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For Cardinals, the fullback is here again

Posted by Darren Urban on May 11, 2018 – 2:23 pm

Not that it comes as a great surprise after a) Derrick Coleman was signed as a free agent Thursday or even b) Elijhaa Penny was getting reps in Phase Two work as a lead blocker for David Johnson, but Steve Wilks and Mike McCoy have brought the fullback back to the Cardinals. If you recall, Bruce Arians made very clear he was not going to use a fullback in his tenure (although there were times when he kinda did, even if it was embodied by a lineman like A.Q. Shipley or Evan Boehm.)

Arians preferred two tight-end sets if he was going to have only two receivers on the field. Wilks and McCoy see the fullback — or an H-back, depending on the situation — as a preferred option. The Cardinals also signed undrafted rookie fullback Austin Ramesh (pictured below).

“Derrick is going to come in and give us a boost,” Wilks said. “We really didn’t have a true fullback on the roster. Going against him within that division in the (NFC) South (when Coleman was in Atlanta and Wilks Carolina), the guy has proven himself.”

“Within our system and the things we do, a fullback is a part of that offense,” Wilks added. “It’s been a part of that offense for a while with McCoy, and even the same thing with me in Carolina. We think that’s a major part of what we are doing and we want to try and bring in a guy who shores up that position for us.”


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Cardinals’ 2019 comp pick estimate: Just one

Posted by Darren Urban on May 8, 2018 – 1:47 pm

Today is the deadline for free agents signed counting for or against a team’s compensatory pick haul for the 2019 draft. The Cardinals benefited greatly in 2018 with comp picks, earning three comp picks (and ultimately using all, to choose OL Mason Cole, RB Chase Edmonds and OL Korey Cunningham.) Next year, it won’t quite be the same.

According to Nick Korte of overthecap.com, the Cardinals — based on their free agent gains and losses this year — will get a lone extra seventh-round pick, attached to the departure of wide receiver Jaron Brown to the Seahawks. Three other losses qualified as potential seventh-rounders: quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert (to Tennessee) and Matt Barkley (Cincinnati), and offensive lineman Earl Watford (Chicago). But none figure to earn picks because there are only 32 comp picks awarded and all three fall in at 33 or higher.

(The Cards lost a couple of higher-value free agents but those are canceled out by the ones they signed themselves. And as always, players that had been cut — like Tyrann Mathieu — do not qualify in the equation.)

The list can change slightly depending on how much some guys play or if they are released. But it’s usually a pretty close estimate of where we will be when comp picks are revealed in late February or so.


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Christian Kirk and the “new” passing game

Posted by Darren Urban on May 8, 2018 – 10:41 am

The idea is that Christian Kirk, as a second-round pick, will be able to step in and make an impact as a receiver right away. Beyond Larry Fitzgerald, there is certainly an opening at the position. There is a lot to sort out, of course — what might the role of J.J. Nelson and Chad Williams be going forward, how much more might tight end Ricky Seals-Jones be used, will running back David Johnson slide right back in as the second-leading pass-catcher like he was in 2016. Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is just now building out what he might want to do. That will take some time.

As polished as Kirk might be at this point, coming in and doing big things right away as a rookie receiver can be difficult. You need opportunity as well as skill. You also need to figure out just what the expectations would be for “making an impact.” Last year, Rams third-round pick Cooper Kupp made an impact, even if his numbers wouldn’t necessarily make him an obvious Pro Bowl candidate (62-859-5). Former third-round Cardinals pick John Brown did the same in 2014 (48-696-5). If Kirk could replicate either of those seasons, I’d guess the Cardinals would be pretty happy.

A look at every receiver drafted over the last three years by pick 47 (Kirk’s spot) or earlier finds plenty of lost rookie campaigns. Using Smokey Brown as a potential benchmark, of the 19 wideouts taken at 47 or higher, only three (Sterling Shepard, NYG, 2016; Michael Thomas, New Orleans 2016; Amari Cooper, Oakland, 2015) had as many catches as Brown as a rookie (65, 92, 72, respectively.) Only two, Thomas and Cooper, had as many yards as Brown (1,137 for Thomas, 1,070 for Cooper.) The same trio were the only ones to reach the five touchdowns of Brown (Sterling 8, Thomas 9, Cooper 6).

