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Leinart with his “older brother” gone

Posted by Darren Urban on February 24, 2010 – 4:33 pm

Everyone is going to have a slightly different perspective on Matt Leinart. Mine comes from right after the NFC Championship game. Leinart didn’t play, just like he had barely played all year. But he, like most of his teammates, was euphoric after the Cards won and made it to the Super Bowl. He didn’t come across like the aloof guy that so many seem to believe him to be.

I don’t know if he’ll turn into a good NFL quarterback but I do think he has grown up and I think he learned a lot by watching Kurt Warner. That said, I think he needed Warner to leave to have any chance to flourish (and not just because Warner won’t be there to play). I made the parallel to Matt about it being like the older brother leaving home, giving the younger brother a chance to be his own person. The two had been linked since Leinart came into the league in one way or another.

Leinart could see the analogy.

“Me and Kurt have had such a roller coaster the last four years, it’s been so up and down,” Leinart said. “There has been so much attention on our position, as far as me coming in the rookie year, me getting hurt, splitting time, and the battle where he beat me out and then him resurrecting his career and becoming a Hall of Famer.

“I learned so much from him and I respect him so much and what he did, what he has accomplished and how he has accomplished everything. But now I am excited because now I can kind of be my own person. I don’t have to look over my shoulder and that’s something I always felt like I was doing, for whatever reason. The last two years, I wanted to play, but it was nice. I didn’t have to look over my shoulder. I was just studying and preparing for this time, for this year. The last two years I could have been one of those guys who said things I shouldn’t have … and been a distraction. But I wanted to make the time to my advantage and then, when he was done, I’d make it my time.”   


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Off to Indy

Posted by Darren Urban on February 24, 2010 – 7:41 am

The Cardinals’ coaches aren’t the only ones heading to Indianapolis for the scouting combine. I am too, flying out in a couple of hours for the snowy center of the NFL universe, at least for a few days. I’ll be talking to all the Cards’ decision-makers there as well as many NFL coaches and general managers who will be speaking (I saw Mike Shanahan, new Redskins’ coach famous for avoiding all media in Indy when he was the Broncos’ coach, scheduled to take a turn at the podium this weekend). We’ll also be working on a couple of video pieces for the website.

In case you weren’t sure, the 2010 season is upon us.


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The NFL’s game of tag

Posted by Darren Urban on February 23, 2010 – 10:35 am

By Thursday, teams must decide whether or not to use their franchise and/or transition tag on scheduled free agents. The Panthers aren’t going to tag defensive end Julius Peppers and the Cards aren’t (and never were) going to tag linebacker Karlos Dansby. In both cases, that’s because their salaries had grown so much that to use the franchise tag (or transition tag, which simply gives a team the right to match any contract offer) would be guaranteeing obscene amounts of money for a single season.

(The Cardinals still haven’t ruled out using a tag — a transition tag, probably — on one of their other scheduled unrestricted free agents, but it’s unlikely at this point. And no, if Antrel Rolle is released, the Cards can’t turn around and use a tag on him.)

The Patriots did tag nose tackle Vince Wilfork yesterday and the Steelers are apparently going to tag nose tackle Casey Hampton (which just shows how important nose tackles are, especially for 3-4 teams; the Cards would have probably had interest in chasing both those guys had they been available).

Dansby was mostly good about dealing with the tag, which he has had the last two seasons. He should, especially now, because it’s provided him $18 million in just two years and now he’s in line for a huge long-term payday. But most players — Hampton and Wilfork included — aren’t fans of the tag, fearing they won’t get the long-term deal (and big guaranteed money) while risking another season of injury. Darnell Dockett certainly made his thoughts known yesterday, something to keep in mind since Dockett would be a franchise candidate in 2012 if the Cards and he don’t come to an extension agreement by then.

“I think the franchise TAG is a way of saying we too cheap to pay u ur worth even though u worked hard to get a big contract,” Dockett tweeted. “Its BS.”


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Cards tab Henderson for DB coach

Posted by Darren Urban on February 22, 2010 – 10:48 am

UPDATE: It’s official. Donnie Henderson is the new defensive backs coach, replacing Teryl Austin.

I have yet to hear anything official, but the National Football Post — reporter Brad Biggs was the one to break that then-Cards’ DB coach Teryl Austin was interviewing with the University of Florida — is reporting the Cardinals are going to hire Donnie Henderson to replace Austin. Henderson was out of the NFL in 2009, but has served as defensive coordinator with the Lions and Jets and was the Ravens’ defensive backs coach when Baltimore won the Super Bowl. I remember Henderson as an assistant at Arizona State back in the early 1990s.


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Two weeks of decisions set offseason’s course

Posted by Darren Urban on February 21, 2010 – 6:21 pm

The next two weeks will heavily impact the direction of the Cards’ offseason, given that the annual Scouting Combine gets underway in Indianapolis in a couple of days and then free agency begins at the end of next week.

