Expiring minds want to know

Posted by Darren Urban on June 30, 2010 – 10:02 am

If the NBA has the Summer of 2010, the NFL – right now – is staring at the Summer of 2011.

The lack of a new collective bargaining agreement and the possibility of a work stoppage after the 2010 season has slowed the talk of contract extensions throughout the league. Judgments aside, that’s just a fact. Teams and players don’t know what free agency will look like next March (or later; until a new CBA is put in place, there will be no free agency movement). It’ll affect every team around the league. That is also a fact.

Closer to home, though, it looks like it’ll make for one, um, let’s say interesting offseason for the Cardinals. Here are the key players on the team right now who are not under contract past 2010 and are scheduled to have their contracts expire after this season:

  • P Ben Graham
  • WR Steve Breaston
  • S Matt Ware
  • CB Michael Adams
  • RB Jason Wright
  • RB Tim Hightower
  • LB Monty Beisel
  • C Lyle Sendlein
  • G Alan Faneca
  • T Brandon Keith
  • G Reggie Wells
  • G Deuce Lutui
  • DT Alan Branch
  • WR Early Doucet
  • TE Anthony Becht
  • TE Ben Patrick
  • DE Kenny Iwebema
  • DT Bryan Robinson
  • DT Gabe Watson

Obviously, some players are more important that others. Some may not even make the roster this season. And some figure to be still under restricted FA status next season even with a new CBA (guys like Doucet, Keith and Iwebema, for instance). But again, you don’t know how it turns out. That also doesn’t include three major key players who, while all under contract through 2011, will need extensions by next offseason to make sure they stay in Arizona: WR Larry Fitzgerald, DL Darnell Dockett and (assuming he plays as the Cards hope) QB Matt Leinart.

It’s quite the list. I find it hard to believe, if there is a delay in free agency that there won’t be some short moratorium to let teams get their FA ducks in a row before the market is flooded with UFAs. But you never know.

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About the Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on June 29, 2010 – 10:42 am

A couple of links about the team during this s-l-o-w time:

— The New York Times does a pretty comprehensive breakdown of the Cardinals going into the season. It never helps credibility with wrong facts (Alex Sendlein? DRC attending Middle Tennessee State?) but it tackles the roster thoroughly. It doesn’t exactly paint a rosy picture.

— The NFLPA website tagged along with Darnell Dockett during a recent cruise in Washington, D.C. when he met with wounded soldiers from the Walter Reed Hospital. The Cards (and Dockett) also made a trip to Walter Reed back in 2008, when the team spent the week in the D.C. area between road games at Washington and New York.

— In case you hadn’t heard, there is a Pat Tillman documentary being released Aug. 20, a movie to once again look at Tillman’s military career and his controversial death. Here is a link to a trailer.

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Returning to the quiet

Posted by Darren Urban on June 28, 2010 – 11:38 am

Although it wasn’t as if I didn’t touch any news the entire time I was away on vacation, today is the day I have officially returned. Not that there is a whole lot to return to right now.

The draft picks are at the NFL rookie symposium, although they have apparently taken John Lott’s message of staying in shape to heart (Dan Williams gets mentioned by name!). The rest of the undrafted rookies, and a handful of other players, are still working with Lott downstairs. I’ll have a column on undrafted rookie cornerback Marshay Green later today.

For those that have asked, I have no idea if the report of Deuce Lutui weighing 396 pounds is true. I saw Deuce the day he signed, but I have long since passed my time as guy-who-guesses-weight-at-the-carnival, so I couldn’t tell. I’m lousy at that sort of thing. But, at 6-foot-4, my guess is that the Cards would want him around that 338-pound mark (or maybe even a few pounds less) when he is playing, so he’d have major work to do if the report is true. We will know soon enough. When camp starts, if Deuce is really that bad, I’d guess coach Ken Whisenhunt isn’t going to shower him with compliments.

