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Arizona Cardinals usher in a new age of free agency

The Arizona Cardinals are not exactly new to high-profile free agent signings.

In 2000, they landed pried center Mike Gruttadauria away from the Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams.

In 2002, they landed cornerback Duane Starks from the Ravens and tight end Freddie Jones from the Chargers.

In 2003, the team signed Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson from the Buccaneers, veteran QB Jeff Blake from the Saints and future Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith from the Cowboys, and in the coming years they added Bertrand Berry from the Broncos, Kurt Warner from the Giants and Edgerrin James from the Colts.

Even more recently, Adam Snyder got a big contract to come over from the 49ers and Daryn Colledge was paid well to leave the Packers.

All arrived with fanfare; few lived up to their contracts.

The truth is most of them never really had a chance. Almost from the moment the deals were struck, people knew the team had overpaid for the players’ services or signed people whose best days were behind them.

Even the deals that ultimately did work out, such as those for Bertrand Berry and Kurt Warner, were justifiably questioned at the time.

In those days, the Cardinals’ only hope to land free agents was to overspend. The organization had no tradition of success, a coaching staff that was respected but had never proven itself, an ownership situation that had many rolling their eyes and a stadium that belonged to a college team.

If it wasn’t apparent before, it is certainly obvious now: Arizona is a desirable free agent destination and the Cardinals are a team players want to be a part of.

“When I got to free agency the Cardinals and Steve Keim were very aggressive right off the bat,” Jared Veldheer said upon signing with the team. “I looked at a team that is right there on the cusp, a town with great fans — I’ve played in the stadium before, it’s a tough place to play and I know the kind of fans that are the game and the support that they give the Cardinals — and just seeing everything that’s here, seeing what Coach Arians has done and what a great direction the team’s heading in.

“There was nothing that really had to sell me more than looking at all that.”

No doubt the five-year, $35 million contract helped, but he could have got that money from a lot of teams. He chose Arizona.

“I’ve been watching this organization or a while, I’ve played against them a couple times,” Ted Ginn said while being introduced to the Arizona media. “I wanted to go somewhere where I could help the team, and coming to the Cardinals was a big deal.”

It was a big deal in that the Cardinals added a player who will improve their offense, but not so much in financial terms. At $9.75 million for three years, Ginn could turn out to be a great bargain.

“Coach Arians and Steve, they’ve just been aggressive,” Antonio Cromartie said when asked what led him to the Cardinals. “I think those guys did a great job of just coming in and trying to recruit, making me feel comfortable and at home. On my visit, it was like I’d been here for two or three years already.”

Cromartie is signed for just one year and $3.25 million, which is pennies for a player coming off a pair of Pro Bowl seasons.

Now, you’ll rarely find a player come out and admit they signed with a team purely for the money, though it’s often easy to tell when that is the case. Just look at the Cardinals in the late 90s-early 2000s for examples.

But that hardly seems to be the case these days. In fact, when was the last time the Cardinals made a truly bad signing, one that made no sense from the very moment it was official? Has there been one under the Keim/Arians regime? While not all moves have worked out or will work out, everything the organization has done has made sense at the time. They appear to not only have a plan, but a willingness to stick with it.

And the plan isn’t just to sign the biggest name possible — whatever the cost — in an effort to sell tickets.

Whatever the reason, be it the stadium, a transition of ownership, the coaching staff or the fact that Keim may be a wizard of sorts, surely anyone who has followed the Cardinals since they moved to Arizona has to be enjoying what they’re seeing.

Because while free agent signings don’t necessarily equate to wins, the types of moves the Cardinals are making are the types of moves good teams make.

The best teams don’t overpay for talent, be it their own or someone else’s. The name doesn’t matter nearly as much as the player’s ability and fit in their system.

That’s how it should be done.

Once upon a time the Cardinals did things the wrong way, but those days appear to be a thing of the past.

And good riddance to them.