Jake Ballard could make play as a starter

TEMPE, Ariz. -- One staple to any Bruce Arians-coached offense is having two tight ends who can produce -- and preferably at high levels.

Last season, however, that was not the case as injuries marred Rob Housler's season and Jim Dray was more of a blocking back than a receiving threat. Then Jake Ballard stepped in during the bye week and provided some offensive relief as a blocking tight end.

So it made sense for the Cardinals to re-sign the restricted free agent to a one-year deal, the team announced Tuesday, just a few minutes after free agency began. With Dray and Kory Sperry both hitting free agency and unlikely to return, and depsite the addition of John Carlson last week, Ballard could make a run as the starting tight end opposite Housler. And with the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer, Arizona has upgraded its offense to where quarterback Carson Palmer will have enough options at receiver, running back and tight end.

Ballard said last season that his knee, which he injured in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, was better, but he needed more time to get back into football shape. With a full offseason to prepare -- he was signed off his couch last November, he said -- Ballard will be in full football shape by the time training camp rolls around. It's not too early in their tenure together to say signing Ballard to a one-year deal is a vintage move by Arians and general manager Steve Keim. They will give Ballard a year to prove himself, and if he comes through, they will reward him next offseason.

Eight games wasn't a large enough sample size. During that time, however, Ballard caught seven passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 10.7 yards per reception. His usage was sporadic and sometimes curious. He started three games, but wasn't fully utilized in any of them, finishing with a season high of three catches at Tennessee.

Expect those numbers to go up this season.