Big Red Post-Lockout Plan

Jun 30, 2011, 1:24 AM | Updated: 4:19 pm

The lockout is on its last legs. Training camps are set to open at the end of July and things appear to be going well between owners and players. All signs point to a deal getting done before July 15 and I don’t think all the lawyers in the league could derail a settlement from happening now.

Soon the lockout will be lifted and teams will be allowed to make trades and sign free-agents. The NFL will be open for business.

The Arizona Cardinals have been at the epicenter of lockout news. Most of the noise surrounding the Cards has come in the form of being players in the Kevin Kolb sweepstakes. But even if they acquire Kolb the Cardinals have much more work to do if they hope to return to the winning ways of 2008 and 2009.

In a recent column on espn.com, John Clayton said that the Arizona Cardinals are in a great position to make trades and sign free-agents when the lockout ends. Here’s what he wrote:

The Cardinals are in great position to be players in free agency and the trade market. They have $37.38 million of cap room along with a current payroll of $85.76 million. They have the fourth most cap room of any team in football, giving them plenty of incentive to trade for quarterback Kevin Kolb and give him a huge long-term contract.

This made me think of the possibilities out there for Big Red. Although my plan of action for Arizona may seem to have a “Lets trade for Dwight Howard” feel to it, the facts say my plan is not far-fetched.

Here’s what I would like to see the Cardinals do once the lockout has been lifted.

1. Trade for Kevin Kolb and sign him to Matt Schaub money: There have been many rumors regarding the Cardinals, Kolb and what it might take for Philadelphia to part with their coveted back-up quarterback. The rumored deals have fluctuated from Kolb for a 1st round pick, Kolb for a 1st and a 3rd, Kolb for a 1st and a player, to the latest rumor: Kevin Kolb for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Since this deal seems to make the most sense and this article is loaded with blatant speculation, I will proceed under this assumed scenario.

Philadelphia believes 2011 is the year they get to the Super Bowl. The Eagles have an explosive offense but an average defense. They need help in the secondary, especially at cornerback. Rodgers-Cromartie would give them a potential shutdown corner to play opposite Asante Samuel. DRC is young, talented, and has a huge upside but his inconsistent play makes him risky.

The Arizona Cardinals believe much of their problems in 2010 revolved around their quarterback situation. Acquiring a talented quarterback in a relatively weak division could put them back on top and into the post-season once again. Kolb would give them a potential franchise quarterback to build their team around for years to come. Kolb is young, talented, and has a huge upside but his lack of playing time makes him risky.

DRC for Kevin Kolb seems like a natural fit for two desperate teams.

After acquiring Kolb I would like to see the Cards pay him Matt Schaub money: 6-years, $48-million, with $9-million guaranteed.

2. Extend Larry Fitzgerald: With Kolb in the fold, the Cardinals could turn their attention on Larry and sign him to another extension. The Fighting Fitz has one more year on his contract (a contract in which he cannot be franchised) and has been waiting for the Cards to show their hand in terms of who the quarterback of the future will be in Arizona before signing an extension. Reports say he likes Kevin Kolb and would view his acquisition in a favorable way.

3. Sign CB, Ike Taylor, as a free-agent: Losing DRC would be a significant blow to the Cardinals secondary but his inconsistent play was problematic and would not seem to be a positive influence on Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals first-round pick in April’s NFL Draft.

Pittsburgh’s Ike Taylor is anything but inconsistent. He is Mr. Consistency, if not flashy.

Taylor is 31 and looking to cash in during the free-agent period. He is the consummate professional, is in great shape, durable (he has missed 3-games in 9-years), can run with anybody, competes with everybody and knows the defense Ray Horton will run here in Arizona. He fits like a glove and would be an excellent mentor to Patrick Peterson.

Detractors cite his age and that he played for the Steelers. Yet, these are the very reasons why I like him. Champ Bailey is 33; Charles Woodson is 34; heck, Nnamdi Asomugha (the most coveted free-agent this year) is 30. His age makes him wise in NFL ways and that wisdom can be passed along to others interested in winning Super Bowl rings.

That he played for the Steelers – and played extremely well – is proof of how he might fit into Ray Horton’s Steelers-West defense. He is much more talented than Bryant McFadden; he is not at the end of his career like Alan Faneca or Joey Porter; and he most likely won’t break the bank like some of the other high-profile corners in this free-agent class.

As it appears now, there will be no OTA’s or mini-camps held before training camp opens. For NFL teams this puts a premium on resigning your own free-agents or acquiring players familiar with your system. Ike Taylor would be a great get for the Cards.

