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Cardinals Making Impressive Moves

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Atlanta Falcons John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

To start with, it’s easy to understand Cardinals’ fans’ frustration with Steve Keim’s continued acquisitions of players with injury histories, especially, for example, in light of him picking up Deone Bucannon’s $8.7M 5th year option last year with Deone coming off two injury-riddled seasons where he scored PFF grades in the 40s. And then despite that mistake, he doubled down on D.J. Humphries at $9.6M after Humphries has started only 27 of the Cardinals’ 66 games the past four years, including only 14 of 32 games the last two seasons.

Then, of course, there were last year’s free agent signings of injury riddled players, headed by QB Sam Bradford and G Justin Pugh.

So once again this year, Steve Keim seems to have bulls’ eyes on players coming off injuries—-CB Robert Alford had a down year due to a high ankle injury—-RT Marcus Gilbert is coming off a hamstring injury and 4 game suspension in 2017 which limited him to 5 starts and a season ending knee injury in 2018 which limited him to 7 starts. His 12 starts in two years is lower than Humphries’ 14.

But, I am going to defend both of these signings. Alford played through the pain and stiffness last season which tell you something about his character. Signing him to a 3 year deal for $22.5M prior to free agency was, in my opinion, a steal. Alford has 4.3 speed and he is an aggressive press CB, who can also play the slot. He fits Vance Joseph’s 34 system extremely well. With slot CBs getting $9M a year in free agency, Alford’s $7.5M a year is a bargain—-and—-finally the Cardinals go into a season with a proven player in place at RCB.

The trade for RT Marcus Gilbert is a good one because the Cardinals only had to give up the #207 pick (6th round comp.) to acquire on of the best pass blocking RTs in the NFL for a mere $4.9M. If Gilbert excels the Cardinals can re-sign him in 2020. However, the chances are good that Korey Cunningham might be ready to become the full-time starter in 2020. Plus, the odds are good that the Cardinals will draft another tackle.

I have not seen the salary number on LG J.R, Sweezy’s contract yet, but I am elated about this signing. Yes, Sweezy missed the 2016 season with a back injury, but he has started 29 games the past two years. Last year helped to revive the Seahawks’ running game. He brings some much needed physicality and nastiness to the Cardinals’ offensive line—-and what I love about Sweezy is his ability to sink and roll his hips on his drive blocks. New offensive line coach, Sean Kugler, has stated that we are going to be surprised at how much the Cardinals run the ball this season. Well, adding Sweezy aids and abets that cause.

There are four other prize signings in my book. ILB Jordan Hicks started 12 games last year and graded out as one of the top ILBs in the NFL—-not just in run stuffing, but is pass coverage. He was one of the two star quality ILBs on the free agent market and the Cardinals got him at $9m a year for 4 years which is a little more than half of C.J. Mosely’s outlandish $17M a year with the Jets.

If you watched Terrell Suggs’ press conference yesterday and saw how excited he is to be home playing for the Cardinals and being paired opposite Chandler Jones, then you are probably as thrilled with this signing as I am. Suggs is still a prolific edge rusher who can close out games with big-time sacks. At a mere $7M for his production, talent and leadership, this signing is impressive.

Pairing Suggs with 34OLB edge setter Brooks Reed is a stroke of genious. Both players need to be part of rotation at this time in their careers and they are perfect compliments to each other, as Reed excels versus the run and Suggs excels in rushing the QB. To acquire Reed at $1.625M, that is a super bargain.

I was also impressed with QB Brett Hundley at his press conference. He said that in Green Bay he was very well drilled in all the fundamentals of QB play and that he has learned a great deal from Aaron Rodgers an Russell Wilson (last year ias QB2 n Seattle). He loved coming home to Arizona not just to be a Cardinal, but to play in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. He intends to compete for the starting job—-which is the best mindset for any player on the roster. At $2M this year, the Cardinals get a player who seems to be a good fit for the system and they are able to offset the $3M cap hit they took for releasing Mike Glennon. For all these reasons, and reuniting him with QB coach Tom Clements, I would give this signing a thumb’s-up.

The Cardinals haven’t had a TE the caliber of Charles Clay in quite some time. And the Cardinals have been ignoring the TE position for years. Clay, who is usually a 500 yard plus a year receiver, had a down year last year with the Bills, partly because of a nagging hamstring issue and partly because of the Bills’ rotations at QB. He signed for a $350K bonus and an incentive laded salary that maxes out at $3.25M. The Cardinals need leadership at the position and a good mentor for Ricky Seals-Jones and whomever the Cardinals draft at TE. Again, this is a stellar signing.

The depth signings of LB Tanner Vallejo, G/C Max Garcia and WR Kevin White are all low risk, potentially high reward acquisitions. Vallejo is a good tackler and star ST player who can push Haason Reddick at WILB. Garcia is coming off an ACL injury, but has shown flashes of solid play on the interior line, particularly at LG. The fact that his old line coach, Sean Kugler, believes in him, is an encouraging sign. And Kevin White’s best football came in the Air Raid style offense in West Virginia. He has been snake-bitten by injuries, but has length and 4.35 speed and thus could be a surprise.

What Steve Keim is doing with all of these signings is he’s setting up for a bonanza draft where the Cardinals are likely to reel in 10 promising rookies. Because of the recent moves, the Cardinals appear to have a veteran mentor in each position room. That can make a huge difference in developing the young talent on the team—-something that Kliff Kingsbury, Vance Joseph and his staff hopefully will do a much better job of than their predecessors.

This team is going to be an exciting mix of accomplished veterans and talented youth.

What Steve Keim needs now is to make some solid free agent additions to the middle of the Cardinals’ defensive line, where only one healthy starter remains in Corey Peters and with the switch to back to the 34, where two starting jobs are wide open. Keim also needs to add a nickel CB and a depth player at safety. And while I may be in the minority, I believe the Cardinals could use a sledge hammer RB.