Hall of Fame game = More Flagstaff time

Posted by Darren Urban on February 29, 2012 – 2:58 pm

The news today that the Cardinals will play in the Hall of Fame game Aug. 5 is significant in itself, since it means a national television appearance and extra preseason game. But it also means a little more time in Flagstaff for training camp.

Teams can go to camp 15 days ahead of their first preseason game, but coach Ken Whisenhunt said that was doubtful. Instead of July 21, Whisenhunt guesstimated the Cards would go up 10 or 11 days earlier (he doesn’t know yet and needs to crunch the numbers) which would probably put camp starting around July 25. In a normal year where the Cards would have had a preseason game Aug. 11 (the first Saturday), they would have gone to camp about July 28 or July 29.

Either way, it’s a little extra time for the Cards to prepare for the season. It’ll also be a fun side trip to break up camp too, and learn a little of the history of the game. And for Fitz to find where he’ll want his bust someday.

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Free agency before free agency

Posted by Darren Urban on February 29, 2012 – 10:42 am

Free agents can’t sign anywhere but with their own teams until March 13, but that doesn’t mean free agency — from a certain perspective — isn’t already underway. With the final day teams can apply franchise tags coming Monday, we are now counting down the last handful of days that a deal can get done with possible tagged players. Of course, all a tag means in the short-term is that teams can buy time to negotiate with those players for a longer contract extension. If, for instance, defensive end Calais Campbell is tagged by the Cards, that’s the expectation. So too, as another example, with Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

But those things — along with deals/potential deals with guys who might not have had the tag, like 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks — will make an impact on “real” free agency. If the Saints have to tag Brees, for instance, Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks cannot be tagged and will be free to shop himself. And every non-tag guy who signs between now and March 13 obviously removes himself from the market and changes the possibilities. In some cases, it won’t mean anything to the Cards, in others, it might.

(And we won’t even get into any possible cuts for monetary reasons that teams will do for cap and other reasons, like speculated moves such as Raiders linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, any number of Steelers or some guy whose brother just won a second Super Bowl. All those change the landscape too.)

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Whither Deuce?

Posted by Darren Urban on February 27, 2012 – 12:52 pm

General manager Rod Graves talked last week about the Cards hoping to sign some of their own free agents back, and obviously, there has been a lot of speculation about how the Cards might/could/should draft offensive line in the first round. One of the mysteries the Cards must clear up is free-agent-to-be Deuce Lutui, who sat all last season as a backup after starting each of his first five seasons.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he can see a Cards’ future with Lutui in it.

“It’s up to Deuce,” Whisenhunt said. “We’d like to have him back but one of the things we have to get worked out with Deuce is with his weight. We had to struggle with him the last couple of years. The bottom line is that Deuce hasn’t played as well when he has been heavy. We would love to see Deuce come back, get in shape and play well for us and we’d love to have him under those conditions. But we can’t afford to not give someone else a chance if Deuce is going to come in overweight.”

Lutui, who nearly left as a free agent last year to Cincinnati before his weight undercut that and sent him back to Arizona, insisted at the end of the season he had turned a corner with his mindset. Maybe, but he only got on the field for an extended period at guard for one half all last season, replacing Rex Hadnot in (ironically) Cincinnati. Daryn Colledge is going to be the left guard; some suggest the Cards could take Stanford guard David DeCastro in the first round and any OL first-round pick would likely be a starter. Lutui wants to start. What kind of market will be there for him is the biggest question.

Actually, the biggest question will be Lutui’s weight. I suppose that hasn’t changed.

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The idea of adding at wide receiver

Posted by Darren Urban on February 26, 2012 – 9:08 am

As this year’s crop of wide receivers run their 40s here at the NFL combine, it’s as good time as any to note that, yes, the Cardinals will look at the position this offseason.

(And as a side note, 40 times don’t mean as much as you’d think. Nice to have speed, but Jerry Rice reportedly ran a 4.71 at the combine. Larry Fitzgerald was a 4.63. Both turned out OK, in my opinion.)

The Cards will have Fitz and Andre Roberts next year. Early Doucet is a free agent and while there is a chance he could return, we will see what the market — and the Cards’ plans — turn out. The team will look over the free-agent market. That does not mean, for instance, they would bring in (if he does hit the market) someone like San Diego’s Vincent Jackson or that ilk. They have a No. 1 receiver in Fitz, and don’t need another. Yes, I have heard the arguments that Boldin was a 1A, but guys that are No. 1 potentials want No. 1 money, and it makes little sense to invest that kind of cash into two pass catchers.

Guys like Pierre Garcon and Robert Meachem make more sense to me. They have speed and, in theory, aren’t as expensive. The latter could change and that will impact the Cardinals. As general manager Rod Graves said the other day, the team sets the value for each player and then goes from there. At some point, each team needs to decide how much adding that free agent is worth. Garcon, for instance, reportedly declined a five-year contract from the Colts. Does that mean he is expecting a huge deal? We’ll see. We’ll see what the market bears.

