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Pats, Bucs Dominate Day 1 of Free Agency

NFL: DEC 13 Vikings at Buccaneers Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The very best NFL teams play and conduct their business with a pressing sense of urgency.

It’s not just the Pats and Bucs sense of urgency that gets them over the top, it’s knowing precisely what it takes to sign players and to keep key core players in the fold.

The key is —- guaranteed money.

When you look at the contracts that UFAs are signing —- the one key figure is the guaranteed money.

Case in point: C Corey Linsley.

John Venerable tweeted yesterday that he had heard that the Cardinals were offering $20M guaranteed and that Corey Linsley was holding out for $23M. In swoops the Chargers who say to Linsley, “well we’ll see your $23M and raise you to $26M.”

That is how a deal gets done.

Linsley’s deal is a reported 5 years for $63.5M. But, in essence it is a 3 year deal that pays him about $13M a year with $26M of it guaranteed. The extra two years on the deal allows the Chargers to spread out the guaranteed money.

Here were some of my reactions after hearing the details of Linsley’s deal:

While I think the $26M guaranteed was very doable for the Cardinals, I think that the entirety of this contract is very risky.

Time for the Cardinals to move on.

There are some other good UFA options at C in Austin Reiter (KC), David Andrews (NE) and Nick Martin (HOU). Plus, Alex Mack could be a one year upgrade, even at age 35. However, I think there is an under the radar C who could be the best fit of the bunch for the Cardinals:

Had Brett Jones signed with another team in 2019 and had he been starting and playing at a strong level the past two years, he might be considered one of the top UFA centers. It was simply bad luck for him that the Vikings tabbed C Garrett Bradberry with their 1st round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The irony is that in the three games that Brett Jones played while Bradberry was out this year, Jones graded out much higher: 77.6 (Jones), 60.1 (Bradberry).

As overlooked as Jones has been, he likely can be signed for a little over $2M a year, plus incentives. No one can attest to Jones’ talent and character better than Justin Pugh. Sign Jones to a two year prove it deal and if he plays well, then the team can sign him to a second contract in 2023. There’s a lot of tread left on Jones’ tires.

This is the thing about free agency —- sure, teams would love to come away with the stars, but there are hidden gems all over the place. Guys who are hungry and just champing at the hit to get their decent chance to play.

While the Cardinals couldn’t close the deal with Corey Linsley, they made a flurry of in-house moves that, in my opinion, were excellent —- all of them:

  • Re-signing P Andy Lee to a 1 year deal —- excellent.
  • Placing the low tender ($2M) on LB and ST stud Zeke Turner —-excellent.
  • Placing the 2nd round tender ($3.4M) on LB and ST captain Dennis Gardeck —-excellent. The Cardinals needed to protect Gardeck because while team know he’s likely going to miss a third or a half of the 2021 season, they could have tried to sign him to a long-term deal with the belief that he will help them big-time down the road.
  • Signing Markus Golden to a 2 year $9M deal is a good deal for Markus and the Cardinals —- excellent, but, imo, not at the expense of giving up on Haason Reddick. Typical Ravens (see Fowler’s tweet below) always swooping in around the good players the Cardinals leave open to free agency.

Markus Golden is an excellent pressure rusher in the nickel. That is his niche. If he ever starts to finish his tackles better, he could be truly outstanding. That’s why despite all of the 41 QB pressures he created for the Cardinals, he only came down with 4 sacks. Reddick, on the other hand, is a finisher.

If and when the Cardinals lose Reddick to free agency today, that will leave a void at 34 SAM OLB. If Vance Jospeh goes back to his thinking that he can get away with not having a SAM OLB who is good at contain and covering RBs, the Cardinals are in deep doo-doo.

I am working on an article titled “Cardinals Draft Picks Desperate to Survive”...

