Free Agency & Mock Drafts: Pre-Combine Analysis

RugbyMuffin

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The NFL is 3 days away from NFL combine, and about 3 weeks from the start of free agency. The Cardinals have their new coaching staff in place, and I would assume have been spending a majority of their time looking at the players they already have under contract.

Since the end of the year, I have, to steal a line from the local sports radio station, a handy-dandy notebook. The first page is 53 spots that need to be filled, and it strange, that after about 10 years, I cannot fill it out, heck, I cannot fill half or a quarter of it out.

What Steve Wilks is going to run on defense, I have yet to figure out. The coaching staff, who unlike the past regime, is cloaked in coach speak, thus I am not sure what the heck Wilks and company are going to do to shape this roster to what Wilks wants to do. I am not falling for the “there is no real base defense” rhetoric. Just not buying that a man who is now a head coach, doesn’t have his own systems, and philosophies.

So, what is this post about? Just a primer, or to use office-speak, a proposal, a preliminary layout. Below are some ideas, some thoughts, some lists, some mock drafts*, that are all guesses, and 95% of what I list below is basically connecting dots.

You can read the spoiler on my take on mock drafts below.

I attached my mock pre-combine mock drafts to this post, see link:

http://www.arizonasportsfans.com/forum/threads/fanspeak-on-the-clock.259283/page-2


* Mock Drafts: I get it. I know it, you know it, the media knows it, Mel Kiper, Todd McShay and Mike Mayock know it, and every coach and GM in the league knows it…….they are bullpucky. Mock drafts are great to promote conversation, to familiarize a fan with the draft class, and to get some idea of who is going where. Yet, it is never lost, thus doesn’t have to be constantly repeated, IMHO, that even the most respected Mock Draft is going to be about 0.05% accurate. Take them for what they are, and I advise to do your own mock draft. It’s for fun! You know…..fun. You are still allowed to have fun guys. LOL!

** One last thing about mock drafts: At this moment, pre-combine, you have about 80% of the draft class that are rated somewhere between the middle of the 1st round to un-drafted free agent status, or in other words, the media and experts have NO idea where anyone is going to fall right now, and I mean less of an idea then the 0.05% accuracy they will have right before the draft. Again, realize what you are looking at.

As for what I mean about "Connecting Dots", see the spoiler below.

Connecting dots?

Yeah, for example, Mike McCoy is a coach from the John Fox coaching tree. If McCoy wants to bring in players that run his type of system, you look where his influences are. The three teams I can easily link Mike McCoy to right now are the Broncos, Chargers, and Bears. The Chargers and Broncos have a lot of offensive players that McCoy knows, and brought into the league. The Bears just fired John Fox as their head coach, so that roster will have players that know McCoy’s system as well. I am sure there are other teams that line up as well, but for now those are the ones I have recognized.

When you look at Steve Wilks, he obviously coached under Ron Riviera, who comes from Lovie Smith’s coaching tree. Thus I am hard pressed to be convinced that the Cardinals will not be changing to a 4-3 based on the Tampa-2 philosophies. I say Tampa-2, but much like the West Coast offense, what is called a “Tampa-2” defense these days is what that defense has evolved to being in modern football. Connecting some dots on defense brings you to the Panthers, Giants, and again the Bears. Yet, one always has to keep in mind that Wilks is the head coach, and was the assistant head coach, he has a say on the offensive side of things. Obviously, Mike McCoy is going to have an enormous say on the offensive players brought in, but I will not be surprised for a few of the “Norv Turner” coaching tree offensive players brought in as well on offense. The offensive coordinator for the Panthers over the last few years was Mike Shula, who was also the offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay when Lovie Smith was coaching there. When Norv Turner was the head coach of the Chargers, Ron Riviera was the defensive coordinator, and now with Ron Riviera as the head coach of the Panthers, Riviera just hired Norv Turner to be his offensive coordinator.

Sometimes we glorify the NFL and sports in general to be this complex business that is different then what other’s experience. Nope. You have to know what you are doing in the NFL, no doubt, but “it’s who you know” still gets people jobs, and that doesn’t just apply to coaches, it does to players as well.

