Arizona Cardinals: Free agency shakedown

Arizona general manager Steve Keim is the man behind the scenes for the Cardinals, pulling all the right strings in the NFL offseason.

Arizona general manager Steve Keim is the man behind the scenes for the Cardinals, pulling all the right strings in the NFL offseason. (photo credit: Matt Kartozian – USA Today)

Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim is not wasting any time. So far, the offseason for the Redbirds has been anything but conservative; as a matter of fact, they’ve been the most active NFC West team in free agency.

Will it be enough to leap frog over San Francisco and Seattle in the tight NFC West? We won’t know until the season starts. But it is nonetheless very encouraging for Arizona Cardinals fans that the front office led by Keim is working hard to prove that 2013’s 10-6 finish was no fluke.

I raved about Keim’s solid managerial debut in a past article, but even I could not have predicted how active he would be in his sophomore campaign. Alas, we won’t know how he does until we see who he drafts. But for now, we can at least step back in admiration at his current haul in free agency.

So far the Cardinals have signed tight end John Carlson, wide receiver/returner Ted Ginn, offensive tackle Jared Velheer and cornerback Antonio Cromartie. That’s before factoring in the resignings of linebacker Matt Shaughnessy, punter Dave Zastudil and kicker Jay Feely.

Carlson, drafted in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks, showed great potential in his early going. In his first two seasons, he had at least 50 receptions, 500 yards and five touchdowns with the Seahawks. That production led him to inking a lucrative five-year deal with the Vikings, which he didn’t really deliver on, never passing 400 yards and one touchdown in a season while at Minnesota. The drop in production led to a contract restructure and a subsequent cutting, but Arizona sees enough in him to offer him a two-year contract.

So what do the Cards get in Carlson? He is no Jimmy Graham, but his signing is a low-risk, cost-effective move to address a position of need for the Cardinals, who have been inconsistent at the position for the last several years.

Veldheer is no stranger to protecting Carson Palmer's blind-side - he did it in Oakland.

Veldheer is no stranger to protecting Carson Palmer’s blind-side – he did it in Oakland.

The next big signing (possibly the biggest of the Cardinals offseason) was the signing of Oakland Raider tackle Jared Veldheer. His deal totals five years, $35 million, which is a beautiful price for a blindside protector. He is reunited with quarterback Carson Palmer, who he blocked for with the Raiders for a couple years.

The beauty of the Veldheer signing is quite obviously the price tag. Compared to the other tackles on the market, the Cards got Veldheer at a relatively cheap price: Branden Albert signed with Miami for $46 million, Eugene Monroe signed with Baltimore for $37.5 million and Oakland originally offered Roger Saffold a $42.5 million deal before failing his physical. I’m not guaranteeing that Veldheer will be better than these guys, but the Cardinals are getting a comparable option at a much more affordable price. For a guy who could lock down the tackle position for years, $35 million is a steal in my mind.

Ted Ginn is the next guy worth mentioning, and his sales pitch is quite simple: he promises to be the replacement for Andre Roberts as the third receiver for Arizona to draw defenses away from Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. His calling card is blinding speed, which helps him get behind defenses as well as in the return game. The receiving aspect has long been in development for Ginn, but last year saw him catch five touchdowns and put up his second highest receiving total since 2008. A modest three-year $9.25 million deal (compared to the four-year, $16 million contract Roberts received in Washington), and this move continues the trend of low-risk, cost-effective moves Keim has orchestrated this offseason.

Antonio Cromartie signing autographs at the 2013 Pro Bowl.

Antonio Cromartie signing autographs at the 2013 Pro Bowl.

That brings us to the Antonio Cromartie signing. Unlike the first three moves, this signing is just for the 2014 season. But don’t brush it off – this is a huge signing. Despite battling a hip injury in 2013, Cromartie ended the season as a Pro Bowler, his second in as many years and third for his career. The other came in 2007, when Cromartie led the NFL with 10 interceptions. In one season. Insane.

The sales pitch to Cromartie from Keim and the Arizona front office was simple: play in Arizona for an opportunity to win the Super Bowl in your own house with the upcoming big game in Glendale. One year is all that was needed, and Cromartie promises to be a huge piece in that. It also works great for him, whose down 2013 campaign hindered his ability to find a big deal such as other corners Aqib Talib or Alterraun Verner.

Don’t let any of that fool you though – this guy can still play. If having a guy like that opposite Patrick Peterson doesn’t make you lose your mind as a Cardinals fan, I don’t know what can.

The volume of the moves is extraordinary, but as I’ve been emphasizing, the genius of them is the price tag. As azcentral.com writer Kent Somers tweets, with the same amount of money Cleveland and Washington paid Dansby and Roberts, respectively, the Cardinals were able to snag Cromartie, Veldheer, Carlson and Ginn. You could even throw in the Jonathan Dwyer signing as a low-risk, cost-effective move to replace the production of Rashard Mendenhall.

It takes a kind of shrewdness to pull this off, and it could be the difference for the Arizona Cardinals moving forward, especially considering the Cardinals will be in a position to take the best player available in the upcoming draft. It is a position like that where any franchise wants to be, and Keim has his team primed for a repeat of 2013.

No, not a repeat. This team is going further in 2014.

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