While it's true that the Cardinals failed to sign Adalius Thomas, Nate Clements, or any of the other marquee players available in this off-season's free agent, they had some quality pick-ups over the last ten days and were able to keep the bulk of their core players together for the coming season and beyond.
In the end, sanity prevailed and, as expected, the Cardinals came out of the spending spree of the past week and a half well under the cap. Except for the fact that they didn't finish free agency well under the cap. According to Scout.com, Arizona is now about $9 million under the 2007 salary cap, due to base salary increases, roster bonuses, and likely to be earned incentives for Matt Leinart, Antrel Rolle, and Larry Fitzgerald.
Those three guys are worth it in my opinion. Then there's the fact that they were going to be conservative in free agency regardless of how much space they knew they'd have at this point. That's their nature. And, if history is anything to shout about, the NFL has proved that you cannot buy yourself a championship in the salary cap era. Just ask the Redskins.
Building through the draft and adding key depth through free agency seems to be the way to go. Ask the Patriots. Or the Steelers. Or, stay in the division and ask the Seahawks. Sort of. They've been active (and we'll have coverage coming up analyzing what the other teams in the division have been up to thus far - hopefully we can fit the 49ers into one 13,150 word article) the past couple of seasons, but they at least have a few division titles and a Super Bowl appearance. How many Cardinals fans would kill for that?
But, the Bidwells, Rod Graves, and Ken Whisenhunt have decided to go with a conservative approach. And I'm fine with that. Mostly because they identified, went after, and signed the right guys for their roster (though there are still a couple guys out there that would fit in nicely).
Al Johnson is not going to make anyone drool in anticipation for the regular season. He isn't going to make opposing teams afraid of the Cardinals or make other fan bases jealous. He is, however, going to make Arizona stronger up the middle, which is something they desperately need on the offensive side of the ball.
Roderick Hood is not a classic shut-down corner. He's not flashy, doesn't get the highlights on Sports Center, and is relatively unknown outside the Philadelphia area. That does not discount the fact that he will at least contribute on special teams and in nickel and dime packages, if not challenge Eric Green for the starting job opposite Rolle. He adds depth. Whisenhunt's big on depth; not just depth, quality depth. For a team that shuttered every time one of their starters stayed on the turf for more than five seconds last season, that will be intrinsically key.
Terrence Holt is... Torry Holt's brother. Aside from the fact that they probably talk a lot and have shared some of the secrets of the Rams offense, Terrence can help on special teams. He can step in and replace the venerable Robert Griffith, or at least challenge Aaron Francisco for a starting job he probably thought he had locked up in January. The Cardinals have mentioned that Terrence was the guy they were specifically targeting in free agency. While that's probably only 45% true, he was one of the first players brought in for a visit and one of the first players signed. He leaves the frying pan for the fire going from Detroit to Arizona, but there's something to be said for being in a situation where you're wanted, where you feel appreciated. We'll see how appreciated he is the first time he forgets his assignment and the Cardinals get burned deep for a touchdown, but the beauty of the off-season is that everyone has a chance and everyone's 0-0.
Just as important, they re-signed Marcel Shipp. Shipp was a player that everyone, from Graves to Whisenhunt to new running backs coach Maurice Carthon stated was a priority. In years past, maybe he doesn't sign on for another three years. In years past, maybe he holds out for more money. In years past, maybe he says something bad about ownership, management, or his teammates while he's still a free agent. He didn't, the lip service he was paid was backed up, and he'll be backing up Edgerrin James for the next three seasons. If Shipp doesn't get re-signed, the Cardinals need to find someone else, either through the draft or free agency. It's good that they got it done and got it done relatively quickly. Maybe they're not so hopeless.
For all of this, they lost Leonard Davis, a player they announced they were going to let go in February (so that they could say, "I told you so!" to the unlucky team that signed him). Now Davis plays for the Cowboys. And God bless them. I've heard from more than a few sources that trying to motivate Davis is like trying to talk a five year old out of ice cream. Maybe Wade Phillips can motivate him with ice cream...
My point is that they really didn't lose anything and they gained more than most would give them credit for. They still have $9 million under the cap (though that doesn't buy as much as it used to), and they select fifth in the draft.
All in all, they're poised to be some poor sports writer's "sleeper" pick this year. Let's just hope these sportswriters get it right one of these days.