Look no further than newly acquired, Lou Young. Lou Young was signed by the Cardinals because he is a Steve Wilks guy. Funny, that I have the 5th cornerback listed on my final 53 players, before I could fill in who the #2 cornerback will be.

Below is my take on free agency as it stands at the time of writing this post, and some quick ideas about who I would like to see on the Cardinals, what is realistic in regards to cap space and availability, and some lower tier players that may be brought in because of what I talked about before…..connecting dots.

When talking about free agency, especially now, 3 weeks out? This is kind of a waste of time….LOL. There are going to be a lot of trades this offseason because there are so many teams with extreme amounts of cap space. For example, if the Cardinals traded Tyrann Mathieu to the Browns, they would be able to do so, since they have so much cap space that they can fit Mathieu under the cap. Then you have the standard teams that are over the cap, and especially the teams that did not make the playoffs that are over the cap are going to cut players. For example, there is a high percentage change the Raiders cut Navarro Bowman.

…..and I am going in reverse, the QB position is so controversial it is best to hit that last.


Defensive Backs:

Steve Wilks’ strength. One thing to notice, Wilks is confident in his ability to coach up this position. If Tyrann Mathieu stays or goes, will be up to Mathieu. In a statement, that is 100% speculation by me, Wilks will look at Mathieu as take it or leave it. Stay and I will teach you how to be better at your position with your degraded physical tools, or go, and I will replace you easily.

As for free agents, this is not where the Cardinals are going to spend big money, so Trumaine Johnson is not going to happen, if Chris Harris gets cut, that is not going to happen. At safety, Wilks has resurrected some careers, thus there will be no big money spent there as well.

If you are asking me, I would like to see the Cardinals bring in Tre Boston, bring back Tramon Williams, and sign Ross Cockrell. Then draft a cornerback, and there are a lot of tall, bigger cornerbacks (which Wilks likes) in this draft.

Current Players that will be on the roster in 2018:
- Patrick Peterson, CB
- Budda Baker, NB/S
- Antione Bethea, S
- Lou Young, CB
- *Any other players under contract will have to compete for a roster spot.


Free Agent Possibilities:

- Tre Boston, S: Boston started his career with the Panthers, was cut, and the light bulb went on when he played for the Chargers. He could be the “DJ Swearinger pick up” for the Cardinals.

- Rashad Melvin, CB: Solid cornerback, still young, could come at a good price.

- Prince Amukamara, CB: He is injury prone, but that is what might make him affordable. [Connecting Dots - Bears]

- E.J. Gaines, CB: Much like Amukamara, a better than average cornerback that is injury prone.

- Tramon Williams, CB: I have no problem bringing the old man back, but it would be a risk.

- Ross Cockrell, CB: We currently have the Giants ex-DB coach, Cockrell is a good depth guy. [Connecting Dots - Giants]

- Jarius Byrd, S: [Connecting Dots - Panthers]

- Sherrick McManis, CB - [Connecting Dots - Bears]: Depth

- Daryl Morris, CB - [Connecting Dots - Giants]: Depth

- Nate Berhe, S - [Connecting Dots - Giants]



Inside Linebackers:

“Outside Linebackers” like Chandler Jones are not listed here. Those type players will be noted under “Pass Rush”.

This is the biggest question mark on the team, but the Cardinals lucked out. There are going to be a lot of linebackers available. There are two types of inside linebackers out there in the league, the fast as hell ones, and the ones that are so damn smart they get where they need to be via their head more than their feet. You have the special ones, Luke Kuechley, that do both.

On my final 53 list, I have ZERO inside linebackers. Deone Bucannon has a 8.5mil dollar cap hit, with no dead money to deal with if cut. Haason Reddick, didn’t impress me, and is a man without a position, as far as I am concerned. I have stuck Reddick on the butt end of the roster as the 4th inside linebacker but right now, I see him no more than depth. That kid has A LOT to prove, and figure out.

It would be great to say the Cardinals would spend a lot at this position, but the needs in other places is not going to let that happen. Yet, there are a lot of solid free agents that will be available.

