Arizona Cardinals 2014 free agency preview and to-do list

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals are close, and the key to getting over the top may be more about keeping players in the system, and maybe finding a couple of pieces to help out.

More often than not free agency is a boring time for the Arizona Cardinals.

You can count on one hand the impact, early addition free agents the Cardinals have signed, and that’s simply because whenever the Cardinals had money, they couldn’t get talent to come play here.

Things seem to be heading in a different direction now, and the Cardinals seem to be a logical destination spot for some impact free agents, and seem to have the money to make moves to bring those players in.

First though, the Cardinals need to clean a little more cap room, as spotrac.com has the team at $17,875,088 in cap space, so that means that signing a big left tackle and Karlos Dansby basically eats up the available cap.

Instead, let’s trim some more fat and get a little closer to $25 million in space.

Additional Cuts (and money saved):

Daryn Colledge- $2,725,000
Jerraud Power- $2,750,000
Ryan Williams- $1,057,832
Dontay Moch- $570,000
Teddy Williams- $570,000

New cap: $25,547,920

(Please note there is a 90% chance my numbers are off, so the following free agent contracts are strictly based off my numbers and the resulting $25+ million in cap space)

Keeping the baby birds at home:

Jake Ballard 2 years/$1.6 million/ $600K guaranteed

Ronald Talley 1 year/ $600K

Alfonso Smith 1 year/$600K

Total spent: $2 million

$22,847,920 remaining

All are restricted free agents, but I am not sure any would command the money they would be owed, $1.4 million, if the Cardinals apply a tender on them, so I think they could keep all of them for the deals listed.

Keeping the D intact:

Karlos Dansby 2 years/$10million/$6 million guaranteed ($5 million this year $1million next year)

Matt Shaughnessy 3 years/$9million/$5 million guaranteed ($2.5 million each of the first two years)

Frostee Rucker 2 years/$2milion

Dansby may be coming off one of his best seasons ever, but he is 32, and paying him more than this is risky. If he wanted one more year at $5 million, that could be done, but it would have to be "unprotected" for the Cardinals.

Shaughnessy’s versatility and play in 2013 means keeping him on the roster for 2014 and beyond. He’s maybe the best edge setting run defender on the team, and can play multiple positions in Todd Bowles continually changing scheme.

Rucker is the depth the Cardinals need, and giving him a two-year deal would mean he could likely retire a Cardinal, and keeps him low cost and an easy remove if need be.

Total Spent: $9 million

$13,847,920 remaining

Fixing the offensive line:

Anthony Collins 5 years/$30million/$15 million guaranteed ($7.5 million salary each of his first two seasons)

Willie Colon 1 year/$2million

Collins is young and inexperienced in the sense of playing time, so this contract is a HUGE risk in terms of giving big money away.

That being said, Collins has answered the bell at every chance he’s been given, and front loading the contract with big, guaranteed money gives the Cardinals a quick out if need be.

There is also the fact that Collins has succeeded playing right tackle as well, so if he needs to be moved, he can be, while costing only about $5 million a year on the last leg of his contract.

As for Colon, Bruce Arians knows him well, he’s maybe the best offensive tackle Arians has ever coached, but he’s coming off back to back seasons as a guard and may not possess the foot speed to be a right tackle anymore, which is okay, because his low money and no guaranteed means if he can’t play right tackle, and gets beat out at right guard by Earl Watford, he’s gone.

Total Spent: $9.5 million

$4,347,920 remaining

Fixing the secondary:

Rashean Mathis 1 year/$1million

He may not take it, but it is a raise from last year and it puts him on one of the best defenses in the NFL. It also gives Patrick Peterson someone to lean on in an important year, while providing some veteran leadership in the secondary.

That leaves the Cardinals with a little over three million in cap space "play money" while taking some of the questionable spots on the team and filling those holes.

I think getting their own taken care, and adding only three to four pieces in free agency gives the Cardinals a clean board come draft time, and also keeps a strength, the defense, intact while not messing with the camaraderie or the moving parts too much.

As for that clean draft board, it takes the need for an offensive lineman early away, but if someone falls, it gives them enough flexibility to pull the trigger.

It focuses the "needs" of the team to:

Pass rusher
Safety
Offensive/Defensive line depth
Wide Receiver 3
tight end

Those players are readily available on day one and two of the draft, and day three can be spent on high upside talent that could make an impact or provide depth down the road.

Of course, there is that question of quarterback.

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