It’s so cool, ironic (and vexing) that the first UFA drafted by the Cardinals who was signed yesterday was Rudy Ford. I feel so happy for him. He is a young player who had to survive the Cardinals. They quit on him after two years and traded him to the Eagles where he has been standout on their special teams (83.4 in 2020).

Had Rudy Ford been drafted by Bill Belichick, who has a habit of turning Auburn 4.3 DBs into very good CBs (see Jonathan Jones, a 5-10, 190 Rudy Ford clone), his career very likely would be on quite a different arc.

I apologize for being so down on the Cardinals inability to develop draft picks. I know it’s getting old and tired, but this year it stings more than ever to see another 1st round pick bite the dust —- only this time coming off a near Pro Bowl worthy season.

I don’t understand how the Cardinals have gotten so good that they can feel free to let their highest graded tackler and pass rusher on the team get swooped away by another team.

I don't understand why fellow Cardinals fans make excuses for draft picks when they actually play well. Every day I am reading tweets from fans who are calling Reddick a “one or two game wonder.” The truth is, a player doesn’t grade out at the team’s best tackler and pass rusher by playing two great games. A player doesn’t grade out a #3 in the NFL in pass rushing efficiency and production by playing great in two games.

I don't understand how Haason Reddick treated us to the greatest single pass rushing performance of our lives as Cardinals’ fans and yet now some fans (many of whom have called him a bust right from beginning) hold it against him and make excuses for it, because “everyone knows, man, the Giants suck.”

And let me explain what else Hasson Reddick treated us to —- for the first time EVER since the Cardinals adopted a 34 defense we saw a rare, privileged glimpse of how a SAM OLB is supposed to play the position. For decades and years the Cardinals have not shown a true understanding of the kind of personnel that’s required to play the 34 the way it is supposed to be played. So often the Cardinals have signed or drafted square players to try to jam them into round holes.

How often have we seen Cardinals’ 34 OLBs biting hard to the inside on play fakes, only to give up contain the size of a 4 lane highway for the QB or WR running a reverse? It’s no wonder then why Jared Goff has dominated the Cardinals for the last four years. Funny how this year Sean McVay knew to run those plays away from Haason Reddick, the only OLB the Cardinals have had in ages who actually had the discipline and the athleticism to establish contain. Just ask Russell Wilson.

When did the Cardinals get this freaking good that the GM, coaches and fans can just kiss a very good player’s ass goodbye? A player who is a perfect fit at his position?

Tell me this —- do you happen to know how many of Cardinals’ draft picks on the current roster are playing on second consecutive contracts? (thus not including Markus Golden)

When you answer this question, please make a compelling argument as to why this is acceptable.

There’s no further proof of Cardinals draft picks having to survive being picked by the Cardinals than the current number of Cardinal draft picks who have signed second long-term contracts with the team.

There are two: D.J. Humphries and Budda Baker.

In Steve Keim’s 9 year tenure as GM, he’s only signed 4 of his draft picks to 2nd contracts, and two of them, Tyrann Mathieu and David Johnson, are no longer on the team because both of them stopped playing with the passion and level of effort that got them their second contracts in the first place (how freaking dysfunctional is that?). And in both of their cases, they were rewarded with new contracts a year ahead of schedule coming off of injuries, when it would have been wiser for the team to wait to see how they recovered.

Budda Baker got his second contract a year ahead of schedule, but thank goodness it’s not in his DNA to dog it.

And here we are heading into another Steve Keim draft —- and I keep asking myself, why should I care so much about Keim’s picks, when he quits so often on the vast majority of them? Why should I get so attached to these players?

Again, I apologize. New off-seasons are a time for renewed hope and hopefully today will be exciting for Cardinals fans and I hope to cheer on the moves today. But, to watch Haason Reddick walk out that door is going to hurt (for this fan who is in awe of what he had to overcome while trying to survive being a Cardinals’ draft pick —- to me he will always be a winner) for a long time to come.

I am never going to give up hope. You can count on that. But this is my sense of urgency today. What is yours?