It was a rainy Saturday in March 2006 when Edgerrin James visited the Cardinals for the first time. Kurt Warner was gamely trying to hold his annual flag football tournament on the practice fields, and the Cards were in the process of locking up a star running back. The price, in the end, was four years and $30 million. James didn’t collect all of it, but he still got plenty. The Colts felt James was on the downside, not worth the cash, and in the end, they were proven right that they didn’t need him — winning the Super Bowl in 2006 with young Joseph Addai and the serviceable yet forgettable Dominic Rhodes at running back.
The overall trend to run through running backs when they were cheaper and then move on hadn’t enveloped the NFL completely. But that’s about when the Cards’ thought process turned. From there, Tim Hightower was a fifth-round pick who essentially replaced Edge in 2008. Beanie Wells was added in the first round for 2009. Ryan Williams was drafted in 2011. Then came Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor last season. The Cardinals have not spent anything close to significant money on a free agent running back since Edge. They have yet to have a running back drafted play past his rookie contract. The reality of the NFL is that the position has not only be devalued, the bottom dropped out of the market faster than Arizona home sales circa 2009.
Only Williams is scheduled to make at least $1 million this season, and whether he remains on the 53-man roster for 2014 is very much up in the air. Ellington (who only will make $495,000) is the starter, and whether Taylor ($495,000) or Jonathan Dwyer ($795,000) is the other back, there is little (relative) investment. You see the same across the league, with the money being paid to free agent running backs, with the way running backs are sliding down the draft every year. The way things have gone, that No. 3 overall pick spent on Trent Richardson might be the last time a top 10 pick is spent on a back ever.
Of course, “ever” is a long time. Sometimes, a back is special and deserves the big money. Adrian Peterson comes to mind (and no, we won’t go into how he ties into the Cardinals and the Edge signing right now.) But these days, it doesn’t look like many Petersons will emerge. Not the way colleges are using running backs themselves, and not the way the NFL is handling them once they get to the pros.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Beanie Wells, Edgerrin James, Jonathan Dwyer, Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor, Tim Hightower
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Everybody remembers Patrick Peterson’s wonderful rookie season returning punts — four touchdowns (and a fifth he should have had if not for a shoetop tackle by the punter in the finale against Seattle). Peterson averaged 15.9 yards a punt return, the Cards averaged 24 yards a kickoff return between LaRod Stephens-Howling and A.J. Jefferson and it was generally an effective use in Ron Wolfley’s beloved “transition game.” Obviously, the last couple of years, it hasn’t been quite the same.
In 2012 Peterson’s average fell to 8.4 yards a return with no scores. A dropoff was probably inevitable, but Peterson looked uncomfortable much of the time. The kick return game dropped to 23.3 yards a return, although finding a happy medium for effective kick returns in this day and age of big kickoffs and mostly touchbacks isn’t an easy equation. Last season, Peterson’s punt returns fell to 6.0. Kickoff returns were a mere 20.0, and former kick returner Javier Arenas often looked so frustrated he rarely could return one that he did so when he shouldn’t, leading to poor field position.
It’ll make for an interesting dynamic this season. Ted Ginn was signed to add speed in the receiving corps, but it’s not hard to make the argument his greatest strength as a player is on kickoff returns (where he averaged 23.8 yards a return last season). He’s also pretty good on punt returns (12.2 yards last year), and that will provide an option if Bruce Arians decides Peterson is better served focusing on being a Pro Bowl cornerback and remove the pressures of being the guy who everyone thinks might score a touchdown every time he fields a punt. Peterson doesn’t want to give up the job, but we’ll see how it turns out in the big picture.
The Cardinals’ offense was doing much better at the end of the season and should be improved given the pieces that have been added. It wouldn’t hurt if the kickoff and punt returns could chip in to the improvement equation.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Javier Arenas, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Patrick Peterson, special teams, Ted Ginn
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The three quarterbacks of the Cardinals were at the facility today, doing a workout, hanging out and prepping for when the team can officially get started with new strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris next week. Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley, a cohesive group all last season, looked like it again and made me think of something Bruce Arians told me a couple of months ago. “You have a (quarterbacks) room, (and) if you have a starter and you know who the backup is and you have a third guy who fits in the room, you don’t fool with it,” Arians said. “It’s too delicate of a learning place to fool with it.”
