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Calais says thank you to Cardinals fans

Posted by Darren Urban on March 17, 2017 – 11:13 am

Calais Campbell left as a free agent, a move that was frankly expected long before we got to the actual departure. But that certainly doesn’t erase nine great years of Campbell as a Cardinal, both on and off the field, with the gentle giant and his cookie monster-type voice making an impact in opposing backfields and on the fan base. You wouldn’t find a nicer guy, someone who interacted with anyone that approached, whether it be at training camp or at his Big Red Rage radio shows.

Now, Campbell has penned his farewell to the fans in The Players Tribune. His voice actually is a key part of the article.

Nine years is a long time. That’s a lot of hikes up Camelback Mountain and double orders at Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles. I wish so badly that I could have helped bring Arizona the Super Bowl title it deserves, but I’m still proud of every second I spent here. I’m a much better person for it.

There were a lot of places where I could have started my career, but I’m so glad I found my way to the desert. I’m never going to forget where I lost my voice.

And also found it.

It’s a great read and well worth your time. Campbell takes you from the time right before he was drafted through the Super Bowl and all his years with the team.

On a personal level, I hate to see Calais go. I think I have a good relationship with most everyone on the roster, but there was no one more helpful than Campbell. From my perspective, he was a go-to guy, because he was always there. Need a comment about the big picture? Calais. Need to talk to someone after the Cards had a bad game or were in a bad rut? Calais. All those times Bruce Arians made pointed comments about Campbell needing to play better? Calais didn’t shy away. He answered, and many times, agreed that he needed to do better (Make no mistake, Campbell was brutally hard on himself when the team or he wasn’t playing the way they should, even with his generally sunny disposition.) When neither Carson Palmer or Larry Fitzgerald wanted to talk to the media after pretty significant contract extensions in training camp last season, Campbell was the one to face the cameras and talk about how important it was for the team — even at the time knowing that he too was going into the final year of his contract and that his own extension might never come.

It took Campbell a long time to earn Pro Bowl recognition, a long time to prove that he was a very good second-round pick. He was under the radar in a lot of ways, partly because he developed in those lost years of 2010-2012 when the Cards weren’t in the thick of national conversation. But the Cards knew what they had — he got a big contract in Jacksonville, but he got one in Arizona in 2012 too — and he certainly left an impressive legacy over his nine seasons in the desert.

 


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Wait and see with Cardinals and FA CB

Posted by Darren Urban on March 16, 2017 – 3:22 pm

Brandon Carr went to the Ravens Thursday and Morris Claiborne to the Jets and the free-agent cornerback pool got a little smaller. But at this point, I’m not sure it makes a big difference to the Cardinals. Yes, with the defection of Marcus Cooper to the Bears, the Cardinals are going to have to find a new starter opposite Patrick Peterson. But it looks like that will be a slowly developing situation rather than an immediate fix.

There remain in-house candidates like Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams. Bethel did just take a paycut as he tries to rehab his cornerback stock (he did play well at the nickel late in the season and Bruce Arians noted that Bethel’s best spot was probably in the slot), while Williams struggled a lot as the raw, young cornerback that he is and he is far from a sure thing as a starter in this league.

But in a draft deep in cornerback talent, choosing one in the early rounds looks like the initial play. There are a few “name” cornerbacks still out there in free agency — Alterraun Verner, Brandon Flowers, and yes, Darrelle Revis, for example — but there is a reason they are still on the market. (No, I don’t see any chance Revis would be a pickup, regardless.)

This seems headed for the same place it was last season, where Bethel and now Williams and a draft pick will get a chance to show what they have, and a veteran will be picked up at some point to be in the mix. Remember, the Cardinals added Mike Jenkins and Alan Ball in camp last year before injuries took them out (Jenkins was your starter before he hurt his knee) and the team traded for Cooper.


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Bethel pay cut means free agency sooner

Posted by Darren Urban on March 15, 2017 – 9:00 am

The NFLPA web site, which updates daily the amount of salary cap room each team has, listed the Cardinals at around $18.5 million yesterday and at around $21 million today. Turns out — with the new contract of Jarvis Jones not yet in the system — that cornerback Justin Bethel had his pay reduced for 2017 from $4.5 million to $2 million, (also on the NFLPA site). I would guess, given his ups and downs last season, it was not a shock. (The move, figuring in signing bonus proration, saves the Cards $1.75M on the cap.)

