Cardinals’ free agent signings grades part 1


The Cardinals went into free agency on a mission. Over the first couple of days, they have finalized six deals with six fee agents. Here’s the first part of the Cardinals’ free agent signings grades.

 The Cards weren’t coming into free agency with dreams of grabbing a superstar for $14 million a year. They have a nucleus they like. For Arizona, free agency was about adding depth at needed positions and redoubling their committment to decisive but minor improvements to help reach their goal of a championship.

Many of the new Cardinals won’t be starting or become household names to the Cardinals’ fan base, but most of them were really solid deals. Steve Keim once again proved that he’s good at his job. His biggest deal so far may have been his best.

G Mike Iupati: 5 years/$40 million

December 20, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers guard Mike Iupati (77) during the fourth quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Levi

The Cardinals played with Ted Larsen, Paul Fanaika, and Jonathan Cooper at the guard spots last year. That was an abject disaster, especially in run protection. The Cards were 31st in rushing yards per game, in part because they had a small  group of backs and no interior defensive line to open up space.

Mike Iupati was rated the fourth best free agent on the market by, and the second bets run blocking guard by Pro Football Focus. It wasn’t much of a surprise to hear of Arizona’s interest, but the Cardinals stole him from the rival 49ers quickly.

His contract was a large one, but the Cardinals structured it well. If the deal doesn’t work out, the amount of dead money resulting from cutting him declines from year to year, which is an important safety net. Paying $9 million a year for a free agent that makes the Cardinals’ biggest weakness stronger is a pretty good idea.

That does not mean there was universal agreement on this being a good move. For a team that likes to air out the ball, signing a big, run-blocking guard to a big contract may seem like a waste of resources. While the merit of that argument is legitimate, if given the choice between diversifying the offensive attack or committing to never running the football inside the tackles ever, the choice is clear. The cardinals could do well by being less one-dimensional, and signing Iupati opens up a lot of opportunity for the Cards to run more.

The Cards needed a player to toughen up the interior line. They got that person or a deal that, while hefty, can be worth it over the long-term. That’s a smart and simple free agent asset play, and the team is better off for having made this

Grade: A

DE Cory Redding: 2 years/$6 million 

Oct 9, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Indianapolis Colts defensive end Cory Redding (90) reacts after a fumble recovery during the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. The Colts defeated the Texans 33-28. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Keim often places a high premium on giving second chances to older or injured players, especially those who played under Bruce Arians in other places. Cory Redding is one example. Redding, the former Colt, was contemplating retirement before he decided to reunite with Arians in Arizona. His age is a factor, and his stats don’t look that impressive, but Pro Football focus broke down his numbers more deeply

"Redding only has three sacks on the year, but has a further 10 QB knockdowns (tied for fourth most among 3-4 defensive ends), 21 hurries and a batted pass. Furthermore, there have been only five games this year where he hasn’t put a signal-caller on the ground. Redding’s +7.4 pass rushing grade is the 13th best mark at the position, while his 6.6 Pass Rushing Productivity ranks 18th out of 45 qualifying ends"

The Cards spent much of last season unable to rush opposing passers, notching  only a single digit sack total around halfway through the season. Being able to up that total at an affordable price can’t be a hated move.

How the Cards integrate him into the defense will be interesting. He’s been a starter for much of his career, and still has shown to be worth playing in a major role.  His skill set also fills a hole in the Cardinals defensive setup. However, any starting spot he has removes the ability of a younger, more long-term player to show what they can do. Whether he plays most defensive snaps or a backup role, he can contribute

While he won’t be a full replacement for Darnell Docket, Redding can add a little more pass rush to the defense. For a low price, that’s not a bad deal.

Grade: B+

OLB Lamarr Woodley: 1 year/$870,000 

Sep 28, 2014; London, UNITED KINGDOM; Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) is pressured by Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Woodley (38) in the NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This deal for the Cards is a little awkward, given that Woodley hasn’t been an effective player in a couple of years. He tore his triceps last season, against the Cards no less, and was released by the Oakland Raiders after just one season. His connection to the team was again who Arians, who Woodley spent several years with as an assistant for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He’s not fast enough to be the edge rusher Arizona needs, and there’s not a lot of proof that he can be the same player he was in his prime. THis is how Keim operates though. He picks up players coming off bad seasons and gives them a chance to prove their value to the team.

Since it is on a minimum salary, he can be cut without any cap hit, Thus deal is risk-free, and whatever Woodley  brings to Arizona comes at a bargain price. This signing may not mean much, but a small contribution for a smaller price is not something to complain about.

Grade: B