How Saints’ punishments impact Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on March 21, 2012 – 11:17 am

The punishments for the New Orleans Saints — at least most of them, since the player punishments are still TBD — came down Wednesday and they provided the expected doozy: A year-long suspension without pay for Saints coach Sean Payton, an indefinite suspension for former DC Gregg Williams of at least a year, and an eight-game ban for general manager Mickey Loomis.

Obviously this isn’t about the Cardinals, although there are parts of this that do impact the Cards:

— To begin with, the Cardinals will be the first team to play the Saints, since the teams will match up Aug. 5 in the Hall of Fame game to kick off the preseason. Wonder what the talking points will be during that broadcast? You wonder if the Cards are just going to be in the background, because it’s hard to see the Saints’ storylines not dominating.

— The Saints lose second-round picks this year and next. That’ll move up the Cards’ third-round pick a slot sooner. We’ll see what it means in 2013.

— Once the regular season begins, the Cards know that Williams, who had since been hired as the Rams’ defensive coordinator, won’t be around. Williams may never be around in St. Louis; commissioner Roger Goodell isn’t assuring anyone that Williams will be reinstated. Not that new head coach Jeff Fisher can’t work around it — former Cards head coach Dave McGinnis, on staff with the Rams now as an assistant head coach, could drop into the DC role like he once did for the Cards. UPDATE: Fisher said the duties won’t go to a permanent DC. He, McGinnis and Chuck Cecil will split the work.

— Then there is the Kurt Warner tie-in. The original investigation sprouted from the way the Saints treated Warner, then the Cards’ QB, and Brett Favre, then with the Vikings, during the playoffs after the 2009 season. The Cards’ playoff game, in fact, was mentioned a couple of times in the NFL’s official release about the punishments, including Warner himself. “The investigation showed bounties being placed on four quarterbacks of opposing teams – Brett Favre, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, and Kurt Warner.”

Warner, appearing on NFL Network Wednesday, had this to say about the punishment: “I’m shocked, like a lot of people, but not fully surprised. … But this is what Commissioner Goodell has done from Day One. And I love he is trying to make statements trying to protect our game for the long-term.”

Added Warner, “To a degree, this has gone on through the history of our game, where guys have gone out to hit guys really hard to knock them out of the game or at least knock them off their game so it affects (the hitting team) in a positive manner. Of course, not to the extent to where you are paying guys to hurt other guys, and I think that’s where this takes a different turn.”

— The NFL also made clear that they won’t let this happen again, sending a memo to all teams directing the owner of every team to meet with the head coach to confirm bounty systems aren’t in place in any other organization. Said the NFL release, “Each principal owner and head coach must certify this in writing to the commissioner by March 30.”

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Restructuring isn’t free

Posted by Darren Urban on March 20, 2012 – 4:20 pm

The Cardinals are up close to the salary cap. How close, I am not certain — a lot is fluid these days — but it is clear it impacts their ability in the free agent market. For everyone expecting (or for those who had been expecting) a chase of five or six key free agents, it was never going to happen. I’ve been asked a few times my opinion of what the priority right now should be, and I still see a tackle, a pass rusher and then a receiver. Something could (should?) still come in free agency. The draft will be crucial and likely a more important aspect.

Clearing cap space, however, is not always simple. Even when you cut a player, there is “dead” money to take into account, and usually, the players making the most money when it comes to to impacting the cap are the guys you can’t necessarily throw away. You cut a starter or a key reserve, he’s got to be replaced.

When a player restructures his contract, it is not a pay cut. Lowering the cap hit by cutting salary or bonus is just that — taking a pay cut. Restructuring merely means moving the money around legally to ease the current cap hit. Players usually aren’t adverse because in almost every case, to do so means giving the player more of his money now. But it also means that the cap pain is pushed into the future, not eliminated entirely.

For explanation’s sake, let’s look at linebacker Stewart Bradley. This season, his salary cap number is $6.5 million: a $5 million salary, $500,000 workout bonus for the offseason and $1M prorated signing bonus. He has four years remaining on his contract. The Cards could, in theory, turn $4M of his salary into some kind of signing bonus. Bradley would get $4M of his $5M salary now (rather than have it parceled over 17 weeks of the regular season), and the Cards could then pro-rate that $4M over the final four years of the deal — meaning his cap number would drop to $3.5M this season: His $1M salary, his $1M signing bonus pro-rate, his $1M option bonus pro-rate, and the $500,000 workout bonus. But it also means next year’s cap number would grow from $6.5M to $7.5M, assuming nothing else changes and he remains on the team (cutting him would create extra “dead” money too.)

Do that once or twice, OK. Do it too often, and you end up like the 2012 Steelers, who had to cut a bunch of players and restructure a bunch more just to get under the cap (and again, those restructures will come home to roost eventually.) Just something else to keep in mind when wondering when the Cards are going to create more cap room.

P.S. I haven’t yet seen the signing bonus for tackle Levi Brown, but the NFLPA website lists his 2012 salary at only $1 million (it had been scheduled for $8.3M before he was cut). The salary jumps to $4.75M in 2013, $6M in 2014 and then $5M in each of the final two years of the deal. Without the bonus it’s impossible to know the current cap hit, but that salary structure eases a lot of cap issues.

