<
>

Cardinals get most out of veteran free agents 

The Arizona Cardinals have been smart with their personnel moves over the past three years, using free agency as a way to fill holes and complement depth. Since 2014, they rank tied for 21st in the NFL in total signings and 18th in total contract value. Here's a look at how those decisions have panned out on the field:

Total signings: 26* (tied for 21st in NFL)

Total contract value: $150,915,429 (18th in NFL)

Three-year W-L: 31-16-1

Biggest hit: When Chris Johnson ran for 663 yards with the New York Jets in 2014, a lot of people thought he was washed up. Then he was signed by the Cardinals, became their starter in Week 2 and was among the league leaders in rushing before he got injured in Week 12 of the 2015 season. He was the ideal veteran pickup for the Cardinals, giving them productivity and leadership. During his 11 games as starter in 2015, he looked like the CJ2K of old. After not missing a game due to injury during his first seven seasons in the NFL, he suffered season-ending injuries his last two years. He was still Arizona's biggest hit because of how he helped carry Arizona to a 13-3 record, even after playing four games in 2016 before suffering another season-ending injury.

Biggest miss: There are three players that could fit this title: Jonathan Dwyer, Evan Mathis or Sean Weatherspoon. Dwyer was cut a few weeks into his first season with the Cardinals after he was arrested on charges of domestic assault. Mathis, who was the Cardinals right guard, was hurt in Week 1 this past season and tried to play through it but injuries ultimately ended his season and his career after five games. Weatherspoon, however, may have been the most notable free agency miss of the last three years. He signed with Arizona after missing a season-and-a-half due to injuries but was deemed healthy and expectations were that he'd start and return to the level he once played at in Atlanta but a training camp injury set him back. He ended up playing in 14 games but never started.

Sneaky-good move: The Cardinals have had good luck with free agents in their 30s over the last three years but Larry Foote may have been their best “sneaky-good” signing. He was 34 in his only season in Arizona, 2014, but he started 15 games at inside linebacker and had 83 tackles as the man who ran the defense on the field. He was reliable, and a leader on and off the field. And the Cardinals got him for less than $1 million. Some of Foote's biggest contributions came in the locker room and meeting rooms, where he mentored Kevin Minter to replace him.

Verdict: As the Steve Keim-era as the Cardinals general manager has progressed, he's been able to stick to his goal of building his roster primarily through the draft while filling needs through free agency. And it's worked. He's found gems in other teams' castoffs and like any other team, he's had his busts. But Keim has relied on veteran free agent signings to fill specific needs and provide stability and leadership for his locker room. It's helped Arizona to 31 wins in three seasons, including 24 total in 2014 and 2015.

*Signings made during free agency period beginning in March.