On Friday, Arizona Cardinals GM Steve Keim said that the team would be very “aggressive” in free agency, and that they’d put the foot on the gas pedal in order to build around the potential final seasons of Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald. However, that’s going to be challenging given that Keim still has so many of his own players to deal with already. Not just any players either, but many of their current starters.
Not only do the Cardinals have 17 unrestricted free agents, I found myself having to go into detail on 10 of them who may have interest to the Seahawks in some capacity. No other team I’ve profiled so far comes close to that, and it doesn’t take into account the fact that some of the ones I’m not going into detail about are still interesting players and who knows, maybe Seattle does take an interest in Mike Jenkins or Andre Ellington.
If Arizona wants to be aggressive in free agency, good for them, but it’s either going to come at the cost of their own free agents or it just means they’re going to be aggressive in trying to look the same next season.
Impending Free Agents
Chandler Jones, DE/LB*
*Jones was given the franchise tag. The following is basically a rant on poor cap, contract management.
Let’s start with Jones because he’s going to get the franchise tag anyway. With a tag, he accounts for $14.7 million of cap room next season, bringing the Cardinals total cap room left to $17.8 million. Even if they agree to a long-term deal that brings his 2017 cap hit down, Jones isn’t going to cost less than $12 million this year, I’m sure, and could cost way more.
Arizona is spending about $40 million next season on Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald. That’s a Hall of Fame receiver and a very good quarterback, but let’s be honest, the franchise must be somewhat worried that their Pro Bowl days may be behind them. Fitzgerald caught 107 passes last season and added some incredible highlights to his resume, but 9.6 yards per catch is simply not the explosive number you’d see from a number one receiver. Turning 34 before next season, Fitzgerald is five years removed from his last truly dominant season.
Palmer was okay last year, but excuses aside (because I know some fans have plenty of those cocked and ready to go) his 7.1 Y/A will not cut it and any quarterback turning 38 has to fear the grim reaper. This is probably the main reason why Keim says that the Cards will be aggressive in free agency, which is to surround Palmer with players who will help him in 2017 besides just David Johnson and the aged Fitzgerald. I’d look for Arizona to target one or two big names at wide receiver and tight end, but it will come at the expense of their defense.
All told, the Cardinals could be paying Palmer, Fitzgerald, Jones, and Patrick Peterson a little shy of $70 million next season. With an estimated salary cap for Arizona around $172 million, that’s 40-percent of the budget spent on four players, two of whom are perilously close to the end of their careers. In the past they’ve pushed back payments to Palmer and Fitzgerald in order to save themselves in the short-term, but that option doesn’t seem available to them anymore and it’s put them in this predicament. That’s what makes these following decisions so interesting.
As for Jones, he’d be a dream addition for Seattle, but he’s staying in Arizona.
Calais Campbell, DL
Speaking of dream additions, here’s a more realistic one. This is the first time in Campbell’s career that he will be a free agent, having received the franchise tag in 2011 and then signing a five-year, $55 million contract, and he will have many suitors. The idea of Campbell coming to the Seahawks and loading the defensive line seems a little mind-boggling and redundant, but there was also that time they signed Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett back-to-back after it seemed like they were done adding defensive ends. Seattle has room in the budget for one, maybe two, huge moves and I think Campbell falls into that category of “Would be willing to entertain paying $10 million per season” even though there are bigger needs — But if QB is the most important position in football, having players to attack and disrupt the QB is the next most important thing. Bennett, Avril, Campbell, Frank Clark puts the Seahawks on another level next season. I don’t think that it will happen, but I think the rumors, and perhaps even a meeting, will.
I see Campbell leaving the Cardinals and perhaps signing a deal, dare I even say it, with the damn New England Patriots. The same team who traded Jones to Arizona and made it improbable for them to retain Campbell.
Frostee Rucker, DE
On the very low end for defensive linemen is Rucker, a 10-year vet who was very unproductive last season. That being said, at a vet minimum someone will give him a chance and Rucker has said he wants to play in 2017.
Kevin Minter, LB
Minter was the team’s third-leading tackler in 2016 and in fact, seven of the team’s top nine tacklers are set to be unrestricted free agents, including Jones. Minter also had 3.5 sacks and four passes defensed last season, making him a worthy starter somewhere and a potentially difficult player for Arizona to keep. His next contract potentially lines up with Danny Trevathan, who signed a four-year, $28 million deal with the Chicago Bears in 2016. I don’t think Minter is athletic enough to fit the Seahawks need at outside linebacker and he’s obviously not a backup at this point so it’s not a fit for Seattle, but it could be another opening that the Cards will need to fill.
Alex Okafor, LB/DE
Another defensive line/linebacker option on the cheap end, Okafor had eight sacks in 2014 but just 5.5 over the last two seasons as Bruce Arians began to favor/search for other players to rush the passer. Having been relegated to a backup role in Arizona, Okafor probably goes somewhere on a cheap one year deal (or a deal that looks bigger than it is but is really just a one year deal) in a situation where he can prove that he’s worthy of something more, just like Bennett did with Seattle once upon a time. Okafor’s got size and length but his broad jump, vert, and bench reps were all too weak to fit into the Seahawks’ needs.
Earl Watford, G
Watford may look like an attractive option simply because he is an option at offensive line, having played at both guard and tackle, and being only 26, but the reports are all pretty negative. If Watford is signed to compete with Mark Glowinski, it’s more of a sign that the coaches are very unhappy with Glowinski than they are excited about Watford.
