Arizona Cardinals aggressively adding before free agency, draft
You thought Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was kidding when he expressed excitement over having — not the No. 1 overall draft pick — the top waiver-wire claim spot.
The NFL Draft and free agency are months away, but Arizona has already been plugging holes with hopes of turning around a franchise fresh off a 3-13 season.
“Generally when I’ve looked back to previous seasons, the team who has had the number one claim pick has generally claimed … I think it was five to seven players in final cuts who have stuck with their team and certainly helped out in one way or another,” Keim told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.
“Excited about that opportunity as well to continue to improve not only different positions but the backend of our roster.”
That, Keim has done. The challenge, especially when it comes to the most talented players waived, is believing their red flags can be mitigated if not outright fixed.
Dating back to the end of last season, the Cardinals have picked up a number of players from the waiver wire and off the street to begin the roster refurbishing before first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury and Keim hit the draft and free agency markets.
Here is who they’ve picked up since the last few weeks of 2018 so far.
Safety D.J. Swearinger (Dec. 25, 2018)
Arguably the most impactful player on this list, Swearinger had enough juice in 2018 to earn some Pro Bowl hype with Washington. So one might wonder why he landed on the waiver wire at all.
The safety was critical of his defensive coordinator’s play-calling following a loss to the Tennessee Titans, and his heated postgame comments to reporters didn’t sit well with his team. Washington released him, and Arizona pulled the trigger on bringing back a familiar face who played for the Cardinals in part of 2015 and all of 2016.
A hard-hitting safety, Swearinger recorded 53 tackles, three forced fumbles, four interceptions and 10 passes defensed a year ago. Along with the smaller Antoine Bethea and Budda Baker, Swearinger could slot in Arizona’s defensive backfield with Tre Boston entering free agency.
Swearinger didn’t appear in Cardinal red with so little time to learn Arizona’s system under since-fired coach Steve Wilks but is under contract through 2019.
Cornerback Robert Alford (Feb. 7)
At a very late point in the 2018 season, Alford had allowed more yards (737) than any other cornerback in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. He lost his job to rookie Isaiah Oliver and was released by Atlanta to clear nearly $8 million in cap space.
The 2013 second-round pick had his moments in six years with the Falcons, a pick-six of Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI among them.
Arizona signed him to a three-year deal that could reach up to $24 million, and Keim said Alford is one of the more talented cornerbacks opposite Patrick Peterson the Cardinals have had in some time. Keim also divulged on Doug & Wolf during Newsmakers Week that Alford’s production dropped off after a Sept. 30 game against the Cincinnati Bengals that included a high-ankle sprain — doctors told him not to play on the injury.
Alford has 10 career interceptions over 88 games and is expected to play with physicality as Arizona goes to more press coverage under defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
Tight end Charles Clay (Feb. 20)
Waived due to his large cap hit on the Buffalo Bills, the Cardinals picked up a starting-caliber pass-catcher who could complement or even replace veteran tight end Jermaine Gresham.
Clay’s production took a hit last year. He appeared in 13 games but caught just 21 passes for 184 yards without no scores. In his first seven seasons, he never recorded fewer than 212 yards and two touchdowns and from 2013-17 posted at least 528 receiving yards per year.
At tight end, Arizona could lose Ricky Seals-Jones, their top pass-catching TE. They could also consider releasing Gresham, who this past year was limited coming off an Achilles injury suffered in 2017.
Gresham is owed $8.2 million next season and $8.8 million in 2020.
Outside linebacker Brooks Reed (Feb. 9)
The Tucson native and former Arizona Wildcat returns to his home state after spending 2011-14 with the Houston Texans and 2015-18 with the Falcons.
Signed to a one-year deal, Reed should slot in nicely as an outside linebacker who is familiar with Joseph, who was the Texans’ defensive backs coach from 2011-13.
Reed recorded 24 tackles with 1.0 sack and a forced fumble last season. He is likely a third outside linebacker behind Chandler Jones.
The Cardinals face losing pass-rusher Markus Golden in free agency after his relatively quiet season coming off ACL surgery. They could fill the void in the draft, where Ohio State’s Nick Bosa and Kentucky’s Josh Allen are viewed as top-five prospects.
Linebacker Tanner Vallejo (Feb. 5)
The sixth-round pick by the Buffalo Bills in 2017 has 28 games of NFL experience, mostly as a special teams player. He did, however, record 20 tackles as a linebacker for the Cleveland Browns last season. He added seven special teams tackles with two forced fumbles.
An undersized inside linebacker, Vallejo could provide depth behind returning linebacker Josh Bynes.
The Cardinals have more holes to fill if they don’t opt to re-sign linebacker Deone Bucannon as well.
WR Pharoh Cooper (Dec. 19, 2018)
The 2016 fourth-round pick was a Pro Bowler for his return abilities in 2017 and is a depth option as a receiver. He has 25 receptions for 190 yards over 33 games with the Los Angeles Rams, who cut him late in the 2018 season after he missed a good deal of the year with injury.