2010 Draft Grades: Cardinals

In terms of value, Dan Williams was one of my favorite picks in the 1st round. Considering the emphasis that teams running 3-4 defenses have placed on nose tackles, I expected him to come off the board early. When he started to fall, I even thought someone that didn’t really need a nose tackle (the Steelers, for example) would take him because he was simply the best available player.

In Arizona, Williams will team with Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell to give the Cardinals one of the most impressive defensive lines in the game. If he lives up to his potential early on, their defense could be much better than expected in 2010.

I like Daryl Washington, but I don’t necessary like how he fits into Arizona’s defense. He’s slightly undersized and for that reason I think he’s better suited for a 4-3 defense.

Andre Roberts is a decent 3rd round pick, but I was surprised they didn’t go after a more NFL-ready receiver. They really needed to find someone who would help Matt Leinart (or Derek Anderson) right away and I don’t know that Roberts will be able to do that.

I don’t like the selection of O’Brien Schofield for two reasons. One, he is undersized, much like Washington. He just doesn’t look like a great fit for a 3-4 defense unless he bulks up significantly. Two, he’s coming of an injury. The Cardinals want to win now and they needed a linebacker who could play immediately. It’s uncertain whether or not Schofield will be ready for the season.

John Skelton is a great fit for the Cardinals. They obviously have concerns about Matt Leinart, but they didn’t want to push the panic button just yet and take someone in the early rounds. Instead, they rolled the dice on Skelton in the 5th. They can bring him along slowly and develop him over the course of a year or two with Leinart as the starter. That should be enough time to determine if Skelton can be a starter of if they need to start over.

Jorrick Calvin will add depth at cornerback and help replace Bryant McFadden. I would have liked to see them add a cornerback earlier than the 6th round, though.

Tight end was another position that the Cardinals should have addressed earlier. Jim Dray has limited upside and will struggle to beat out Anthony Becht, Ben Patrick or Stephen Spach for a spot on the roster.

Overall, this was a solid but unspectacular draft for the Cardinals. They hit a home run with Dan Williams in the 1st round, but I’m not confident that anyone else from this draft class will develop into a starter. I like the draft, but I’m not as enthusiastic about it as I have been in years past. The Cardinals have developed a reputation under Rod Graves and Steve Keim as being one of the top teams in the draft, and this year’s class didn’t quite live up to expectations.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Cardinals, Draft Grades - 2010 Comments Off

Will someone please sign Jared Gaither

I’ve asked this before, but he remains unsigned, so I’ll ask it again: Why doesn’t anyone want Jared Gaither?

WI: Baltimore Ravens v Green Bay PackersIn his third year in the league in ’09, Gaither blossomed into a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle, more than adequately filling the shoes of his predecessor Jonathan Ogden. He ultimately wasn’t selected to the Pro Bowl, primarily due to the fact that he missed five games last season, but the honor is surely in his future.

If you don’t know much about Gaither its probably due to the fact that he skipped the April draft process, entering the 2007 Supplemental Draft instead. In July ’07 Gaither was ruled academically ineligible for the upcoming season, which prompted the decision. As a result, the Ravens landed themselves a 1st-round talent with a 5th-round selection.

After backing up Ogden in ’07, Gaither took over in 2008. He was impressive as a sophomore, but reached elite status in 2009. Despite his performance, the Ravens only tendered him at the 1st-round level, leaving them susceptible to Gaither signing elsewhere.

Personally, I would rather spend my 1st-round pick on a proven 24-year-old than take a chance on anyone in the draft, even this year’s top prospect, Russell Okung.

ProFootballFocus grades Gaither very favorably, ranking him 6th overall among offensive tackles. However, their ratings are accumulated throughout the season, favoring the players who appeared in all 16 games. Given the fact that he only played 11 games in 2009 I decided to take their ratings and adjust them based on number of snaps played to see where Gaither would rank. Taking the overall rating and dividing by snaps played you get this list “per snap” rating list:

It should be noted that Gaither’s injuries are part of the equation as to why teams may not be interested, but if you simply look at his production on the field there’s no denying his status as an elite left tackle.

Applying this to the draft, how could any team targeting an offensive tackle not give serious consideration to Gaither?