In the context of what the Cardinals might do in the draft, it’s a notable belief. Palmer said today he would understand if the Cardinals picked a quarterback in the draft. He’s not getting any younger, and the Cards would like to have a long-term answer at the position. What team wouldn’t? Arians is a major part of the draft meetings and he of course will have input on the top 120 board. But GM Steve Keim will have the final call, and like any GM viewing the big picture — which Keim most certainly does — settling on a young quarterback would be nice, to say the least.
Is there a guy in this draft worth it? Keim might think so, but he won’t be saying, wisely. Draft meetings are going on about 25 feet from me but there’s no way to know what this group of QBs will be graded by this scouting staff and front office. One thing that is interesting in this situation: Palmer is going to be due an extension after this season, and there is a large difference between paying a starting quarterback what Palmer would command (he’s getting $9 million this season) and what a guy under a rookie contract would cost. I don’t think that’s a determining factor (I don’t think the Cardinals would have a problem with Palmer as 2015 starting QB, assuming his level of play remains solid) but it is something to consider.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, draft, Drew Stanton, quarterbacks, Ryan Lindley, Steve Keim
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The draft, in a “normal” year, would have begun April 24. It instead has been pushed back two weeks, to May 8. But that doesn’t mean the Cardinals won’t have some significant draft discussion the night of April 24 — and the fans will have a chance to be part of it.
That Thursday night, which has usually wed the draft party with the opening of the Big Red Rib & Music Festival on the Great Lawn outside University of Phoenix Stadium, there will be a live TV special shot during the Cards’ “Spring Tailgate” event. Admission is free. Gates open at 5 p.m., and at 7 p.m., a draft preview shown on Fox Sports Arizona will take place with fans as the studio audience. The show, hosted by Paul Calvisi and Ron Wolfley, will feature team president Michael Bidwill, GM Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians, along with safety Tyrann Mathieu and new left tackle Jared Veldheer.
Part of the show will be questions from the fans, including some sought through social media. So, using hashtag #CardsTailgate, you can send questions over social (via Twitter, for instance) and some of those will be used in the broadcast. It’ll be two weeks before the draft, so I’m not sure anyone is going to be giving away any trade secrets, but it will be entertaining and a chance to get up close and fairly personal with key Cardinals’ personnel.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Jared Veldheer, Michael Bidwill, Steve Keim, Tyrann Mathieu
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There was a lot of speculation about the future of cornerback Jerraud Powers, especially after the Cardinals were in the process of wooing and then signing Antonio Cromartie to start alongside Patrick Peterson. But Powers wasn’t going anywhere, in large part because the injury of Tyrann Mathieu makes him an early-season question mark. There are other reasons, though, including a trust factor with the coaching staff. And then there is the profootballfocus.com analysis that put Powers — despite far fewer snaps in the slot — as the most effective slot cover man in the league last year in terms of allowing receptions. Powers is in line, with Mathieu on the sideline, to be the slot corner alongside Peterson and Cromartie.
Powers did not have a fantastic season as Peterson’s fellow starting corner last year but he wasn’t bad either. He was exactly what the Cardinals expected from a veteran who didn’t break the bank. A healthy Cromartie would be an upgrade, but having Powers in reserve is smart. He was, after all, a starter for the sixth-ranked defense in the league. Finding a stud companion to Peterson long-term would be lovely but frankly, somewhat unrealistic. At some point sooner rather than later, Peterson is going to get a very, very large contract extension. Spending big money on both cornerback spots is difficult if not impossible for any team given the realities of the salary cap. The Cards could find a young guy in the draft who turns out to be very good and that might buy you a few years, but it also means forgoing a solid player at another position that might prove more necessary.
The saying goes that you can never have enough corners, and that generally is true. But after the Cromartie signing, the Cards are in pretty good shape, because Powers fits what they need.
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, Jerraud Powers, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu
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The Cardinals, like every team, have a bunch of draft-eligible players visit this time of year. You can have up to 30 come to the team facility, and that doesn’t count players from local colleges or who already live in the area, nor does it count any private workouts a coach or a front-office exec might have by flying out to meet a player. This is, of course, on top of pro days and the combine, where teams have 15 minutes to meet with up to 60 players.
So what does it mean when a player visits Tempe before the draft? Odds are, nothing.
