1-Acquire a QB
My first choice? Kyle Orton. I agree with the logic some of the Denver guys have posted in other QB threads: Denver isn't going to be a competitive team this year, so why not start Tebow and get through some of the growing pains in an inconsequential season? In that case, they should look to move Orton now because it's his last year under contract with them. I am very willing to give up a second round pick for a QB that will make us competitive. With Orton, we know exactly what we're getting -- a borderline Top 10 QB who will be consistently good but never elite. No other available (whether rumored or actual) QB has played as well as he has in the last two years. There is very little risk here, the reward is obvious, and the cost is acceptable. Agree to terms for a 2-year extension (giving him 3 total years with the team) before you make the trade. Let him play out, and keep Skelton on as the Number 2. Bring in a rookie free agent to compete for the No. 3 job. Orton has been around enough that he wouldn't benefit much from adding another veteran, and the young guys should be able to learn plenty from him. If Skelton doesn't improve this year, we still have most of our draft intact to find a better prospect next year (including our 1st-Round pick).
Assuming we're stuck with our tackles, I was looking through the list of guards and there's not much left. Most of the guys worth chasing have been tendered or tagged. For now, the list looks like this:
Harvey Dahl (FA, ATL)
Dahl's good. Someone's going to pay him. I'd prefer it be us... but it won't be, so here are some other guys:
Reggie Wells (FA, PHI)
Oh, yeah, this guy. Not my idea but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense -- only if he projects as a better starter than either Bridges or Hadnot, though.
Derrick Dockery (FA)
I wasn't originally going to include Dockery, but he's been pretty good at times in the past. Getting benched & subsequently cut by Shanahan doesn't really worry me as everyone seems to go through that at one point or another.
Zach Hurd (FA, Rookie)
Hurd will make a 53-man roster. It'd be nice if it were ours but he's under 30 so I can't imagine the coaches are interested.
I don't see any remaining free agents who provide a clear-cut upgrade over either Hadnot or Bridges. I imagine Wells and Dockery fall into that category. Dahl is going to want to be paid like the boss that he is, and we've always tried to do more with less on our offensive line so I really doubt he's an option. I've been banging the drum for Hurd since about Round 5 of the draft and he just keeps getting cheaper. It'll be a race to sign him now, though, and he doesn't present the immediate upgrade we want, so where does that leave us? Lutui? Will he even want to re-up with the team? I believe the best course of action would be to sign Dahl, let Lutui walk, and have Hadnot or Bridges compete for the other position. The loser stays on as depth, which is something we don't currently have with those two penciled in as starters.
3-Nuke the linebackers
Under the current rules of restricted free agency, every 3-4 OLB worth pursuing has been tendered, tagged, or signed. Okay, there's Manny Lawson and Matt Roth, but I'm trying to be serious here. There are a couple rookie free agents I'd like to see us pursue, but the veterans are pretty well locked up. I don't want to send away any more draft picks, so we'll have to rely on what we have on the roster already. Actually, we might be able to trade DRC for LaMarr Woodley. It's pure speculation on my part, but it might not be a bad idea. Any thoughts on this one?
As much as we like to complain about our pass rush, I'd like to turn our attention to what is probably actually a bigger problem -- the run D. We were 30th against the run last year. We all remember getting carved like a Thanksgiving turkey by 3rd-stringers and Brian Westbrook's Over-the-Hill Gang. Some of this had to do with injuries, but ultimately reflected the ineffectiveness of our front 7. It's hard for me to imagine them using Lenon as a back-up after putting up pretty solid numbers last year, but something needs to change. We know Quan Solo won't be starting for a while, leaving the only possible option to push for the job in Reggie Walker's hands. What about Hayes, you ask? Hayes is gone. He was disappointing in '09, even worse in '10, and just hit a pretty big year in his contract. Say your good-byes now.