Bethel did get something in return, however. His contract, which was to run through the 2018 season, now ends after 2017 — meaning he is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season. Next year was probably going to be dicey anyway, since Bethel had been scheduled to make $5 million in salary, but still, this will give him a guaranteed opportunity to reach the open market or to have some leverage for a new deal.

Bethel says he’s finally healthy from the foot injury that torpedoed his 2016 season. It’s a big year for him both on defense and to help a special teams unit (he is a multi-time special teams Pro Bowler who didn’t get there last year) that struggled.


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With FA losses, comp picks in play for Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on March 14, 2017 – 10:03 am

The Cardinals would’ve liked to keep Calais Campbell. And Tony Jefferson (or D.J. Swearinger), and Marcus Cooper too. But the prices got to be a lot larger than the team wanted to pay, and there was a flip side to those players defecting — and to the way the Cardinals have looked at bringing in free agents themselves over the last few days: Compensatory picks.

Comp picks are the extra selections at the end of each round, starting in the third, that teams get after all the free agent comings and goings are tallied. The NFL keeps the formula for comp picks secret, although a) it’s determined by each team’s free agents losses and gains, along with the size of those players’ new contracts, plus playing time and postseason honors; and b) there are only so many in a draft.

(This was made painfully clear to the Cardinals recently. The Cardinals get an extra fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft next month, and they had qualified for three other extra seventh-round picks — but the NFL caps the total number of comp picks at 32, and since teams across the league qualified for 39 total, the last seven didn’t count. The extra three of the Cards’ picks fell in that last seven “dead zone.”)

There are other things that dictate the comings-and-goings part of the comp pick equation. Players who are in the league 10 years or more don’t matter as much (so the Cards aren’t really hurt by the “coming” of Karlos Dansby, who was basically canceled out by the “going” of Alex Okafor to the Saints). This only applies to free agents who had contracts expire (so Antoine Bethea, cut by San Francisco, does not count in the equation.)

A team would max out with four comp picks in any given draft. Right now, it looks like the Cardinals would be in line for four — four pretty good ones. Those that break this down (the best they can, given the secrecy of the exact formula) estimate the Cardinals gaining potentially two third-round picks in 2018, plus a couple of others. Even if one of the picks isn’t a third but a fourth, plus a couple of other later ones in the fifth- or sixth-round to get to the maximum four, it would give the Cardinals a lot of firepower in the 2018 draft. (If it played out like that, it’d be 10 draft picks, because the Cards traded their 2018 seventh-rounder to Kansas City for Cooper).

Nothing is set in stone, but the money is a big driver in comp picks and at this point, you figure the big money in free agency is already gone. If the Cards were going to lose high-profile free agents, they at least figure to get something out of it.


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The prices of free agency, and other stuff

Posted by Darren Urban on March 13, 2017 – 5:07 pm

As we get past the first few days of free agency and the contract numbers begin to trickle in, we got a sense of how pricey the market was for some (like Calais Campbell) and how the Cards have interpreted those who have left and who have arrived. With that, some thoughts on some of the contracts handed out to recently departed and freshly minted Cardinals:

— Campbell got $30 million guaranteed over the first two years of his four-year deal, and gets a $3M bonus in early 2019 if the Jaguars choose to keep him. That’s a lot of money, but it’s why the Cardinals-Campbell marriage was destined to end. The Jags had (have) oodles of cap space, so they front-loaded the contract. The Cards didn’t see fiscally how that would make sense for them.

— The same goes for the $19 million guaranteed for Tony Jefferson and the $8 million guaranteed for Marcus Cooper, who got a three-year deal with the Bears. Bruce Arians said Cooper could get big money, and he did. I have to say I was a little surprised.

— Along those lines, I’ve heard from a handful of fans asking me about doing something like a trade for Patriots RFA CB Malcolm Butler. Not going to happen. To give up a pick and be facing a need for a giant contract extension in a secondary that already has two giant contracts with Pat P and Honey Badger, nope. This draft class is strong at cornerback. I’d guess they will draft one at some point. Will they add a vet? Maybe, but it won’t be for giant money.

