Yesterday's vote in the free agency series was a bit lopsided, as 83% of you voted that quarterback Max Hall should not be retained by the team. He really didn't show us that he could be a star in the future and there are too many better options available.
Today, we get to examine our first official "restricted" free agent. LaRod Stephens-Howling was drafted in the seventh round of the 2009 draft and has made significant contributions to the team since his arrival. He has already returned three kickoffs for touchdowns as the Cardinals' official kick returner. But now the kickoff rules have changed and LaSH is set to become a restricted free agent. Should the Cardinals tender him an offer? Let's find out after the jump.
Some of you may remember plays like this that made Stephens-Howling one of the most feared and dynamic kick returners in the league:
However, the rules have changed since 2010. Last season, the NFL mandated that the ball was to be placed on the 35 yard line for kickoffs, which resulted in a huge spike in touchbacks. As a result, LaSH did not have any return touchdowns in 2011. He was only able to bring the ball out of the end zone 35 times last season, according to Pro Football Focus, which was a decline from the 57 times he took it out in 2010.
So as a kick returner, his value has certainly gone down. But what about his abilities as a change of pace running back?
In 2011, Stephens-Howling carried the ball 43 times for a total of 167 yards, an average of around 3.9 yards per carry. With his speed, he is an excellent running back when he takes the ball outside of the tackles. He makes a great compliment to Beanie Wells, who typically acts as a power back, running the ball between the tackles.
LaSH is also a great receiver coming out of the backfield. You may remember his game winning run after catching a screen pass in overtime against the Dallas Cowboys in week 13 last season. Those are the types of plays that keep you on a roster. In all, he had 13 receptions for 234 yards last season and two touchdowns. He only dropped one pass thrown his way.
So should the Cardinals keep him around? As mentioned, his value as a kick returner has decreased, but he is a shifty running back and a good receiver. We also need to take into account that the team should have a healthy Ryan Williams back next season, who didn't play at all during the 2011 regular season.
In my opinion, the Cardinals should definitely tender LaSH an offer. He provides the "Darren Sproles" effect for this team and if utilized properly within the offense, he can be a huge weapon that is difficult to cover for opposing defenses. He is a restricted free agent, which means that the Cardinals will have the right of first refusal to any team that may make him an offer. The team may also decide to place a tender on him, making it almost a certainty that he would return at that juncture.
What do you think? Should the team keep LaRod Stephens-Howling on board? Leave your comments below and don't forget to vote in the poll.