Free agency begins on March 11. The Cardinals have many key pieces in place, but there are still needs to be addressed. We’ll break it down by position over the next 10 days as unsigned NFL players prepare to hit the open market.
Free agent primer: Tight ends
Scheduled free agents: Jake Ballard (restricted); Jim Dray,
Analysis: Coach Bruce Arians addressed the position at the Scouting combine and made it clear he prefers block-first tight ends over pass-catching ones. Jimmy Graham was unsurprisingly franchise tagged by the Saints last week, but even if a player of his ilk hit free agency, the Cardinals likely wouldn’t have pursued him because of more pressing needs elsewhere. With that being said, it’s still a position poised for plenty of movement, because four of the team’s top five tight ends from a season ago are free agents.
The one under contract is incumbent starter Rob Housler, who was inconsistent last year but still has upside. Jake Ballard was reliable after signing midseason, and assuming the Cards tender him an offer, the Cardinals can match any offer for him in free agency. Jim Dray was not flashy but seems to fit into the mold Arians prefers, which also makes him a candidate to return. Jeff King and Kory Sperry will likely be allowed to test the market. Darren Fells and Andre Hardy both played basketball in college and are signed for next year, but seem to be more of developmental projects than players who can be marked down to contribute in 2014. Brett Brackett was signed to a futures contract and is also a depth possibility.
With several open spots, General Manager Steve Keim has options. If he wants to keep the status quo, he can likely re-sign Ballard and Dray to cheaper deals. If there is a free agent out there he prefers, Keim could add someone to push Housler for the starting job. The market isn’t particularly strong at tight end this year, but the Cardinals aren’t looking for a star, so they have some flexibility as free agency beckons.
Notable scheduled NFL free agents: Jermichael Finley, Dustin Keller, Brandon Pettigrew, Scott Chandler, Fred Davis, Ed Dickson, Dallas Clark, Kellen Winslow, Garrett Graham, Clay Harbor, Ben Hartsock, Michael Hoomanawanui.
Notable past free agent TE signings by the Cardinals: Jake Ballard (2013); Todd Heap (2011); Jeff King (2011); Freddie Jones (2002); Chris Gedney (1997).