As we discussed previously, most of the Cardinals’ player acquisitions this offseason have been made with 2019 in mind—which is in line with GM Steve Keim’s usual approach to free agency. While I don’t love the idea of continuing to plug roster holes with stopgap solutions, it’s also common knowledge that teams aren’t built through free agency.
We’ll see if Keim can add a few franchise building blocks in this year’s draft. But, for now, let’s take a look at his roster moves thus far through the lens of 2019. Which new Cardinals will make the biggest impact on the field next season? We’ll then briefly discuss whether this approach to free agency is the right one. Let’s start by discussing a few players whom Cardinals fans should hope don’t see the field much in 2019.
- Brett Hundley
- Max Garcia
- Kevin White
- Damiere Byrd
I don’t expect any of these new additions to make much of an impact in 2019. If Hundley sees anything more than a few garbage time reps, things will have gone very wrong. Garcia will almost certainly see the field at some point given the injury histories of our starting guards, but his ceiling is probably league-average (or slightly below) guard play—not exactly an impact signing. I know some Redbirds fans are holding out hope for White, but it would be completely shocking if he were become a reliable playmaker in 2019 given his history of catastrophic injuries and the lack of playing time/development that comes with it. Finally, Byrd isn’t even a lock to make the regular season roster. I fully expect a rookie (or even two) to be outproduce both these new receivers when all is said and done.
6) The New DBs
- Robert Alford
- Tramaine Brock
- Josh Shaw
With the Brock signing, our starting secondary is seemingly complete—Patrick Peterson and Alford as the outside corners, Brock in the slot, and Budda Baker and D.J. Swearinger at safety. Shaw will be a versatile backup and likely contribute on special teams as well. So it’s clear that this trio of newcomers will see the field plenty. Why the low ranking? I don’t think they’ll be appreciably better—or worse—than anyone we’ve run out there the past several years. Are these guys that much different than, say, Tramon Williams, Marcus Cooper, or Justin Bethel? Alford, Brock, and Shaw will help hold down the fort in the defensive backfield in 2019, but I don’t think we’ll see too many big plays or memorable moments from these three.
5) OLBs Terrell Suggs/Brooks Reed
These two will likely combine to man the OLB spot opposite Chandler Jones. Reed figures to play on early downs and obvious run situations, while Suggs will be the 3rd-down and pass-rushing specialist. I think we’ll get very solid play from this duo—I’m especially excited to see what Suggs can do chasing down QBs alongside Jones. I just have them a little lower on this list as it seems likely that a rookie edge player will cut into their playing time—whether it be a top pick like Nick Bosa/Josh Allen or a later pick. At least, there’d better be a rookie pushing them, as both of these guys are basically on 1-year deals.
4) TE Charles Clay
Clay is the best tight end we’ve had in the desert since… I don’t know, maybe ever? Not that he’s a Pro Bowl–caliber player, or even an above-average starter. I mean, he’s 30 years old and coming off a season in which he only caught 21 passes with no TDs. But the TE position has been so barren for years that Clay is a monumental improvement—or at least, he will be if he stays healthy (he always seems to get nicked up). From 2013–2017, he averaged 57 receptions, 600 yards, and almost 4 TDs a season. If he can even come close to replicating those numbers—or even 80% of those numbers—he’ll be worth every penny of the $2M we’ll be paying him in 2019.
3) RG J.R. Sweezy and RT Marcus Gilbert
The new right side of our O-line have both been competent players when healthy. And that’s the key for these two—“when healthy.” Sweezy has been pretty durable other than the 2016 season in Tampa Bay, which he missed after offseason back surgery, but Gilbert has played just 12 games combined the past two season after suffering various lower-body injuries. He has two 16-game seasons on his resume, but he has also missed 9 or more games three times. Still, there’s no doubt that this duo, when on the field, will be an improvement on Justin Pugh playing out of position and the tackle formerly known as Andre Smith (as well as the revolving door of their replacements). But the question remains how long they can stay healthy.
2) DE Darius Philon
Defensive line was one of the biggest team needs this offseason, and many started to panic a bit when the position went unaddressed for most of free agency. Although the D-line is still an unfinished project, Keim rallied nicely with the Philon signing. Philon was a bright spot on the D-line for the Chargers in 2018 and is still young (25) and pretty cheap (2 years, $10M). He will look good next to Corey Peters in the trenches and should help both against the run and the pass (8.5 sacks combined the past two seasons). Philon won’t be an every-down player, but he will produce when on the field for new DC Vance Joseph.
1) ILB Jordan Hicks
The 2018 season was a down year for the usually sturdy Redbirds defense, and the play at inside LB was a big reason why. The inexplicable change to a 4-3 didn’t help matters, but guys like the departed Deone Bucannon and 2nd-year player Haason Reddick were constantly out of position in the running game and couldn’t cover opposing RBs in the passing game. Veterans like Josh Bynes and Gerald Hodges (also both now gone) held up well enough against the run but weren’t athletic enough to make much of an impact. Enter Jordan Hicks, one of the top LBs available on the free agent market and the top impact acquisition this offseason. Hicks is a young (26), athletic playmaker (7 career INTs, 5 career sacks) and will instantly stabilize the middle of the defense for Joseph. If he can help Reddick as well, that would be a bonus, but the Redbirds 3-4 defense once again has its Karlos Dansby/Daryl Washington. (Again, as with most of these players, as long as he can stay healthy.)
All in all, this is kind of a ragtag group of new players, a bunch of low-ceiling veterans, many of whom likely won’t be around after 2019. Sound familiar? Even so, this group won’t have to do much to make more of an impact than the 2018 free agent class—guys like Sam Bradford, Bene Benwikere, and Brice Butler (remember him?). Every free agent acquisition from last year aside from Justin Pugh are now gone. Again, you can’t build a team through free agency, but you should at least be able sign a handful of contributors each offseason. Hopefully Hicks and Philon are those guys from this free agent class.
But you have to question Keim’s continued reliance on castoffs, retreads, and “prove-it” players—especially given his fallow draft classes of the past few years. These kind of “Keim Time” signings worked well when he was drafting well—signing veteran players to complement the foundation he built through the draft. But they don’t work as well when there is no foundation to complement.
If this latest free agent crop doesn’t pan out and he makes the wrong call with the #1 pick, Keim Time might be up sooner that most think.
Any thoughts on these new players, Redbirds fans? Who do you see making the most impact in 2019? What do you think about Keim’s approach to free agency? Let us know if the comments.