It’s a bonus for NFL teams to qualify for compensatory draft picks. Some teams seem to work the system to a tee.
While the Arizona Cardinals have three compensatory picks (1 6th rounder and 2 7th rounders) in the upcoming 2022 draft, and as of right now, the Cards appear to be in line to have three picks (1 3rd round, 1 5th round and 1 6th round) in 2023 —- the question is —- are these comp picks coming at a cost to the Cardinals in a number of detrimental ways?
Under Steve Keim’s watch as the Cardinals’ GM, here are the most lucrative mega-million dollar (north of $10M a year) contract extensions that he either inherited or brokered:
- CB Patrick Peterson
- QB Carson Palmer
- S Tyrann Mathieu
- DE Chandler Jones
- RB David Johnson
- T D.J. Humphries
- S Budda Baker
- WR DeAndre Hopkins
- TE Zach Ertz
Of the players who have moved on, here is how things have worked out for the Cardinals and the players in question:
- CB Patrick Peterson —- asked to be traded in 2018 and was suspended for 6 games at the start of 2019 —- yet, Steve Keim turned down a 1st round pick and WR Nelson Agholor from the Eagles at the trading deadline in 2019. A year later, Keim could have recovered $12.5M in cap space by trading or releasing Peterson in the final year of his contract. Keim hung on to Peterson, while maintaining to the fans that he was still elite. Peterson continued to struggle in 2020. But, in the off-season, Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim assured the fans that they would like to re-sign Pat P.
PR Fallout: Pat P.,, after signing a 1 year $8M deal with the Vikings, reported that the Cardinals never called him or his agent to make an offer.
Compensation for Peterson’s departure: 0. The 5th round comp pick the Cardinals would have received was cancelled out by K Matt Prater’s $3.5M a year deal.
- QB Carson Palmer —- in 2014 he signed a 3 year $50M extension through the 2017 season —- when healthy Palmer played very well, but a broken finger slowed him down during the 2015 playoffs, he suffered a concussion toward the end of the Cardinals’ disappointing 7-8-1 season in 2016 and the broken arm he suffered 7 games into the 2017 season versus the Rams in London, essentially ended his career.
PR Fallout —- Palmer’s retirement coincided with Bruce Arians’. Both Palmer and Arians appeared to be miserable about the way things were ending for them in Arizona. The Cardinals quickly moved to induct Palmer into their Ring of Honor.
- S Tyrann Matthieu —- after suffering a second season ending ACL tear in 2015 while putting forth a DPOY type of season, the Cardinals tore up Tyrann’’s rookie contract after his 3rd year and made him the highest paid safety in the NFL at an average of $13M a season for 3 years, with $31M guaranteed over the first two years of the contract. Unfortunately, Tyrann was not quite the Honey Badger he was in 2013 -2015 and when he was asked to take a pay cut in the last year of his deal, Mathieu basically told the team to take hike. Efforts were made to try to trade Mathieu, but questions about the drop in his production and the lofty figures of his contract led to the Cardinals decision to release the fan favorite, because no team was calling with a trade offer.
PR Fallout —- Matthieu’s scorn for how the Cardinals treated him in the final year of his contract to this day continues to make itself manifest vis-a-vis disdainful “snakes in the grass” social media posts. Cardinals fans have to wonder and dread whether Mathieu had some choice words for Kyler Murray about the Cardinals at the Pro Bowl this year.
- RB David Johnson —- despite missing 15 games in 2017, David Johnson held out of the team’s mandatory mini-camp in 2018. The Cardinals caved in (while GM Steve Keim was on suspension) and made DJ the highest paid RB in the NFL, giving him practically the exact same deal they gave Tyrann Matthieu, 3 years for $39M. Like Tyrann, DJ never played as aggressively or brilliantly as he did when he was All Pro in 2016. However, the Cardinals were able to package him in the DeAndre Hopkins trade.
PR Fallout —- the deja vu all over again from the Mathieu deal —- especially when the Cardinals could have let both of the players play out the final years of their rookie contracts, —- with having the transition and franchise tags as a safety net —- was a major PR nightmare.
Compensation —- in part, the Cardinals’ acquisition of WR DeAndre Hopkins, who right now is atop the Cardinals salary cap hits at $27.5M this year.
