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Free Agency Gets Underway

Posted Mar 11, 2013

After handful of roster cuts, Cards have some room to add some pieces

Cornerback Greg Toler, here running back an interception last season against Detroit, is a free agent.

The cuts have come quickly for the Cardinals, slicing off age and creating cap space for a roster to be reshaped by new general manager Steve Keim and new coach Bruce Arians.

Part two of the rebuilding phase begins Tuesday with the NFL’s free agency period.

Keim delves into his first free-agent market as the boss with one win under his belt, after safety Rashad Johnson reportedly agreed to re-sign to a three-year deal Monday night (and tweeted that he was "excited to help get (the Cardinals) back on track.") Armed with approximately $9 million of salary cap space prior to the Johnson deal – and more to come, one way or the other, once the organization comes to a resolution of the Kevin Kolb situation – Keim is looking to repair a franchise in the middle of an improving NFC West.

Under former general manager Rod Graves, the Cardinals had evolved into a philosophy of avoiding the biggest ticket items on the rack, trying instead to fill spots here and there and focusing giving the largest contracts as extensions to players already on the team.

Part of the process so far has been trying to re-sign their own free agents-to-be. Johnson is in the fold and the team wants cornerback Greg Toler as well, after the release of safety Adrian Wilson and cornerback William Gay.

The Cardinals also figure to look into the market at positions like running back – after cutting Beanie Wells – and inside linebacker – after cutting Stewart Bradley and with the free-agent status of Paris Lenon.

Offensive lineman is also possible, but with the draft so deep in that area, the Cards may wait for April. The Cardinals had a pair of representatives at the recent pro day of Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher, including offensive coordinator and de facto line coach Harold Goodwin.

Multiple reports have the Cardinals with serious interest in running back Reggie Bush, who is also being pursued by the Detroit Lions. Both teams have glaring holes in the backfield. Bush has played well as a feature back in Miami the last two seasons. Another possibility could also be former Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, another player on the market who had his best season with Arians as his offensive coordinator.

That’s the kind of tie with Arians that has made it easy to draw a connection between the Cards and free agent quarterback Drew Stanton, who played for Arians in Indianapolis last season. Should Stanton sign, with Brian Hoyer already in place, it would seem less likely Kolb will stick around. Kolb is due a $2 million roster bonus this weekend.

As of now, the Cardinals have just 62 players on their roster once the Johnson news is official. They will build it to 90 by the end of the draft process.

Teams have been able to speak with agents about their free-agent-to-be clients since Saturday, so in theory, deals could come quickly when free agency officially begins at 1 p.m. Arizona time Tuesday. Trades that have been reported upon could officially be announced then too – like Alex Smith to Kansas City, or Percy Harvin to Seattle.

Former general manager Bill Polian said he once had a study done on the success rate of free agency. Even though free agents are known quantities on the NFL level, as opposed to potential draft picks, Polian said the success rate was about the same – 50 percent.

“You can only do it based through your own individual prism,” Polian said. “At least what we found was the results are mixed, just like they are with every other personnel decision you make.”

Free agency is about filling a need. Polian notes that no player is going to get better past the age of 26 of 27 years old.

“In theory, at least, you're able to say, okay, I can plug this guy in, and he will perform at a certain level,” Polian said. “It's been my experience that when a player is changing systems, it takes generally a year for him to adapt to his new surroundings to a new system, to new teammates.  They don't come in as a general rule and instantly become successes. 

“So as I looked at free agency as a general manager, what I'm looking for is the finished product. … The guy you get in free agency, because, let's face it, in most cases, a fairly decent amount of money, you want the finished product.  So is it a question, of can I get a better guy in the draft?”


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