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Hadnot, Stuckey released

Posted by Darren Urban on March 19, 2012 – 9:35 am

Eventually, the cap situation for the Cardinals was going to force further roster moves, and while they had been out there over the weekend, the team officially announced the cuts of guard Rex Hadnot and wide receive Chansi Stuckey Monday.

Hadnot started all of 2011 but the team had been looking to upgrade and when they signed Adam Snyder it gave the Cards the room to make a move. Stuckey never seemed to find traction for playing time after his costly fumble in Washington ended the Cards’ chances on a late drive.

And in the end, the Cards also need to clear salary cap space where they can. UPDATE: By my calculations, Cards saved about $3 million in cap space with the moves.

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A pair of defensive backs visit

Posted by Darren Urban on March 19, 2012 – 9:17 am

The Cardinals will bring in a pair of veteran defensive backs today on free agent visits, in light of Richard Marshall’s departure: William Gay, who was with the Steelers, and Jarrett Bush, who has been with the Packers. Gay, a five-year vet, played under DC Ray Horton in Pittsburgh. Bush, meanwhile, has played six years and has been a reserve his whole career.

Both players have some versatility in terms of playing multiple spots in the secondary, which would be handy after losing Marshall.

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Whisenhunt: Peyton no longer an option

Posted by Darren Urban on March 16, 2012 – 1:49 pm

With everything happening today, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt released a statement in regards to Peyton Manning and Kevin Kolb. Here it is in its entirety:

“Regarding today’s developments and our quarterback position, acquiring Peyton Manning is no longer an option for us.

“Since the end of last season we made it very clear that our plan was to head into 2012 with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, let the process play out and – like at every position –  go with the quarterback who gives us the best chance to win.

“Obviously something very unique and unexpected presented itself. We’ve said it many times: if there’s an opportunity to make our team better we’ll explore it; we view the potential of adding a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback as one of those. The organization quickly put together an aggressive plan to go after it. We’re proud of that and feel very strongly about what we have to offer as a team and as an organization. In the end it didn’t work out but from our perspective it was very positive and we certainly don’t have any regrets about it.

“We sit here today in the same spot we were heading into the offseason. That’s with two experienced quarterbacks who have both demonstrated positive things in the past and who we feel good about. Like we said at the end of the season when we won seven of the last nine games, carrying the momentum of that strong finish into 2012 is important and that remains unchanged.”

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Liking Levi for real

Posted by Darren Urban on March 16, 2012 – 11:47 am

Levi Brown returns, and I can practically hear the grumbling.

Not from everyone – I know that – but I’ve heard from plenty throughout the process that couldn’t and never will understand why the Cardinals wanted to hang on to Brown. I get that. I really do. But the reality is that Brown a) played much better down the stretch and may have turned a corner and b) was one of the better tackles available to bring in compared to the rest of the free agents. He knows the system, he knows Russ Grimm and he knows what is expected. Sometimes, continuity matters. More reality: If his contract hadn’t been structured like it was, he would have been back no questions asked. It’s only because of that last loopy year of his rookie deal that we are even talking about this.

(UPDATE:’s Nate Jahnke tweeted that Brown gave up a QB pressure every 8.6 pass plays in Weeks 1-10 last season and improved to one every 27.8 pass plays the final seven games. If someone is looking for tangible proof of his finish, there it is. Take it for what you deem it’s worth.)

Like Adam Snyder, Brown’s role isn’t exactly clear yet, although I feel safe in saying he will be a starting tackle. It might be the right tackle, it might be the left. That will depend on who else shows up in free agency and the draft.

It’s probably safe to say Brown isn’t going to become Jake Long or Joe Thomas. Fair enough. But for anyone wondering if there were ulterior motives for the Cards to keep Brown in the lineup because of where he was drafted, well, this was the perfect chance to move on. Yet they didn’t, instead bringing him back, and that means their faith in him wasn’t just talk.

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The calm before the storm?

Posted by Darren Urban on March 15, 2012 – 8:22 pm

Friday is a big day for the Cardinals, after a relatively quiet Thursday. By tomorrow, the Cardinals, as has been noted a few places, should have tackle Levi Brown re-signed and back on the roster as they try to stabilize the offensive line. Meanwhile, the Peyton Manning watch builds to a crescendo — at least in Arizona — with the 1 p.m. Friday deadline to exercise Kevin Kolb’s roster bonus.

I have no doubt, and really haven’t for a while, that if Manning didn’t come to Arizona the Cards would stick with the three QBs they had in 2011. If they did get Manning in time, it’d be tough to keep Kolb. What would happen, many have asked, if the Cards were in limbo? If Manning hadn’t said yes but hadn’t said no, either, by the time the Cards had to decide on Kolb? That’ll be the big question.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, who out of everyone seems to have the best pulse of the Manning camp (and who seems to have been more middle-of-the-road in his approach than many) tweeted out tonight that he didn’t think Manning’s decision was imminent and, in regards to the Cards and the Kolb deadline, that Manning wouldn’t let that timeline affect his own timeline.

