Cardinals free agency: No splash yet, bracing for departures

Mar 14, 2016, 11:19 AM | Updated: 12:11 pm
(Photos by Craig Grialou/Arizona Sports)...
(Photos by Craig Grialou/Arizona Sports)
(Photos by Craig Grialou/Arizona Sports)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Carson Palmer pays attention to NFL free agency as much as you do.

In fact, maybe even more so.

“I’m very, very interested, obviously, and pay as much attention as I can on different apps on my phone and websites and all that,” he said Sunday before taking part in the Arians Family Foundation Celebrity Golf Classic at the Kierland Golf Club. “I’ve been very pleased and happy with where we are right now and where we’re headed.”

For the most part, the Cardinals have had a fairly quiet start to free agency. As of Monday the only player who was not with the team last year who will be next is safety Tyvon Branch. Arizona will be meeting with cornerback Leon Hall, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, but the bulk of the moves they have made up to this point have been geared toward keeping their own players.

Drew Butler, Drew Stanton, Ifeanyi Momah, Josh Mauro, Jermaine Gresham and Red Bryant have all re-signed with the team, while safety Tony Jefferson remains a restricted free agent.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, while discussing how Arizona missed out on free agent defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, explained that his team seems to find its most impactful free agents later in the process.

“Our best options have always came in May and June, and when a guy wants to come back — we’d like to get our football team back first, and then we’ll find the guys who improve us either through the draft or free agent,” he said. “But free agency, really for us, other than (Jared) Veldheer and (Mike) Iupati, the first week we’ve never been a splash team.”

That’s not to say the Cardinals did not want to at least make a ripple — they would not have pursued the players they did if they were not interested — but not being able to land one of the offseason’s big fish in the first week of free agency does not exactly spell doom for their chances. Remember, the Cardinals won 13 regular season games last season and reached the NFC Championship Game.

Do they want to improve? Absolutely. But do they need wholesale changes in order to do that? Not really.

The caveat to that statement though is the reality that the 2016 Cardinals will have a different look than the 2015 version that came within a game of the Super Bowl. Arizona has already lost its starting right tackle to the Chicago Bears, and it’s perhaps likely the team will be parting with even more players who played key roles last season.

“That’s the worst part,” Palmer said. “Aside from everything else, the hardest part is you have guys like Rashad Johnson and Jerraud Powers, and you can go on and on down the list, you just don’t know if you’re going to get those guys back.

“You’ve got to keep your fingers crossed and hope for the best for them.”

Johnson and Powers are not the team’s only free agents, but they are two of the most prominent. It has been reported that the former is set to visit with the Tennessee Titans Monday, while there has been little word on the latter’s status.

Still, until they re-sign with the Cardinals, there is a real possibility they will be playing somewhere else next season.

“That’s tough,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “We’ve created so much chemistry with each other. We’ve won so many games here, and we felt like we were almost there, as a group.

“It’s going to be tough losing some of those guys; hopefully we can get some of those guys back, but that’s just the business side of it.”

“It’s tough, but that’s the nature of the business,” added cornerback Patrick Peterson. “It was by far one of the closest secondaries I’ve been to in the five years I’ve been with the Arizona Cardinals so it will be tough to see those guys go, but that’s the nature of the business. If it happens, it happens.

“But we still have a close-knit relationship to where we’re still communicating with one another each and every day, almost every morning texting one another, seeing what each other is doing, what each other’s got going on that day, what we’re doing with our kids. It’s definitely beyond football, but it will definitely be sad to see those guys go if it happens.”

It’s an interesting dynamic in the NFL, as every player wants their teammate to make as much money as they can and be happy while also lamenting the fact that the goal could be accomplished with a different team. With that, the hard truth is that if a team really wants to keep a player around, it will do just that.

That the Cardinals are letting Johnson, a 30-year-old safety who tied for the team lead with five interceptions last season, and Powers, a 28-year-old who has intercepted five passes over the last two years and can play both cornerback and nickelback, test the market means they are at least a little comfortable with the idea of moving on without them.

Some would view the signing of Branch and the visit with Hall as a signal Arizona is ready to do just that. That may very well be the case, or it could be a simple matter of the Cardinals looking to add depth while protecting themselves in case more defections occur.

So, which is it? Do Powers and Johnson still have a future in Arizona?

“That’s totally up to their agents,” Arians said. “The business side of this, you’re never going to have the same football team back. The price has to be right for all of us.”

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