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Mr. Smith goes to Washington, one less QB for Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on January 30, 2018 – 10:05 pm

Trades aren’t allowed in the NFL for another month and a half, but once March 14 does arrive, there is a doozy waiting for completion. News broke Tuesday night that the Chiefs were trading quarterback Alex Smith to Washington for a third-round pick and emerging star cornerback Kendall Fuller (and will be giving Smith a giant contract extension, since he was heading into the final year of his current deal.)

It means one potential QB for the QB-less Cardinals is off the table. (They reportedly had inquired.) But there is a trickle-down effect. The Chiefs, of course, don’t need a quarterback. They already have Pat Mahomes. But the Redskins, who at 13th in the draft pick two slots in front of the Cardinals, don’t need a quarterback anymore. Smith’s arrival means Washington will allow Kirk Cousins to finally reach free agency, so he will be available if the Cards so choose (although expensive.) But if Cousins goes somewhere, like for instance, the Broncos, Denver won’t need a QB either. And the Broncos currently are slotted fifth in the draft.

There is still a long time before the Cards can officially do much at quarterback, barring re-signing one of their own free-agents-to-be. But starting with the Smith move, the QB carousel has begun.


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McCoy knows it’s about the players

Posted by Darren Urban on January 29, 2018 – 4:52 pm

Mike McCoy was blunt, when asked if his offensive playcalling was about scheme or matchups.

“Players,” he said, and that’s always the ultimate answer.

As an incoming coordinator, McCoy was probably never going to have a lot of specifics. He was just hired, and even if there was a quarterback in place, a change in head coach usually means a change in the roster anyway. Besides, he still has to evaluate the guys who are on the roster in the first place. Then you add in all the uncertainty on that side of the ball, because of impending free agency with so many (and the question of Larry Fitzgerald’s future, although more on that in a moment) and McCoy didn’t have the specifics I’m sure many wanted to hear. It isn’t feasible yet.

But it always comes down to players.

That can get lost, and yes, coaching matters. McCoy’s best time as an OC came when Peyton Manning was in his Denver heyday in 2012, but that shouldn’t be a negative. It’s a fact, just like Bruce Arians was at his best offensively when Carson Palmer had his best season in 2015 or that Ken Whisenhunt had his best offense when Kurt Warner stepped forward in 2008-09.

It’s impossible to know what the Cardinals’ offensive personnel might be. McCoy talked about wanting to win, regardless of how pretty it might look. He did that in 2011 with a Broncos offense using Tim Tebow(!) to win a playoff game and leading the NFL in rushing. He threw plenty with Manning and Philip Rivers. The Cardinals have one of the best dual-threat running backs in the league in David Johnson and I’m guessing he’ll do a lot of both — because why wouldn’t he? McCoy is smart enough to know what he has.

Speaking of which, McCoy sure sounded like a guy who expects Fitzgerald to play, which continues to be the guesstimate put out by those closest to Fitz, like his dad or Warner. “We might shift some things we wanted to be our core, then we’ll go the other way,” McCoy said. ” ‘We’re better at this.’ ‘David likes these runs.’ ‘The quarterbacks like these plays.’ ‘Larry, this is what he loves. This is what he’s good at it.’ We’ve got to learn a lot about the players too.” That sounds like a guy thinking Fitz will be around.

 


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Cards reportedly close to McCoy for OC

Posted by Darren Urban on January 25, 2018 – 6:11 pm

Ever since he was hired, Steve Wilks has been working on hiring his staff, and Thursday night came multiple reports that he’s closed in on an offensive coordinator — former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy. He was a name that has been connected to the Cardinals for a while now. McCoy was reportedly the OC choice for former Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher had Bettcher gotten the head coaching spot. McCoy was the offensive coordinator in Denver this past season before being let go in November.

UPDATE: It’s official.

There are no official announcements yet on the coaching staff beyond Wilks, although names — as they tend to do — have started to trickle out. For a few days multiple reports have Panthers linebackers coach Al Holcomb coming as defensive coordinator. The Cards are expected to keep Byron Leftwich (QB) and Larry Foote (ILB) from the previous staff with the possibility of other holdovers (Kevin Garver for WR and Steve Heiden at TE). Other reported names have been Ray Brown (OL), David Merritt (DB) and Don Johnson (DL).