That’s 16 wide receivers that didn’t do a ton as a rookie (Houston’s Will Fuller did go 47-635-2 in 2016, so he was close). Again, when looking to see what Kirk might be able to have, recent perspective counts.


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Bruce Arians gets his TV gig

Posted by Darren Urban on May 3, 2018 – 8:10 am

When Bruce Arians retired from coaching, he said he was looking at what to do in the next stage of his life. Doing some form of football on TV made a lot of sense to him, and networks were intrigued by the blunt-talking B.A. Thursday, that became reality when Arians was officially hired by CBS to join a three-man booth with play-by-play man Greg Gumbel and former quarterback Trent Green for the 2018 season.

“I always hoped that broadcasting would be an option after I retired from coaching as a way to stay involved with this great game,” Arians said in a statement released by CBS.  “I am thrilled to have that opportunity with such a class organization as CBS Sports.  As I begin my new career in the broadcast booth, I am excited to join Greg, Trent and Jamie and look forward to learning from them, as well as sharing my passion and knowledge for the game with the fans.”

Of course, it will be interesting to hear how Arians interprets games from the booth, and how easily he is able to avoid some of the not-made-for-TV language he so often likes to use. Arians has joked about that multiple times when talking about being on TV.

The Cardinals only have one game on CBS all season — a home game Nov. 18 against the Oakland Raiders. I wouldn’t be shocked to have Arians and crew at that game, but we will see.


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The fifth-year option and Josh Rosen

Posted by Darren Urban on May 2, 2018 – 1:14 pm

The fifth-year team option for NFL teams for their first-round draft picks is always an interesting proposition, and it’s at the forefront of league topics right now since Wednesday is the deadline for team’s to figure out their choice for the 2015 draft picks. The Cardinals already made their call, exercising the option for tackle D.J. Humphries. It’s also part of the story for new first-round pick Josh Rosen, with whom the Cards will have a fifth-year option in 2022.

The Cardinals usually use their option, which began in 2011 after the new collective bargaining agreement came to pass. Of all their first-round picks since then that have come up for the option, the only time the Cards didn’t use it was on guard Jonathan Cooper (who was actually traded to New England for Chandler Jones before the option deadline arrived in 2016.) Patrick Peterson, Michael Floyd, and Deone Bucannon have all had their rookie deals extended to that fifth season — which does jump a player’s salary a good amount depending on their position and draft slot, but does keep the player from free agency another year.

Rosen’s case in a few years will be interesting. As noted in Kyle Odegard’s story today, finding a rookie quarterback to use is the best way for a team to build up its roster because the rookie wage scale makes a QB much cheaper — and there is more room under the cap to get players elsewhere. That’ll be the first four years. Former agent and cap expert Joel Corry does estimate that by 2022, assuming a similar climb in the salary cap, Rosen’s 2022 fifth-year option will be north of $25 million.

If Rosen is the real deal, there is no question the fifth-year option will come into play. (Next year, with Robert Nkemdiche, would seem to come down to his 2018 work.) Because of the timing — and because a player cannot get a contract extension or a new deal until he has played three years in the league — chances are good that Rosen will be optioned. But the Cards might make sure he gets a new deal before it ever kicks in. If Rosen is the player they hope he is.


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Sam Bradford’s text to Josh Rosen

Posted by Darren Urban on May 1, 2018 – 9:15 am

By now (I would hope) you’re all watching the series “Flight Plan” and how it chronicles the offseason of the Cardinals. The episode coming Wednesday night on Facebook (www.facebook.com/cardinalsflightplan) will be all about the draft, with a ton of cool behind-the-scenes stuff with number one draft pick Josh Rosen — including a text message from new teammate/competition at quarterback Sam Bradford.

The scene plays out as Rosen and his parents and agent were being driven to the Cardinals’ Tempe facility Friday for Rosen’s introductory press conference. Rosen turns to agent Ryan Williams and says, “Sam just texted me. Bradford.” Then he reads the text.