– The Cards want to keep LB Karlos Dansby and Dansby has insisted he hasn’t closed the door on the Cards. But in this depressed free agent market (thanks to the ongoing labor issues) Dansby could be considered the top free agent available in the entire NFL (especially with the glut of Julius Peppers’ bashing). Dansby was never going to get the franchise tag and given the circumstances, he won’t be getting the transition tag either.

– Antrel Rolle and the team have talked contract, but this close to Rolle’s magic date — he’s due that giant $4 million roster bonus next week — I expect him to be released into the open market. What that means is anyone’s guess. The Cardinals believe Rolle would like to come back, but again, it’s all relative when it comes to dollars. Could the Dolphins — and Miami is home for Rolle — come calling for big bucks given their issues with current free safety Gibril Wilson? Might the Giants, who had all kinds of secondary issues, choose to siphon away the guy who sealed their fate this past season? Someone else?

One of the other problems in the Rolle situation: When you’re talking numbers with a guy, I don’t see how the Cards can want to jump him over the deal Adrian Wilson just signed last season (I wouldn’t think Adrian would be all that excited about that either). Does that automatically set a ceiling for Rolle?

– The Cards are also going to have to give tender offers to their restricted free agents in the next week or so. The key RFAs for the Cards (assuming an uncapped year, which seems a foregone conclusion) are wide receiver Steve Breaston, center Lyle Sendlein, guard Deuce Lutui, tight end Ben Patrick and nose tackle Gabe Watson. There are slight differences in salary for RFAs this season now that guys might have three, four or five years of experience, but here’s how I think it’ll shake out: Breaston will get the first-round tender ($2.396 million) and the other four will get the second-round tender. In all cases, the Cards have the right of first refusal to match any offer another team gives, and that team would have to surrender the tendered draft pick if the Cards didn’t match.

But because of the rules changes, those second-round tenders could mean different things in terms of salary. For Sendlein (undrafted) and Patrick (seventh round), it would be $1.684 million. For Watson (fourth round), who has played four years, it would be $1.759 million. For Lutui, however, it could be two different salaries, since he was a second-round pick. He could get the same $1.759 million Watson would get in that situation, or the Cards could give him the salary for players who are tendered to their original draft round — $1.176 million — since a team would still have to give up a second-rounder for him.

– And then, of course, there is the combine itself, as the Cards begin to sort through their potential draft picks up close and personal.

It’s going to get interesting.


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Learning about the labor situation

Posted by Darren Urban on February 18, 2010 – 4:35 pm

The NFL has created a blog/collection spot for news it is putting out about the ongoing labor uncertainty or various media reports on the subject. This doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore it and how it may relate to the Cards, but otherwise, you can go to nfllabor.com to get updates. The last couple of entries are useful; one has a list of every team’s unrestricted free agents (scheduled as of now) and one explains how each team in the “Final Eight” is affected. For the Cardinals, they can attack free agency this way:

NFC Divisional Playoff Arizona Cardinals — 1 unrestricted free agent for $5.5 million* or more in Year One of contract + the same number of Cardinals unrestricted free agents who sign with other clubs + any unrestricted free agent for less than $3.7 million* in Year One of contract with limitations on per season increases.

* Estimate

Also:

Q. Can an unrestricted free agent be signed by one club and traded to a “Final Eight” club to circumvent the “Final Eight” rules?

A. No. A “final eight” team can’t use another team as a pass-through to sign a player it would otherwise be prohibited from signing. For example, if one of the 24 clubs which did not reach the Divisional Playoffs signs an unrestricted free agent, that club can’t trade him to New Orleans unless the Saints also lost an unrestricted free agent who had a Year One salary of equal or greater value than the player acquired in the trade.  In addition, the contract of the player acquired via trade would also have to comply with the yearly contract increase limitation.


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Change offense for Leinart? Not necessarily

Posted by Darren Urban on February 18, 2010 – 9:28 am

During our conversation Wednesday, coach Ken Whisenhunt mentioned the improvements in the Cards’ running game and the ability for the Cardinals to have a more balanced offense if the situation calls for such. But when asked whether the transition from Kurt Warner to Matt Leinart was going to force an overhaul of the offense, Whisenhunt insisted it wouldn’t.

“Matt has been here for three years with us, he’s been in this offense, he understands the offense,” Whisenhunt said. “We’re obviously going to do some things with Matt that fit his skill set, things we didn’t do with Kurt — moving in the pocket, getting him out in open space, things Matt does well — but we have great confidence that Matt can execute the offense we have been running the last couple of years. He has shown progress in that.

“You look at a guy who has worked as hard as he has to improve at that position. He went through a competition with Kurt in the ’08 preseason and it was very close, and then you see Kurt play the way he did, you would naturally think Matt had to do something good to keep the competition that close.”

