Estimated 2015 Cap Space: $4M ($143M cap limit)
Players Under Contract: 63
Pro Bowlers: 3
Unrestricted Free Agents: 10(3 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 24
Salary Cap Breakdown
Free Agents to Re-sign
The Cardinals should make an early attempt to re-sign Dan Williams to man the center of the defensive line before a team like the Redskins comes in and steals him. Williams should have more value to Arizona than most teams because they are playing in what has become a run heavy conference and Williams is terrific at clogging the middle on those plays. The 34DT has not been a prime pay position so he should be able to be retained on a reasonable salary…Sam Acho is one of those quality role players who are worth keeping on a good unit, which clearly the Cardinals have. My guess is he would test free agency first….Tommy Kelly played well and as long as he comes cheap, which he should at this stage, he will be a good signing for the team.
Free Agents to Let Walk
Antonio Cromartie had a nice bounce back season with Arizona but with Todd Bowles landing in his old stomping grounds in New York it is probably not worth wasting the resources chasing after him and losing focus on others…Paul Fanaika will come back for around the minimum, but he did not play particularly well last season and I would imagine this is more of a position to address in the draft where you hope to find more upside.
Contracts to Modify
The Cardinals got the biggest one out of the way with their renegotiation with Larry Fitzgerald but there is clearly more work that needs to be done if they want to be active in free agency. The team has four players with large base salaries that could be restructured but I would avoid touching the contracts of Patrick Peterson, Carson Palmer, and Calais Campbell due to future concerns with the players. The safest move looks to be restructuring the contract of Jared Veldheer. Veldheer has an $8.5 million cap charge and the team could reduce that by nearly $5 million with a full restructure. His cap in the future still would not exceed $10 million if they reworked his deal so I think he is a logical choice for cap relief. If they need more down the line expect Peterson to be the one to get the call….Darnell Dockett has a $9.8 million cap charge in 2015, which is excessive for a 34 year old defensive tackle coming off injury. My head says to release him outright and gain $6.8 million in space, but listening to the organization talk about him my heart says they want to keep him. If they reduce his salary to $2-$3 million they will gain between $3.5 and $4.5 million in room.
Players to Consider Releasing
There will likely be a purge of the mid tier salary guys this offseason. Right at the top of that list should be Ted Ginn. $4 million in cap charges for a punt returner who brings nothing else to the team simply can’t happen in 2015. Releasing Ginn creates $2.5 million in cap room….Cutting guard Lyle Sendlein, rated as one of the worst lineman in the NFL by PFF, saves the team $3.15 million…I’m not sure what the team saw in John Carlson when they signed him, but they should have seen enough to realize that saving $1.6 million is more valuable than keeping him…The team might have an interesting decision to make on backup QB Drew Stanton. If Palmer is healthy and the team believes in Logan Thomas there is no need to keep $3.87 million in cap charges for a player who could be the third string QB. If that’s the case Stanton might have some trade value…Players like Ted Larsen($2.2M savings), Matt Shaughnessy($2.075M), and Rashad Johnson($1.9M) could be casualties depending on who the team lands in free agency or the draft….I’m sure the team will consider every option with Daryl Washington but they won’t really gain anything by releasing him. I’m not certain of the payment schedule of his prior bonus money but they may view this as a free year if they need to recollect bonus money that he forfeited with last year’s suspension.
The Cardinal quarterback injuries derailed a great season in 2014 and they will expect less issues there this season. I think that the new Fitzgerald contract puts into focus the short term goals of the team right now. It was a decision that was likely driven by pure cap considerations (with some emotion clearly in there). Had they released Fitzgerald they would have taken a $14.4M dead cap charge this season, but by re-signing him they will carry $26.7M over two years, and just $10.85M this season. The difference works out to a $6M player which is basically what Fitzgerald is now. So they are sacrificing cash for cap considerations with the move.
The Cardinals are a veteran team with a 36 year old QB and when you have that you do whatever you can to win now because that window of opportunity may be very small. While I would not rework the contracts of certain players, I would not be surprised if they do it because their goal is going to be immediate improvement which usually is best accomplished in free agency.
The team should be going into the offseason and setting up a board that identifies what can be filled in free agency and what can be filled in the draft and making sure a plan is made to hit as many immediate needs as possible. Depending on how much cap room they create they likely can find a running back, tight end, and guard in free agency. Those are positions that they can likely slot right into the rotation and are also relatively affordable.
I think in the draft they should focus on getting more youth on defense. An inside linebacker can come from the draft and jump right in and play at a reasonably high level. They can probably find a defensive end or outside linebacker to work into the rotation as well. They may find another offensive lineman in the draft too, but I see the team focusing on defense here with an offensive talent needing a far higher internal grade to get the nod when drafting.
The bottom line is that the Cardinals are a team that needs to go for it in 2015 and take a risky approach to add onto what they had in 2014 to hopefully get them to the next level. With the team going all in on Fitzgerald and Palmer they have no reason to not do everything in their power to try to reach for the gold this year. While it may not work, and sometimes these types of teams crash and burn, they will likely regret not making a few semi-bold moves this offseason.