- Chandler Jones —- after the guaranteed money in the last year of his 5 year $83M contract had run out, Chandler Jones wanted the Cardinals to sign him to a lucrative extension or trade him. The Cardinals elected to do neither, even though they could have saved $15.5M on last year’s cap (to add 2-3 good free agents) and the might have been able to get some trade value, that is, if a team was not concerned about Jones missing the final 11 games of the 2020 season due to a torn bicep injury.
PR Fallout —- this year once again, Michael Bidwill tried to assure fans that the team would “love to have Chandler back” and that “I will put this in Steve’s hands” —- only to be quickly met with a “lol” tweet from Jones himself. Even worse, before signing his 3 year $53M free agent contract with the Raiders, Jones indicated that he wanted to move on from the Cardinals in order to play in a new system for a defensive coach who “would know how to maximize” his talents.
Compensation —- 5th round comp pick in 2023 (as of right now).
What the Cardinals could and should have learned from these scenarios:
1 —- lucrative long-term deals are structured so as to give the team an easy “out clause” in the final year of those contracts, ones that can allow them to recover double digit millions of dollars (and possible trade compensation) which could then be used to sign 2-3 valuable starters at positions of need.
2 —- ripping up players’ rookie contracts after three seasons and making them the highest paid players at their positions can backfire badly, if those players don’t live up to the lofty contract figures.
How these lessons could be applied to this season’s moves:
1 —- D.J. Humphries is in the final year of his contract and the Cardinals, who still have glaring needs at OLB, WR and CB, could recover $15M ($14M in non-guaranteed base salary + $1M roster bonus) by trading or releasing him. A number of teams are in need of tackle help, like the Carolina Panthers, and D.J. could have trade value for a team who would be eager to acquire him and sign him to a long-tern extension. At 28, D.J. could be headed into the prime of his career. The Cardinals could choose to extend D.J. , but thus far, it appears that the Cardinals are going to do what they did with Peterson and Jones and maybe they continue to figure that they can get a good 2024 comp pick for him in free agency next year. How is all of this a good thing?
The other argument for moving on from Humphries is that there was clear evidence to suggest that the team could be in solid shape by having Kelvin Beachum play left tackle with 2020 3rd round pick Josh Jones starting at right tackle, as they were during the Cardinals last win of the season over the Cowboys (25-22). Plus, the Cardinals have solid depth at tackle in Joshua Miles and Justin Murray.
One can make an argument that the Cardinals’ secondary was not significantly improved after Patrick Peterson returned from his 6 game suspension.
There was strong evidence to suggest that the Cardinals could still get consistent pressure on the QB without Chandler Jones. In 2020 without Jones, the Cardinals averaged 3.0 sacks per game (4th in NFL). With Jones this season, the Cardinals averaged 2.3 sacks a game (14th in NFL).
Of course, there were a number of us Cardinals’ fans who were urging Bidwill and Keim to use some of the $15.5M they could have added to the cap if Jones was released or traded in order to re-sign the 2020 team leader in sacks, Haason Reddick, while Haason was entering his prime.
2 —- Kyler Murray wants the Cardinals to pay him on a par with the top 5 QBs after the third year of his rookie contract —- and his agent has given the Cardinals until the NFL Draft to finalize the deal or there could be a trade request or a holdout or a “hold-in” to follow.
It would be wise of the Cardinals to change their modus operandi, by learning from these costly mistakes of the past.
Most teams fish or cut bait when their highest paid players are in the last year of their contracts by either extending the contract, by trading the player while there is still good value or by releasing the player to add valuable money to the free agent bank.
The Cardinals have been holding on too long to such players and no one, not the team or the player is happy when they leave —- to the point where the Cardinals incur more and more PR fallouts.
Is it any wonder why the Cardinals aren’t attracting outside free agents?
But, imagine if the Cardinals with the $15M they could add by trading or releasing or extending D.J. Humphries, could give the defense a boost by signing OLB/DE Jadeveon Clowney and slot CB Bryce Callahan. For one, it’s better to give Vance Joseph proven veterans than rookies. For two, if the Cardinals cannot defense the offenses in the NFC West and AFC West, then how are they going to be able to make the playoffs again this year?
Especially in light of their recent history of giving 4th year draftees new contracts that are “too much too soon” (when they could have waited another year), the Cardinals would be wise to wait another year to see if Kyler Murray can start and finish the season on a strong note. They have the safety net of the 5th year option.
Finally, what good is it to hold on to players in order to acquire comp pick if the team misses out on key opportunities to improve its chance to win now?