If you are asking me, I would like to see the Cardinals cut Deone Bucanon (maybe sign Eric Ried in his place), or have him restructure his deal. Reddick is too young to give up on, but they have to find a position for him, which is concerning. I would then sign a veteran linebacker, Bowman, Dansby or Johnson. Finally, I would sign either Christian Jones, or Jon Bostic to a cap friendly mid-tier contract. I want to say to address this in the draft as well, but Keim NEVER drafts inside linebackers. It is maddening.

Current Players that will be on the roster in 2018:
- Haason Reddick, ?LB
- *Any other players under contract will have to compete for a roster spot.


Free Agent Possibilities:


- Navorro Bowman, ILB: A leader, and a smart football player, but may get more money than the Cardinals can afford. (Karlos Dansby/Derrick Johnson – two other possibilities for this role)

- DeMario Davis, ILB: He excelled with the Jets in the 3-4, but has played in 4-3 defensives, older, wise, but still has some decent speed.

- Christian Jones, ILB: Jones is a younger player, so he may become available because of the coaching change in Chicago. There is potential for this to be a longer term asset. [Connecting Dots – Bears]

- Jon Bostic, ILB: I have always liked Bostic out of college. On the bigger side, but that classic, solid linebacker. Think Josh Bynes but younger.

- Josh Bynes, ILB: Let Wilks look at the tape, and decide if Bynes can help.

- Keenan Robinson, ILB: [Connecting Dots – Giants]

- Kelvin Sheppard, ILB: [Connecting Dots – Giants], Good Special Teams Player

- Jonathan Casillas, ILB: [Connecting Dots – Giants]

- *Eric Reid, ILB: Former safety for 49’ers, leverage for Bucannon?


Pass Rush:

This would be outside linebackers in a 3-4, or defensive ends in a 4-3. The Cardinals are in decent shape here with Chandler Jones, and Marcus Golden. Either standing up or hand in the dirt they will be effective. Chandler Jones is big enough to kick inside to the defensive tackle position for passing downs, and Golden is versatile enough to play SILB in a 4-3 (see Bruce Irvin for Oakland).

Pass rushers are very expensive, even middle tier one’s. One would think that with Jones, and Golden on the roster, that Reddick may be put in place as a pass rusher. A player like Kareem Martin is going to cost more than one would think.

I do not expect the Cardinals to sign a pass rusher in the pre-draft free agency period. This may be a Keim Time special.

If you are asking me, I would wait it out till after the draft, and maybe pick up a late round draft pick or UDFA as depth/special teams/etc. There is talk about maybe putting Josh Mauro (who is more likely to get cut), or Olsen Pierre out at DE. Those are possibilities, but concerning Pierre, I would put him at DT and push Chandler to DE if both players are on the field.

Current Players that will be on the roster in 2018:
- Chandler Jones, OLB/DE/DT
- Marcus Golden, OLB/DE/SILB
- *Any other players under contract will have to compete for a roster spot.


Free Agent Possibilities:

- Lamar Houston, DE: Older pass rusher, that could be good depth [Connecting Dots – Bears]

- Keim Time Specials: Courtney Upshaw, Sam Acho, William Hayes



Defensive Line:

Steve Wilks kept four defensive linemen on the roster. Thus if you pick the best four defensive tackles the Cardinals have under contract, then you have that part of the roster set. There is NOTHING out there in free agency, and I do not see the Cardinals spending big money on Star Lotuletei. If a free agent it brought in, it will be for depth, and to compete for a roster spot, IMO. I do not think the Cardinals will draft a linemen either.

If you are asking me, the Cardinals go with the guys below. A draft note here, is while I do not think the Cardinals would draft a lineman, if Taven Bryan is there in the 2nd round, I would love to see the Cardinals get him.

Current Players that will be on the roster in 2018:
- Corey Peters, DT/NT
- Olsen Pierre, DT/DE
- Robert Nkimdiche, DT/DE
- Rodney Gunter/Xiaver Williams, DT


Free Agent Possibilities:

- Jay Bromley, DT: [Connecting Dots – Giants]

- Robert Thomas, DT: [Connecting Dots - Giants]



Special Teams:

I am not going to go into a lot of depth here. Jeff Rogers is another John Fox guy, and has work with Mike McCoy as well. I see no need to get rid of Andy Lee at the punter position, and Andrew DePaola may be brought in to long snap, since he was with Rogers in Chicago in 2017. I have no issue with cutting Phil Dawson. Rogers worked with Mike Nugent in Chicago, and Cairo Santos as well.



