Updated Mar 7, 2014 - 8:43 am
The next two important dates on the NFL calendar are Saturday and Tuesday. On midnight, March 8, teams are allowed to contact the agents of all restricted and unrestricted free agents. Although contracts can not be signed, any level of discussion between recruitment to a complete verbal agreement can occur.
In the regular season, the Cardinals main enemies are the other three combatants in the NFC West. From Saturday until the end of the draft, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim's most bitter rival is anyone in the front office of the Miami Dolphins.
The dysfunction of the Miami Dolphins' locker room will have a dramatic affect on the Arizona Cardinals offseason. The Dolphins enter the 2014 league year losing three starting offensive lineman due to the bullying scandal. Miami desperately needs a left tackle and the Arizona Cardinals desperately needs a left tackle. Ironically, Arizona is drafting at 20. Take a guess who is drafting at 19: the Miami Dolphins. Any free agent or draft pick being targeted by the Arizona Cardinals, is also on the radar of the Dolphins.
In free agency, Miami has three major advantages: 1) no state income tax, 2) a richer owner and 3) Miami is cooler than Phoenix. Arizona, however, has the on-field competitive advantages of a team president that's more committed to winning, a better GM and head coach and a better overall roster.
Luckily for the Cardinals, there are two major free agents at left tackle for both the Cardinals and Dolphins to choose. Branden Albert is the more talented but has had his desire questioned in the past because he lacks a mean streak. Eugene Monroe is not as talented but gets everything out of his talent. Most scouts and talent evaluators rate Monroe higher than Albert (for the record so you can rip me later if I'm wrong, I like Albert better).
It's easy to make silly demands and say, "Go get Greg Robinson (the offensive tackle from Auburn)." A realistic look at the next two months, however, is overwhelmingly exciting because it's actually very doable.
The Cardinals should target five players and hit 40 percent while using free agency and the draft to build depth at as many positions as possible, I think the Cardinals go to the 2014 playoffs. The Cardinals must walk out of the 2014 free agency period with Branden Albert or Eugene Monroe. Don't focus on one or the other. Go after both of them with the same vim and vigor. One of them is going to Miami so don't let another team swoop in and steal one. Finishing in first or second for their services is okay, but you can't be third.
After filling the left tackle need with one of the two big left tackle free agents, there is still a lot to do in free agency but nothing dramatic. Other than re-signing some of your own free agents, going over two years on a contract with other free agents is not worth the risk. Use free agency for depth and not to fix anything.
In the May draft, there's a reasonable chance one of these three players should be available at number 20. My third choice for the 20th pick would be Louis Nix III. This is not an anti-Dan Williams blog but he would be devastating as a back-up. Nix is an amazing athlete for his size. ASU fans remember him well by his destruction of the attempted reverse in Dallas.
Going twice to South Bend, my second choice would be Zack Martin (although I like his brother even better who's not eligible for this year's draft). Even though he has the potential to be a franchise left tackle, if the Cardinals sign Albert or Monroe, Martin can learn the NFL game at right tackle and move into the left tackle spot at the end of either's contract.
My number one hope for the Cardinals is Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard. He was the best player on the best college defense. He stood out during the season and then dazzled at the combine. Imagine the blitzes if Dennard and Peterson shutting down the first two receiving options of an offense.
Make no mistake, the Cardinals are already a good team. When you win 10 games with a rookie GM, rookie head coach and a new quarterback, you're only going to go up. Now take last year's team with another year of experience under the Arians offense and Bowles defense, but add a dramatic improvement at left tackle and the second cornerback.
Cardinals fans: If Albert or Monroe, along with Dennard are playing for Arizona in September, don't make January plans. You've got playoffs to watch.
Doug Franz, Co-host of Doug & Wolf