To be sure, players are coming through. (I ran into a couple downstairs the other day. No, I have no idea who they were.) But visits have never meant a ton to me. I remember Levi Brown saying he had no idea the Cards were going to draft him because they hadn’t talked to him beforehand. (No snide remarks, please.) If you just do the math — 25 or 30 visits, plus all the combine guys, plus private workouts, like the one recently by Bruce Arians of Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas that was put out there publicly by the school — that’s at least, what 65 or 70 (assuming possible duplicates)? All that for six draft picks, at least as of right now.
The Big Lead did an interesting article this morning about the topic. When you look at all the guys that are known to take visits last year, the vast majority are never drafted by teams. That’s not a surprise, but it’s also why it makes no sense to worry much about who is coming in. The “visit” tracker TBL used isn’t complete at all, it only listed 10 players the Cardinals met with pre-draft last year. But of the 10, the Cards took only one — Tyrann Mathieu. Quarterbacks were on the list, but the Cards passed on Ryan Nassib and Mike Glennon more than once. The Patriots had 43 players known on the visit list last year, and they drafted none of them.
(Quick side note: Some teams announce what players visit, some don’t. For some it’s easier to find out for reporters. When I first started covering the Cards, the team not only announced who visited, but we were allowed to interview them. I remember doing that on the 2001 visits of Leonard Davis and defensive lineman Gerard Warren.)
Again, visits may provide info, but it’s impossible to know what information a team is trying to glean. It’s even possible a team brings in a player to purposely intimate interest when there is none — love the draft smokescreens. In the end, the speculation can be fun but it’s usually fruitless, given all the variables involved.
Tags: draft, Levi Brown, Tyrann Mathieu
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The questions are constant, as soon as a veteran player with any kind of reputation is released or becomes available: Would the Cardinals be interested? Well, for one, those questions are asked within seconds of the news happening, so usually, it’s a little soon for a feeling (GM Steve Keim admitted when CB Antonio Cromartie was first released, for instance, the Cards hadn’t anticipated it and had to do some extra legwork to figure out whether to chase him or not.)
It isn’t hard to get a sense of where the Cards land on many such players, however. Keim wants his team to get younger. And at this point, he certainly isn’t paying a lot. That should always be the prism from which any player should be viewed when it comes to this team. There are always exceptions. John Abraham, it was determined by the front office, still could play the game even at his age. Now, the Cards had to wait him out last year until his price was worth it (and never underestimate a veteran willing to wait out the offseason so he can wait to go back to work until training camp), but they got their bargain. Same with Karlos Dansby. Eric Winston was even cheaper, and that should probably provide guidance of where his market was — and where it might be this offseason.
The key element to all this is not just about whether a vet is available and is willing to work for cheap. It’s mostly about if he can still play — or more importantly, play to the level that the Cardinals, in this case, need him to play. Just because a guy is on the market isn’t enough. There is a reason veteran players remain unsigned, especially after the draft. Yes, once in a while it’s about the asking price and circumstances can change if it drops. But there are guys out there who are willing to play for little just to get a job, and it’s been determined they aren’t good enough anymore, whether because of age or cumulative injuries or both.
The Cards likely will sign another veteran or two at some point. It’ll be after the draft, because there is no reason to make any more moves right now until you know what you’ve filled with your picks. But whoever Keim signs, it’ll be for someone that makes sense on a football-level in 2014. Remember, past results don’t necessarily indicate future performance. It’s the slogan by which every GM should live.
– I’ve never been to a Pro Bowl. I’m going to get to one now, although I was really hoping to get a trip to Hawaii when I finally attended. I’ll be curious to know where the teams practice; those workouts have always been fan-friendly events.
– Not a surprise that there is a “Sunday Night Football” telecast in the preseason against the Bengals at University of Phoenix Stadium. NBC is also televising the Super Bowl. Not a bad time to get a lay of the land. What I am curious about is whether “SNF” will pick a Cardinals’ game in the regular season.
Tags: Bengals, Eric Winston, free agency, John Abraham, Karlos Dansby, preseason, Pro Bowl
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It’ll be easier to see replays this season when you are watching at game at University of Phoenix Stadium. As part of an e-mail message sent to season-ticket holders Tuesday evening, team president Michael Bidwill announced the Cardinals’ home will have new videoboards this season.
