We’ve spent much of the past two weeks looking at the top free agents available this offseason; first with our Top 50 Free Agents, and then with our positional rankings (linked below). Now we’re set to move on and inspect the positional needs for each team, looking at where each has to improve and offering some sensible suggestions as to who could fill the voids.
Up first, we’re turning our attention to the NFC West, beginning with the Arizona Cardinals.
After a season that was supposed to see them re-establish themselves as the dominant force in the division, the Cardinals find themselves staring at the same old problems. So how can they go about fixing them in hopes of challenging the surging San Francisco 49ers? We look at the three areas requiring the biggest improvement.
Primary Need: Outside Linebacker
When Arizona brought in Joey Porter (-10.7 in 2011) they figured their pass-rushing woes had been answered. They hadn’t, and a closer examination of Porter’s last year in Miami (a -7.6 grade in 2009) should have shown them a player who was on the wane. He’s been nothing but a disappointment since, and the guys coming through still have a lot to do in terms of proving themselves ready. Sam Acho (-6.2) and O’Brien Schofield (-3.7) flashed some talent as pass rushers, but their sack numbers don’t reflect a consistent ability to generate pressure.
A true No. 1 threat off the edge is the one thing the Cardinals’ defense is missing, and would allow players like Acho and Schofield to flourish in complementary roles. Unfortunately, this isn’t the year to pick up a proven 3-4 OLB in free agency so the Cardinals may be left looking to the draft. If not, taking a chance on Cliff Avril being as productive with his hand off the ground as with his hand on it, is the way to go.
Secondary Need: Right Tackle
Eight games ago this would have just been “offensive tackle”, but after a fine second half of the year, there’s reason to believe that Levi Brown has finally ‘got it’. Enough reason to warrant a second chance of sorts, presuming he’s prepared to restructure his deal. You can’t say the same thing over on the right side where the combination of Brandon Keith (-8.1) and Jeremy Bridges (-7.7) gave up 12 sacks, five hits, and 40 hurries between them. Keith is an interesting one because he has played well at times, but constant injuries means you don’t really want to rely on him.
Unfortunately for Arizona, much like their problems with finding some threat off the edge, this isn’t a year where free agency is likely to fix up your right tackle spot. A draft with a number of intriguing tackle prospects could be the solution, but if the Cardinals opt to go a different route, they could look at re-signing Keith and providing some competition. One low-risk, high-reward player could be Anthony Collins of the Bengals. The 112th pick of the 2008 draft has been buried on Cincinnati’s depth chart, but has always responded well when call into action. Over the past two years he’s stayed into pass protect on 250 occasions and given up just four hurries.
Tertiary Need: Wide Receiver
Since losing Anquan Boldin, the Cardinals have struggled to find a complement for the ever-excellent Larry Fitzgerald (+23.2). In 2010, Steve Breaston had a hard time coping with increased expectations, while last year both Andre Roberts (-11.4) and Early Doucet (-8.4) failed to look the part. The two combined to drop 14 passes, while Fitzgerald (who caught 80 balls to the less-than-dynamic duo’s 105) put just three on the ground. That summed up their problems, with their failings allowing defenses to concentrate even more efforts on stopping Fitzgerald.
So imagine how much more dangerous Fitz would be if the Cardinals could find someone to lessen the burden (and focus) on him. While you can rule out some of the top names for simply costing too much, an interesting name could be a player like Jerricho Cotchery. Outside of his horrible 2010 (where he played hurt), Cotchery has provided a safety net to his quarterbacks with good hands and an ability to make things happen after the catch. He’s not getting any younger, but he’d be a more proven talent than anything the Cards currently have supporting their franchise player.