Some are asking about draft picks getting signed — even defensive lineman Keilen Dykes brought up the subject this morning — but those will come soon. Post-July 4th is typical for the franchise, and then there will be a flurry over the next month. Remember, the Cards have 86 on the roster including the seven unsigned draft picks. They have to be at 80 (unsigned guys don’t officially count) so right now, the “official” number is 79 — meaning every draft pick they sign after the first one means a player must be cut.

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Breaston: “I am what it is”

Posted by Darren Urban on June 26, 2010 – 8:41 am

Long before he became a successful NFL player, Steve Breaston had shown himself to be an impressive poet. Interestingly, Breaston doesn’t like writing poetry about football but instead regular life. So Breaston’s latest venture — to wed a poem about growing up in North Braddock, Pennsylvania, and raising money for his foundation — is fitting. And so mature for the oldest receiver on the Cardinals.

The poem’s key lines are “I am what it is/a product of red nerds and overflowing pop fizz/red stains on my shirt,” a reference to the candy and soda Breaston once subsisted upon as a kid. Breaston even made a video (which you can see right here) back in his hometown reading the poem. Based on that first line, Breaston and a company called IMU (started by former University of Michigan classmate and basketball player David Merritt) have created a T-shirt for sale (which you can order here).

Breaston’s foundation raises money for at-risk youth in his hometown. Doesn’t that seem to make sense for the Miracle Baby?

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Gant suspended four games

Posted by Darren Urban on June 21, 2010 – 3:52 pm

Well, Ed Gant’s chances to be the Cards’ fourth receiver — and even to make the team — aren’t going to be helped by Monday’s announcement that he has been suspended for the first four regular-season games because he violated the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

The suspension means Gant can participate in training camp and the preseason, but he has to disappear for a month once the regular season starts (just like tight end Ben Patrick last year). If he has a good camp, it makes roster choices harder at the end of camp. The one good thing is Gant wouldn’t count against the 53-man roster while he is out.

Still, with O.J. Jones having a better offseason and the Cards spending a third-round pick on Andre Roberts, this isn’t great timing for Gant — as if this could ever be timed well.

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Cards spending preseason week in Nashville

Posted by Darren Urban on June 18, 2010 – 10:43 am

Yeah, about not writing at all on vacation …

The Cardinals are going a road trip in the preseason. Not Flagstaff, and not just for a game. Because the Cards play in Nashville on an ESPN Monday night game and because the team’s next game is in Chicago the following Saturday, coach Ken Whisenhunt has decided to spend the week after the Titans’ game in Nashville. The team will work out at Vanderbilt University after the MNF game and then leave Friday for Chicago. There is a chance the team could end up practicing a day or two against the Titans, but that’s still undecided. The trip itself, which has been percolating for a while, is not.

It’s not the first time Whiz and the Cards have done such a thing, spending a week in a town before a game. There was the infamous week in Virginia back in early 2008, when the Cards lost to the Redskins and then lost to the Jets in the Anquan-Boldin-breaks-his-face game. They did it again a few months later in Tampa, for a little thing they call the Super Bowl.

Normally, Flagstaff training camp would be over by then anyway (and Aug. 21 looks like the wrap-up date). Not sure off the top what the weather is like in Nashville in late August, but it’s probably going to be different than the 107 degrees in Tempe.

The season seems so close already.

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For what it’s worth in June, offensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 15, 2010 – 6:55 pm

OK kids. Here is part two – The Final Chapter — of my starting lineup blog guesses. Today is the offense, after I offered up the defense yesterday. There seems to be less in flux on the offensive side of the ball, so these are my thoughts of who will be on the field when the Cards go against the Rams in St. Louis Sept. 12:

WR – Larry Fitzgerald. Fitz had a big year with touchdowns but his yardage shrunk. With Anquan Boldin gone, I’d expect Fitz to look for more of everything.

WR – Steve Breaston. Breaston has proven he can be a good receiver in this league. Assuming Early Doucet stays healthy, the Cardinals will still be in good shape at wideout.

FB – Nehemiah Broughton. The position is open, but the Cards liked what they saw from Broughton late last season once they signed him. They will need a bruiser to help in what is expected to be a more prominent run game.