— Karlos Dansby gets $2 million if he stays healthy and plays a lot. That’s a reasonable contract for a soon-to-be 36-year-old who figures to start. (Kevin Minter, who was unlikely to return after Dansby signed, was reportedly visiting the Colts Monday.)

— Jarvis Jones, the Steelers’ OLB free agent, was visiting the Cardinals. That would seem tied to Alex Okafor, who was visiting the Saints. If Okafor comes back to the Cardinals, they won’t need Jones. If Okafor departs, there’s a need Jones could fill.

— Have to say I was a little surprised Andre Ellington returned, not because the Cards wouldn’t want him — they need players behind David Johnson and Ellington can produce, especially as a receiver — but because I thought he’d want to find a place where he might get more time. The running backs market is not robust. And Ellington said he wanted to stay. Speaking of prices, I’m sure it was a team-friendly contract. It’d be good to see Ellington break off a couple of those electrifying plays he had his first couple of years.


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David Johnson says he’s healthy, “full throttle”

Posted by Darren Urban on March 11, 2017 – 2:18 pm

Playing in Kurt Warner’s annual flag football tourney Saturday, David Johnson didn’t have to do much — the players involved are the all-time quarterbacks for their teams, which basically means grabbing the ball and standing there until someone gets open.

(Although I saw a first in all my years at this event, which started in 2004. Falcons wideout Mohamed Sanu — pictured below, laughing with Johnson — actually played defense for his team a couple of times.)

Johnson has some work to do as a quarterback. But as for his day job — and the knee injury he suffered late in the season — all is better now.

“My wheel is good,” Johnson said. “Good to go already. Back training, full throttle. Doing everything.”

He admitted he got a “harsh reminder” not to do things like jump out of pools, which he had put up on social media while rehabbing.

“I just wanted to show people I was back and ready to go,” Johnson said. Back to 100 percent? “For sure,” he said.


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Age is but a number, as free agency moves on

Posted by Darren Urban on March 10, 2017 – 4:25 pm

Yes, the Cardinals have gotten older. There are caveats to that, though. Phil Dawson, at 42, is way older than Chandler Catanzaro, but then again, that’s one of the reasons the Cards have swapped Dawson for Cat Man, because they wanted someone proven in tough situations. Dawson has shown that (and the fact Dawson wanted to come to Arizona means something too.) Karlos Dansby is going to be 36 in November, but my guess is that Dansby is a bridge for an inside linebacker coming in the draft. (Besides, Dansby played pretty well last year in Cincy, and the Cards obviously felt strongly enough to swap him out for Kevin Minter.)

No, Antoine Bethea’s age doesn’t help in comparison to Tony Jefferson, but Jefferson was leaving regardless. And this is a deep draft in the secondary. I’m sure that has played a role in this too. But age was always going to be a big part of this season, with Carson Palmer (37 in December) and Larry Fitzgerald (34 in August) knowing they are nearing the end.

Said Dansby, when asked what it meant adding that age to the roster, “wisdom.”

— On a personal level, one press conference with Los reminds me how much fun it is to have him around.

— The Cardinals carve out some cap room not only by extending Chandler Jones but also by getting safety Tyvon Branch to take a paycut from $4 million to $2 million this season.

— Dawson comes to the Cardinals, while Catanzaro signed with the Jets and coach Todd Bowles Friday.

— I would still expect a free-agent guard at some point, but I don’t know if it will be soon. I haven’t heard anything, and it’s possible they are going to let the market settle some. The Cards under Steve Keim have usually added some key free agents after the first wave. I don’t see why it would be different this year. We’re barely a day in.


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Comings, goings, kickers and Dansby

Posted by Darren Urban on March 9, 2017 – 5:21 pm

Free agency started Thursday and it was busy. As expected, Calais Campbell left, as did Tony Jefferson. And D.J. Swearinger. The Cardinals kept center A.Q. Shipley, and they found a new safety in Antoine Bethea. Things are moving at a rapid pace all across the league. That’s pretty normal.

— The safety trio of Tyrann Mathieu, Tyvon Branch and Antoine Bethea should be OK if Mathieu and Branch can stay healthy. That’s the hope.