In the past, with free agency usually starting sooner, the first Friday of the NCAA hoops tournament — with the nice spring weather and potential spring training games to go to — always seemed to be so mellow wherever I have worked.

Not tomorrow.

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With Marshall gone, Butler eyes a chance

Posted by Darren Urban on March 15, 2012 – 3:11 pm

Next to the now-empty locker where Richard Marshall was once housed — his name plate was already gone Thursday morning — Crezdon Butler sat, having finished another rehab workout, knowing that he may have lost a neighbor but gained an opportunity.

“I would say that,” Butler said. “I’m just trying to get back 100 percent.”

Marshall left as a free agent Wednesday night. Butler, along with fellow rehabber Greg Toler, are among the pieces to replace him. If you don’t know much about Butler — or even remember he was on the team — that’s OK. He was a blip on the radar screen for many. Butler was claimed off of waivers Sept. 5 after the Steelers cut him. He played in the season opener against the Panthers, but in practice the next week, he went down with a dislocated ankle, wrecking the ligaments inside. He wasn’t put on injured reserve until Sept. 20, but almost from the moment it happened the Cards knew he was probably done for the season.

At that point, having been with the Cards for about 10 days before the injury, “I didn’t get to really talk to everybody,” Butler said. “I didn’t even meet all the coaches yet.”

That’s not a problem anymore. He didn’t go home, which, given his surgery, he could have done at least for a little while. He stuck around, met all those people he had not yet. He began working out with Brett Fischer. Now he expects to be back for OTAs, has been studying the playbook at home and getting ready for multiple positions: cornerback, nickel back, and “a little safety.”

“We’ll see,” Butler added.

Butler said he has a “bond” with defensive coordinator Ray Horton, no surprise since Horton was his defensive backs coach in Pittsburgh. He’s also gotten to be good friends with Toler, himself coming off major knee surgery and probably the key component in the Marshall decision (the Cards didn’t match the Dolphins’ offer). A healthy Toler — which must be shown on the field, of course — could change outlooks when it comes to Marshall’s departure, and the Cards are undoubtedly counting on it.

“We have been working so hard, pushing to get back to where we were before our injuries,” Butler said. “I guess (fans) will have to wait and see because we can’t say how good or bad it will feel when we get out there.”

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Marshall signs with Dolphins

Posted by Darren Urban on March 14, 2012 – 7:01 pm

The Cards got offensive lineman Adam Snyder Wednesday, but lost cornerback/safety Richard Marshall, who tweeted out that he agreed to a three-year deal with the Miami Dolphins. The Cards wanted Marshall back, no question. Marshall said in the tweet “they made me stay in Miami lol,” which would seem to mean they weren’t going to let him go without him signing. That’s the risk you take when a guy hits the open market. Adam Schefter reports it’s a $16 million deal with $6 million in guarantees.

(Marshall, in a follow-up tweet to a fan, said “Az didn’t match.” Goes back to value for each player and what is budgeted for the position, as GM Rod Graves has said a couple of times, and at some point, a team has to decide when to push away from the table. It explains a little more why a deal for Marshall couldn’t get done before free agency. Drew Rosenhaus wanted a payday for Marshall and Marshall got it, and good for him. That’s business. That’s what free agency is about.)

Marshall became invaluable last season for the Cardinals because of his versatility. He was starting at cornerback by the end of the season when A.J. Jefferson couldn’t find consistency, and he played free safety on passing downs in his tandem with Rashad Johnson when starter Kerry Rhodes was out with a broken foot. I’m not going to sugarcoat and say Marshall won’t be missed, because he will and again, the Cards wanted him. At the same time, assuming cornerback Greg Toler returns and Rhodes remains healthy, they have some pieces to replace Marshall even if they don’t sign anyone else. Marshall, in fact, was running as the fourth cornerback in training camp before Toler got hurt.

Jefferson will be forced to get better, which they think he can given a full offseason. Jefferson was an undrafted rookie in 2010 and didn’t get  a lot of offseason reps and last year, of course, there was no offseason. That’s no guarantee Jefferson will step forward but it’s something to keep in mind. Where Marshall will definitely be missed is the locker room. He was a quiet, steady influence and studied video a ton. That kind of example is always good to have around.

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Three offensive linemen visiting UPDATE

Posted by Darren Urban on March 14, 2012 – 8:43 am

The Cardinals will have three offensive linemen visiting today for free agency: The aforementioned Jake Scott, a guard from the Titans (who used to play with the Colts and Peyton Manning), tackle Demetrius Bell of Buffalo and 49ers tackle/guard Adam Snyder. It’s not a big surprise, since the Cards have wanted to work on upgrading/overhauling the offensive line. They need to find tackles in particular with the future of Levi Brown and Brandon Keith very much in doubt since both are free agents themselves.

I’m sure it’s the first step in another day of watching and waiting.

UPDATE: And here this afternoon, Snyder signs a five-year deal for the Cards’ first free agent of the season.

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