2014 NFL Offseason: Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals (Last Year: 10-6)

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2014 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
RB Jonathan Dwyer, WR/KR Ted Ginn, TE John Carlson, OT Jared Veldheer, C Ted Larsen, CB Antonio Cromartie.
Early Draft Picks:
S Deone Bucannon, TE Troy Niklas, DE/DT Kareem Martin, WR John Brown, QB Logan Thomas, DE/DT Ed Stinson. Cardinals Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB Rashard Mendenhall, WR Andre Roberts, OT Eric Winston, G Daryn Colledge, ILB Karlos Dansby, ILB Jasper Brinkley, CB Antone Cason, S Yeremiah Bell, KR Javier Arenas.

2014 Arizona Cardinals Offense:
The Cardinals wanted Carson Palmer to add some instant stability to an offense that has been starved for a competent quarterback since Kurt Warner announced his retirement. Palmer improved things from the Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Max Hall days, but the unit didn’t really take off until Week 8, however. Prior to that contest, Arizona had averaged 19 points per game. From Week 8 on, that figure rose to 27.3.

The difference? Andre Ellington. The speedy rookie running back was used sparingly prior to Week 8. He didn’t have more than 12 touches in any contest before then, and he had the ball in his hands more than seven times on just two occasions. Following Week 8, he had 13.6 touches per contest and helped Arizona’s offense tremendously. He even had a 15-154-1 line against the Falcons. Ellington was still underutilized, but Bruce Arians has promised for that to change, as he recently told the media that Ellington will have 25-30 touches per game.

Ellington’s emergence obviously helped Palmer. The 34-year-old signal-caller was much better in the second half of the season; he had multiple turnovers in six of his first seven games, compared to just three of his final nine. In fact, excluding one matchup against the Seahawks and their ridiculous secondary, Palmer maintained a 15-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio beginning in Week 8.

The Cardinals found Palmer even more help this offseason when they inked Raiders’ left tackle Jared Veldheer to a 5-year, $35 million contract. Veldheer made just five starts last year because of an injury, but he surrendered just one sack in those contests. That has to be music to Palmer’s ears because the aging quarterback is as immobile as they get. Veldheer will be a massive upgrade over Bradley Sowell, who was brutal as Palmer’s blind-side protector in 2013.

Veldheer won’t be the only upgrade up front. Jonathan Cooper, chosen seventh overall in 2013, missed his entire rookie campaign because of a fractured fibula. It’s unknown how Cooper will play, but he has loads of potential and will figure to be an upgrade over the pedestrian Daryn Colledge. Cooper will start on the interior next to solid center Lyle Sendlein and anemic right guard Paul Fanaika, unless Nate Potter can beat him out. The right tackle job probably belongs to Bobby Massie, who barely played in 2013, but had a strong showing during the latter half of the 2012 season.

Improved blocking will also benefit Larry Fitzgerald. The soon-to-be 31-year-old is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career in terms of yards per reception, but he dealt with nagging injuries throughout. He’s a candidate to bounce back. Meanwhile, third-year wideout Michael Floyd is ready to emerge as a star. Floyd, who accumulated 1,054 receiving yards in 2013, had some big outings near the end of the season. He reportedly was the most impressive player at OTAs.

Palmer will have some new targets to throw the ball to as well. Ted Ginn was added in free agency, while a second-round selection was used on Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas. The last time Palmer had a capable tight end, he turned the lesser-talented Brandon Myers into a reception machine.

2014 Arizona Cardinals Defense:
There’s much more optimism with Arizona’s offense this year, but the defense suffered two massive losses. The first came when Karlos Dansby signed with the Browns. Dansby was terrific for Arizona in 2013, but the front office was right to let him go, as he was a rapidly aging player demanding too much money. The Cardinals could have survived without him, thanks to 2013 second-rounder Kevin Minter, but some news in late May absolutely crushed the team when it learned that the All-Pro Daryl Washington would be out for the season for marijuana usage, of all things.

Washington’s absence will be huge. He’s one of the top linebackers in the NFL, so he will be sorely missed. Minter will now have to take on a much larger role, and he’ll have to start next to Larry Foote, who just turned 34. Foote is incapable as a starter at his age, so it’s fair to assume that Arizona won’t have the dominant defense it maintained this past season.

The other players on the stop unit will have to step up, and the Cardinals definitely have the talented athletes to do so – most notably, Patrick Peterson, one of the true shutdown cornerbacks in the NFL. Peterson didn’t have anyone worthy starting on the other side last season, so Arizona signed Antonio Cromartie in free agency. Cromartie didn’t play well in 2013, but he dealt with nagging hip and knee injuries, so he’s expected to rebound, especially considering that he’ll no longer be asked to shadow No. 1 receivers.