One reason teams like having free agency before the draft is because free agency can be about need and there is a little more of “best player available” at draft time. Given the deep crop of UFA receivers this year, it makes sense to make a stab there for whatever the Cards might want to do, because you’d figure to get more for your money. If the Cards come out of free agency without a receiver, I’d think they’d look very hard at taking one in the draft.

The Cards still have young guys like Stephen Williams and DeMarco Sampson, but in both cases I’d think their most likely landing place would be as a fourth receiver if they take another step forward.

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Acho Grande, Part II

Posted by Darren Urban on February 25, 2012 – 1:50 pm

Texas linebacker Emmanuel Acho sounded about as confident as a player can here at the Scouting combine. He has an ‘in’ that he believes that will benefit him big-time — his older brother Sam, emerging Cardinals linebacker.

“He’s told me everything,” Emmanuel said. “I got the answers for the test before I have to take it. He’s told me everything I need to know. Yes sir.”

The junior Acho is a shade over 6-foot-1 and 238 pounds, smaller than his brother (6-3, 257). Sam Acho, the Cards’ fourth-round pick in 2011, ended up finishing strong and had seven sacks as a rookie, the second-most by a rookie in Cards’ history to Simeon Rice’s 12.5 in 1996. This year’s version of rookie Acho is more of a inside linebacker, but he said he thinks he can repeat his brother’s fast start to his career.

“I can make the same if not a bigger impact, because of him,” Emmanuel said. “Because of how he has educated me, it won’t be a hard transition for me, not only because of how I carry myself, not only because of my intelligence, but because I have a guy who has done it 365 days ahead of me, every step, whether it’s an interview, a 40-yard dash, or minicamp.”

He has been working out at the facility of trainer Brett Fischer — who also works for the Cardinals — in Arizona. Emmanuel spent some time with Sam for “about a month” before Sam left and Emmanuel concentrated on prepping for the draft, living not in his brother’s place but at a resort near Fischer’s facility. He is expected to be, like his brother, a pick later on in the draft. The thought of joining his brother in Arizona isn’t something Emmanuel has considered much but he admitted it would be “awesome.”

“I played with him in high school, played with him in college,” Emmanuel said. “To play with him on the next level would be a great experience. But at the same time, he’s told me, ‘Don’t worry about where you get drafted, worry that you go to the right team.’ I saw that first hand with him, how that worked out.”

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Stories from the interview room

Posted by Darren Urban on February 25, 2012 – 12:16 pm

While it’s the 40-yard dashes and the bench presses (with John Lott bellowing in the guy’s ear as he lifts) that get the TV time from Indy at the Scouting combine, it’s the medical checks and interviews that teams value the most.

The interviews are 15-minute quickies, impossible to learn everything about a kid in that time. But they are important to glean a little something. But it can be a grind, going back-to-back-to-back-to-whatever each night as teams try to stuff in up to 60 visits. You have to try and break it up.

During today’s final live chat from the combine (it’s probably not the last live talkback the team will do, so keep an eye out) someone asked coach Ken Whisenhunt and director of player personnel Steve Keim about memorable interview questions they had asked. They had a couple of good ones.

Whiz said the Cards were interviewing “one of the better guards in the draft” Friday night. “He is a very passionate, stone-faced guy, very intense,” Whisenhunt said. “He did 30-something reps in the bench press.

“I was kind of joking around but I wanted to see how he’d take it. I said, ‘So let me get this right, you did 18 reps in the bench press?’ I thought he was going to come out of his chair to fight me, because he was upset I had shorted him out of 14 reps on the bench press. We were laughing about that.”

Certainly it spoke well for the player’s passion. Sometimes, the teams have to ask about uncomfortable situations. Keim relayed an anecdote like that from last year’s combine when they needed to ask a player why, for goodness sake, was he texting on his phone at 2 a.m., which let to him driving into an apartment building.

“Coach got him on the grease board but didn’t have him diagram a play, he had him diagram how he ran his car off the road and drove 40 yards into a cement wall,” Keim said. “That was one of the more comical situations we’ve had.”

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Whiz interested in Cards playing Hall game

Posted by Darren Urban on February 24, 2012 – 10:40 am

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he’d be interested in playing in the Hall of Fame game in Canton to kick off the NFL preseason. The game is scheduled for Aug. 5. It’s not something he’d want to do every year, but a fifth preseason game right now wouldn’t be bad, especially when you’re trying to get as much work as possible for quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. (Whiz didn’t say it, but given that there is less on-field work allowed by the CBA this offseason, I’m sure an extra game and a few more days of training camp isn’t bad either.)

