Cardinals Have Been Busy At Start Of Free Agency
The free agency period in the NFL is always a crapshoot: you win some and you lose some.
In the case of the Arizona Cardinals, it’s been a little bit of both, especially once free agency officially kicked off on Tuesday afternoon.
The Cardinals offensive line has been a patchwork job at best over the last few seasons, most notably at the tackle positions. Arizona made a huge step toward strengthening the left side of their line by agreeing to terms with tackle Jared Veldheer on a five-year, $35 million contract.
In his four years as a member of the Oakland Raiders, Veldheer started 48 games. 2013 was a shortened season for him, as he suffered a triceps tear in the preseason, which limited him to only five games total.
In a sea full of free agent left tackles, Veldheer was considered to be one of the best options available for the Cardinals. They were thought to be one of the top two teams (the Dolphins being the other) vying for former Chief Branden Albert’s services (Albert ended up signing with Miami in the end).
There were plenty of other fish in that sea for the Cardinals (Rodger Saffold, Eugene Monroe), but when general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians were certain the Raiders weren’t committed to bringing Veldheer back, they pounced on him.
This should please quarterback Carson Palmer, who teamed up with Veldheer in Oakland back in 2012, during his 4,000+ yard season.
With a healthy and returning Jonathan Cooper at left guard, and Veldheer at left tackle, things are suddenly looking up for the Cardinals offensive line.
To go along with the addition of Veldheer, the Cardinals also re-signed defensive end Frostee Rucker on a two-year deal, kicker Jay Feely and tight end Jake Ballard on one-year deals, and linebacker Matt Shaughnessy on a two-year deal.
Keeping Rucker in the nest was critical, especially in an ultra-competitive NFC West division, where the battles are won and lost in the trenches. The Cardinals defensive line needs as much depth and strength as possible, and Rucker definitely provides both.
Feely hit on 30 of his 36 field goal attempts last season, but faltered during the season finale against the 49ers, missing two critical field goals in their 23-20 loss. Feely should face some competition from Danny Hrapmann.
Ballard had seven catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns in 2013. He’ll be looked on to do more this coming season.
Shaughnessy came to the Cardinals on a one-year, $1 million deal and ended up being a starter at outside linebacker. Shaughnessy played very well, and was one of the key pieces in making the Cardinals the top run defense in the league. Arizona suffered so many losses at linebacker last season due to injury and a suspension, so to have Shaughnessy come in and make the impact he did and to bring him back for two more years is huge for the defense.
Here’s the lose some part: as much as the Cardinals would’ve loved to have kept linebacker Karlos Dansby in the fold, coming off a great 2013, they couldn’t, as Dansby signed a four-year, $14 million deal with the Cleveland Browns.
Dansby was a major force both on the football field and in the locker room, and he’ll surely be missed.
That’s free agency for you. Money truly does talk.
In the wake of losing Dansby, it’s time for second-year linebacker Kevin Minter to step into the starting role alongside mainstay Daryl Washington. Minter didn’t get a huge amount of playing time in his rookie season, thanks to Dansby’s huge season, but now the gate’s wide open for him to show and prove he’s got what it takes to be another force for the Cardinals at one of those inside linebacker spots.
The Cardinals also severed ties with guard Daryn Colledge, who wasn’t getting any younger or cheaper as time went on. Colledge, 32, was scheduled to make almost $5 million this upcoming season. Earl Watford – the Cardinals 2013 fourth-round pick – could be called upon to take over the reigns at right guard. He’ll have to fight it out with Paul Fanaika, who just signed a one-year extension.
The Cardinals were reported to have had interest in Packers defensive end/linebacker Mike Neal. Neal tweeted out on Tuesday that he’s decided to come back with Green Bay.
Neal would’ve been a great addition in defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ system. Neal was a major power for Green Bay last season. He had four sacks in the Packers’ final seven games.
We’re just through the first few days of free agency. There’s a lot more time left for Keim, Arians and the Cardinals to make moves and do what they feel is in the best interest of the organization.
Judging by the moves they’ve made over the past season and into this calendar year, I have no doubt that even greater is coming down the pike.
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