Teams like the Redskins, Seahawks, Raiders, Bills, 49ers, Cardinals and Cowboys are all in the market for an upgrade at left tackle. Would they honestly rather take a risk on Okung, Bryan Bulaga, Trent Williams or Anthony Davis instead of Gaither?

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft, 49ers, Bills, Cardinals, Cowboys, Free Agency, Raiders, Ravens, Redskins, Seahawks 2 Comments

Who’s going to sign Jared Gaither?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore RavensJared Gaither may be the most under-appreciated offensive lineman in the game, even by his own team.

Despite an impressive 2009 season the Ravens only placed a 1st-round tender on Gaither, making him an intriguing option for someone else to sign to an offer sheet.

The folks at ProFootballFocus have been pleading for someone to sign Gaither via Twitter, and I couldn’t agree more with their sentiments. Why waste time developing a draft pick when you can get a Pro Bowl-caliber 24-year-old for the same price?

Gaither wasn’t just good in 2009, he was among the game’s elite. He allowed just four sacks in in the 430 pass plays in which he was on the field for, an impressively low percentage. According to ProFootballFocus’ grading system Gaither ranked 3rd among left tackles who played at least 10 games last season, trailing only the two best young tackles in the game, Joe Thomas and Jake Long.

Numerous teams own mid-to-late 1st-round picks and are in the market for a left tackle. The 49ers, Cardinals, Cowboys and Packers are just a few of the teams that would benefit from bringing Gaither aboard rather than trying their luck with Bryan Bulaga, Trent Williams or Anthony Davis.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft, 49ers, Cardinals, Cowboys, Free Agency, Packers, Ravens 2 Comments

10 Best Offseason Moves (So Far)

10. Giants sign Antrel Rolle
Yes, the Giants overpaid for Rolle. The thought of him being the highest-paid safety in the league is comical. But the fact remains that he’s a significant upgrade over Michael Johnson and will give the Giants a very solid duo at safety between him and fellow Hurricane Kenny Phillips. The Giants are taking a “win now” approach and you have to give them credit for addressing a need with the best player on the market.

9. Falcons sign Dunta Robinson
The Falcons may have overpaid for a player who’s effort comes as goes throughout the season, but there’s no denying that Robinson has the talent to be an elite cornerback. Robinson will give you headaches, but ultimately when it matters most he’ll step up his game. He was playing at an elite level down the stretch this past season as Houston climbed back into the wild card race and he’ll do the same in Atlanta as they figure to be in the playoff hunt once again.

8. Patriots re-sign Vince Wilfork
Its not a sexy pick to have a player re-signing on this list, I know, but this is one of the most important moves nonetheless. Wilfork is the anchor of the Patriots defense. They’re in a mini rebuilding mode on that side of the ball this offseason and losing Wilfork would have set them back even further.

7. Chiefs sign Thomas Jones
If the Chiefs were expected to be a contender in 2010 this move would have ranked even higher. Jones isn’t capable of carrying the load throughout the season, but he can still be effective in spurts. Jones and Jamaal Charles give the Chiefs an impressive duo at running back which should allow them to control the ball and help open things up in the passing game for Matt Cassel.

6. Broncos sign Jamal Williams, Justin Bannan, Jarvis Green
None of these three players alone would have made the list, but collectively they’ve reshaped the Broncos defense. Williams will likely start at nose tackle with Green starting at one of the defensive end spots. Bannan can play nose tackle or end and may rotate between the two.

5. Cardinals trade for Kerry Rhodes
Rhodes fell out of favor with Rex Ryan in New York, but he is still a top-flight safety in this league. He’s just 27 and has plenty of good years ahead of him. Antrel Rolle was a fine starting free safety, but Rhodes is an upgrade and he comes at a cheaper price tag. It was a great trade any way you look at it from the Cardinals point of view.

4. Lions sign Kyle Vanden Bosch; trade for Corey Williams
Last offseason Jim Schwartz pledged to make the Lions bigger and stronger on defense. That’s proven to be easier said than done as the previous regime believed “smaller and faster” was the way to go. They struggled through the 2009 season, but Vanden Bosch and Williams gives their line two proven defenders who will likely team up with Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy.