Arizona also has the ultra-talented Tyrann Mathieu in its secondary, but the team needed help at the safety position in the wake of Yeremiah Bell’s departure. That would explain the front office using its first-round choice on Deone Bucannon. The Washington State product was deemed a reach, but he’s almost surely an upgrade over what the team had at the position.

One area that needs to improve to compensate for Dansby and Washington is the pass rush. The Cardinals had only two players who could consistently get to the quarterback this past season – Calais Campbell, John Abraham – and the latter just turned 36, so he can’t be counted on. Arizona inexplicably refused to draft an edge rusher, so Sam Acho will be asked to perform well coming off a three-game 2013 campaign, thanks to a broken fibula. He and Abraham will rotate with Matt Shaughnessy, who plays well against the run.

The front line is at least in a better position. Campbell is a stud, while nose tackle Dan Williams is very good at clogging running lanes. Darnell Dockett also has a ton of talent, but has underachieved the past couple of seasons. Now 33, Dockett is unlikely to rebound.

2014 Arizona Cardinals Schedule and Intangibles:
Something that was apparent during Arizona’s postseason run in 2008 was the homefield advantage the team unceremoniously established. Including the playoffs, the Cardinals are 33-18 as hosts the past six years, including 6-2 in 2013.

Patrick Peterson wasn’t very good on returns this past season. He’ll likely concentrate on defense from now on with Ted Ginn now on the roster.

Jay Feely was 30-of-36 last year, including 3-of-5 from 50-plus.

Dave Zastudil is one of the top punters in the league. He was only 13th in net average, but that’s because he tied Kansas City’s Dustin Colquitt for most attempts placed inside the 20-yard line.

The Cardinals have a third-place schedule, but that doesn’t matter much because they have to take on the 49ers, Seahawks and improving Rams twice each. They also have to battle the Broncos, Chargers, Eagles and Lions.

2014 Arizona Cardinals Rookies:
Go here for the Cardinals Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2014 Arizona Cardinals Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2014 Arizona Cardinals Analysis: It’s a shame that the Cardinals lost Daryl Washington for the year. They would have definitely threatened for a playoff spot with him. It’s also a shame that the Cardinals play in the toughest division in football. They could end up being the best last-place team in recent memory.

Projection: 9-7 (4th in NFC West)

2014 Fantasy Football Rankings

More 2014 NFL Season Previews

NFL Draft Team Grade: C+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2014 NFL Draft: The Cardinals would probably win most divisions in the NFL, but they’re only the third-best team in the fierce NFC West. They have no real holes outside of safety and rush linebacker, so those two areas should be addressed. They may also want to spend an early selection on a long-term quarterback to take over once Carson Palmer moves on.

2014 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Arizona addressed its biggest need in the first round. It reached while doing so, choosing Round 2-3 prospect Deone Bucannon, but at least the team initially moved down and acquired a third-round pick from the Saints. They used one of their third-round selection to bolster their defensive front with Kareem Martin. In between, they added an intermediate weapon for Carson Palmer in Troy Niklas.

Unfortunately, Bucannon wasn’t the only reach Arizona was guilty of; John Brown was taken about 100 picks earlier than he should have been. He didn’t even fill a big need, so that was puzzling. I also don’t like how the rush linebacker position was completely ignored. Trevor Reilly was just sitting there for the Cardinals in the middle of the sixth round. Why not take him there?

The Cardinals had a pretty mixed draft. I love when teams move down and acquire valuable selections. I just wish Arizona didn’t reach with two of its top-100 choices.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

27. Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State: D Grade
Oh man. This might be the new worst pick of the first round. Again, the trade down saves the Cardinals from receiving a Millen, but Deone Bucannon was a concrete second-day pick. I had him in Round 3. I knew that was a bit too late, but I never envisioned him being chosen on Thursday.

At any rate, Bucannon fills a huge need at safety. Arizona had to address the position during the draft after losing Yeremiah Bell this offseason. Bucannon will be an upgrade over what the Cardinals had, but he’s still a reach.

52. Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame: A Grade
I’m a bit surprised that the Cardinals spent such a high pick on a pass-catching tight end, but I don’t think Carson Palmer will complain too much. He’ll love having such a dependable, intermediate target at his disposal. Troy Niklas could have easily gone at the beginning of the second round, so unlike their first pick, this provides a ton of value.

84. Kareem Martin, DE/DT, North Carolina: B+ Grade
The Cardinals had to find a successor for Darnell Dockett, who won’t be around much longer. Kareem Martin could qualify as a long-term starter. The North Carolina product has his flaws, but he has loads of potential, and if he can be coached up, he could develop into a solid five-technique for Arizona.

