Michael Bidwill, Steve Keim and Steve Wilks vowed to be very aggressive in free agency and they have been good to their word.
Cleary their priority was to address the needs at QB and on the offensive line. With regard to the openings at the QB position, they made a run at Kirk Cousins, made trade inquiries with the Eagles and Bills about Nick Foles and Tyrod Taylor---and when none of those scenarios bore fruit, they honed in on the combo package of Sam Bradford (6-4, 224, 9, Oklahoma) and Mike Glennon (6-6, 225, 6, North Carolina St.).
When those QB signings were accomplished, the brass unveiled an agressive plan to fortify the offensive line which included a reworking of LG Mike Iupati’s (6-5, 331, 9, Idaho) contract and the signing of RG Justin Pugh (6-4, 301, 6, Syracuse) and RT Andre Smith (6-4, 325, 10, Alabama.
Sam Bradford said he chose the Cardinals because of the talent on the roster and the belief in the team’s ability to win. He is particularly excited to work with WR Larry Fitzgerald (6-3, 218, 15, Pittsburgh), RB David Johnson (6-1, 224, 4, Northern Iowa) and his Sooner TE Jermaine Gresham (6-5, 260, 9, Oklahoma). Bradford also lauded the Cardinals’ defense as a cornerstone of the team’s success.
“I think you look at Fitz and you look at David, obviously I played with Jermaine,” Bradford said. “I think there’s some pieces on the offense, some play-makers. You look at those three guys right there, it’s easy to see as a quarterback who you can get the ball to who can make plays. Obviously the defense has been really good for quite a while here. Any time you can play behind a defense like that where you’re not going to have to score 50 points a game to win, I think that’s obviously a big positive.”
Mike Glennon has long been a favorite of Steve Keim’s. Glennon comes to Arizona hungry to make the most of his opportunities so that two years from now he will be given a second and more favorable chance to be a starting QB.
Ray Brown, the Cardinals’ new offensive line coach, came into the free agency period with a distinct plan. Steve Wilks, Mike McCoy and Brown are heavily committed to running the football. In the NFL if you can rely on a prolific running attack and a stout defense, you can win a lot of football games. Thus, Ray Brown quickly realized that Mike Iupati, now healthy again and working out at the Cardinals’ facility, fit the bill. Then, Brown looked for the best run blocking guard and tackle he could find. Quickly he focused in on RG Justin Pugh and RT Andre ‘BigSmitty71” Smith. As it turned out, thanks to Steve Keim’s efforts, Ray Brown got the players he wanted. What’s significant about the Pugh deal is that this is Keim’s first big 2nd contract signing of a high profile player since Mike Iupati.
For those who worry---yeah these guys are good run blockers, but what about pass pro?---Mike McCoy has stated that this year the Cardinals pass pro packages will include added help for the offensive line via the TEs, slot WRs and RBs.
This year’s Cardinals are going to be chirping and chipping!
Now that the immediate needs at QB and on the OL have been addressed, Keim’s attention will turn to the skill positions on offense and in addressing the needs of the secondary.
Yesterday the Cardinals met with WR Jordan Matthews (6-3, 215, 5, Vanderbilt) whose best games were with Sam Bradford as his QB. In fact, the last time Bradford and Mathews played the Cardinals, Matthews had 8 catches for 159 yards and 1 TD.
Matthews has had recent surgeries on his thumb, ankle and knee and, as a result, is coming off his least productive season. After being traded to the Bills, in his first practice, he chipped his sternum. Because of his assortment of injuries, Matthews could not play in the Bills’ playoff game.
Matthews has received praised as a leader. Nelson Agholor, his teammate with Eagles, calls Matthews “his guy” and thanks him for helping him develop as a WR.
It might be best for Matthews to sign a one year deal so as to re-establish his true market value. Pairing up with Sam Bradford may be the best way to aid and abet that cause.
The Cardinals have also expressed interest in Ryan Grant who just “got mossed” by the Ravens when they reneged on their deal with Grant (per supposed failed physical) in order to sign recently released Michael Crabtree instead. Grant has met with the Colts, but no deal has been announced. Grant managed to get over $7M a year via the Ravens’ offer…but his market value at this point is more likely somewhere in the vicinity of $4M a year.
Mike McCoy has been devising some of the playbook around ways in which to create favorable coverage matchups for TE Ricky Seals-Jones. McCoy likes what he sees in RSJ. With Jermaine Gresham rehabbing his Achilles injury, the Cardinals need to add another TE to the roster.
It would behoove the Cardinals to add a power RB. LeGarrette Blount just signed a one year deal with the Lions. But, if the Cardinals can add a power RB who can go into beast mode behind the road graders on the new offensive line, that would take some pressure and wear and tear off David Johnson and allow McCoy and Bradford to use Johnson mor at WR. Elijaah Penny may be the in-house favorite for the power RB role. But adding another smashmouth RB and a fullback (yes a fullback!) via free agency or the draft could do wonders.
As far as the secondary goes, the anticipated re-signing of CB Tramon Williams has not yet occurred---which likely means the two sides are far apart on the terms of the contract. Today the Cardinals are bringing CB E.J. Gaines (5-10, 190, 5, Missouri) for a visit. Gaines was traded from the Rams to the Bills this past season had a very good showing for the Bills (59 tackles, 1 interception 9 pass breakups and 3 forced fumbles). One would imagine that Markus Golden, Gaines’ teammate at Missouri is excited to see Gaines in town.
Now that Tyrann Mathieu has found his new ‘winning culture” in Houston, the Cardinals need to address the nickel CB role. A nifty fit at CB could be David Merritt’s bright pupil in New York, UFA CB Ross Cockrell (6-0, 195, 5, Duke). Cockrell can start at CB and shift into the nickel CB role on passing downs. His versatility is a plus.
It also would be a coup if the Cardinals could find a way to sign S Eric Reid (6-1, 213, 6, LSU) whose market has been slow thus far---he thinks because of his decision to protest during the national anthems. Steve Keim has always held Reid in high regard.
Perhaps a little overlooked in the free agent shuffle was the Cardinals’ waiver wire claim of OLB Jeremy Cash (6-0, 230, 3, Duke). The Panthers signed Cash a couple years ago and an undrafted free agency and he made a splash on STs. Cash was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 at Duke. This kid is a baller who could eventually wind up tackling his way into the starting lineup.