Free Agent Focus: Center Signed

Coach Whisenhunt expressed his interest in Dallas center Andre Gurode at the Combine. That was shortly after Gurode signed an extension with the Cowboys. The next best thing? Sign the guy that backed Gurode up. Think he'll be a back-up in the desert?

Well, the Free Agent Bacchanalia has come to Phoenix.  Granted, signing Al Johnson to a four year contract wasn't a "sexy" move (hopefully, the only time you'll ever see the words "Bacchanalia," "Johnson," and "sexy" in the same football article), but it was a very important step in Whisenhunt's plan to add depth along the offensive line.

The Cardinals also met with a few other free agent linemen over the past few days.  More on that in a future article.

It's amazing how quickly Johnson went from a stable starter at the center position to "that guy that backs up Gurode."  As recently as the 2006 off-season, Johnson was the starting center for the Cowboys, having started 31 consecutive games before Gurode took the starting job from him before the 2006 season.  Bill Parcells wanted someone with a little more beef at the center position and tabbed the man that previously had been Johnson's back-up as the starter.

At 6'5", 311, Johnson has better size and strength than incumbent Nick Leckey and has a physical reputation.  He has considerable experience as a starter in the NFL and, at 28 still has some quality football ahead of him.

He also possesses the type of size and athleticism that new offensive line coach Russ Grimm likes in his centers.  Grimm will get the best out of Johnson.  And some friendly competition won't hurt that, either.

He has also played on special teams which, at the risk of beating a dead horse, is an area that Arizona sorely needs to address before they kick off the 2007 season.

Most importantly, the signing sends a clear message to Nick Leckey and Alex Stepanovich.  Gone are the days where the starting five on the offensive line will be made up of the five guys that currently have a pulse.  Whisenhunt wants to create a winning, competitive culture in the Valley of the Sun and this is the type of move that creates that culture.

There will be a three way battle at center to kick off mini-camps and Organized Team Activities.  May the best man win. 

That's refreshing to hear, isn't it?


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