“He said, ‘Josh, what’s up, man? Welcome to Arizona,” Rosen reads. ” ‘Just wanted to let you know that I look forward to playing with you. I’ll be an open book, so if you ever need anything or have any questions, feel free to ask. Hope all is well.’ ”

You can then see Rosen writing a text back.

It’s an important tidbit given the questions some have had with how Rosen and Bradford will mesh, given that Rosen — obviously — is considered the long-term solution at quarterback. Yes, you can say Bradford is just being nice, but had he not texted and just waited to talk to Rosen when Rosen arrives next week, no one would’ve thought anything of it. It’s hard to not think the message genuine.

On Rosen’s part, he’s made it clear he’d like to play sooner rather than later, but he acknowledged at his press conference, “First and foremost, I’m an Arizona Cardinal. It’s team before everything. … I’m going to compete my butt off every single day, but then again, I’m not going to be the guy that comes in and thinks he’s the man from Day 1. It’s a long process, and you’ve got to earn it.”

All this will be on Flight Plan this week. Usually, there is a new episode debuting every two weeks, but this week is the exception. It will post Wednesday night at  6 p.m. Arizona time on Facebook Watch and then on azcardinals.com Thursday morning.


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From no QBs to now: Draft aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on April 28, 2018 – 5:18 pm

The question was about how he and General Manager Steve Keim felt Saturday, two days later, about the ability to trade up and draft potential quarterback-of-the-future Josh Rosen, and Steve Wilks took the opportunity to flash back to January, when he was first hired.

“When you go back to January 22nd, when I was hired, there were questions,” Wilks said. “Here’s a guy with no head coaching experience, you have no quarterback on the roster, the offensive line has a lot of holes, there are a lot of questions about this team. And I would say this: Sight is totally different than vision. Sometimes you have to see past the difficulties. We had a plan. We had a vision.”

Wilks noted the additions on the offensive line, with Justin Pugh and Andre Smith. He noted signing quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon. He reiterated the oft-used “aggressive” phrase the Cardinals have used in relation to the first-round trade and the Rosen pick.

“To be sitting in this situation now, to have what could be a future franchise quarterback for many years, you’ve got a dynamic running back who I consider to be the best in the league in David Johnson, we continue to build that offensive line, dynamic receiver (Christian Kirk) who will learn and grow from one of the best in the league in Larry Fitzgerald, so we got better,” Wilks said. “Going back and looking at it now, we’re in a great situation.”

Whether the draft class pans out is TBD. Keim has been excited about every draft class he’s had on the Saturday of the draft. Then, inevitably, some guys don’t work out. That happen with every team. But Wilks does have a point — the roster, particularly the quarterbacks, looked bleak a few months ago. Suddenly, not so much. That’s not to say Rosen — or Bradford — is a lock to star in Arizona. But they could. And if Kirk becomes the wideout the Cards want and need, if Chris Campbell fleshes out as one of Wilks’ late-round developmental gems in the secondary … yes, there are “ifs.” But the Cards are in a much different spot than they were.

— As for Keim and his Rosen reflection, he admitted “it’s a little bit of a relief” to have that future QB around. Finally.

“But at the same time, (I want) to have a little fun and watch how this thing plays out,” Keim said. “I don’t forget my evaluation on Sam Bradford, and if he can stay healthy, you could be talking about a guy who could potentially be the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. I feel that strongly about how he can throw the football.”

— The Cards are in the process of agreeing with undrafted rookies. The official list won’t be out until Monday at the earliest, but I’ll probably retweet some names on Twitter if you want to look there. The official list always ends up a little different — those guys still have to pass physicals, and sometimes, players tweet out they are “signing” with a team even when they are only invited on a tryout basis.

— Last season, then-rookie safety Budda Baker missed all the offseason work other than the rookie minicamp because of an arcane NFL rule that prevented rookies from taking part until after graduation of their school. (The rule was in place to make sure guys could graduate without the pressure of having to miss time, although the reality is guys who are drafted most of the time are ready to go play football anyway.) There were a handful of schools that are on quarter systems and don’t graduate until mid-June. UCLA is one, meaning Rosen normally would have been out like Baker was. But the NFL changed the rule last fall, and Rosen will be able to be around.

“We all know you can’t get that time back,” Wilks said.