3. Bears sign Julius Peppers
Peppers was the biggest name to change teams but I can’t put him at number one because I don’t know that he’s a significant upgrade in Chicago. The Bears had other needs (mainly receiver) which they could have spent the money on, but they do deserve credit for landing the biggest name on the market.

2. Dolphins sign Karlos Dansby
Dansby has quietly been one of the most productive linebackers in the league during his time in Arizona, despite not being surrounded by much talent. In Miami he could develop into a star. He’s an ideal fit for their defensive scheme which is similar to Arizona’s. He’ll be a difference maker from day one for the Dolphins.

1. Ravens trade for Anquan Boldin
The Ravens have needed to make a move like this for years. Boldin is an elite possession receiver and will instantly become Joe Flacco’s favorite weapon. If he can stay healthy, a 100-catch season isn’t an unreachable goal for 2010. The acquisition of Boldin makes the Ravens the team to beat in the AFC North for 2010.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Bears, Broncos, Cardinals, Chiefs, Cowboys, Dolphins, Falcons, Free Agency, Giants, Lions, Patriots 16 Comments

Franchise Tags Start Today

Starting today teams can place franchise tags on players up until February 25. Any player receiving the franchise tag must be paid the average of the five highest-paid players at his position, or 120% of the player’s previous year’s salary (whichever is greater). Any player given the franchise tag may not negotiate with any other team.

As an alternative to the franchise tag, teams may use a transition tag. The transition tag carries the value of the average of the top 10 salaries at his position, but it allows the player to negotiate with other teams. If a transition player agrees to a contract with another team his original team has the right match he offer.

Given the incredibly small pool of unrestricted free agents due to the lack of a renewal of the collective bargaining agreement, there likely won’t be many franchise tags handed out. But here’s a few of our best guesses as to who may receive the tag:

2010franchisetagsJulius Peppers, Panthers – Peppers is already among the highest paid at his position, so the 120% increase applies in his situation. He would earn somewhere in the range $20 next season if the Panthers placed the franchise tag on him. A possible scenario would be for the Panthers to place the tag on Peppers and then trade him to a team where Peppers would then sign a long-term deal.

Vince Wilfork, Patriots - Wilfork won’t be happy if the Patriots place the franchise tag on him, but it may be coming anyway. Their defense took a significant step backwards this past season, and losing Wilfork would set them back even further. If they do place the tag on Wilfork, don’t be shocked if it sparks a lengthy holdout.

Karlos Dansby, Cardinals – The Cards have placed the franchise tag on Dansby for two straight years and would owe him roughly $12M should they place the tag on him again. Its a large figure, but the state of the Cardinals defense may necessitate the spending.

Casey Hampton, Steelers – Hampton is the unheralded anchor of the Steelers defense and they’re not about to let him get away. They’d love to negotiate a long-term deal, but they’ll hand him the franchise tag if necessary.

Aubrayo Franklin, 49ers – Franklin was one of the biggest breakout stars of the past two seasons, emerging as a dominant nose tackle in the 49ers 3-4 defense. He is a key reason for the success of inside linebackers Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes and the Niners cannot let him get away. He’s got a lot of money coming his way one way or another this offseason.

Ryan Pickett, Packers – Pickett had a very solid season at nose tackle in the Packers new 3-4 defense. The decision to franchise Pickett may hinge on whether or not they see 2009 1st-round pick B.J. Raji as a defensive end or nose tackle. If Raji can take over, it would make Pickett expendable.

Gary Brackett, Colts – While Dwight Freeney gets all the attention in Indy, Brackett is arguably the true leader of the Colts defense. President Bill Polian has stated that re-signing Brackett is a priority. That may mean placing the franchise tag on him, and then negotiating a long-term deal if Brackett feels inclined to do so.

Richard Seymour, Raiders – It would be difficult to imagine Seymour re-signing with the Raiders willingly, so if they want him back the franchise tag may be their only option. Seymour could also be a prime candidate to be tagged and then traded.

Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders - In all likelihood Janikowski will re-sign for a long-term deal. But if they can’t come to an agreement, Al Davis isn’t about to let one of the game’s best kickers just walk away.

