Free-agent frenzy: Cardinals filling needs at linebacker, both lines
The NFL’s free-agent negotiating period has made the actual start of free agency anti-climactic. By the time real signing period rolls around, we know where most of the big names are going, and for how much.
That’s not the way it’s supposed to be, and the NFL reportedly sent out an unhappy memo reminding teams of this fact, but when you have agents eager to portray their clients in the most positive light, national reporters eager to beat each other to scoops and other "league sources" anxious to share their information, there’s not much the league can really do to alter this frenzy unless it eliminates the period altogether.
Players can still back out of deals up until signing, and there are still those pesky physicals to pass before deals can officially be announced — a reality that may delay many Cardinals official announcements until Wednesday or later — but here are the reported fruits and pursuits of GM Steve Keim’s sleepless three days.
The only signing of a player not with the team last year that the Cardinals have confirmed is veteran outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who agreed to a one-year deal. The team also re-signed nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu, and it’s still possible cornerback Antonio Cromartie will return.
Position: Outside linebacker
Height/weight: 6-2, 265
Years Pro: 8
2014 team: Raiders
Reported length/cost of deal: One year, $870,000.
Draft status: Steelers’ 2007 2nd-round pick (46th overall, Michigan)
Career stats: 306 tackles (216 solos), 57 sacks, 16 passes defended, 5 INTs,
Strengths/weaknesses: Woodley was released by Oakland, where he did not post a sack, but in eight seasons (seven with Pittsburgh) he has 57 sacks.
Where he fits: Woodley is one of just four outside linebackers under contract along with Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Shaughnessy and Alex Okafor (eight sacks). Reports suggest the Cardinals are still pursuing free agent Brian Orakpo as well in the hunt for more sustained pressure off the edge — the kind they lost when John Abraham all but retired last season.
Durability: During the 2011 season, Woodley missed six games with a hamstring injury, and he missed three games in 2012 with a similar injury. He missed the final three games of 2013 due to a calf injury. He missed the final 10 games of last season with a biceps injury.
Height/weight: 6-5, 331
Years Pro: 5
2014 team: 49ers
Reported length/cost of deal: 5 years, $40 million
Draft status/college: 49ers’ 2010 1st round (17th overall, Idaho)
Career stats: Started 75 of 80 games in five seasons in San Francisco.
Strengths/weaknesses: Iupati is known as an excellent run blocker who helped San Francisco finish among the league’s top four in rushing each of the past three seasons. For what it’s worth, given potential flaws in the site’s methodology, Pro Football Focus only ranked Iupati 55th in the NFL in pass blocking, but that was still higher than last year’s Arizona starters at guard, Paul Fanaika (tie-62nd) and Ted Larsen (76th).
Where he fits: Iupati will move into the starting lineup and likely man the left side, while Jonathan Cooper moves to the right side in an important third season for the 2013 first-round pick. Larsen would remain as potential depth on either side along with Earl Watford. Larsen could also take over the center spot if the Cardinals cut Lyle Sendlein ($4.275 million cap hit).
Durability: Iupati missed four games with MCL injury in 2013 but has missed a total of just five games in five seasons.
Position: Inside linebacker
Height/weight: 6-2, 244
Years Pro: 5
2014 team: Falcons
Reported length/cost of deal: 1 year, nearly $4 million
Draft status/college: Falcons’ 2010 1st round pick (19th overall, Missouri)
Career stats: 290 tackles (212 solos), 8 sacks, 15 passes defended, 2 INTs.
Strengths/weaknesses: Scouting reports tout Weatherspoon as a run stuffer with good range along the line of scrimmage, but he is not as gifted in pass coverage and lacks a wide range of blitzing abilities, which limits his use on third downs. Falcons insiders also say he’s a great locker room presence.
Where he fits: With Larry Foote joining the coaching staff, Kevin Minter still underwhelming and Daryl Washington still suspended, the Cardinals desperately needed a solution in the middle.
Durability: Weatherspoon spent part of the 2013 season on injured reserve/designated to return with a foot injury before making it back, only to exit again with a knee injury. He missed last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, so there are are concerns, but if he is healthy, he also has less mileage on his legs.
Position: Defensive tackle
Height/weight: 6-3, 305
Years Pro: 5
2014 team: Falcons
Reported length/cost of deal: 3 years, about $9 million
Draft status: Falcons’ 2010 3rd-round pick (83rd overall, Kentucky)
Career stats: 146 tackles (101 solos), 11 sacks, 7 passes defended, 1 INT
Strengths/weaknesses: Peters was looking for situation where he can be more than a rotational player. He can play 3-technique vs. the run and slide inside on passing downs, where he brings underrated pass-rushing ability. He didn’t achieve the consistency last season that he had shown in 2013, but his Achilles injury from the previous season may have impacted his play.
Where he fits: With Darnell Dockett gone and Dan Williams likely to sign elsewhere in free agency, Peters is a necessary replacement on a defensive line that features Calais Campbell, Frostee Rucker, Ed Stinson, Kareem Martin and Alameda Ta’amu.
Durability: Peters missed six games with a left foot injury in 2012. He has missed just three games in his other three NFL seasons, including the final game of the 2013 season after suffering an Achilles injury.
Position: Middle/inside linebacker
Height/weight: 6-1, 245
Years Pro: 4
2014 team: Broncos
Draft status: Broncos’ 2011 3rd-round pick (67th overall, N.C. State)
Career stats: 104 tackles (67 solos), 2 sacks, 2 passes defended.
Strengths/weaknesses: Irving is a hard hitter and an aggressive player who defends the run well, takes good angles and accelerates quickly. He could be a good situational fit, but scouting reports suggest he doesn’t get off blocks well and doesn’t do a good job reading offenses. The Cardinals will need to coach him up.
Where he fits: Like Weatherspoon, Irving can help fill a desperate need for depth on the inside.
Durability: Irving suffered a partially torn MCL and missed half the 2014 season on injured reserve. He had only missed two games in his prior three seasons.
Position: Outside linebacker
Height/weight: 6-4, 257
Years Pro: 6
2014 team: Redskins
Draft status: Redskins’ 2009 1st-round pick (13th overall, Texas)
Career stats: 254 tackles (169 solos), 40 sacks, 17 passes defended, INT.
Strengths/weaknesses: Orakpo is not an elite pass rusher but has the ability to be a good one, even if he struggled in that department (half a sack) before his injury last season. Orakpo is also a good run defender. Only four outside linebackers playing in the 3-4 defensive scheme had stopped the run as much or more than Orakpo (11) at the time of his injury.
Where he fits: The Cardinals need someone to replace the consistent pressure off the edge they got from John Abraham and to complement Alex Okafor, who began to emerge last season with eight sacks. But they also want to be stout against the run, an ability that slipped over the second half of last season.
Durability: Orakpo has only played 24 of a possible 48 games the past three seasons. In 2012, he missed most of the season with a torn pectoral muscle, and he missed the final nine games of the 2014 season with the same injury. He missed the final game of the 2013 season with a groin injury.
Colts defensive end Cory Redding; Colts center/guard A.Q. Shipley; Raiders center/guard Stefen Wisniewski