Offensive Line:


Oh boy. This seems to always be a topic. There is no position on the football field more polarizing then the offensive line. Is it important or is it not? Is it coaching? Is it the talent? And from one year to the next there seems to be no consistency. 2016 season, the Cowboys and Raiders were the best lines in football, 2017 it was the Eagles and Saints…….what happened to the Cowboys and Raiders ?

For the Cardinals, 2017 looked good on paper: Humphries, Iupati, Shipley, Boehm, Veldheer. It was a train wreck in the end. I think in the end, the Cardinals need to cut Iupati, and it may be a post-June 2nd cut that will not help the cap situation for free agency, it is just a bad situation, and the Cardinals have to deal with it. The benefit from cutting Veldheer is minimal, so I do not see that happening this year. The last thing I can say when it comes to the transition from 2017 to 2018, is the Cardinals organization, in regards to Steve Keim, and Michael Bidwill, is they believe in running the ball with a power scheme. This would be the third coach, so to speak, they have hired with that philosophy. So, the linemen that are in house, are suited for what McCoy wants to do.

The big question is, the Cardinals have Ray Brown as their offensive line coach, and you can connect the dots to Andrew Norwell, who is a top guard in the league, but that means really big money. Can the Cardinals afford that? There is going to have to be money put toward the wide receiver position, and quarterback position. It seems like a stretch that the Cardinals are going to sink that money into the position. I would be surprised, if they put a lot of money into the line in free agency, but not shocked. I could make a case that the Cardinals keep what they have and sign a veteran, mid-tier guard or center, or I could make a case they clean house, and bring in a bunch of players. Take a player like Amani Silatolu, who is a free agent from the Panthers. Injury prone, really injury prone, but a lot of potential as a right tackle. The Cardinals have Ray Brown sitting at their facility to get the inside scoop on that situation. Long story short, this position is in flux, and could go a lot of different ways.

If you are asking me, you keep Humphries, Veldheer, and Wetzel as your tackles, and entertain the idea of putting Wetzel at right guard. The center position I would be at a loss on, Arian’s center was A.Q. Shipley, who knew his system. I would believe Mike McCoy will bring in some center he knows and trusts, yet I cannot even “connect a dot” to figure out who that might be. Yet, I am sure Daniel Munyer (RFA) will be brought back, since Keim seem to be high on his potential.

Current Players that will be on the roster in 2018:
- DJ Humphries, LT/RT
- Jared Veldheer, RT/LT
- John Wetzel, RT/RG
- *Any other players under contract will have to compete for a roster spot.


Free Agent Possibilities:

- Andrew Norwell, LG: Top guard in the league. : [Connecting Dots – Panthers]

- D.J. Fluker, G/T: Large power based guard/tackle: : [Connecting Dots – Giants/Chargers]

- Amani Silatolu, G: Extremely injury prone, but powerful. [Connecting Dots – Panthers]

- Patrick Omaneh, G: Potential is there, has yet to put it together, solid run blocker

- Bradley Sowell, G/T: [Connecting Dots – Bears/Cardinals]

- Allen Barbre, G: [Connecting Dots – Broncos]

- Kenny Wiggins, G: [Connecting Dots – Chargers]

- Tom Compton, G: [Connecting Dots – Bears]

- Billy Turner, G: [Connecting Dots – Broncos]



Tight Ends/H-Backs/Fullbacks:

This is the first place on offense where the Cardinals are going to change, and drastically from Bruce Arians’ system. Mike McCoy uses tight ends in both the blocking and the passing game. When you play the “connect the dots” game, names like Zach Miller, Julius Thomas, Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry, just name a few, come up. Then there is the topic of the fullback position, and that may come into play as well.

Jermaine Gresham’s contract is unmanageable at this point, he is going to be part of the plan this season, and Ricky Seals-Jones has the type of skills that Mike McCoy is looking for, and Seals-Jones is on the cheap, so both those players will be part of the 2018 roster. With the emphasis McCoy has used his tight ends in this offense in the past, one would think he will want to bring in two tight ends of his choosing. Troy Niklas is gone, and I.Momah as well.

