Cardinals team president Michael Bidwill (second from left) and chief financial officer Greg Lee (left) are among the stream of decision-makers walking to the next session during the NFL owners meetings Monday at the Arizona Biltmore.
Steve Keim was a little antsy, since his duties as general manager during free agency has taken away from his beloved scouting process while the college pro days pass by.
But while he gets through a few days of the NFL owners meetings at the Arizona Biltmore before resuming draft work, one thing he was satisfied with was the Cardinals' foray into signing new players and clearing salary cap space for the future.
"We had a calculated plan, and I felt we were patient," Keim said in the Biltmore lobby between meetings Monday. "A lot of people rush out and spend money on the blue-chip types. But we felt 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.
"We had a plan and a list. … We had a calculated plan, we sat back, were patient. It felt like we got a lot of value with a lot of those
The team as some flexibility still with the cap to sign a player or two, Keim said. He wouldn't be specific, but multiple sources at the NFL meetings said former Browns receiver/special teamer Josh Cribbs was indeed going to take a physical in Arizona. He remains a possibility but no deal is imminent.
The main thrust of free agency is over, however, and Keim said he wanted to turn his attention back to the draft.
Keim said that for the first time this year, the Cardinals built a free-agent target list similar to the draft board they put together for April. Accounting for not only need and talent but also salary, the list led the Cards to seven signings among their top nine targets (Keim didn't specify who and who didn't get signed.)
While offensive line remains a spot that will see some additions at some point, Keim said the reason the Cardinals haven't signed on in free agency yet was simple – it didn't make sense.
"You don't want to force picks in the draft and you don't want to force players in free agency," Keim said. "If you feel confident in your evaluations, you don't want to be in a situation where you are just signing guys and later are disappointed from a cap standpoint or salary standpoint. Some of the offensive linemen we looked at from a salary standpoint didn't fit with us where we wanted to go."
That could change as the market continues to leave plenty of players looking for work. Expectations for many free agents were greater than the market would bear out. The market correction impacted not only the free agents out there, but also some of the moves the Cardinals have made to release veterans.
Running back Rashard Mendenhall, defensive end Matt Shaughnessy and cornerback Antoine Cason sign just one-year deals in part because the bigger money wasn't there. Safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes were released in part because safeties – especially older ones – aren't making multi-millions anymore.
Keim wants to clear as much dead money as he can and put the Cardinals in better position going forward. The Cardinals, after the cuts of Wilson, Beanie Wells, Kevin Kolb, William Gay, Early Doucet and Stewart Bradley, have more than $12 million of "dead" cap space for 2013. (Rhodes' release created zero dead money.)
"Free agency can be concerning where you play big money for guys you don't know a lot about," Keim said. "Guys we have signed, we either had a lot of background on or players we spent a lot of time with at the draft process years ago.
"We knew going forward once we looked at our roster and making a concerted effort (that) pay has to equal play and making tough decisions, we would have some dead money on the cap this year. Hopefully that is something we can fix in the near future."
The cutting of key veterans is never easy, coach Bruce Arians said. He mentioned Wilson in particular, a player who will one day go into the Cardinals Ring of Honor. Arians was with the Steelers when they cut Hines Ward and with the Colts when they cut Peyton Manning.
"You have to do what is best for the organization," he said.
In the Cardinals' current case, that was clearing some salary cap space and adding players with less risky contracts that could pay off later.
"All these guys I think will find their niche right away in the locker room," Arians said.