The 5: Potential late free agent pickups for Arizona Cardinals
Cardinals GM Steve Keim left the door open — nay, he pretty much took it off its hinges — when he said he and team president Michael Bidwill have discussed “about six-to-eight players who are guys that are still out on the street, who could come in and potentially help us at a number of different positions.”
The idea that the Cardinals could still tinker with their roster is certainly not a novel one, as Keim has a track record of finding talented players late in the offseason. In 2013 he added pass rusher John Abraham and offensive lineman Eric Winston, in 2014 defensive lineman Tommy Kelly was brought on board, and in 2015 running back Chris Johnson and tight end Jermaine Gresham were added to the mix.
There was no such signing in 2016, and perhaps it’s no coincidence then that the Cardinals had their first losing season since Keim and head coach Bruce Arians took over in 2013.
OK, that is most likely a coincidence, because going into last season it did not appear the team needed much in order to make another deep postseason run.
That is not necessarily the case this season, however, as though the Cardinals are pleased with the offseason they put together, it would not hurt to add a little more to a roster that finished 7-8-1 last season and lost some key players in free agency.
So, with training camp a little more than one month away, what veterans who are still out there might be on the Cardinals’ radar?
Let’s take a look:
Chris Johnson, RB, 31 years old
This would seem to be the obvious pick for a variety of reasons. Though the Cardinals have expressed confidence in their stable of running backs behind starter David Johnson, there is little in the way of proven commodities. With 9,537 career rushing yards along with 55 touchdowns on the ground on his resume, Chris Johnson is exactly that.
The Cardinals has had nothing but good things to say about the veteran of 10 NFL seasons from the two he spent in Arizona. Johnson himself said he has remained in close contact with Arizona, lending credence to the thought that a reunion could very well be in the works.
Perry Riley, LB, 29 years old
The Cardinals lost starting linebacker Kevin Minter in free agency and replaced him with veteran Karlos Dansby, which is fine. They then drafted Haason Reddick with their first-round pick, with the goal of converting him to an inside linebacker. That makes sense.
However, fellow linebacker Deone Bucannon undergoing ankle surgery changed the dynamic of what the Cardinals have put together. With him sidelined and likely to begin training camp on the PUP list, the Cardinals suddenly seem thin at a rather important position, with the unproven and learning Reddick and second-year pro Scooby Wright seeing most of the action next to Dansby.
Riley, who spent last season with the Oakland Raiders after playing his first six with the Washington Redskins, would offer experience as well as production. He tallied 48 tackles, one pass defensed and two forced fumbles last season, but it was not long ago — in 2013, to be exact — when he collected 115 tackles.
Nick Mangold, OL, 33 years old
For a long time, Mangold was one of the NFL’s better offensive linemen. A seven-time Pro Bowler and two-time First-team All-Pro, he was a mainstay on the New York Jets’ offensive line from 2006 until 2016, when his season was cut short due to ankle troubles. The Jets released him in February, and since then he has struggled to find a home.
If Mangold is willing to settle for a backup role, Arizona would be a nice fit because the Cardinals’ starter, A.Q. Shipley, is recovering from offseason surgery, and his backup right now is second-year pro Cole Toner. A natural guard, Toner is learning to play center in part because Evan Boehm, a fourth-round pick in 2016 as a center, is currently Arizona’s starting right guard.
Alterraun Verner or Brandon Flowers, CB, 28 and 31 years old
In a perfect world, Justin Bethel (or Brandon Williams or Elie Bouka or Jumal Rolle or Sojourn Shelton) would grab hold of the team’s No. 2 cornerback job and never give it back. But of course, the world is not perfect, and none of the team’s cornerbacks after Patrick Peterson have proven they can play the position at the NFL level. That’s where Verner, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneer and Tennessee Titan, and Flowers, who has played for the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, could come in.
Both have track records of success (Verner and Flowers were both Pro Bowlers in 2013), but they are each coming off down seasons. Should the Cardinals decide their current cornerback depth could use an upgrade, options appear to be available.
Gary Barnidge, TE, 31 years old
Barnidge broke onto the scene in 2015 with 79 receptions for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns for the Cleveland Browns. His production dropped in 2016, with just 55 catches, 612 yards and two touchdowns, but that could be attributed to the disaster that was the team’s quarterback position.
More of a receiving tight end than a blocker, the 6-foot-6 tight end offers great size for the position and is therefore a lethal red zone target. The Cardinals seem comfortable with starter Jermaine Gresham (whom they signed to a new contract in the offseason), but after him have less proven options in Troy Niklas, Ifeanyi Momah and Hakeem Valles.
For the right price and in the right role, Barnidge could give QB Carson Palmer and Arizona’s passing game another target defenses have to worry about.
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