I do not imagine the Cardinals spending a lot of money at this position, but then again a productive tight end can be found at cap friendly deals. Not to mention there are a couple Mike McCoy guys that will be available.

If you are asking me, I think the Cardinals will make a push to sign Vigil Green in free agency, and Jeff Cumberland as well. They know the system and would fit well for what the Cardinals want to do. I would also not be surprised if a tight end drops in the draft, they pick one, I really like Dalton Schultz out of Standford.

Current Players that will be on the roster in 2018:

- Jermain Gresham
- Ricky Seals-Jones
- *Any other players under contract will have to compete for a roster spot.


Free Agent Possibilities:


- Virgil Green, TE: Never lived up to the hype, but a capable TE, who can be a pass threat [Connecting Dots – Broncos]

- Jeff Cumberland, TE: You standard run of the mill, block and catch a pass here and there tight end. [Connecting Dots – Chargers]

- Ed Dickson, H-Back: Dickson has bounced around the league, has good speed, average hands and terrible blocking [Connecting Dots – Panthers]

- Mike Tolbert, Fullback: Tolbert is getting long in the tooth but is a good role player [Connecting Dots – Panthers]

- Daniel Brown, TE: [Connecting Dots – Bears]

- Keep an eye on, Mike Burton, FB for the Bears, to see if he is released.



Wide Receivers:

What has happened to the wide receiver group for the Cardinals since 2016, has been Murphy’s Law. The way to think about it is: What would you think of a sober Michael Floyd, healthy John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, JJ Nelson, Jaron Brown/Chad Williams. That is a pretty good group.

Chad Williams has not developed, Jaron Brown showed his ceiling, JJ Nelson has regressed, John Brown is not healthy enough to play in the NFL, and Michael Floyd is just collecting any check he can. Larry Legend is a legend, but 35 years old. Chad Williams and JJ Nelson might end up competing for the 5th wide receiver spot this offseason. I would not put it past the Cardinals to sign a wide receiver, and draft a wide receiver, and maybe sign a secondary role receiver.

Top end receivers are expensive, and the top end receiver money is currently in Larry Fitzgerald’s pocket. I do not see the Cardinals breaking the bank for Jarvis Landry, Allen Robinson, or Sammy Watkins. They are going to have to find that #2 WR that will take #2 WR money. You would also think McCoy wants to bring in one his guys as well. It will be interesting what happens here.

If you are asking me, I think the Cardinals might make an effort to get Dez Bryant or another older wide receiver who gets cut to compliment Fitzgerald, but it would need to be a cap friendly situation. Yet, this is not going to get fixed in a year. The best opportunity I see this offseason, is the draft has a lot of raw talent, which is physically impressive. I am talking 6’3” or taller, 215lbs or heavier type of receivers.

Current Players that will be on the roster in 2018:

- Larry Fitzgerald
- JJ Nelson/Chad Williams
- *Any other players under contract will have to compete for a roster spot.


Free Agent Possibilities:

- Paul Richardson, WR: Good size, good speed, and can play on the outside. Never reached his potential in Seattle, but it was Seattle and Baldwin and Graham were the main targets there.

- Cameron Meredith, WR [RFA]: This is a player that if the Cardinals could land, would have the most potential to be a long term solution. A younger player that has flashed in the league. [Connecting Dots – Bears]

- Dontrelle Inman, WR: Solid depth wide receiver. Has had flashes of good production and was drafted by McCoy. Could be a WR#2 option. [Connecting Dots – Bears/Chargers]

- Josh Bellamy, WR: [Connecting Dots – Bears]



Running Back:


It sucks knowing you have David Johnson on your team, and not seeing him play for over a year. That is a LONG time off from football. I think David Johnson will be his normal, dominating self, but this team needs a back-up running back, and depth to go along with TJ Logan (remember him?). Logan is a really important piece this year, since he is the kick and punt returner, but can Logan play on offense and find a role?

As there are every year, there is a host of running backs that will be available. It matter who the Cardinals can get for the price needed. The “over the hill” running backs can always be had on the cheap, and go produce enough in a pinch. The Cardinals have David Johnson, and money is coming his way so there will be no big signing at the running back position.

