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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The end for Edgerrin James’ time in Arizona was long expected before it actually happened, a drawn-out process in which the running back became a prime contributor to the Cards’ Super Bowl run before he was eventually released right after the Cards drafted Beanie Wells in April’s draft. After that, it came out that his significant other and mother to his children had passed away after a long battle with leukemia — something Edge dealt with all last season with many (including most of his teammates) in the dark about the situation.
The Cards will see Edge again Sunday, since James signed with the Seahawks as a reserve running back. It’s odd in some ways, since Edge always insisted he wasn’t a backup, but maybe reality — both in the form of his personal tragedy and the business of the NFL when it comes to an older running back — put that better into focus. He has 105 yards on 37 carries playing behind Julius Jones, apparently adding something other than yards to the team.
“He is great in the locker room,” Seahawks coach Jim Mora said. “Great attitude. He has accepted his role. That doesn’t mean he necessarily likes it. He obviously wants to carry the football. But he has not been a distraction at all.”
Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner admitted “it’ll be weird seeing him on the other side of the field.” Defensive lineman Darnell Dockett said he was looking forward to seeing Edge, but he downplayed that there would be a heightened sense of trash-talking.
“I talk to everybody,” Dockett said. “I’ve got my way of speaking, my own language that I use to guys, it don’t matter who I’m playing against.”
As for Edge, he not surprisingly is playing down the reunion. The Seahawks played James’ other former team, the Colts, two weeks ago, and Edge acknowledged that carried more weight with him.
“Indianapolis was a little different (because) I had so many years there,” James said. “But it’s football. You go out and play football and you do what you’ve got to do. It’s not that big a deal. It’s a football game.”
Edge never struck me as the grudge-holding type — hey, life’s too short, and Edge always seemed to get that — and so it also wasn’t surprising that he said there is no extra motivation (and besides, in his role, it’s not like he will even have a chance to, say, try and hang a 150-yard rushing day on his ex-mates). He did say the way it ended in Arizona gave him zero regrets because “it worked out perfect for me.”
“I had personal things I needed to deal with,” James said. “That was my main focus. So I was able to deal with those things. Football was secondary.”
Tags: Beanie Wells, Darnell Dockett, Edgerrin James, Kurt Warner
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So Edge is a Seahawk, and in the division. Naturally, coach Ken Whisenhunt commented on the topic. “I really haven’t had a whole lot of thought about that. I’ve said that Edge did a great job for us in the playoffs last year and a big part of the reason for our success was our ability to have a more balanced offense. I wish Edgerrin well. I hope he doesn’t give them any information about us, but I understand he probably will.”
It’s funny (not ha-ha funny but interesting funny). Do the Seahawks turn to Edge, as opposed to say, Warrick Dunn, if Edge hadn’t played in Arizona? Do the 49ers, even with injuries in the secondary, turn to CB Eric Green after he was cut by the Dolphins had Green not been a Card? Does the information those players have about the Cards really help? It probably isn’t a tipping point between wins and losses, but knowing coaches the way I do, I would think they would hoard any and all chances to get any kind of advantage.
Playing-wise, we’ll see. Green is in a different situation than Edge. But I guarantee you Fitz and Q would be, let’s just say, excited to be able to go against Green in a game if such a matchup would happen. I still find it odd Edge ended up in Seattle, where he looks like he will be No. 2 and behind the kind of jerry-rigged offensive line that he always hated to deal with in Arizona early on. Maybe $2 million was what he could max out and it was worth the money. Maybe he wants to show the Cards they blew it. But I would guess the Cards’ defense wants a chance to slow their buddy down as well.
Until then, I suppose we wait for the Rams to sign Travis LaBoy.
Tags: Edgerrin James, Eric Green, Travis LaBoy
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Tags: Edgerrin James
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