2013 NFL Draft: Arizona Cardinals using free agency to protect themselves from 'need picks'

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals are using free agency to fill needs and letting the draft be the way to find stars.

With the NFL Draft yet a month away, the great debate will ramp up each day among fans -- how should the Arizona Cardinals go about selecting players? Should they take a player at a position of need, or should they just get the best player available, regardless of current personnel?

Based on what I have read from our community comments, most of us are firm proponents of taking the best player available. However, some of those fans will backtrack a little when the team drafts another cornerback (like when they took Jamell Fleming instead of an offensive lineman) or a receiver (like some did when they took Michael Floyd).

The current leadership of Steve Keim and Bruce Arians have talked about taking the best player. Most coaches and GMs talk like that.

Take for example what Arians said to the media last week, as noted on Arizona Sports.

"In this period of free agency you build your team as good as you can make it and then you go to the draft," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said at the annual NFL owners meetings. "In the draft, you do not draft need -- you draft the best players available.

"In those first few picks, if you're drafting for need you're going to bust," he said. "You're forcing yourself to come off your board."

It appears that the Cardinals are actually doing this.

Look at how they have approached free agency. They signed players at positions they need filled. They picked up a special teams player that can also rush the passer (Lorenzo Alexander), a thumper to play next to Daryl Washington (Jasper Brinkley). They signed a couple of cornerbacks and a safety. They signed a pair of defensive linemen.

The notable part? They did not break the bank and did not commit a lot of time to them. No one got more than three years. Many were one-year deals.

Perhaps this was partly due to their salary cap situation and the fact they are carrying quite a bit of dead money against the cap. But it is a different way of doing things. In the previous two offseasons, they doled out five year contracts to Stew Bradley, Daryn Colledge, Adam Snyder, Levi Brown, Lyle Sendlein and Kevin Kolb. That obviously didn't work out as well for many of them.

I think the Cardinals, whether intentional or not, found the way to go about free agency and the draft. Except in the rare case that there is a young impact player -- a star -- you avoid any long-term deals. You avoid big money. You get guys that would be good enough, but don't plan on counting on them for more than a couple of seasons.

Then you go and draft the best player at any position. If you draft well, and you have to do that to be a successful team, then if they end up developing into the better player, you didn't waste your money on a player that ends up playing less.

As hard as it is to do, even at quarterback. Go with a guy that you feel is good enough. Then you aren't forced to take a quarterback you might not be as sold on.

Take the receiver position. Based on the personnel the team has, you wouldn't think that they need to draft one. You would think it is a wasted pick. However, if on your board you have a wideout that happens to be way higher than any other position, you draft him. It might not make sense the first year, but it might the next. Andre Roberts has his contract expire after this season. If that receiver you drafted turns out to be good, you can let Roberts go and not skip a beat.

The Whisenhunt staff did this a little bit. Calais Campbell and Daryl Washington were both drafted with an eye looking forward, knowing that Antonio Smith and Karlos Dansby could leave in free agency.

I know that the salary cap this year played a role in the types of contracts the team gave out. But it would be great to see the team do this year after year -- focus on short, affordable contracts on guys that can do the job and then don't worry about particular positions come draft day. You just grab talent. Things then fall into place and you don't set your team back in salary cap situations having to cut guys two years into their free agent contracts because they either underperformed or because they no longer started because a younger player just was better.

The next step for Arians and Keim is to draft well. After that, it will be to see how they approach free agency next year.

Keep up with Cardinals news and opinions when you are not on the site. Follow Revenge of the Birds on Twitter at @revengeofbirds and "like" us on Facebook. You can follow me individually at @senorjessroot.

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