Calling it a “collaborative effort” between the team and the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, Bidwill said the screens at both the south and north ends will be improved. “At the south end of the stadium you will see an incredible, visually-stunning, high-definition LED board that is more than three times the size of the current one and with 75% higher resolution,” Bidwill wrote. “As part of this initial phase of stadium upgrades, the north end will now feature a scoreboard that is triple the current size.”
Bidwill also addresses WiFi at the stadium, calling enhancements a “priority” and saying there would be more specific information to be shared in the “very near future.”
Across the NFL teams have pushed to improve the in-stadium experience and the Cardinals are no different. In fact, Bidwill closes the note by saying the part of the organization’s mission is to give fans the “world-class stadium experience that you deserve.”
Tags: Michael Bidwill, University of Phoenix stadium
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Aeneas Williams will kick off the 2014 season for the Cardinals, in a manner of speaking, when he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as training camps are just getting underway. Maybe the Cards will have a Hall of Fame connection as the season is wrapping up, and the NFL prepares to play the Super Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. That’s when Kurt Warner will be on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time.
If Williams is the best draft pick the organization has made since the franchise moved to Arizona, then it’s probably safe to say Warner was the best free-agent signing. His time with the Cardinals had an interesting arc, from veteran stop-gap to placeholder for Matt Leinart to franchise QB, all in the span of five seasons. As weird as it was, Warner wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame discussion without his Arizona rebirth. His major personal success (his Super Bowl win and two MVPs) came with the Rams, but he arguably had his greatest accomplishments leading the Cards.
(He definitely played more games in Arizona. He finished with 61 games as a Card, compared to 53 as a Ram and 10 as a Giant.)
So, with the fifth season about to start since Warner retired, the potential Hall of Fame call comes for the first time after the season. Warner, having watched one-time teammate Williams get in, admits he already thought about that possibility.
“It’s hard not to think about it because people always want to ask you about it,” Warner said. “But I try to be realistic. One of the things with athletes, we’re not very realistic with situations. We always think we are the best. But I am realistic with the route it took me to get here and maybe some of the strikes against me, that maybe I didn’t play as certain people or had some bumps in the road. I don’t know if (the Hall of Fame) is going to happen. I don’t know what really determines it. But the great thing is, I am so completely content with what I accomplished on the football field.
“I did some things no one has ever done before. I think I played at a Hall of Fame level, at least for a period of time. Does that constitute me being put in the Hall of Fame? I have no idea. I just know I put in the work, and now it’s up to somebody else to wade through and figure out what belongs there. Obviously, from the time you are little, you want to make your mark in whatever you do. For me, it was the National Football League. To finally be here, and to have a lot of people think you will finally get there, you can’t help but think about it and how special it would be.”
Tags: Aeneas Williams, Hall of Fame, Kurt Warner
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The Cardinals brought Yeremiah Bell in for cheap last season, a minimum salary deal to have a smart presence both in the secondary (he started every game) and in the locker room. There was always the chance he could return, and indeed, Mike Jurecki reported the Cards have extended a one-year offer to Bell. Jurecki also reported Bell is leaning towards retirement.
Retiring wouldn’t be a shock given Bell’s age (36) but it does go against his thoughts the day after the season ended. “I’m glad I came here as a player,” Bell said. “I didn’t know a lot of these guys before I came here but to sit in this locker room and go through battle each week with these guys was really nice. Of course I’d love to be back here with these guys but this is a business. We’ll see how it goes.”
Things change, though, and sometimes, the effort and work required for an older player to get through another season isn’t worth the paycheck — however handsome it might look to someone who doesn’t play the game. The other factor is the reality that a safety spot would probably not be a lock for Bell if the Cards were able to find help in the draft. That’s something else that would need to be considered.
This is a draft where the Cards can find a safety. The Cards have been linked to potential first-round picks Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, but they can probably nab one later if they go in a different first-round direction. It’s definitely a position in need of an upgrade. Coach Bruce Arians said late in the season he was generally pleased with Bell’s play, but there is no question the Cards’ inability to cover tight ends — a job that in part fell on Bell — was an Achilles’ heel all season. The Cards also have unknowns around the return of starter Tyrann Mathieu. Second-year man Tony Jefferson may be ready for a bigger role. Rashad Johnson remains a component of the rotation. Bell would probably be a fallback option at this point, but one that would allow more flexibility on draft day. We’ll have to see if his Arizona tenure has a chance to continue.
Tags: Calvin Pryor, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu, Yeremiah Bell
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