91. John Brown, WR, Pitt State: C- Grade
Over Bruce Ellington? That’s confusing. John Brown was a Round 5-7 prospect, while Ellington would have provided good value at this juncture. Either way, the Cardinals wanted to find another receiver in the wake of losing Andre Roberts. Brown will be good as a returner, but didn’t Arizona get Tedd Ginn for that?

120. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech: B- Grade
Not bad. Logan Thomas has first-round physical talent, but has played like an undraftable player at times. Bruce Arians might be able to coach him up and turn him into a decent starter. More likely though, Thomas will bust. It’s worth the risk in the fourth round.

160. Ed Stinson, DE/DT, Alabama: C+ Grade
The Cardinals wanted to take a five-technique to succeed Darnell Dockett, but two five-techs? It’s a little puzzling, but I guess having good depth never hurts. Still though, I’m not a big fan of this pick; it’s not like Ed Stinson is this great value, or anything.

196. Walter Powell, WR, Murray State: C Grade
Another receiver is a bit confusing, but it’s the sixth round, so I can’t complain too much. As with the Jets, the Cardinals are picking a prospect a bit too early, but again, it’s not a huge deal.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The Cardinals were the best team not to make the playoffs. They simply had the misfortune of residing in the extremely rough NFC West; four of their six losses came within the division. Their other two defeats were against opponents that made the postseason (Saints, Eagles). They still figure to be competitve in 2014, but they’ll once again have to overcome a taxing schedule.

Offseason Moves:
  • Dolphins sign G Daryn Colledge
  • Cardinals re-sign ILB Larry Foote
  • Panthers sign CB Antoine Cason
  • Cardinals sign CB Antonio Cromartie
  • Falcons sign CB/KR Javier Arenas
  • Cardinals re-sign CB Bryce McCann
  • Carinals sign WR/KR Ted Ginn
  • Browns sign TE Jim Dray
  • Cardinals sign RB Jonathan Dwyer
  • Cardinals sign C Ted Larsen
  • Cardinals re-sign DE/OLB Marcus Benard
  • Cardinals re-sign DE Matt Shaughnessy
  • Cardinals sign OT Jared Veldheer
  • Cardinals re-sign DE/DT Frostee Rucker
  • Cardinals re-sign TE Jake Ballard
  • Browns sign ILB Karlos Dansby
  • Redskins sign WR Andre Roberts
  • Cardinals re-sign K Jay Feely
  • Vikings sign ILB Jasper Brinkley
  • Cardinals announce retirement of RB Rashard Mendenhall
  • Cardinals cut G Daryn Colledge
  • Cardinals sign TE John Carlson
  • Cardinals cut ILB Jasper Brinkley
  • Cardinals re-sign P Dave Zastudil

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Tackles: The Cardinals started Bradley Sowell at left tackle once they traded away Levi Brown. Sowell went on to be one of the worst starting blind-side protectors in the NFL. He has to be upgraded. Meanwhile, Eric Winston is an impending free agent. There might just be a solid tackle available at No. 20 this May. Signed Jared Veldheer

    2. Outside Linebacker: Arizona doesn’t have much at outside linebacker. Sam Acho barely played last year, while John Abraham will turn 36 in May. A second-day choice could be used to fix this area.

    3. Safety: Yeremiah Bell performed above expectations this past season, but he’ll be a free agent in March.

    4. Cornerback: As with most teams, Arizona could stand to get deeper at corner. They also need a starter across from Patrick Peterson. Signed Antonio Cromartie

    5. Quarterback: The Cardinals need to groom a young quarterback to eventually take over for Carson Palmer, who can be a turnover machine at times. A mid-round selection should suffice.

    6. Wide Receiver: Andre Roberts will be hitting the market. If he leaves, Arizona will have to find a new No. 3 receiver. Signed Ted Ginn

    7. Guard Depth: Arizona should add some interior line depth just in case Jonathan Cooper goes down again. Someone like Paul Fanaika cannot be allowed to start going forward.

    8. Running Back: Rashard Mendenhall is a free agent, but he needed to be upgraded anyway. The Cardinals have to find a running back to complement Andre Ellington unless they think Stepfan Taylor can be that guy. Signed Jonathan Dwyer

    9. Kicker: Jay Feely kicked well this past season, but he turns 38 in May. It might be time to find a new kicker. Re-signed Jay Feely

    10. Punter: Arizona’s punter, Dave Zastudil, also happens to be a free agent. Re-signed Dave Zastudil

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2014 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Jared Veldheer, OT, Raiders. Age: 27.
      Signed with Cardinals (5 years, $35 million)

      Jared Veldheer missed the first 12 weeks of the season with a triceps tear. Perhaps the Raiders will be able to retain him at a cheaper price as a consequence. If so, they should be happy because Veldheer is a solid blind-side protector.