Shayne Graham, Bengals – The Bengals placed the franchise tag on Graham a year ago and may decide to do so again.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 49ers, Cardinals, Colts, Packers, Panthers, Patriots, Raiders, Steelers Comments Off

Cardinals Could Target Jermaine Gresham

cardinalsIn his latest mock draft Cardinals beat writer Bob McManaman predicts Arizona will select Jermaine Gresham. His primary argument centers around the fact that “if Matt Leinart is going to have any immediate impact running this franchise, he is going to need a big target he can find quick.”

Its certainly a valid argument, and Arizona is one of the likely landing spots for Gresham in the 1st round. [I currently have him headed to Cincinnati with the 21st selection]. One of the other points that McManaman brings up is that all league’s top quarterbacks these days seem to be paired with an elite tight end – something the Cardinals are clearly lacking.

playoff_tightendsTaking McManaman’s point a step further, I looked at each of this year’s playoff teams and their use of the tight end. Interestingly enough, all but two playoff teams – the Bengals and Cardinals – had at least one tight end with 400+ receiving yards in 2009. The Bengals’ Daniel Coats and the Cardinals Ben Patrick were the two outliers who came in 45th and 46th in the league, respectively, in receiving yards by tight ends.

Now I wouldn’t look to this stat and immediately say the Cardinals must draft a tight end. For the past few year’s they’ve been fine without one because Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin were each capable of filling the roll of a big, possession receiver for Kurt Warner. However, with Boldin likely out the door, potentially to be replaced by Steve Breaston and/or Early Doucet, it could create a noticeable hole in the Cards passing game.

Ultimately I think Boldin’s status will be the determining factor as to whether or not Gresham is high on the Cardinals draft board. If Boldin is traded, it would be far easier to replace him with a tight end than by trying to find a receiver of his caliber in the draft. Traditionally tight ends make a much smoother transition to the NFL than receivers, thus making Gresham a smarter pick for a team that is looking to win now.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft, Cardinals Comments Off

Anquan Boldin Done in Arizona?

Get ready for the Anquan Boldin sweepstakes to begin as soon as the Cardinals bow out of the playoffs.

Boldin has missed time each of the past three seasons and the Cardinals offense hasn’t missed a beat without him. However, their lack of a need for Boldin has never been more apparent than on Sunday against the Packers.

Obviously Larry Fitzgerald is THE guy in Arizona. But Steve Breaston and Early Doucet are more than capable of filling the void should the Cards part ways with Boldin. Breaston (7 rec, 125 yds) and Doucet (6 rec, 77 yds) played key roles in the Cardinals picking apart a very solid Packers defense. Breaston would likely be the guy to step up as the primary replacement for Boldin, with Doucet taking over as the No. 3 guy. Both are capable of putting up big numbers in Arizona’s offense.

So where will Boldin end up? Here’s a few possibilities:

Bears – The Bears thought they solved their QB woes by acquiring Jay Cutler, but failed to address the receiving corps last offseason. There isn’t a receiver on the Bears roster worthy of be a starter in this league. Earl Bennett, Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, etc are No. 3 receivers at best. Boldin would give Cutler a legitimate No. 1 receiver to work with, much like Brandon Marshall who he worked well with in Denver.

Ravens - Joe Flacco has done an admirable job putting up impressive numbers in his 1st and 2nd year despite working with one of the league’s worst receiving corps. The Ravens have five receivers who are free agents this offseason, with only Justin Harper under contract for 2010. Expect some serious turnover in Baltimore this offseason.

Dolphins – The Dolphins are much like the Bears – they have a number of decent receivers but lack a true No. 1 or even a No. 2 receiver. This could be Boldin’s desired destination (he’s from Florida and went to Florida State) but Bill Parcells is unlikely to offer a 1st-round pick for a receiver, which will likely be the Cardinals asking price.

Bucs – The location factor could certainly play a role in Boldin’s desire to play for the Bucs. Additionally, Antonio Bryant (unrestricted) and Maurice Stovall (restricted) are both free agents this offseason.

Cowboys – OK, so they don’t need Boldin, but would it really shock you if Jerry Jones gave up his 1st-round pick for another receiver? Roy Williams has been a disappointment and even in Dallas, there has to be some doubt as to whether or not Miles Austin can match his 2009 season.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft, Cardinals Comments Off