Questions outweigh answers in Cards' overhaul

March 13, 2013

TEMPE, Ariz. – The Cardinals want you to believe that Wednesday’s flurry of free-agent signings was the start of a much-needed makeover. But as the news came fast and furiously, it was hard to escape the thought that this was just an elaborate shell game, designed to hide the depressing truth.

Until we know the fate of Kevin Kolb, and until we find out if cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, kick returner Josh Cribbs or linebacker Jasper Brinkley will join the fray, it’s impossible to render a final verdict. But simple math leads you to believe that the subtractions currently outweigh the additions. When you take stock of the Cardinals now vs. the Cardinals at the end of last season, the team looks worse.

Let’s start at quarterback since that’s all we’ve been talking about in these parts for the past four offseasons. You probably didn’t think it was possible to downgrade this position after last season’s debacle, but if Kolb is gone (it looks like that’s where we’re headed) and the Cardinals do intend to let Brian Hoyer and Drew Stanton compete with John Skelton or Ryan Lindley and a presumed 2013 draft pick for the job, well, let’s just say the early returns do not look promising.

You already know the book on Skelton, Hoyer and Lindley. In six seasons, Stanton, the prize of Wednesday’s haul, 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, which might make you think he hasn’t had an opportunity but also make you think there’s a reason he hasn’t had an opportunity.

“They need to find an answer to this position,” Stanton said. “I want to be that answer. I’m going to do everything in my power to be that answer, and given that opportunity, I feel I can.”

Stanton, of course, played for new coach Bruce Arians last season in Indianapolis, so the thinking goes that he knows Arians’ system, even if he doesn’t yet know the Cardinals’ personnel. But just because he knows the system, and just because Arians has confidence in his ability to mold quarterbacks, that doesn’t mean he can turn Drew Stanton into Andrew Luck.

If Kolb is cut, we don’t know if the Cards will pursue another quarterback, but Stanton’s three-year deal worth $8.2 million ($3 million guaranteed) sure feels like starter’s money, and 2013 sure feels like a wash as we wait for another high draft pick and perhaps another crack at finding Kurt Warner’s replacement. Some clarity on Kolb's situation should come by Friday -- he's due to receive a $2 million bonus if he's still on the roster at 1 p.m. Pacific time.

The Cards did move to improve their running game by signing former Steeler Rashard Mendenhall to a one-year deal believed to be worth about $2.5 million. Mendenhall fits the mold of an Arians-style back much more than Reggie Bush, who was rumored to be headed this way.

With Arians as his offensive coordinator, Mendenhall rushed for 1,108 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009, 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.

In signing Mendenhall to a one-year deal, the Cards aren’t taking much of a risk while signing a back who has much to prove if he hopes to land a bigger contract next season.

“I just feel like it’s a start to something better,” Mendenhall said. “It kind of works out for right now.”

Mendenhall has had a few off-field issues, including a well-publicized series of tweets and a one-game suspension last season against the Dallas Cowboys after he refused to show up to the previous week's game because he had been deactivated.

But those are hardly red-flag moments, and Mendenhall’s toughness should be a good fit alongside Ryan Williams, provided he and Williams can stay healthy.

Perhaps the most alarming development this week has been how quickly a good 2012 defensive unit has been gutted. The Cards had already released starting strong safety Adrian Wilson and starting cornerback William Gay, but the team lost free agent Greg Toler to the Colts and outside linebacker Quentin Groves to Cleveland and then released playmaking free safety Kerry Rhodes, who might not have been willing to restructure his contract in a manner that lengthened his commitment to the Cardinals.

Despite the signing of Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers and an agreement on terms with safety Yeremiah Bell, the team is frighteningly thin in the secondary, with only three corners under contract.

The fifth singing of the day, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, should provide an immediate boost on special teams, but the Cards still don’t have a starting inside linebacker to play alongside Daryl Washington.

The complexion could certainly change in the next few days if the Cards are able to add a couple more pieces, but when you consider the moves the Seahawks and 49ers have made to bolster better teams, and when you consider that the Rams have a better quarterback situation and a defense that is at least equal to the Cardinals' at this point, is it realistic to expect anything other than another last-place finish in the NFC West this season?   

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