    2. Antonio Cromartie, CB, Jets. Age: 30.
      Signed with Cardinals (1 year)

      Antonio Cromartie might be ranked higher than where most would project him, given that he’s coming off a horrific 2013 campaign. However, Cromartie’s struggles could be blamed on a nagging hip injury as well as a knee problem he sustained in October. Cromartie, who doesn’t need surgery for his hip, figures to be much better in 2014, provided he can stay healthy.

    3. Ted Ginn, WR/KR, Panthers. Age: 29.
      Signed with Cardinals (3 years)

      Any write-up of Ted Ginn would be useless. Instead, click here to read about how much Ted Ginn hates me.

    4. Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Steelers. Age: 25.
      Signed with Cardinals (1 year)

      Jonathan Dwyer is a quality pass protector and can get the needed distance in short-yardage situations.

    5. John Carlson, TE, Vikings. Age: 30. — Signed with Cardinals (2 years)
    6. Larry Foote, ILB, Steelers. Age: 34. — Signed with Cardinals (1 year)
    7. Ted Larsen, C, Buccaneers. Age: 27. — Signed with Cardinals (2 years)

    Arizona Cardinals Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Karlos Dansby, ILB, Cardinals. Age: 32.
      Signed with Browns (4 years, $24 million; $14 million guaranteed)

      Karlos Dansby, who played all but five of Arizona’s defensive snaps this past season, was a beast in his first year back with the Cardinals. A force in every facet of the game, Dansby earned himself a big contract. The only downside is that he’ll be 33 in November.

    2. Dave Zastudil, P, Cardinals. Age: 35.
      Re-signed with Cardinals (2 years)

      Dave Zastudil was 13th in net punting this past season.

    3. Matt Shaughnessy, DE, Cardinals. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Cardinals (2 years)

      Matt Shaughnessy has never been the same since his shoulder injury a couple of years ago, but he showed signs of improvement in 2013. He’s still very stout in run support.

    4. Yeremiah Bell, S, Cardinals. Age: 36.
      Yeremiah Bell played surprisingly well this past season considering his age (36 in March), but he can’t be counted on as a starter anymore going forward.

    5. Eric Winston, OT, Cardinals. Age: 30.
      Eric Winston struggled mightily in the first half of the season, surrendering five sacks in his first five games with the Cardinals. However, he gave up just two sacks the entire rest of the way.

    6. Andre Roberts, WR, Cardinals. Age: 26.
      Signed with Redskins (4 years, $16 million)

      Andre Roberts is a very solid No. 3 receiver. He’s had issues with drops in the past, but he appears to have fixed that issue.

    7. Jay Feely, K, Cardinals. Age: 38.
      Re-signed with Cardinals

      Jay Feely has been up and down his career. He went 30-of-36 this past season, including 3-of-5 from 50-plus, but he’ll turn 38 in May.

    8. Daryn Colledge, G, Cardinals. Age: 32.
      Signed with Dolphins

      Daryn Colledge isn’t a bad lineman; he was simply released to free up $4.5 million in cap space. Colledge won’t kill any team as a starter, but his best role would be as a solid reserve.

    9. Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Cardinals. Age: 27.
      Announced retirement

      There’s no reason Rashard Mendenhall should’ve received more touches than Andre Ellington in the second half of this past season. He’s just yet another Big Ten plodder.

    10. Frostee Rucker, DE, Cardinals. Age: 30. — Re-signed with Cardinals (2 years)
    11. Antoine Cason, CB, Cardinals. Age: 28. — Signed with Panthers (1 year)
    12. Javier Arenas, CB/KR, Cardinals. Age: 26. — Signed with Falcons (1 year)
    13. Jasper Brinkley, ILB, Cardinals. Age: 29. — Signed with Vikings (1 year)
    14. Marcus Benard, DE/OLB, Cardinals. Age: 29. — Re-signed with Cardinals (1 year)
    15. Jim Dray, TE, Cardinals. Age: 27. — Signed with Browns
    16. Jake Ballard, TE, Cardinals. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Cardinals (1 year)
    17. Ronald Talley (RFA), DE/DT, Cardinals. Age: 28.
    18. Jeff King, TE, Cardinals. Age: 31.
    19. Alfonso Smith (RFA), RB, Cardinals. Age: 27.
    20. Kory Sperry, TE, Cardinals. Age: 29.
    21. Mike Gibson, G, Cardinals. Age: 28.
    22. Bryan McCann, CB, Cardinals. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Cardinals

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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