RB – Tim Hightower. Ahh, the most “controversial” of the starting calls. Will I be shocked if Beanie Wells is starting in St. Louis? No. Could Hightower start Game One and then have Wells move in? Sure. Might they stay Hightower-Wells all season as last year? Yes. Have I mentioned before it doesn’t matter? I am feeling pretty good in saying Beanie will have more carries and be the leading rusher. The other details are window dressing.

TE – Ben Patrick. This is a hunch. They like how Anthony Becht blocks, and I believe Becht will again play a role. I think Patrick would have been in a better spot last season had he not been suspended to start the regular schedule. Patrick can catch, Becht can block. A better, pretty interesting question is whether Dominique Byrd, Stephen Spach or even Jim Dray can find a way into the mix. But that’s for a blog on another day.

LT – Levi Brown. Since the day he arrived, Levi said he felt better at left tackle. Now he gets his chance to show it. Along with more running – the part of the game he is better at – the Cards hope Brown really blossoms.

LG – Alan Faneca. I know coach Ken Whisenhunt didn’t guarantee anything when Faneca signed, but he’s going to be in the lineup and he’s going to be at left guard. The guy has made nine straight Pro Bowls.

C – Lyle Sendlein. I don’t know if Rex Hadnot can slip in here, but Hadnot was playing guard this offseason with Ben Claxton running second team. Again, Sendlein has always been a favorite of Russ Grimm. I think that makes an impact.

RG – Deuce Lutui. Here is the upset pick (and remember, this is my gut – not necessarily because I know it to be true). Reggie Wells will have a good chance to hold on to this spot and Lutui must prove he is a) in decent shape and b) not too far behind after missing all the offseason work. But Lutui is a guy this team wants around long-term and someone they were pleased with the second half of the season.

RT – Brandon Keith. This is what they have been grooming Keith for the past two seasons. Herman Johnson may have a spot on the line in the future, but this is where they see if Keith is ready. Considering how little Keith has played, I think that confidence level is remarkably high.

QB – Matt Leinart. Derek Anderson may be sitting in the background (yes, I’m playing off the photo below) but this is Leinart’s job to lose and his team to lead. No reason to hash and re-hash everything we’ve already said. We’ll see what happens. But Leinart will get his chance to show what he can do after his Warner tutelage.

OK, that’s wraps it up. Catch you all in a couple weeks.

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Fitz’s camp

Posted by Darren Urban on June 15, 2010 – 11:50 am

Calais Campbell was talking about the end of OTAs when he added that he wasn’t talking about the end of work. In fact, Campbell was going to spend some of his down time in Minnesota, where teammate Larry Fitzgerald spends his post-OTA offseason and where Fitz has a burgeoning workout group of NFL players.

The workouts started, Fitz said, with fellow NFLers he came into the league with – wide receivers Greg Jennings and Lee Evans, and cornerback DeAngelo Hall. Those are the guys with whom Fitz organizes the work. But so many others have started to come.

“Whoever comes, they come and we will get it in,” Fitzgerald said. “Everyone else has just heard word of mouth. I will get a text here and there.”

Fitzgerald said most players don’t come until after July 4, although he has already retreated to his summer home. He’s managed to work out a deal with the University of Minnesota, which allows use of their facilities. The majority of players come and go. “NFL guys, they come to work out one day and you don’t hear from them again,” Fitzgerald said, although he added, “it’s intense.”

Jennings told The Northwestern newspaper “It’s more than just running routes. That’s the perception a lot of people have. (But) you’re working. It will almost break you down. It will take you to that edge to see if you’re going to push through it or you make an excuse why you have to go home.”

And that’s one way to spend a summer vacation.

“Look at Fitz and the success he’s had,” Campbell said. “Why wouldn’t you want to do the same thing?”

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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 14, 2010 – 4:10 pm

Back in 2007, when I was still at the East Valley Tribune and just about three months into a blog for the first time, I wanted to come up with something that could stand at the top of the blog for several days while I – gasp! – actually took some vacation time.

