As Kurt Warner stood at the podium last January to announce his retirement, the magnitude of the moment was visible on every Cardinal’s face. Coach Ken Whisenhunt kept a stiff upper lip, assuring everyone that the pieces were in place to keep the train running, but it was an impossible sell.
Hall of Fame quarterbacks are hard to find, and Warner’s retirement also preceded the loss of free-agent departures of linebacker Karlos Dansby and Pro Bowl safety Antrel Rolle, the decision not to re-sign left tackle Mike Gandy and the financially motivated decision to trade Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin.
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The Cards knew Warner was irreplaceable, but they moved quickly to shore up the other areas and felt they had addressed some needs. Thirteen games into the season, two things are clear:
1.) Warner masked a lot of Cardinals deficiencies.
2.) The free-agent additions haven’t offset those deficiencies.
In our continuing examination of the Cardinals’ many moving parts, we take a look at the key free-agent additions and grade them out:
QB Derek Anderson
The good: Anderson’s toughness is beyond question, given the inordinate amount of shots he took this season. Whisenhunt has lauded his study habits and work ethic. Finally, Anderson never complained or created dissension when he lost his job to backup Max Hall, saying he would continue to work. Those are important qualities in a teammate.
The bad: This segment starts and ends with his performance. Anderson has completed less than 52 percent of his passes this season, which is even lower than his poor career percentage. He has thrown 10 interceptions to only seven touchdowns. He has missed a lot of open receivers and has missed a host of potential big plays that Warner completed with regularity. Anderson cut down his turnovers as the season progressed, but he never consistently moved the offense and currently owns the second-lowest passer rating (65.9) among eligible NFL quarterbacks.
The grade: F
The future: Anderson signed a two-year deal worth $7.25 million ($3.25 million guaranteed). Nobody has said it publicly, but Anderson won’t be back next year. The Cards’ greatest priority is to upgrade this position.
G Alan Faneca
The good: After a slow start, Faneca was better in pass protection than most observers would acknowledge. He was also particularly effective in the run game when he pulled and got into the second layer. He’s a smart player and a valuable locker room presence who helped keep the offensive line from coming unglued.
The bad: Faneca has definitely lost a step, which he would be the first to acknowledge. That will be reflected when he fails to make the Pro Bowl this season for the first time in a decade. All the years of wear and tear have taken their toll on his legs. He lacks the drive and speed that he used to have. It’s also disappointing that with Faneca and supposed run-mauler Levi Brown anchoring the left side, the Cards haven’t been able to run more consistently or get more big plays.
The grade: B-
The future: Faneca signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract. With an impending lockout and the end of his Pro Bowl run in sight, don’t be surprised if the highly accomplished guard calls it quits. He’ll likely wait until the offseason to make that decision, just to make sure he doesn’t get the itch once training camp is near.
OLB Joey Porter
The good: Porter was always accountable. When he posted just one sack in his first five games he never pointed fingers or made excuses. He simply said he needed to be better. He was the model of a leader, knowing his play would be the best example for young players to follow. Then he went on a three-game run in which he produced four sacks, and it looked as though he had turned the corner.
The bad: Porter didn’t sustain the success of that three-game stretch and has been a disappointment this season