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Free agency starts fast for the Cardinals

A lot has been made of the Cardinals’ decisions lately. Although Arizona has undoubtedly been one of the most frugal franchises in recent memory, the three most recent transactions were not necessarily motivated by an effort to scrimp on talent to save a buck.

The Cardinals essentially had their decisions made for them regarding Dansby, Rolle, and to a lesser extent, Boldin. Dansby and Rolle were unrestricted free agents that were absolutely determined to test their value on the open market. Only the most immature fan would argue for dumping enormous sums of money above and beyond what these two received from Miami and New York, respectively. In addition, Boldin’s trade was merely a matter of when, not if.

Let’s look at the Dansby and Rolle deals. Dansby received a $43 million ($22 million guaranteed), 5-year deal, making him the highest paid inside linebacker in the NFL. Rolle received a $37 million ($15 million guaranteed), 5-year deal that makes him one of the highest paid safeties in NFL history. Is Dansby the best inside linebacker in the NFL? Is Rolle one of the best safeties in the history of the NFL? Of course not; they shouldn’t be paid as if they are.

Naturally, this assumes that dollar value, measured by talent alone, reflects a player’s value to his team, which may not be a safe assumption. Specifically, Dansby was the centerpiece of the Cardinals’ defense. When Dansby departed, he left a huge physical and emotional void in an already suspect linebacker core, which as of now must be filled by unproven young players.

To make matters worse, the Cardinals won’t find a more talented free agent linebacker this year. So, I guess the argument can be made that although Dansby’s value in a vacuum isn’t worth what he got from Miami, the role he played for the Cardinals warranted paying mega-dollars to ensure he comes back. It’s a losing argument, though. It is irresponsible to sink the entire team in an attempt to bring back one player who is determined to leave, no matter how important he may be.

The “value based on talent vs. value to the team” argument doesn’t even apply to Antrel Rolle. He was not a leader (vocal or through his play) on the Cardinals and he is not an elite safety in the NFL; he has only played two full season at free safety after he failed as a corner. There is not doubt that Rolle is quite talented and will most likely be missed, but the hole he left was relatively easy to fill, especially when compared to Dansby. It is ludicrous to think that Arizona should have exceeded the Giant’s offer in an attempt to yank Rolle back to Arizona.

The bottom line is that the Dolphins and the Giants grossly overpaid for what they considered to be their most important needs. Miami was porous in the middle of the field last season and New York gave up massive chunks of yardage over the top in coverage. While the teams got what they wanted, they gave up way more than what the Cardinals should have offered to these players.

Finally, there is Anquan Boldin. The Cardinals may have dropped the ball here. When they did so is a less obvious issue because it’s nearly impossible to know exactly what happened between Boldin and the front office over the last two years. Was Boldin promised a top-dollar extension or was this just the case of another wide receiver touting his own worth and wreaking havoc on his team? I would rather believe the former is true because I want to respect Anquan Boldin as a player. If it is indeed true that the front office promised him a fruitful extension, shame on the Cardinals for allowing the man who brought hope to a desolate organization get away because they were too cheap to pay up. They could have given Boldin a deal that was commensurate with his talent and his role on the team, which would have all but ensured that Boldin would retire a Cardinal. In addition, no matter how much talent is behind Boldin at receiver, Anquan was the heart and soul of the Cardinals since 2003. It is very difficult to replace an emotional leader and the Cardinals are a better team with him than without him. In any event, the deal is done and 3rd and 4th round picks soothe healing wounds. Thankfully, the 4th round pick already proved useful in securing Kerry Rhodes from the Jets.

While it’s easy to jump on the Cardinals’ front office, and believe me it is, they didn’t foul up with Rolle and Dansby. In addition, it’s encouraging to see the Cardinals were aggressive in finding a quick, talented replacement in Rhodes. Further, Larry Foote and Joey Porter are scheduled to visit this week. While they are both aging veterans in the twilight of their respective careers, they can still get the job done. Either or both would provide much needed leadership at an extremely young position for the Cardinals. I think, for once, we can afford to lighten up on the Cardinals front office, if only just a little.

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