Who They Lost:
Surprisingly, there weren't a lot of defectors this offseason in Arizona.
Arguably the biggest loss (both literally and figuratively) was massive left tackle Leonard Davis to the Cowboys. However, since the Cardinals made it a matter of public record - in my mind a move that allowed them to call up Jerry Jones in three years and scream, "I told you so!" before cackling and hanging up - that they were not going to attempt to sign Davis, it is not considered a huge loss. They have successfully replaced the void left behind by Davis through the draft and free agency and may have exercised some crafty "addition by subtraction" by not letting the door hit him on his sizeable behind on the way out.
Thankfully, the venerable (and, as it turns out, rather bitter) Robert Griffith was not re-signed and was allowed to leave as well. While a very intelligent and skilled player, Griffith's best years were behind him and he had lost several steps during his time in the Valley of the Sun. Another loss in the secondary was cornerback David Macklin. But, as he struggled to stay in the line-up (even in nickel and dime situations) last season, his departure is also for the best.
They parted ways with linebacker Orlando Huff, who was a starter all last season that did not distinguish himself and wide receiver/return specialist Troy Walters. While both of these men saw time on the field during the 2006 season, the Cardinals also finished 5-11. When you manage to start for a bad team, that isn't exactly something that should guaranty you a big pay day in this league. Thusly, they were shown the door. And they were quickly replaced by younger and less expensive talent.
After the signing of fullback Terrelle Smith from Cleveland, Obafemi Ayanbadejo became expendable. Mr. Graves, my spellchecker thanks you. Kendrick Clancy is more suited to playing tackle in the 4-3 scheme and will do well in that capacity with New Orleans. Milford Brown was once a back-up for the Houston Texans. I think that's all we have to say about that.
Overall, they lost a number starters, even one at the all-important left tackle position (just because Matt Leinart happens to throw with his left arm does not necessarily mean they can insert just anyone in the position and expect to have success - more on this later), but they also picked their spots and made a priority of re-signing key players (Marcel Shipp and Monty Beisel) and signed others to extensions or restricted free agent offers before they could hit the open market (Aaron Francisco and Antonio Smith).
Who They Gained:
According to Rod Graves and Ken Whisenhunt, a huge point of emphasis was placed on special teams this offseason. Even if you take the Chicago game out the equation, Arizona's kicking game was downright dreadful last season and was in dire need of an overall. Shipp, who was a standout on special teams was re-signed. Sean Morey, an ace as a gunner and wedgebuster will be re-united with Kevin Spencer, his former boss in Pittsburgh. And Roderick Hood, if he relinquishes his current spot at the top of the depth chart opposite Antrel Rolle, will contribute admirably as well.
Steve Breaston, who currently sits behind the Big Three of Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Bryant Johnson already has the inside track to replace Walters as a return specialist (where he had a great deal of success in college).
Along the offensive line, they compensated for the losses of Davis and Brown by adding former Cowboy Al Johnson to anchor the line at center and former Buffalo tackle Mike Gandy to compete or add depth. As a "guard in fullback's clothing," Terrelle Smith should step right in and start opening up holes for Edgerrin James. And leave us not forget 5th overall pick Levi Brown from Penn State. Brown has a nasty disposition and has the kind of size that new line boss Russ Grimm covets in a right tackle, but he looks to be a better fit on the left side - the position he plays in college. Now, I understand that, traditionally, the team's best blocker protects the quarterback's blind side and that Brown should therefore play on the right side. However, the other team's best pass rusher is most likely going to be lined up against the left tackle. Which is more important, neutralizing the greatest rush threat, or sticking with convention? I would say neutralizing the greatest rush threat.
They added depth at tight end by taking Delaware's Ben Patrick in the 7th round and acquired a feisty linebacker out of Florida State by the name of Buster Davis in the third round. They most likely gave up too much to move up in the second round and select Alan Branch, but that move may prove to pay substantial dividends when Branch is anchoring the defense as a nose tackle in the 3-4 three seasons from now.
And, of course, they dismissed Dennis Green and hired Whisenhunt. He in turn hired a mostly new staff (smartly retaining innovative defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast) that includes a number of his buddies from the Steelers and one of the most respected line coaches in the league in Grimm.
While not a sexy offseason by any stretch of the imagination, the Cardinals did accomplished what they set out to do. They didn't overspend, they added quality depth in areas of need, and they seriously bolstered a special teams unit in need of a talent infusion. Davis replaces Huff, Breaston replaces Walters, Brown replaces Davis, Branch moves to the nose and replaces Clancy, and the additions of Johnson, Gandy, Smith, Morey, and Hood more than compensate for the losses of Ayanbadejo and Griffith.
I can't say that this team made the moves necessary to jump from the bottom of the division to the top. On paper, that's what the 49ers did. From a chemistry standpoint, an intangibles standpoint, and "doing all the little things right" standpoint - all areas where the Cardinals have in past seasons shown glaring deficiencies, this team made a quantum leap. In terms of depth and the ability to withstand injuries, they are much improved.
Since they already had what Rod Graves refers to as a "centerstone" of quality skill position players (the Big Three, Leinart, Chike Okeafor and Bert Berry, Adrian Wilson, Edge), they simply filled in the blanks where there were areas of need. I, for one, feel that they could have done more along the offensive line, but that would have meant overpaying for the likes of Eric Steinbach and Kris Dielman.
At season's end, it will be evident that the most important offseason move Arizona made was to hire Whisenhunt. He has this team headed in the right direction, he seems to bring out the best in Graves, and he will make them competitive.
Just not this year.