Revisiting Arizona Cardinals' 2013 off-season moves

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

With the regular season only hours from getting under way, let’s re-evaluate some of the Cardinals' moves from the off-season. Widely regarded as a slam dunk by the front office, were their decisions really such a sure deal?

Steve Keim caused quite a commotion with his first off-season of work as General Manager of the Arizona Cardinals. Not only were the fans pleased with his body of work, the NFL at-large nodded in approval as he brought in 2012's NFL Coach of the Year and maneuvered his way through free agency with active phones and a nimble pen. The landscape of the NFL is an ever-changing one, however, and with the regular season about to begin, certain personnel moves are starting to sow doubt.

Greg Toler vs. Jerraud Powers, Antoine Cason
Let’s revisit the reasons the Cardinals didn’t re-sign Greg Toler. He’s struggled to stay healthy, missing a season and a half with a torn ACL. The team couldn’t have been pleased that his rehab didn’t remain on schedule, nor the personal admittance that he didn’t commit to it as much as he should have. It was apparent by his play in 2012, while attempting to come back from his injury, that he wasn’t fully up to speed.

The other snag was a contractual one. The Colts ponied up, guaranteeing Toler five million dollars, including $1 million in signing bonuses and a $4 million first-year salary. The Cardinals may not have been willing to match the Colts’ $14.25 contract offer, but they were able to. According to OvertheCap.com, the Cardinals are currently $3 million under the cap.

That’s with both Powers and Cason on the roster, by the way. Toler’s front-loaded contract nets him $5 million guaranteed from the Colts this season. How much are the Cardinals paying the replacements?

Powers’ three-year, $10.25 million contract includes a $3 million signing bonus and $1 million first-year salary (which balloons to over $3 million in the second and third years of the deal). Cason’s deal includes another $1 million guaranteed (all cap figures via Rotoworld.com). Added up, those two combine for the same cap hit as Toler.

Splitting that money between two players instead of one may have been a safer approach. Neither Powers nor Toler, both fifth-year players, have ever completed an entire season. If Powers goes down, at least the Cardinals still have Cason. Additionally, if they weren’t quite sure that any of those guys were up to the starting job, playing the odds and signing two players instead of one was probably the way to go. That said, how have they been playing?

Greg Toler sewed up the starting job in Indianapolis with a strong preseason. He stood out in the team’s third preseason game with a forced fumble and recovery. He had an interception in the game before that and is cited as one of the team’s potential break-out stars in 2013.

On the other hand, Jerraud Powers has inherited the starting job at cornerback by default rather than by his play. Though Powers has come up with an interception and a forced fumble of his own, he has been abused in man coverage and given up nearly as many pass interference penalties as he has catches. Instead of inspiring visions of a break-out season, Powers has been a… different kind of inspiration, leading to condemning articles like this one.

Antoine Cason has had his own share of struggles. He failed to push Powers for the starting job and has since been moving in the opposite direction on the depth chart, losing the nickel spot to Tyrann Mathieu and now competing with Javier Arenas for the fourth cornerback spot.

With Mathieu and Arenas in the mix (and Jamell Fleming besides), it’s hard to look at Cason’s roster spot and not start to wonder. If the team parts ways with him, or another corner, it would negate some of the advantages of bringing so many corners in to the team in the first place. They would have been better off with a single, superior player, which Greg Toler appears to be.

Of course, it’s preseason, and we can’t say with certainty that Toler is going to have a better season as a starter than Powers, Cason or any of the Cardinals’ other corners (Patrick Peterson excluded). Health is still a concern, even if cap and contract aren’t. Toler has already missed time with the Colts, dealing with a sore foot and a concussion early in August. Even so, his play has improved his stock in Indianapolis, something that cannot be said about Powers or Cason in Arizona.

Anthony Sherman vs. Javier Arenas
It would be easy to write off this point without even considering it with the argument that, "Sherman wouldn’t have even played, so it doesn’t really matter." That’s not true, however. One of the first things Arians said about the fullback position was that a player who was only going to play 15-20 snaps on offense a game would have to be good on special teams.

Getting rid of Sherman did make sense at the time. Arians prefers tight ends that he can shift into the backfield, and he wants to have two on the field as often as possible. Unfortunately, the Cardinals don’t have two tight ends worth having on the field. 15-20 snaps from Sherman on offense would be a lot more productive than anything we’ve seen from the tight ends to this point.

As for what the Cardinals gained from the trade, you can never have too much depth… until you do. Javier Arenas was likely the best player they were going to get for a fullback, but after losing his job to Tyrann Mathieu in the preseason, it’s hard to see much value there. With Antoine Cason and Jamell Fleming still in the mix for the fourth cornerback job, the Cardinals' returns are even more obscure. If Arizona is still working to trade one of their extra corners to another team, the dynamics of the Sherman trade will shift; effectively, they will have traded Sherman for whatever they get by trading a corner away.

Going into week one with Rob Housler day-to-day, the Cardinals could have only Jim Dray, Kory Sperry and D.C. Jefferson active against the Rams. There is no question that having Anthony Sherman available would make that line-up stronger. Instead of fitting the scheme to the players they had, they dumped the players that didn’t fit the scheme and the offense will be weaker because of it.

What are your thoughts? Are you worried that the coaches aren’t being flexible enough? Was the front office short-sighted, or do you still see good value and reasoning in some of their moves?

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