For the sake of this argument, I will put Rashard Mendenhall as the top player on my list. However, I must admit that I can easily go in a number of different directions with this ranking. Also, since Carson Palmer, was not a free-agent signing (he was signed via a trade with the Raiders); we cannot include the Cardinals new starting quarterback.
- (RB) Rashard Mendenhall
- (ILB,OLB) Karlos Dansby
- (FS, SS) Yeremiah Bell
- (ILB) Jasper Brinkley
- (CB’s) Antoine Cason & Jerraud Powers
- Other notable free agent signings are (ILB, OLB) Lorenzo Alexander, (DE’s) Matt Shaughnessy and Frosty Rucker
As you can see, there were just way too many quality free agent signings (this offseason) to simply keep it to five, so I added to the list. After all, how could I possibly leave out some of the other names that could very well end up making the biggest difference this upcoming season?
I also think that if I were to flip the top-five list 180 degrees, most Cardinal fans probably would not bat an eye, because anyone of these free-agent signings could very well be as significant or as important as the other. That is why, in all actuality, we need to just let this all play out first. But for the sake of this argument, here is my reasoning for my top five, in a bit more detail.
In my opinion, specifically, any one of the top-three selections of my top-five free agent list, are interchangeable as far as I am concerned. In fact, I really came close to putting Dansby number one. Having the flexibility of Dansby at either linebacker positions, this will pay huge dividends for the Cardinals, because he will be able to step right in for Washington while he deals with his troubles off the field (he was suspended for the first four games).
He will be able to step right in and be a key cog and an integral part of the Cardinals defense. With Dansby’s presents at the inside linebacker position, replacing Washington for the first four game, as well as having the flexibility to move over (if and when Washington returns) and play either inside linebacker positions (he also can play OLB if needed).
The Cardinals will not miss a beat. Most importantly, Dansby has some familiarity with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles from their time together with the Miami Dolphins. So he should have any trouble fitting in with Bowles’ defensive system and Bowles knows what he has in Dansby.
Dansby also has impeccable leadership qualities that he will provide on and off the field, as well as his tremendous in game experience in key moments, which he has already proven from the Super Bowl run in 2008 and the playoff run of 2009. He is truly a clutch big-time performer.
Dansby should also provide great mentorship for the likes of Kevin Minter and provide great leadership for Washington, on and off the field. Furthermore, if Washington can get his act together and get back on the field this year for the Cardinals, I cannot imagine too many better linebacker tandems than the two can provide.
As for Mendenhall, I had to keep him number one, because I really believe, if healthy, he has the familiarity (in game experience) of Arians’ offense and ability to be a huge threat coming out the back field early on (this year). He should not miss a beat because of his in game experience with Arians in Pittsburgh. So there will be a certain level of trust Arians will have with Mendenhall that you just cannot get early on with their young rookie running backs.
Mendenhall is a three-down back who is terrific as a pass blocker in the passing game and in most cases; it is something that you just cannot rely on with younger backs coming out of college.
If healthy, he has the ability to be a 1,000 yard rusher this season. If he does match this type of production this year, this will be absolutely huge in opening up the entire offense for Carson Palmer and the passing game. If my projection is right, this is indeed why I had to put Mendenhall at the top of the list.
Yeremiah Bell is another valuable contributor that must also be mentioned and is number three on my top five free agent list. Bell is a former Pro Bowler that will be a huge contributor in Bowles’ defense.
Bell is very familiar with Bowles, from his days with the Miami Dolphins. In fact, it is by no coincidence that Bell started to make his move to one of the better safeties in the NFL under Bowles tutelage in Miami. Bell became a leader in Miami’s back field under Bowles and was one of the leaders in tackles for three straight years, with over 100 tackles in each of those years.
The Cardinals brought Bell in to pair him with Bowles, because they believe he is a perfect fit in Bowles’ defensive system. Plus, having played under Bowles, there will be a certain amount of trust and leadership that younger players will not be able to provide early on. He will provide tremendous experience and terrific leadership skills that will also pay huge dividends for the younger safeties such as Tyrann Mathieu, Tony Jefferson (provided he makes the team) and Jamell Fleming, just to name a few.
If you are still reading along, there is something very similar in the top three biggest free agent signings on my list and are the primary reasons the three are at the top of my list. All three are proven performers, proven leaders on and off the field and all are very familiar with their respective schemes at their respective positions.
All three have played for the coordinators at their positions, so there is familiarity and trust with the coaching staff. But perhaps most importantly, they will be able to provide great mentorship for the younger players at their respective positions, while they are still playing at a high level.
So I believe these top three free agent signings are truly interchangeable and will be huge contributors, leaders and mentors at their positions that will truly pay dividends for the Cardinals.
Other noteworthy free agent signings for the Cardinals include (number four) Jasper Brinkley, which should pay big dividends next to Dansby, especially during the first four weeks of the season while Washington is serving his suspension.
At number five, yes I put both Jerraud Powers and Antoine Cason together because I believe they will be in a battle for the number two corner position across form Patrick Peterson. Both should be solid contributors and both should get significant playing time, no matter who ends up winning the number two cornerback position.
Lorenzo Alexander is another name that fans will be anxiously waiting to see on the field. Alexander is perennial Pro Bowler on special teams, so we already know that he will be a great contributor there. However, it will be interesting to see where he ends up on the depth chart at the outside (rush) linebacker position. He can also play on the inside if needed (linebacker).
Last, both Matt Shaunnessy and Frosty Rucker should provide much needed depth for Darnell Dockettand Calais Campbell, at the defensive end position in the three-four (3-4) alignment on defense. The two should provide solid play, giving both Dockett and Campbell rest without a huge drop-off in performance.