Cardinals hope buying low yields high reward in free agency

The Cardinals took a chance this offseason on Kevin White and several other players with a history of injuries. AP Photo/Tae-Gyun Kim, File

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Kliff Kingsbury did his homework on wide receiver Kevin White.

Before the Arizona Cardinals signed White to a one-year, $1.5 million deal, Kingsbury called people with the Chicago Bears, with whom White spent his first four NFL seasons, and people who coached him at West Virginia. They all raved about White's toughness, his personality and his competitive spirit.

But the one thing they could not tell Kingsbury was whether White would get hurt again. And that's the one question everybody's most curious about.

That's also made him the poster child for the Cardinals' approach to free agency this year.

White's long injury history left him available in free agency long enough for the Cardinals to sign him to a prove-it deal on the third day of the league year. And White has plenty to prove. He has played in just 14 games since he was drafted seventh overall by the Bears in 2015 thanks to two fibula fractures and a shoulder fracture.

Signing players like White -- those with a recent injury history -- was one part of Arizona's two-pronged free-agency formula. The other part was to again sign veterans to short-term deals. Both have become more of the rule for the Cardinals in free agency recently than the exception.

The buy-low, sell-high approach to free agency continues to be a constant in general manager Steve Keim's seven-year tenure.

Of the 11 players the Cardinals have signed through the first eight days of free agency and 14 added overall including via trade, seven inked one-year contracts and seven have dealt with significant injury issues recently.

"I think it just fit," Kingsbury said. "I think it fit with what we're trying to do. [Defensive coordinator] Vance [Joseph] had a previous relationship with a bunch of the guys defensively -- whether it be Vance or [linebackers coach] Billy [Davis] -- and felt good about who they are as people and high-character guys that come in and be good leaders in our locker room in a first year when you're really trying to establish a culture and do things the right way."

The one upside for Kingsbury is that an injured player could still be a presence in the locker room.

Over the past couple seasons, injuries have limited Cardinals additions such as inside linebacker Jordan Hicks (four years, $34 million), who missed four games last season with a calf injury and nine in 2017 with an Achilles injury; tight end Charles Clay (one year, $2 million), who has dealt with knee, back and hamstring issues; offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert (trade), who had recurring ankle issues early in his career and ended last season on injured reserve with a knee injury; offensive lineman Max Garcia (one year, $2 million), who tore his ACL last season; and cornerback Robert Alford (three years, $22.5 million), who has dealt with an ankle injury.

"I mean, that's part of the league," Kingsbury said. "I think everybody has injury concerns. There's a certain element of luck that goes into it with guys being able to stay healthy, and last year Arizona was struck with the injury bug some and we hope that doesn't happen again this year."

This isn't the first time Arizona has signed free agents with recent injury histories.

The Cardinals signed injury-prone quarterback Sam Bradford last year to a two-year mega-deal. He started just three games and was released during the season. They also signed tackle Andre Smith to a two-year deal ahead of last season. He was coming off back-to-back season-ending injuries and started eight of 11 games before being released.

Guard Justin Pugh, also part of the Cards' 2018 free-agency class, signed with Arizona after dealing with a back injury in his final season with the New York Giants that landed him on injured reserve. He started all seven games he played before being placed on injured reserve in Week 10 with a left knee injury.

This year, Kingsbury is "really happy" with how the first round of free agency has gone for the Cardinals.

He believes White has the potential to have an immediate impact on Arizona's offense.

"That's what we're trying to find out," Kingsbury said. "I think just a fresh start [is what he needs]. He had some tough injuries. He's still 6-3, 205 and ran a 4.3 at the combine. And so, we got to try and see what he's got, because I watched it in person on the sideline and he can be a dangerous player and we're hoping that that's what we get."