Mike Jurecki wrote the other day that he had heard the Cards were asked to play. I have not heard the same, but there figures to be an announcement sooner rather than later (NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail only that the league was working on it.) Alex Marvez reported the Saints have volunteered to play in the game. Last year, the Hall game’s matchup was announced April 12, although the Hall of Fame is hoping to announce this year’s game as early as next week.

Usually, at least one team in the Hall game has a player being inducted. Former Saints tackle Willie Roaf is part of the 2012 Hall of Fame class. (It’s too bad former Cards cornerback Aeneas Williams didn’t get in this year.)

UPDATE: The Cards are the NFL team with the longest absence from playing in the game, last playing in 1986.

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To re-sign or to not re-sign?

Posted by Darren Urban on February 24, 2012 – 8:17 am

It was tough not to notice the two-year contract Packers tight end Jermichael Finley signed yesterday in the context of free agents, potential free agents and the landscape of the NFL over the next couple of years. It was an odd choice for a young player, doing just a two-year deal, but it speaks to the potential of the new TV contract in 2014 — when, in this instance, Finley’s deal is up — and the spike in the salary cap that is expected.

That’s going to be one of the underlying factors as teams try to sign players to long-term contracts over the next couple of seasons. It’s very possible it is/will be a factor in the Cards’ talks with defensive end Calais Campbell. On a more basic level, any player that has gotten to this point will be tempted to hit the market rather than get a new contract done before March 13. It can’t hurt, right?

Well, maybe.

“There is risk on both sides,” Cardinals general manager Rod Graves said. “There is risk in players waiting, and there will be choices for other teams. It can be a positive or a negative in terms of getting your own players done. There are options for us.”

Campbell is the top priority but the Cards have the franchise tag with which to work if necessary. But then you look at a guy like cornerback Richard Marshall, who won’t be franchised but whom the Cards want back. What makes sense for him? What makes sense regarding him for the Cards? Graves said he is hoping to have a few deals done with his own players before free agency starts. It’ll be interesting to see exactly how that will happen. Because of all the one-year contracts signed last season and the short-term way many teams have dealt with players over the last year or two, the free-agent market is going to be flooded in certain areas. Waiting for free agency, like Graves said, has risks all the way around.

“There is a point where the temptation to experience the market is strong with these guys, but that doesn’t mean deals can’t be done,” Graves said. “There will be deals done before free agency, and I am hoping we get some success with our players.”

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For Colts, nothing has changed with Peyton

Posted by Darren Urban on February 23, 2012 – 1:46 pm

New Colts general manager Ryan Grigson — brother of Cardinals’ scout Dru Grigson — was of course peppered with questions about the future of quarterback Peyton Manning. Not a surprise. Nor were his responses, which was basically non-responses.

“Right now there’s not much I can tell you different than before,” Grigson said of the Manning situation. We know, of course, a decision must be made by March 8 whether Manning will get a $28 million roster bonus.

Grigson said he has not seen Manning throw and when asked a couple of times directly if he would be seeing Manning throw, Grigson deflected the question. There certainly wasn’t going to be a time frame on when a decision would be made.

“This is not going to be a rash thing,” Grigson said. “Everyone wants to have it nailed down, but there are a lot of variables involved. We want to do it the right way.”

Grigson would say quarterback Andrew Luck is a very good player, but wouldn’t commit to Luck as the No. 1 overall pick, or even that a quarterback would be the No. 1 pick.

Manning’s situation is certainly going to be the one everyone is watching over the next couple of weeks, though. Said Cardinals general manager Rod Graves, “I’m just like every other fan, curious to what will happen.”

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With right deal, Levi will be back — and the QB thing

Posted by Darren Urban on February 23, 2012 – 11:46 am

I’ll have more in a story in a bit, but the biggest news coming from today’s media meet-up by coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves is that the Cards definitely want tackle Levi Brown back, and they want him back long-term. There is a lot that has to happen first, since Levi has a $16.9 million salary cap number and must have a new contract first — and he may choose to be cut and test the open market — but the acknowledgment they want him back is significant (if not somewhat expected, to be honest, as much as many fans were hoping otherwise.)

By all accounts, Brown played better over the last seven or eight games of the season. The Cards are hoping he turned a corner. Make no mistake, they have a value in mind for Brown and that’s what they are going to want to pay him. If he can get more elsewhere, then he’ll probably have to take it there. But Brown said he wants to come back, and the Cards want him back.

Graves also said it is a “priority” to re-sign cornerback Richard Marshall and that talks are ongoing with defensive end Calais Campbell and “I believe we will have a resolution at some point.”

As for the quarterbacks, Graves didn’t say anything new than what has been said before, that, based on the information today — which, reading between the lines is that Peyton Manning hasn’t been cut yet — the Cards have Kevin Kolb and John Skelton and that the team believes in their QBs. Things can always change, which is exactly what you’d expect them to say right now. No reason to say otherwise. As Graves said on a Sirius radio interview, “I don’t answer the phone before it rings.”

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