Yesterday's announcement that the Cardinals were re-signing Darnell Dockett to a long-term extension represented more than a team locking up a two-time Pro Bowler; it's continued proof that this organization does, in fact, know what it's doing.
This new version of the Cardinals, the one headed by Michael Bidwell and not his father, is one that is shrewd and not cheap. One that is flexible and not stubborn. This is an organization that cares about winning in both the short and long term.
As has been proven by the Eagles and Patriots in the past decade, one of the main keys to sustained NFL success is to pay the right guys and dump players who are slightly on the wrong side of their peak or not worth as much money as someone else is willing to pay them. In effect, the current financial structure of the NFL makes it team-killing to commit a bunch of guaranteed money to players who aren't going to produce commiserate to their paycheck over the term of their deal.
That seems to be the attitude the Cardinals are taking, and it's a winning one. Take a look at the three most recent high profile personnel moves:
- Anquan Boldin - Boldin turns 30 in a month and his high contact receiving style has contributed to his missing 12 games (including playoffs) in the past three seasons. When you have Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, and Early Doucet, you don't sink money into a 30-something wideout with injury problems.
- Antrel Rolle - A top 10 pick in 2005 as a cornerback, Rolle found a niche as a free safety -- even rising to a Pro Bowl alternate last season. But while Rolle has been solid for the Cardinals, it would have been irresponsible to match the Giants offer, which made him the highest paid safety in football at the time. He's good, but as the New York fans will discover soon, he's not THAT good.
- Karlos Dansby - Much the same as Rolle, Dansby is a really good linebacker who isn't quite worth what another team was willing to pay him. When Miami gave Dansby $22 million guaranteed dollars, he became the highest paid non-QB rushing linebacker in the league and rightfully drifted right out of the Cardinals price range.
Both Rolle and Dansby are replaceable talent-wise at a more cost efficient rate. The drop off from Rolle/Dansby to Kerry Rhodes and second round pick Daryl Washington won't be as significant as some think.
The players the Cardinals have opened the check book for in recent years -- Larry Fitzgerald, Adrian Wilson, and now Dockett -- are all elite at their positions and on reasonable deals (none is the highest paid player at his respective position).
Ideally, you'd pay everyone and keep talent at the level of Rolle and Dansby in town, but the salary cap makes personnel an either/or game. Considering you basically have to decide between Fitz or Boldin, Wilson or Rolle, and Dockett or Dansby, the choices are obvious in each case and the Cardinals keep getting it right.