Guestimating the starting offensive and defensive lineups for the regular-season opener, in June, seemed to make sense, especially on the heels of the just-completed offseason work. So that’s what I have done every year and will do again the next two days. Today, we’ll hit the defense. Tomorrow’s swan song entry will be on the offense.

We’re going with the 3-4 alignment because that makes the most sense as a base, although the Cards continue to mix it up and use plenty of other sub-packages (would they really use a four-safety set this season, like we have seen at times in OTAs?). But this is how I think they’ll line up Sept. 12 in St. Louis.

DE – Darnell Dockett. He’s done all the right things this offseason. OK, except for the shower thing. But you know what I mean.

NT – Bryan Robinson. Dan Williams will get plenty of playing time this season, and he may even be starting at some point (after the bye?). But coach Ken Whisenhunt has made it clear the past three years rookies, even first-rounders, have a hard time getting playing time early. And as good as Dockett said Gabe Watson looked this offseason, it’s tough to bet against Robinson once again starting, even if he ends up with fewer plays.

DE – Calais Campbell. If anyone is poised to have a big year, it would seem to be Campbell. With his potential and what Williams can become, the Cards have to be happy with the future D-line.

ROLB – Joey Porter. No-brainer. The Cards need a pass rush upgrade off the edge. The preseason will be about narrowing down Porter’s eventual heir apparent. You figure Cody Brown, but we’ll see.

SILB – Gerald Hayes. I still think Hayes finds a way in there, although the coaches like what Reggie Walker brings and Hayes is battling the back issue.

WILB – Paris Lenon. Replacing Karlos Dansby isn’t going to be easy (Thanks, Mr. Obvious). This is eventually Daryl Washington’s spot, but maybe not this year and certainly not to start the regular season. I’ve already talked about the coaches’ aversion to giving rookies a lot of time early.

LOLB – Clark Haggans. Will Davis looked good in his pre-injury stints last season. But Haggans was pretty consistent last season. And he’s exactly what Whisenhunt likes having around the field and the locker room.

CB – Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. His knee will be fine. So will his toe. I am interested to see how he handles DB coach Donnie Henderson, who can be in-your-face.

CB – Greg Toler. The Cards have moved around the candidates thus far, but Toler should find a way to win the job. He has to step it up though. And I still think there may be a veteran to be had after the other 31 teams make their cuts.

SS – Adrian Wilson. I am curious to see how he meshes with Kerry Rhodes on the field …

FS — Rhodes. … because you know everyone is going to be measuring what Rhodes does to what Antrel Rolle might have done.

OK. That’s it for the defense. I’ll close out with the offense tomorrow.

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Rookies work and things quiet down

Posted by Darren Urban on June 14, 2010 – 11:42 am

It’s always odd right after OTAs end. Many of the players, who have been around for weeks, are gone. With attendance so high for the OTAs, the locker room is usually busy. And now it’s not. There are still rookies in place, and so there are still at least, what 16 or so guys, and there are still a couple of veterans (Adrian Wilson this morning! Oh, and Alan Faneca and Clark Haggans, to name two others!) but still, much quieter. The coaches are also, for the most part, gone until camp too (although DB coach Donnie Henderson was still grinding today).

Maybe this is just me saying there isn’t going to be much to report. And that I am taking some vacation very soon myself. I will have my June predictions on September’s starting lineup on the blog the next couple of days, as I have done the last few years. It’s a good way to head into time off.

Obviously, Deuce Lutui signed his contract today. He didn’t want to talk about it, but at least he was pleasant in saying so. I am terrible in judging weights — I mean, the man is supposed to be big in the first place — but honestly, he didn’t look sloppy out of shape. Would I guess John Lott will want him to trim down? Yes, that’s probably a safe bet. I think that’s Deuce’s key to camp. If he can be in decent shape to start, he’s got a chance to quickly get back into the mix. If he is hurting in terms of conditioning and pounds, you know this coaching staff will have issues.

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