To extend or not to extend?
That is the question.
We've seen Steve Keim already address the core of his team, giving Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and Tyrann Mathieu new deals. Which players' deals are up soon that Keim should he look to next for extending their contracts?
Let's find out here:
YAY: Kevin Minter
Minter's gone from being considered a bust by much of the fanbase, to the captain of the team's defense and a force on first and second down. His main question has been his speed and ability to cover, and in response, he lost 20 lbs. two years ago, and even trimmed off more body fat this offseason.
He's a smart, instinctual player who, although not the athlete making the splash plays of Deone Bucannon, is solid. And he won't break the bank. If Minter walks, the Cardinals will have a gaping hole at MLB to fill and will either have to look to an expensive free agent or a reasonably high draft pick to fill the void. Locking Minter down solves that issue.
NAY: Frostee Rucker
Rucker has been one of the MVP's of the Cardinals defense the last three years, providing a pass rush and making plays in the run game. However, he's 32 years old and there's no telling which season will be his last. The additions of Robert Nkemdiche and Rodney Gunter means that keeping Rucker, despite his veteran leadership, would be stealing snaps from the young guys.
YAY: Andre Ellington
Ellington's been a tricky case. He's gone from backup to unquestioned starter to third string and can't seem to stay healthy. So why extend him?
Well, his explosiveness and play-making ability, when healthy, is unquestioned, and it's been for a very inexpensive price as a 6th round pick. With his health concerns, Keim could extend Ellington and give him a pay raise at a low cost and Ellington would still be a backup running back/kick returner. Is it banking some on him to stay healthy? Sure, and even though he's moved to a role where he sees fewer touches and has fewer chances to break down, it's a risk. But it's a far less expensive risk to keep someone with his level of talent next to David Johnson for the foreseeable future.
NAY: Alex Okafor
Okafor has been one of the few pass-rushers the Arizona Cardinals have had since Bruce Arians came into the valley. With his 8 sack season in 2014, people thought he might be evolving into a top-notch edge player.
Then he fell off the wagon in 2015, and ended the season in a weird way after having an off-season arrest and with a toe injury that the team refused to talk about.. Consistency has been an issue, and while Okafor has been playing well so far in preseason (to the point where on 3rd down he, Jones and Golden are all rushing the passer) but there's one big issue: team pay pass-rushers.
Whatever Okafor might get from Arizona, the market might increase, if just for his 8 sack season. That drives up what Arizona would have to pay to keep a backup/3rd down pass rusher in their scheme. Letting him walk, or waiting to see if he does explode and steal Golden's spot in 2016, is a better move.
YAY: Jaron Brown
Saying to keep Jaron Brown over the next player on my list might seem laughable at first, but there's an opportunity cost to every player on the roster. And some players, that cost is FAR bigger than others. For Jaron Brown, it's the opposite. He's been an excellent wide receiver for his undrafted Free Agent status, as well as a good special teamer, and he has really come on in training camp.
Some have argued that Jaron Brown might make a #2 wide receiver on another team, and he's been doing his best to prove that, but he is still not produced to this point to prove that, and such a large money deal seems unlikely and banking on him a LOT.
Keeping a receiver at Brown's size to pair with Larry Fitzgerald is a good counter to John Brown (who'll likely see his own extension soon) and J.J. Nelson. However, extending Jaron Brown won't be a bank-breaking move
NAY: Michael Floyd
This pick is maybe the most difficult one to figure out if you are a Cardinals fan. Just who is Floyd? Is he a #1 wide receiver who hasn't gotten the targets due to Bruce Arians' scheme and injuries? Or is he just a physical freak #2 not playing up to his potential?
There's not telling, and for Arizona to extend Floyd now, it'd be taking a lot more cap space than the other players listed. And there is an opportunity cost in the NFL. The Cardinals can't keep everybody, and should they tie up Floyd, it'll make it more difficult to keep John Brown, Jared Veldheer, Deone Bucannon and others when their time comes.
I could see Arizona extending Floyd if he goes off for a #1 wide receiver-type season. But it seems more likely if that were the case, he'd want to test the market anyway.
YAY: Tony Jefferson
A lot of teams are interested in Tony Jefferson. A lot of fans from other teams are as well (I lost count of how many tweets I saw inquiring about if their team would put in an offer for him this offseason, as Keim allowed other teams to make an offer that Arizona could match). But no team did. Which was a surprise to some, as was Keim's move.
Jefferson's playing on a pretty inexpensive deal this year and is currently a backup safety on the depth chart, as he's been the last few years. So why extend him?
He's a proven playmaker, with sacks, INT's and great plays in the run game. He's also stepped up and become a more vocal leader this year, upon Bruce Arians' request. He's not the most athletic safety or has the size/speed that Arizona likes (see: Marqui Christian or Tyvon Branch) but he's a valuable member of the team and he wants to be great. The question is: does Keim see him that way? Is he a cornerstone of the defense or a backup safety who makes plays but has a capped ceiling?
I'm not sure, and we'll find out for sure once this season is over....after seeing Jefferson's play on the field in a defensive back unit that's lacking in experience.
NAY: Calais Campbell
Now this move is perhaps the most controversial one I have on my list, obviously. Calais has been the face of the Cardinals defensive line since their Super Bowl year in 2008 and a dominant player in the NFL. So why on earth pass on extending him?
Ultimately in some ways, it comes down to age and performance. Calais's cap hit is quite large this year, and a player with his abilities commands a lot of dough. But when you look at his contract numbers versus other players in the league making what he's making.....you could argue Calais has actually underperformed.
Who knows, maybe it's the scheme, maybe it's the lack of pass-rushers Arizona has, maybe it's been health. But this Cardinals team has to pay guys like Chandler Jones (a perpetual 12 sack player) and some of the above players mentioned this offseason and keeping Calais for years 30 to 34, on the downslide of his career, seems wasteful despite all that he's done for the team.
The emergence of Rodney Gunter and drafting of Robert Nkemdiche will help ease Calais's departure from the team. Is it something fans want to hear?
Many might disagree, but looking at the situation from the head versus the heart is what sometimes is called up on for fans to see for teams, just as when Adrian Wilson was cut from the Cardinals.
And it's how Steve Keim will respond as well.