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With Warner history, Christian Kirk picks 13

Posted by Darren Urban on April 28, 2018 – 12:34 pm

Christian Kirk, the Cardinals’ newest wide receiver from down the street, wore the No. 3 in college and that can’t happen in the NFL, one because it is against the rules, and two, because new teammate Josh Rosen has it anyway. So he went with the next best thing, choosing No. 13.

“Wore 3 in college and 13 was there, and it was a no-brainer,” Kirk said.

Most recently, 13 was wide receiver Jaron Brown’s number, but Brown departed as a free agent to Seattle. Before Brown, it was Hall of Famer Kurt Warner’s jersey.

“So I’ve got to rock it well,” Kirk said with a smile. “I’ve got a lot to live up to.”

As a Valley kid, Kirk knows all about Warner. That goes beyond what Warner did for the Cardinals. When he was young, Kirk actually played youth football with Warner’s son. Kurt would attend games and sometimes bring Larry Fitzgerald, and that’s also when Kirk’s relationship with his new teammate began. (Kirk said he was probably in fourth grade at the time, which can’t make Fitz feel great, can it?)

Warner even weighed in with the number choice, telling Kent Somers ““I love Christian as a person and a player! I would love to have him join the Cards 13 club!”


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Draft day two, and Deuce Lutui’s impact

Posted by Darren Urban on April 27, 2018 – 8:54 pm

The long day ended with a pick of an offensive lineman and, more entertainingly, an ex-offensive lineman dancing his way to the announcement.

“I don’t know if I’m more excited about (our) last two selections or Deuce Lutui’s announcement of our pick,” GM Steve Keim said after the Cardinals took OL Mason Cole following the pick of WR Christian Kirk earlier in the day.

The Cardinals have three picks left, one each in the fourth, sixth and seventh rounds, none of which are the Cardinals’ original 2018 picks. The fourth- and seventh-rounders are compensatory picks, the sixth-rounder the selection given by the Broncos in the Jared Veldheer trade. What might be the Cardinals looking for? Well, they could still take another offensive lineman, maybe a defensive lineman, and definitely a cornerback. Although both Keim and Steve Wilks insisted they won’t push anything.

Thus far, “we didn’t veer because of grades or because of positional need,” Keim said. “We stuck to value and we stuck to the person.”

— With the last day of the draft, “we’re going to have some players who have some holes,” Keim added. “We have to find certain traits we can hang our hat on.”

— When it comes to cornerback — the most glaring need the Cardinals have — do not forget that Wilks, a former defensive backs coach, frequently used and used successfully cornerbacks with perhaps not the highest draft pedigree. He can make different pieces work (Josh Norman, don’t forget, was a fifth-rounder.)

— Keim was asked about the first three picks thus far, which includes a QB, a receiver and offensive lineman. “Other than Coach kept staring at me talking about defensive players, it was good,” Keim deadpanned.

But he said Wilks has been “unbelievable” in understanding how defense hasn’t gotten a pick, and Wilks said he’s always been able to see the big picture in team building. Then he reiterated the need to build both the offensive and defensive lines, so again, a pick there wouldn’t be a surprise.

— As for that trade for Josh Rosen and the surrendered third-round pick, 79th overall?

“We got to the 79th pick and Coach and I looked at each other and we saw the players who were left on the board and I said, ‘I’m glad we have a potential franchise quarterback versus what was left,’ ” Keim said. “Not to take anything away with what was left on the board, but I would certainly do that again over and over.”


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Josh Rosen goes with No. 3

Posted by Darren Urban on April 27, 2018 – 3:21 pm

Carson Palmer retired, meaning the No. 3 was now available. And that fits perfectly with first-round pick Josh Rosen — who picked the number Friday.

“It’s what I wore in college, and it’s just kind of been a lucky number for me,” Rosen said. “Count to three … I don’t know. Three has just kind of been with me my whole life.”

Rosen also has a connection to Palmer, at least from afar.

“I looked up to Carson,” Rosen said. “When he played for the Bengals, him and Chad Johnson or Ochocinco, were two of my favorite players. It’s an honor to wear his jersey. Hopefully I can do him proud.”


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