If you are asking me, my fantasy pick is Isiah Crowell. A perfect complimentary back to David Johnson. Crowell has good size, and has shown flashes in Cleveland. Yet, Alfred Morris, Jeremy Hill, Charles Sims, and others are going to be available. As for the draft, I believe you can always search the UDFA for a diamond in the rough.

Current Players that will be on the roster in 2018:

- David Johnson
- TJ Logan
- *Any other players under contract will have to compete for a roster spot.


Free Agent Possibilities:

- Isiah Crowell, RB: Good size, puts up solid stats, can catch out of the backfield.

- Doug Martin, RB: An older back, but he can produce and run the rock. PEDs?

- Branden Oliver, RB: Has been backing up Melvin Gordon in SD and has produced when given the chance. [Connecting Dots – Chargers]

- Benny Cunningham, RB: [Connecting Dots – Bears]

- *Jonathan Stewart, RB: [Connecting Dots – Panthers] (IF he is released)

- *C.J. Anderson, RB: [Connecting Dots – Broncos] (IF he is released)



Quarterback:

The position that gets the most attention, which has the most opinions, and literally the position any NFL team builds around. I will be brief here because this situation is so subjective. A healthy number of people will stop reading once I say, I do not think the Cardinals are going to “break the bank” in free agency. No Kirk Cousins, no Drew Brees (if the Cardinals were to break the bank, then pay Brees, IMO).

The Cardinals are going to have to sign either Teddy Bridgewater to a contract and take the risk and again IMHO, hope to reap a MAJOR reward for it. I will continue to say, IMHO, Bridgewater is a NFL QB with an extremely high ceiling. Arians is gone, arm strength and all that went with Arians’ system doesn’t matter. They need a QB who can win games, and I believe Bridgewater is a winner, and easily the best option in free agency for the Cardinals.

After that, the team will be looking at bridge type QBs. Think Carson Palmer, but in the perspective that Palmer was seen when he was traded from Oakland……a 6th round pick.

The story of the quarterback position will be, either a band-aid situation, or drafting a QB in the first round, IMHO.

If you are asking me, sign Teddy Bridgewater if he becomes available, draft a QB in the 1st round and do not look back. If Bridgewater is not available, sign a bridge QB, and draft a QB in the 1st round.


Free Agent Possibilities: (Cousins and Brees are not listed because too much $$$$$$)

- Teddy Bridgewater, QB: Reasons noted above.

- Case Keenam, QB: Josh McCown but younger. If Keenam is available, I think his price would be sensible, and Keenam has shown he can play in the league and has shown some success at each team he has played for, in the Texans, Rams, and Vikings. He would be an interesting situation with the Cardinals.

- Sam Bradford, QB: Ugh. He IS Carson Palmer more or less, but he just cannot stay healthy. If someone would assure me Bradford could stay healthy for 3 years, I would have him at the top. He has a good arm, good experience, and is good enough to win with, IMHO.

- Josh McCown, QB: I think Cousins is going to the Jets, and McCown will be available. McCown says he wants to play another year. Josh is a pros-pro, would be a great bridge QB, and can produce. Would be kind of cool if McCown would be the player to throw the pass that is Fitzgerald’s 1st catch of his career and last catch of his career, IMHO.

- Tyrod Taylor, QB: I think the Bills are fools for trying to be cute with Taylor and waiting till the last day before giving Taylor his bonus to cut him. If Taylor becomes available he is a QB that I think the Cardinals could win with, but they would have to load up on defense, and run the ball effectively. Taylor is the ultimate “game manager” QB in the league, IMHO.

- Kellen Clemens, QB: 3rd string. [Connecting Dots – Chargers]

- Mark Sanchez, QB: 3rd string. [Connecting Dots – Bears]

- Joe Webb, QB: 3rd string [Connecting Dots – Panthers]
 

az jam

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Wow, you did lots of work on this. Some good stuff here. Will need to spend some more time absorbing your thoughts.
 

GimmedaBall

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Thanks Rugbymuffin---lots of goodies to consider and a lot of work into the write-up. Appreciate both!
 
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