The month of March has been about a new regime for the Arizona Cardinals, and a new roster.
Beginning with the first moves – cornerback William Gay and linebacker Stewart Bradley were released on the first day of the month – the Cardinals released seven veteran players to save about $27 million of salary cap space. They signed 10 free agents from other teams and re-signed safety
They lost cornerback Greg Toler, linebacker Quentin Groves and reserve offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger in free agency, and right now, bringing back any of the other eight remaining own free agents is at best questionable at this point. The calendar tells us that.
This is a different NFL offseason than most. The flat salary cap – which will stay somewhat flat in 2014 and go up some in 2015, but not have the huge spike some have predicted -- has clearly affected the free agent market.
In the meantime, General Manager Steve Keim has used the time to not only retool the roster but also clear significant contracts
It hasn’t hurt that six of the Cards’ new free agents signed one-year contracts, largely because they were hoping for bigger money in free agency and want a chance to test the market again next season. That includes Wednesday’s signing of special teamer Jonathon Amaya, who had spent the bulk of his career with the Miami Dolphins.
If any perform well, the Cardinals will look into extending them during the season. Regardless, as Keim reshapes the roster into his vision, he has some room to work.
Even Coach Bruce Arians sees the potential of having so many players in their free-agent-to-be years.
“Some of the guys are looking to prove it and get paid, which tells me they will be playing their tails off,” Arians said. “To me, it’s the best 11 for first-and-10, the best 11 for nickel, dime, I don’t care how long they signed for or how they got here. First-round pick or all-pro, they have to show it on the grass.”
There figure to be more signings at some point. Not only is the free agent landscape still littered with players who can contribute – of the players the Cards cut, Rhodes, Kolb, Wells and Doucet remain without jobs, and there are many like them – but the Cardinals will need more players. As of now, there are only 57 players under contract, a far cry from the 90 allowed during the offseason.
The Cards are slated with seven draft picks, and even assuming another 16 undrafted rookies, that still leaves the Cardinals 10 players shy of the maximum amount. Arians, talking about offensive linemen in particular, said last week he could see the Cardinals adding another piece or two before the draft.
“We’ll exhaust those options until they phase out,” Arians said.
Fitting in both scheme and money in a buyers’ market will be part of the equation. The Cardinals, prior to signing Amaya and defensive end
“You don’t want to force picks in the draft and you don’t want to force players in free agency,” Keim said.