Tony Jefferson, S
Jefferson has become a regular on the defense, having gone undrafted in 2013, and he led the team with 92 tackles in 2016 to go along with two sacks, five passes defensed, and two forced fumbles. In the last few days alone, the reports have been “Cardinals working hard to re-sign Jefferson” to “Cardinals unlikely to keep Jefferson.”
The only way he fits on Seattle’s roster is as a hybrid safety/linebacker who is really just better insurance at safety than they had a year ago. But he’ll sign for a starting salary at least as good as Tashaun Gipson’s five-year, $36 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. I also doubt that Jefferson will live up to his next contract. He’s not athletic, which is why he wasn’t drafted, and he’s not a playmaker like his buddy Tyrann Mathieu.
Sio Moore, LB
Moore is athletic, but teams just don’t seem to like him. The Oakland Raiders traded him to the Indianapolis Colts after two seasons, and then being released by the Colts after only 1.5 seasons. There are some injury concerns, but it goes deeper than that. The Kansas City Chiefs picked him up and quickly let him go before he landed in Arizona where he had 35 tackles and two forced fumbles in four games. Moore goes above and beyond for the Seattle’s athletic needs (29 reps, 38” vert, 10’7 broad, 33.5” arms) so I absolutely see him being an option at SAM. But he’s been out there to be had before and the Seahawks weren’t the team to grab him. Now that he’s just a regular unrestricted free agent maybe they will but does he have an attitude that gels with Pete Carroll’s “always compete” philosophy? That’s what I doubt.
D.J. Swearinger, S
While Jefferson seems to be the headliner, Swearinger is the better player. He’s also very risky. Swearinger finished with 64 tackles, two sacks, three interceptions, and eight passes defensed in 2016, playing both free safety and strong safety. It was a season he desperately needed after it seemed he was halfway out of the NFL in 2015. Swearinger was a second round pick by the Houston Texans in 2013, but waived in 2015 and picked up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was waived after seven games and picked up by the Cardinals, before injuries in 2016 allowed him to have the season he had. Swearinger is a good player, but there are issues that preclude him from being a real option for the Seahawks:
He was reportedly waived by the Texans because he thought he was too important to have to play special teams. That’s never going to work in Seattle as long as Carroll is here.
Swearinger is also known for being the player who ended tight end Dustin Keller’s career on a preseason hit that many deemed to be dirty.
Any team should fear giving Swearinger a long-term deal despite his talents as a football player.
Marcus Cooper, CB
A seventh round pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2013, Cooper got cut before his rookie season, signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, and had three interceptions and 21 passes defensed in that first year. It was beautiful schadenfreude to see the 49ers actually make a decent pick only to release him before the regular season, but Cooper’s good moments faded and he was eventually traded to Arizona for only a conditional seventh round pick. It was a great deal for the Cardinals, as Cooper filled in for some injured players and made 13 starts with four interceptions and 11 passes defensed.
He’s your typical “make a big play, give up a big play” type of cornerback. He supposedly has the length Seattle likes but what’s the market value going to be for a guy who has been in this position before when he had a great year for the Chiefs and then became an end-of-the-roster player? At a one-year “prove it” deal, Cooper is interesting. I assume someone will give him a little more security than that, which is why the Seahawks shouldn’t look to Cooper to replace DeShawn Shead.
Not including Jones, the above defensive players made 75 combined starts last season. And Arizona will have about $15 million in cap space before cap casualties and contract re-negotiations. It will be interesting to see how this plays out but you may see a lot of new faces in the desert next season.
Others: RB Chris Johnson, TE Jermaine Gresham, CB Mike Jenkins, C AQ Shipley (started all 16 games), RB Andre Ellington, RB Stepfan Taylor
Cap Casualty Candidates
Daryl Washington, LB
The Cardinals will save $4.6 million when they release Washington, so there’s definitely some room there. In 2012, Washington had 134 tackles, nine sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception, just to remind you of how ridiculously good he once was. But he hasn’t played since 2013 and there’s no word that he’ll ever be reinstated. Washington will become a free agent and if he’s reinstated, will be given a second chance somewhere.
Mike Iupati, G
Iupati signed a five-year, $40 million deal in 2015 and made the Pro Bowl in his first season with the Cardinals, but had a poor season in 2016. If the need for cap space gets to be too great, Arizona could save $6 million with a post-June 1 release of Iupati. It seems a longshot but if they like what they see from Evan Boehm and Cole Toner, they may go that route. And maybe it’s a buy-low opportunity on Iupati at that point, but probably not. Teams are pretty desperate and we just saw Evan Mathis get $6 million for one year with the Cardinals.
Justin Bethel, CB
Bethel was supposed to win the job that eventually went to Cooper but that never happened. He’s not a good cornerback but he’s a three-time Pro Bowl player on special teams. If released, Arizona figures to save $3.75 million, and a little more if it’s post-June 1. Do they really need to pay a special teams ace $5.25 million?
If he hits free agency, Bethel has the arm length, size, broad, vert, and special teams toughness that Carroll covets. He’d definitely be a target. He’s just not very fast and probably is a reserve corner, special teamer, and potential project. We’ll have to see if he becomes available and how much of a market he has.
Also: S Tyvon Branch, DT Corey Peters, WR John Brown
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