— It’ll be Boehm vs. Shipley for starting center. Nick Mangold isn’t walking through that door. Don’t forget that the Cardinals felt comfortable with the job Shipley did last season. Boehm will get his chance, but I don’t think the Cards are worried if Shipley is the starter again this season.

— Bethea was released, so he does not count in the compensatory pick equation. Campbell, Jefferson and Swearinger will, and with the large deals Campbell and Jefferson got, the Cardinals are well ahead in the 2018 comp pick game. So there’s that.

— It looks like linebacker Karlos Dansby could end up with a third tenure with the Cardinals. That’s huge, man. Huge. Mostly because Kevin Minter — the man who replaced him after the 2013 season — is a free agent and who knows if he will return. Dansby had more than 100 tackles with the Bengals last season, so he’s still plugging along.

— Dansby is older (he’ll be 36 during the season) but not as old as kicker Phil Dawson, the former 49er who looks like he’ll be coming to Arizona as well. If Dawson does, that’s the steady kicker the Cards didn’t have a season ago. The Cards have moved on from Chandler Catanzaro.

— Like Catanzaro, tight end Darren Fells was a restricted free agent whom the team did not tender. Fells is going to visit the Lions.

— Should hear something soon on the official front with the Chandler Jones extension, but judging by reports it’s going to look a lot like Olivier Vernon money ($80+M in potential value, $50+M in guarantees.) Which makes sense, because Vernon’s deal always was the likely benchmark for an extension.

— On the first day of the new league year, the NFLPA had the Cardinals with $21.3 million of salary cap space. That’d be prior to Bethea and Shipley signing (and tight end Jermaine Gresham, who officially signed his contract Thursday as well.)

Day one is done. Hopefully.


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Campbell, Jefferson close to new addresses

Posted by Darren Urban on March 8, 2017 – 9:32 pm

Nothing can happen before 2 p.m. Thursday, but the expected — that Calais Campbell and Tony Jefferson would be signing elsewhere as free agents — is close to happening, according to multiple reports Wednesday night. Campbell is expected to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Jefferson is expected to sign with the Baltimore Ravens. Jefferson reportedly could have gotten more money from Browns. Campbell was reportedly wooed also by Washington.

It’ll make for an interesting visit to University of Phoenix Stadium this coming season when the Jaguars visit Arizona for the first time in more than a decade.

Campbell and Jefferson aren’t gone yet. Nothing done at this point can be official. There is always a chance something could change at the last second — a la Frank Gore — but it looks like Campbell will be a Jag, Jefferson a Raven, and the Cardinals out two defensive starters.


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On free agency eve, the Cards’ FAs-to-be

Posted by Darren Urban on March 8, 2017 – 4:07 pm

By this time tomorrow the Cardinals and the NFL will be well into free agency. The “tampering” period has given everyone plenty of opportunity to get a head start on signing players, although no visits are supposed to have been set up and no players — just agents — are supposed to have talked to teams yet.

What has floated around the Cardinals is all about their own guys so far. Linebacker Chandler Jones, who isn’t going anywhere because he was franchise tagged, is reportedly close to a contract extension with the Cards. That would help cap space, but there is nothing official yet and we’ll see how quickly it can get done. Calais Campbell has been linked to the Jaguars, Bucs and maybe Broncos, but nothing concrete, while Tony Jefferson can apparently break the bank in Cleveland if he wants, while the Ravens and Jets are also showing interest.

Reports also have cornerback Marcus Cooper getting interest from the Jets and safety D.J. Swearinger possible interest from  the Bears.

Where does that leave the Cards? Still with a long list of free agents who will hit the market officially at 2 p.m. Arizona time Thursday unless the team re-signs them beforehand. That current list:

— RB Andre Ellington
— RB Chris Johnson
— RB Stepfan Taylor
— TE Darren Fells
— G Taylor Boggs
— C A.Q. Shipley
— OL Earl Watford
— DT Calais Campbell
— DT Frostee Rucker
— LB Kevin Minter
— LB Sio Moore
— LB Alex Okafor
— CB Marcus Cooper
— S Tony Jefferson
— CB Mike Jenkins
— S D.J. Swearinger
— K Chandler Catanzaro

Free agency has arrived.


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