Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Al Johnson Becomes a Top-Paid Center

Cardinals cautious in free agency

By Darren Urban
March 6, 2007

The Cardinals went through another quiet day during free agency Tuesday, but they are paying close attention to the manic NFL free agent market that developed over the first five days. That's a big part of the reason things have been relatively quiet at the team's Tempe complex.

The massive money parceled out around the league - $49 million contracts to linemen like Eric Steinbach, Derrick Dockery and the Cards' own refugee Leonard Davis, $23 million to aging running back Ahman Green, $18 million to a fullback (with 12 career carries) named Ovie Mughelli - has given many NFL teams pause.

The Cardinals are one of them.

"There have seemed to be some good deals," vice president of football operations Rod Graves said. "But I have also seen some panic moves."

Some crazy contracts are to be expected. That's what happens when the NFL, thanks to teams becoming smarter in re-signing their best players before they ever get to free agency, provides possibly its weakest free agent class ever in a season when the salary cap jumped $7 million per team.

Some good (and some average) players are now getting star salaries. But Graves noted plenty of teams (the New York Giants, Philadelphia, Carolina, Chicago, Green Bay, Baltimore and San Diego among them) have not reached into the free agent pool for anything but re-signing their own players.

"I am not convinced the market has changed by majority opinion," Graves said. "I think (teams) are sitting back and refusing to join in when it comes to overpaying players that they don't think are worth it."

The Cardinals took a couple of days before signing their first free agent, center Al Johnson.

Johnson's four-year deal could be worth $24 million if all the incentives are maxed out, but for practical purposes it gives Johnson $7 million in the first season, helped by $3.5 million salaries each year - for a total of $17.5 million.

The deal was for more money than one would have expected given that he was a backup in 2006, but it isn't that surprising in the current market that Johnson is now among the four top-paid centers in the league.

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