all offseason at the least.

— Warner took the blame for the bad exchange between he and Beanie Wells to start the Cards’ third possession. The Saints were in a possible safety blitz and Warner is supposed to blow off the handoff and make a quick throw in that case. But at the snap the safety sprinted back into the hot read’s passing window, and Warner tried to pull off the handoff. He just missed.

— Before you ask, I don’t know what Kurt Warner is going to do. I know everyone on the Cards desperately hopes he returns. I don’t know if that will mean enough for him. I’d like to see him play out this one final year of his contract and give this group one more shot.

— The Cards will have their exit physicals tomorrow morning. It’ll be a short night, but after Saturday, I think everyone is ready to put the season to bed and heal up mentally and physically.

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DRC doubtful with knee injury, Rolle out UPDATE

Posted by Darren Urban on January 16, 2010 – 3:15 pm

CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie just hurt his left knee, it looks like, and was carried off the field, and safety Antrel Rolle isn’t playing right now either (nothing has been officially reported).I will update as soon as I have more information. UPDATE: DRC is doubtful to return with a left knee injury.

Meanwhile, the tackling issues haven’t gotten fixed, and the Saints have a 21-7 lead after an electrifying 46-yard touchdown run (when CB Bryant McFadden missed a tackle at the line of scrimmage). It was the longest playoff run ever for the Saints.

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