Training camp is officially underway, and perhaps for the first time in NFL history, a team’s front office worked harder on day one of training camp than the guys on the field.
Arizona Cardinals GM Steve Keim must have worked up a lather Thursday. In one day, he cut O’Brien Schofield, placed rookie Ryan Swope on the reserved-retired list, and signed two big name free agents.
John Abraham is the NFL’s active sack leader, and posted a double-digit sack season as recently as last year. Ultimately, Abraham became the headliner. But in part two of my “Cardinals: New Faces” series, I put Thursday’s other signee, Eric Winston, on the scales.
|Durability – Dude can play. Just one year ago, SI called Winston “a dominant lineman,” SB Nation named him the third biggest draft steal in Houston Texans history, and the Kansas City Chiefs signed him to a lucrative four-year, $22 million deal. But, following a 2-14 season, the Chiefs held the top pick in an NFL draft that didn’t feature a clear-cut top pick. K.C. ended up placing T Eric Fisher atop their board, and this after having franchise tagged T Branden Albert. Winston didn’t have a terrible season in 2012, he just ended up being the third-best tackle in the organization. A midseason rift with Chiefs fans surely didn’t help his cause in K.C., but by all accounts the primary reason Eric Winston was released was that he made too much money to be a backup tackle or makeshift guard.||Something’s fishy – Why did it take until training camp for Winston to sign? A legit 29-year-old starting right tackle who was rated the 26th-best tackle in the NFL for 2013 by Pro Football Focus went an entire offseason without a deal? Was his agent asking for too much money? Or did teams know something about Winston we don’t? Dallas, New England, Houston, San Diego, Philadelphia — they were all reportedly interested in Winston and passed. At one point this offseason, the Dolphins seemed all but a lock to sign the former Miami Hurricane. They didn’t. Why? Were the Cardinals given a gift horse? Or were they the only team that didn’t look it in the mouth?|
|Iron Man – He has a long way to go before he’ll catch Brett Favre, but you can’t get more durable than Eric Winston. He has started every one of his team’s games for six consecutive seasons. And last year, Winston played every offensive snap. Dude’s like a jar of peanut butter, he might not be your first choice for a meal but there’s always some in the pantry.||Road blocking Massie – Cardinal fans believed the team had stolen Bobby Massie with a fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft. Seven games into his NFL career, the same folks wanted to ship him back to Oxford. Massie allowed 12 sacks through seven games and was allowing pressure on 15 percent of his snaps. He was rated at one point last season as the worst offensive lineman in the NFL. But something clicked. Massie turned his game completely around. He allowed just one sack the rest of the season, and pressure only four percent of the time. Cardinal fans aren’t watching practice every day, but I believe they’ll cringe if Winston and Levi Brown both start and Massie is benched, thus stunting the second-year tackle’s notable progress.|
|Zone-blocking – New head coach Bruce Arians and his staff will be implementing a brand new offense for the 2013 Arizona Cardinals. Part of that big transition was to bring in a bigger, stronger-armed, veteran quarterback. Another major change was to establish an every-down power running back. And a third element called for zone-blocking from the offensive line. Well, here’s part of the scouting report on Eric Winston. “He’s best at zone-blocking in the running game, but not a liability in pass protection.”||Big Mouth? – Do you know what people hate more than lies? Hard truths. Eric Winston was the player who famously gave a locker room speech to the fans of Kansas City, chastising the base for having the indecency to cheer Matt Cassel when the quarterback suffered an in-game injury. “I have never been more embarrassed in my life to play football than in that moment right there,” Winston ranted. I happen to agree with him, but did Winston think that fans who cheer for players to get broken necks were going to take well to a multimillionaire on a 2-14 team lecturing them on how to be a fan? Winston became hated in Kansas City from that point forward. No big deal, unless Winston has a history of outspokenness that we’re not aware of. After all, despite being a good player, he’s been released by different teams two years in a row.|
|What? Like this line couldn’t be improved? – I’m not sure what message the Winston signing sends. Has Levi Brown already fallen out of favor with the new coaching staff, as a recent report suggested? Is Bobby Massie heading back to the bench? Does the staff feel Winston can play multiple positions? We might not know the specific plan for Winston for a while, but the o-line can’t get worse than last in the league in sacks allowed. Winston personally allowed six QB sacks in 2012. What I’m about to demonstrate is hardly scientific, but if every Cardinal starter was to allow six sacks this season, the team will have given up 30 sacks. Last season? The Cards surrendered 58.||Terrible dancer? – If I tried adding a fourth con, I’d be reaching. For the Cards, Eric Winston looks a high-reward, no risk pick. Oh, I’m sure he has other faults. Halitosis? Corns on his feet? Grinds his teeth when he sleeps? Favorite movie is Must Love Dogs? I have no idea where Winston’s fourth weakness lies. So, I’m just going to assume the man can’t dance, and we’ll leave it at that.|
Don’t expect newcomer Eric Winston to be a game-changer, but for a team with cap space to add a 29-year-old, six-year NFL starter to a one-year deal on the opening day of training camp has nothing but upside written all over it. Quietly, this might have been the Cardinals’ best signing of the offseason.