The first few days of NFL free agency might as well be played out on a rugby field.
They’re a scrum of phone calls, text messages and e-mails with teams interlocked with players and agents, pushing and pulling, trying to get the best deal.
From the outside it looks like chaos, but from inside the Cardinals’ headquarters this year, all was calm and well-organized when the clock struck 1 p.m. local time on March 12.
For the first time, the Cardinals – with their new regime -- had a free agency board, an actual white board with a list of the team’s top targets. The list was similar to the draft boards that appear in the background of war-room TV interviews during the NFL Draft. Laid out in front of the Cardinals’ brain trust of General Manager Steve Keim, Head Coach Bruce Arians, Vice President of Player Personnel Jason Licht and Director of Football Administration Mike Disner were their top targets for the 2013 free agency season.
As the first couple of days unfolded, the Cardinals kept referring back to that board as a north star for the team’s future.
“The part that we’re excited about is we felt like we had a plan, a calculated plan,” Keim said. “I felt like we were patient, which I think is the key to free agency.
“In the past I don’t think we stayed the course like we did this year.”
There were five positions the Cardinals wanted to address and they didn’t want to break the bank in the process.
By March 13, the second day of free agency, the Cardinals had collected five free agents: running back
The Cardinals ended up signing seven of their top nine targets, including re-signing one of their own free agents in safety
“We weren’t batting 1.000 but we were pretty close,” Keim said. “I don’t want to say it was easy but it made me feel like the plan was the right approach to take.”
It also saved the Cardinals from overspending on players they didn’t necessarily want.
“A lot of people rush out and sit down and debate money with the guys who are the blue-chip types and obviously we weren’t going to go that route,” Keim said. “We felt like there were some good players that not only fit what we did schematically but guys who could improve our locker room from a leadership standpoint.”
Fitting the free agents within proper bounds of the salary was a priority. Of the nine new players ultimately signed, five ended up with one-year contracts.
This was the first time Arians went into free agency with such a specific plan and the results reflected the preparation.
“Steve did a good job of setting it up, targeting guys and setting it up just like the draft,” Arians said. “It was a well done, well thought out process.
“Most teams don’t put that much time into it.”