The defensive line is set in stone, and should show improvement with Williams' continued evolution and a healthy DD. Whoever ends up starting at OLB isn't going to present an upgrade in run support (Schofield and Haggans, maybe?). There isn't much to discuss except for the inside 'backers. Washington is a good tackler but plays a finesse game. I think he's a de facto starter. He'll be improved but I do think we need to pair him with a thumper, which Paris Lenon is not. I'm not singling Lenon out as a whipping boy -- I thought he outperformed expectations, but something needs to change, and Lenon was originally signed for depth. Let him be depth, I say. If Sturdivant and Walker don't appear to be the answer, then:
Stephen Tulloch (FA, TEN)
Tulloch hasn't been tendered, but may or may not be a restricted free agent depending on the new CBA rules (5 year pro). He's a very good 4-3 MLB and may be the best combination of age and ability available (whoever gets him will get him with a contract that reflects those features; probably not a good value compared to Lenon. Moving on...).
Kevin Burnett (FA, SD)
Burnett has emerged as a quality 3-4 ILB over the last two seasons. SD will want to retain him, but he's a true free agent so anything is possible.
Kirk Morrison (FA, JAX)
Morrison is a tackling machine who has started 95 of 96 career games in the NFL. He's not elite in any area and he's never played in the 3-4 so it's not a given that he'd be successful right away, but he's a good player. He'll probably re-sign with Jacksonville.
Barrett Ruud (FA, TB)
Ruud is coming off of a bit of a down year and the Bucs plan to let him walk. The same caveats apply to Ruud as to Morrison: mostly dependable player who would need to adapt to the 3-4.
Corey Mays (FA, KC)
Mays went from special teamer to surprise starter for the Chiefs in '09 and played pretty well. He was barely used this year with the (re)emergence of Jovan Belcher and Derrick Johnson. He's not signed as far as I can tell and may be our most attractive option here -- he should be cheap, has experience as a starter, and can also contribute on special teams. Assuming we'll keep 4 ILB's I don't think he'd be a lock to make the roster, but he is plenty capable of competing for a job.
Keyaron Fox (FA)
A run-stopping depth/special teams player for Pittsburgh, Fox committed one too many penalties in the Steel City last year for them to bring him back. Between the blessing/curse of our Pittsburgh connections and the fact that Fox may able to compete for a roster spot here, I wouldn't be surprised to see this happen... (but I don't really want it to...)
I doubt the front office will make a move on any of the top players I've listed when they compare the relative upgrades those players present and their potential contracts against the value of the guys we already have. Lenon, Bridges and Hadnot may or may not be perfect fits, but they're solid, and is it really worth spending $25M+ to upgrade only marginally? Arguments can be made on both sides but I do expect to see some turnover after going 5-11. It would be insane to retain all our starters from that team and magically expect improvement. My feeling right now is that we'll probably have to sit back and hope that some players emerge this year from our own roster, or that the new CBA cuts a couple of years off of restricted free agency -- a lot of the better free agents fall within that 4-5 year veteran mark, so I left them off the list for the time-being. We should see a leaguewide scramble if a bunch of those restricted tenders are suddenly rendered invalid by new CBA rules.
5-Current Cardinals Unknowns:
Cliff Louis, OT -- Everyone has something different to say about this guy. He may be playing, or has played for, the UFL and the AFL, possibly at the same time, but either way I'm pretty sure we signed him to a futures contract so he's technically part of the team... maybe... Looks like he's bounced around practice squads for the last couple years. Long-shot at best
Tom Pestock, G/T -- The undrafted brawler from last year, Pestock has the nasty to play, but it's anyone's guess whether or not he has the ability. Spent the year on the practice squad. The door is wide open for Pestock to claim a roster spot, either as depth or as a starter, if he's up to it.
D'Anthony Batiste G/T -- He's been around a while, with 18 appearances and 4 starts under his belt. Signed for depth last year after injuries
Brandon Sharpe, OLB -- A one-year college starter who recorded 15 sacks as a senior (16 career), Sharpe ended his first year with the NFL on our practice squad. He may be able to add some competition to our meager group of pass-rushers
Cyril Obiozor, OLB -- May be better against the run than rushing the passer; collected a few tackles in 8 games last year, thus exhausting his practice squad eligibility
Curtis Gatewood, OLB -- Athletic, Gatewood put up solid numbers in college but failed to show much improvement. Yet to have any kind of impact in the NFL. He's seen his share of practice squads since joining the league in '08. Some potential but definitely a long-shot