That doesn’t mean the Cards won’t run it a little more often, but, Whisenhunt emphasized, “I feel we are still able to line up and throw the football. Is the production going to drop? Well, Matt threw for 300 yards in the second half with four wide receivers against Green Bay (in the preseason) and he did a nice job in the New Orleans game right before the half moving us down the field.”

Obviously, the Cardinals have months to tinker with exactly how Leinart-as-starter and their offense fit together. And, as I have mentioned before, I think Leinart will be in a better spot to succeed without Warner looming in the background.

“We have seen things on the practice field from Matt every day, things everyone doesn’t see, that leads us to believe he is going to be a good quarterback,” Whisenhunt added.


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Talks with Rolle ongoing

Posted by Darren Urban on February 17, 2010 – 4:39 pm

As expected, the Cardinals are trying to negotiate a contract extension with safety Antrel Rolle — a must, given that Rolle is due a $4 million bonus next month and an $8+ million salary. It’ll be interesting what Rolle wants out of the deal. If the Cards believe there is a good chance of getting something done, there really isn’t any urgency to reach a new agreement before needing to pay out the bonus because Rolle will get that money (and then some) anyway. But there’s an element of high-stakes poker to this too. Rolle doesn’t have to do anything and force the Cards’ hand, although in this market, all players need to be wary of what they can get.

Rolle is easily the most pressing issue for the Cards right now, given that Karlos Dansby’s situation can’t be resolved before free agency begins and Dansby is able to set his price.


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Cards could still play tag

Posted by Darren Urban on February 17, 2010 – 1:51 pm

Just got a chance to talk to general manager Rod Graves and coach Ken Whisenhunt on a variety of topics (more to come later this afternoon), but a couple of quick points:

– Graves said the Cardinals have not made a final call on whether to use a franchise or transition tag on an unrestricted free agent. That is still being discussed (the deadline is Feb. 25).

Nevertheless, the Cards don’t seem to have a likely candidate for a franchise tag. They can’t tag LB Karlos Dansby (whom Graves said the team does want to retain if possible) because to do so for a third straight season would cost $16 million. They could transition tag Dansby — for a similarly big paycheck — for the right to match any free-agent offer. That seems much more possible, but it’s still a risk. As for the other UFAs, none  are tag candidates: QB Brian St. Pierre, FB Dan Kreider, WR Sean Morey, TE Anthony Becht, OL Jeremy Bridges, T Mike Gandy, DT Bryan Robinson, LB Monty Beisel, LB Chike Okeafor, CB Ralph Brown, S Matt Ware and K Neil Rackers.

– Whisenhunt said he doesn’t have a timetable yet to replace departed defensive backs coach Teryl Austin.

More on azcardinals.com in a bit.


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Karlos has always been consistent

Posted by Darren Urban on February 16, 2010 – 9:53 am

As free-agent-to-be Karlos Dansby has made the radio rounds over the weekend, he has been asked a lot of different ways where he’d want to go. He goes on a show based back East, and the Giants suddenly are an attractive team. He spends time on a Miami talk show and the Dolphins become a team he has long envisioned himself playing for if he had a chance. There are talks about “wish lists” and the like. (Dansby went on XTRA 910 to insist “I can look good in any team, actually I can fit in anywhere.”).

Here’s the deal, and it’s not exactly breaking news: Dansby has one team on his wish list — the team that ponies up the most money.

I say this not to slight Karlos in the least. But any notion the money won’t be, if not the sole factor, at least 98 percent of the reason Dansby will end up wherever he ends up is fallacy. ‘Los will say he wants “a team to step up to the plate and say, ‘Dansby, we want you. Dansby, we need you. You are our type of guy and we are going to ride with you.’ ” — which he did to radio station WQAM — but that is just euphemistic language for “I want to be one of the highest-paid players out there.”

That makes sense. The more money invested in a player, the more important they must be to the team — at least, in theory.

It’s more than that, in some ways. The contract game changed for Dansby when he watched Calvin Pace get wined and dined (and helicoptered over New York, in the case of the Jets’ sales pitch to Pace) before Pace got showered with money. Dansby always believed he was better than Pace, so he should get all that and more, right?

Darnell Dockett and Anquan Boldin chose to take extensions earlier in their career in part for the security, and obviously it has affected them down the road. The Cards were more leery of doing something like that with Dansby because of his injury and practice issues earlier in his career, and by the time they decided to shift gears, Dansby got it in his head he’d rather test the open market. That’s been delayed because of two years with the franchise tag (and do not overlook the fact Dansby has been essentially playing for a contract for three seasons now, so we will see if anything changes when he gets a long-term deal).

But Dansby has never changed his tune. He has always held fast to this ideal of hitting the open market, to the point where he scuttled an extension last offseason after the team and the agent thought they were close to making something happen (and Dansby changed agents soon after).

Dansby wants his chance at a helicopter ride.


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