4. Re-sign Steve Breaston, Lyle Sendlein and Brandon Keith: If the speculation on what the rules of free-agency will entail, the Cardinals will only have 15-free-agents. This puts them right in the middle of the league in number of free-agents. New Orleans leads the league with 27-free-agents and Denver has the fewest with 7.

Teams will be more likely to sign their own free-agents because of the time limitations of a free-agent period impacted by the lockout. In addition, unless they’re getting ready to cash-in, players will be more likely to stay with their former employers than pick up their family and move across country. They’ll most likely know the system they are going to play, know the coaches they will play for, know the players they will play with, know the house they will live in and know the schools their children will attend.

Breaston, Sendlein and Keith know the offense the Cards will employ, are still young and although they each have their flaws, should be the most attractive free-agents the Cards possess. These contracts – like others around the league – would most likely be 1 or 2-year contracts.

The Cardinals have 5 OL that will not be under contract in 2011. Resigning Sendlein and Keith will is a step in the right direction in regard to alleviating this problem but there is more work to be done.

5. Sign two free-agent OL: This is a bit of a gamble because of the limited time Russ Grimm would have to get these players ready to start the season. OL is very difficult to play and the learning curve is steep in terms of understanding blocking schemes and terminology.

The Cards don’t necessarily need, nor would they have the money, to sign two Pro Bowl caliber lineman. What the Cardinals need is two solid, proven, middle-aged, productive starters to come in and play alongside Sendlien, Keith, and either Rex Hadnot, Jeremy Bridges or Duece Lutui.

Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo are probably going to be too costly and Atlanta won’t let them go without a fight but they are relatively young (30), have experience at guard and tackle, and smart enough to pick up terminology and blocking schemes quickly.

6. Re-sign Deuce Lutui, Tim Hightower and Early Doucet: Deuce knows the system and although he might still be in the doghouse he is a capable starter. He needs to get his weight down and, oddly enough, this is the very reason why I believe he won’t be signed by another team and might come at a bargain price for Arizona.

Even though the Cards picked RB Ryan Williams in the second-round, there is room in the backfield for Beanie Wells, Williams and Hightower. Along with LaRod Stephens-Howling, the Cards could conceivably keep 4-running backs on the roster and 1-fullback.

Despite his fumbling problems, Hightower has proven he can play in this league, run the ball well between the tackles, and hold up in pass-protection.

Early Doucet cannot stay healthy but he knows the offense new OC Mike Miller will run and Kolb will need players to throw to. Doucet is the classic example of a guy that has flaws and would normally be passed on by his former employer but, because of the lockout and the mayhem it has caused, will be a valued commodity by said employer.

7. Sign a smart, heady, savvy free-agent Mike-backer: Darryl Washington and Paris Lenon are not physically suited to play the Mike position. Both are better suited to play the weak inside linebacker position.

Gerald Hayes will most likely be sent away and this will create a void the Cards need to fill. Barrett Ruud of Tampa Bay would seem to fit the bill.

Ruud has started the last four-years for the Bucs. Although he is not the most physical Mike in the league, he has recorded over 500-tackles and missed one-game in those four-years of starting.

Tampa Bay will not let him go without a fight and the Cards would have to pay for his services and entice him to move across country but he is the “type” of Mike Ray Horton would value and a proven commodity within the league.

8. If the price is right, re-sign Alan Branch, Kenny Iwebema, Michael Adams & Steven Spach:

These players all have considerable flaws in their game but represent the type of quality player that could fill out the back end of a roster.

Branch finally seemed to be in shape and played like a madman in the last year of his contract. His work-ethic, lack of exposure to other systems and that it was the last year of his contract will scare most teams away.

Iwebema has had injury problems, Adams has height issues and Spach is a blocking TE. All of these guys have value but probably won’t be coveted by other teams. This makes them likely candidates to resign with the Cards.

9. Sign additional free-agent journeymen: The Cards need depth across the line-of-scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

Ben Graham will be a free-agent. But he is 36 and didn’t have a very good season last year. Even if the Cards resign him they most likely will bring in another punter to challenge him in training camp.

10. Sign their draft picks! All reports say there will be a rookie-wage-scale in the new CBA. The owners and players are on the same page: the system was broke.

Rookies will have to earn their money and teams will no longer mortgage their future when drafting a QB in the first-round. This is great news if you’re a fan. You will no longer have to mortgage your emotional future into an unproven commodity and will be allowed to turn on young players quicker than normal!

Patrick Peterson will be a game changer for the Cardinals.
Ryan Williams might actually put a bur-under-the-saddle of Beanie Wells.
Rob Housler might stretch the middle of the field in a way we haven’t seen here since Jay Novacek.
And Sam Acho has the work-ethic, desire and commitment to develop into a solid pass-rusher,

I hate speculation, don’t you?

Penguin Air

Ron Wolfley

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