TEMPE, Ariz. -- As the Arizona Cardinals prepare to begin negotiating with free agents Monday, they’ll be competing against other teams, the salary cap and a negative perception derived from the NFLPA players survey that was released March 1.
The Cardinals ranked 31st out of 32 teams and a report card gave the Cardinals five failing grades: Treatment of families, food service and nutrition, weight room, training room and locker room. The survey gave outsiders a look inside an organization’s failures, according to its players. According to the NFLPA, the survey was completed by 1,300 players, which accounts for approximately 65% of players who played at least one snap last season.
A team source told ESPN the survey was done midseason when players were “angry” at how the Cardinals’ eventual 4-13 year was unfolding.
On the cusp of free agency, ESPN asked nine agents whether the results of the NFLPA’s survey would impact their advice to clients on signing with Arizona.
Two were adamant that it would; the other seven said money trumps everything else.
“If anybody tells you otherwise, they're lying,” one agent told ESPN. “These guys are going where they get the most amount of money, and then I would think secondarily to that is, candidly, just the opportunity.”
Another agent was much more blunt.
“Nobody gives a f--- about the facility, if I'm being honest, if the money's right,” they said.
New Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon, who was on the job for nine days before the NFLPA released the survey results, said he and new general manager Monti Ossenfort have already started to make changes around the facility.
Gannon will keep a list of what he wants to fix and thinks the players will be excited for the coming changes.
“When I interviewed for this job, if I was going to be the head coach here, the directive [from owner Michael Bidwill] was, ‘I want a fresh set of eyes on everything that we're doing with football operations, and I want to know between you and Monti, how it can be better and how we can improve that,'” Gannon said. “... So, not really concerned about what went on in the past. I'm concerned about how we move forward to help our team win.”
According to the agents interviewed, this much was clear: If the Cardinals offered a player a significant amount more than other teams, that player wouldn’t have much of a decision to make.
But what if the Cardinals’ offer is similar to that of other teams?
“Even before the survey, these guys talk,” an agent said. “They know. Everybody's friends with everybody, knows everybody, and [the Cardinals] having the reputation of being cheap -- charging your players for food."
The Cardinals are the only club to charge players for dinner, according to the survey.
“When you get to the really, really tight situations where the money on the table is basically the same, it can have an impact," the agent said. "And I think could create a situation where Arizona can still get the players they want, but they might have to make sure that they're a little bit above the competition because if they're not -- if it's a dead heat -- they're going to have a tougher time.”
Another agent said if their client signs with the Cardinals, they will still educate the player on what to expect in Arizona.
“You let them know like, ‘Hey, you know, it's a little bit different over there. The facilities might not be as great and this, that, and the other, but they don't care in the front end. They only care when they get there.”
For one of the agents who said facility conditions and organizational reputation are more important than the money, the results of the NFLPA’s survey weren’t anything ground-breaking.
“We knew a lot of those before those came out,” they said.
But the results are “huge” to some when it comes to evaluating which teams to consider.
“Those grades are very, very important in our guys making decisions,” the agent said.
To that agent, placing his players on a winning team, if possible, is the priority. Winning, the agent said, solves all the other problems. Everything, they added, is good enough when a team wins.
Another agent said that the treatment of families, for which the Cardinals received an F, is “a little bit of a hot button” and would be something that players take into consideration when considering the Cardinals.
Another layer agents discussed was where players were in their careers.
For younger players trying to make a roster or hold onto to a spot at the bottom of the roster, the survey results wouldn't matter. They just want a job.
Older players who are on a second, third or fourth contract, or who have been on different teams and seen how other organizations work, may take a longer look at what’s being said by players.
One area the Cardinals and almost every other team will struggle with, an agent said, is their facilities. Although the Cardinals received Fs for their locker room, weight room and training room, the agent pointed out that players from some Power 5 schools will be coming from facilities that are better than all but a handful of teams.
“Look, if you're an LSU kid, you get drafted by the Cardinals, or a Clemson kid and you get drafted by the Cardinals, and you walk into that building, you're going to be like, ‘What the hell is going on?’”
It wasn't all bad for the Cardinals. Where Arizona has a leg up on other teams, save for about eight, is its warm location.
“Most of the teams in the NFL play in s---ty, cold-weather environments,” an agent said. “To be able to go and play in Arizona or Vegas or L.A., despite the taxes of course, the players want to do that.”
Players look at that when making a decision, agents said, just as much as the other tangibles and intangibles.
“Every player I know who's just say under the age of 26 loves Arizona,” an agent said. “It's a fun place to live. It's cheap. The cost of living is not through the roof. So, you’re going to look at things like that.”