TEMPE, Ariz. — The Cardinals signaled their intent to begin a dramatic overhaul under new coach Bruce Arians Wednesday with five free-agent signings, including quarterback Drew Stanton and former Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall.
Stanton agreed to a three-year deal with the Cardinals, according to a tweet sent out by his agent, Mike McCartney.
His arrival could mean the end of Kevin Kolb’s injury-plagued two-year tenure as the Cardinals starting quarterback.
The Cardinals also signed former Washington Redskins linebacker and special teams star Lorenzo Alexander, former Indianapolis cornerback Jerraud Powers and former New York Jets safety Yeremiah Bell.
They released free safety Kerry Rhodes, one of the veteran leaders of their defense, after apparently being unable to rework his contract. Rhodes follows strong safety Adrian Wilson and running back Beanie Wells out the door. It’s uncertain if Kolb will be next.
Stanton (6-3, 243 pounds) spent last year with new Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians on the Indianapolis Colts as a backup to rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. Prior to that he spent five seasons with the Detroit Lions.
His three-year deal is for $8.2 million, with $3 million guaranteed.
The Cardinals were believed to be attempting to convince Kolb to take a pay cut from his current $9 million salary, but it’s unclear if those efforts would continue with Stanton’s signing. Stanton, 28, has a leg up on understanding Arians’ offensive system, although he still needs to learn the personnel and overcome what has been a less than inspiring start to his NFL career. In five seasons, Stanton has completed 104 of 187 passes for 1,158 yards (55.6 percent) with five touchdowns, nine interceptions and a career passer rating of 63.1. He has four career starts, all with the Lions, and none since 2010.
“This is a great opportunity for Drew,” Arians said. “He really impressed me during the year we spent together in Indy. Physically he has everything you want in a quarterback – big with a strong arm, can get it up the field and make all the throws. He’s just as impressive mentally and understands the position. I’m excited to get him here and compete.”
Mendenhall, 25, agreed to a one-year deal. He played under Arians in Pittsburgh and had his best season when Arians was there. He was drafted 23rd overall by the Steelers in 2008 out of Illinois and has had an up-and-down career. In 2009, with Arians as his offensive coordinator, Mendenhall rushed for 1,108 yards and seven touchdowns, then followed that with 1,273 yards and 13 TDs in 2010.
But he tore his ACL in 2011 and was never right in 2012 when he totaled just 182 yards on 51 carries. He was suspended for a game against the Dallas Cowboys after he refused to show up to the previous week’s game because he had been deactivated.
“Obviously, I know Rashard well from our time in Pittsburgh, and I hold him in very, very high regard,” Arians said. “As a running back he’s the total package. He’s a big, strong, every-down back with speed who can pass block and also catch the ball. I’ve said before: he’s a big man with little people feet, meaning he can run like he’s 180 (pounds) but also pound the ball like he’s 230. When we were together in Pittsburgh he was a four-plus yards per carry kind of back and those guys are very valuable.”
The Arizona Republic reported that the deal is worth $2.5 million, with another $1 million possible through incentives.
By signing him to a one-year deal, the Cards don’t commit too much financially while landing a player motivated to prove his worth for future contracts. The Denver Broncos were also reportedly in the mix for Mendenhall.
Mendenhall will likely team with Ryan Williams in a revamped Cardinals backfield, assuming both can stay healthy, which has been an issue the past two seasons. The Cards released Wells earlier this week. Wells is drawing interest from the Steelers and Bengals but said Wednesday he is scheduled to visit four teams in the next three days.
The additions of Powers and Bell address a glaring need in the defensive backfield, given the departures of Rhodes, Wilson and Greg Toler. The Cards had hoped to re-sign Toler, but he signed a three-year, $15 million deal with the Colts on Tuesday.
Veteran William Gay had been cut earlier, leaving the Cardinals with only two cornerbacks under contract in Patrick Peterson and 2012 third-round pick Jamell Fleming.
Powers, 25, has a strong relationship with Arians, but has an injury history similar to Toler. He has played 42 of a possible 64 games in his four seasons, with 165 tackles, six interceptions and 133 passes defended. He missed four games last season and the playoffs when he went on injured reserve as a result of a toe injury he suffered in Week 9.
“Jerraud turned our season around last year with an interception to open the second half at Green Bay, and that’s the kind of impact player he is,” Arians said. “He’s a tough, physical defender who’s also one of the smartest players I’ve been around.
Bell, 6-0 and 205, started all 16 games last year for the New York Jets after spending the eight previous seasons with Miami. He is 35 years old and has 91 total starts in his career.
Alexander’s signing was first reported by FOXSports.com’s Alex Marvez, who also reported that former Cleveland kick returner/wide receiver Josh Cribbs is “likely” to sign with Arizona.
Alexander’s 19 special-teams tackles led the NFL in 2012. He also was a key backup linebacker for the Redskins, where he had played since 2006.
Washington had interest in re-signing Alexander but was facing cap issues. Pittsburgh also was bidding for Alexander’s services.
Alexander’s presence will be missed in the locker room as well as in the Washington D.C. area. Alexander was a team leader who had considerable community outreach through his ACES Foundation charity.
Cribbs has spent all eight of his NFL seasons in Cleveland primarily as a special-teams standout and jack-of-all-trades offensive player. Cribbs was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team in the 2000s as a kickoff returner and is the all-time leader in Browns history in that role. Cribbs also is tied for the NFL all-time record in kickoff returns for touchdowns with eight.
Cribbs is expected to get used as both a wide receiver and returner by the Cardinals. Cribbs posted a career-high 41 receptions in 2011 but wasn’t a significant part of Cleveland’s passing offense in 2012. He finished with only 13 touches (seven catches; six rushes), marking his lowest production since Cribbs’ rookie campaign in 2005.
Other free agents known to have visited with the Cardinals on Wednesday include linebacker Rey Maualuga (Bengals) and corner Antoine Cason, a University of Arizona product who played the first five years of his career for San Diego.
Maualuga wasn’t on anyone’s radar until he tweeted late Tuesday afternoon: “Wheels up to AZ #freeagency.” In four seasons, Maualuga, 26, has 198 tackles, three sacks, 10 passes defended and six forced fumbles. The Bengals want him back, but Maualuga wants to test the free-agent waters.
“He is, as you will find out when this free agency period starts, a lot better than what a lot of people give him credit for,” Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said, via the team’s website. “I think that’s going to be what people are going to find out if he goes. If he’s not here, people are going to miss him and say we should have had him.”
Toler is not the only Cardinals free agent to find a new home. Linebacker Quentin Groves has agreed to a two-year, $2.8 million contract with Cleveland, where he is reunited with former Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Groves started seven games and had four sacks for Arizona last season.