 


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Peterson, comp picks and Cards’ draft ammunition

Posted by Darren Urban on January 25, 2018 – 9:57 am

The Saints acknowledged that they will indeed get that conditional draft pick from the Cardinals — expected to be a sixth-rounder — in the trade for Adrian Peterson. With the draft in April and the announcements of this year’s compensatory picks (based on 2017 free agency) coming in late March, here is an early look at what draft picks the Cards could hold this season.

Already gone are the Cardinals’ original fourth-round pick (dealt in the Bears trade that allowed them to move up for Budda Baker in the second round last season), original sixth-rounder (for Peterson) and seventh-rounder (in the 2016 trade with Chiefs for cornerback Marcus Cooper.) The Cardinals also acquired a conditional seventh-round pick from the Ravens for offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom at the end of training camp, but given that Bergstrom was released about six weeks later, it’s unclear whether that pick conveys.

On the plus side, the Cards are in line for three comp picks, according to overthecap.com, which always has a pretty good handle on the byzantine equation the NFL uses to determine comp picks. It’s based on free agents lost versus free agents gained, using contract numbers and snaps. According to OTC, the loss of Calais Campbell would earn the Cards the top comp pick in the third round (all comp picks are slotted after the regular round ends), the loss of Tony Jefferson would earn the Cards the top comp pick in the fourth round, and the loss of Alex Okafor would earn them an additional seventh-round pick.

The FA losses of D.J. Swearinger, Cooper and Kevin Minter are offset by the signings of Phil Dawson, Peterson and Karlos Dansby.

Peterson wasn’t a free agent signing, you say? He was with the Saints. The trade for Peterson looks like it could actually ding the Cards in two ways — not only costing the sixth-rounder in trade, but also a potential sixth-round comp pick because he was acquired in the season in which he was signed as a free agent. (This is one of the reasons it’s been reported that the 49ers released QB Brian Hoyer as they traded for Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots. The Patriots wanted Hoyer, but to get him back in a trade after he signed as a free agent with the 49ers would have hurt the Pats in the comp pick equation. With the 49ers cutting him, there was no such issue.)

So, if the projections are right, the Cards picks are:

— First round
— Second round
— 2 Third rounds (comp)
— Fourth round (comp)
— Fifth round
— Seventh round (comp, and maybe a regular seventh-round if Bergstrom trade comes through)


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Bettcher headed to Giants as Wilks builds staff

Posted by Darren Urban on January 24, 2018 – 8:21 am

New Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said Tuesday that he wants to have his coaching staff filled out by the Super Bowl (10 days from now) and already names are leaking out. Some could be holdover assistants from Bruce Arians’ staff. One will not be James Bettcher, the defensive coordinator who was among the candidates to succeed Arians. Multiple reports have Bettcher headed to the New York Giants as their defensive coordinator under new coach Pat Shurmur.

None of Wilks’ new assistants have been officially announced, but reports have Wilks potentially bringing Panthers linebackers coach Al Holcomb with him from Carolina to be his defensive coordinator. And, of course, Wilks is a defensive guy himself and figures to have a large say on that side of the ball.

As for Bettcher, Cardinals GM Steve Keim called him a “strong candidate” for the Cards’ job following Wilks’ press conference Tuesday.

“James Bettcher is a fantastic coach and he had a great interview,” Keim said. “He did a great job. I thought he did a phenomenal job with our defense. He’s going to continue to grow in this league.”

(The Browns, in announcing they hired Todd Haley as their offensive coordinator, also added a pair off Arians’ staff: Freddie Kitchens, who after 10 years with the Cards will be Cleveland’s running backs/associate head coach, and Amos Jones on special teams.)

Besides Holcomb, there have been reports of Wilks bringing in Ray Brown to coach the offensive line and David Merritt to coach the secondary. If Merritt’s name rings a bell, Keim mentioned it Tuesday during the press conference — noting that Merritt, a teammate of Keim’s at North Carolina State — was the one who originally introduced Keim and Wilks. Keim, of course, said Merritt was a Giants’ assistant coach, where he has been since 2004. With Shurmur’s arrival, he apparently is moving on. Another report has Don Johnson as Wilks’ defensive line coach.

Interviews for offensive coordinator are ongoing, Wilks said Tuesday.


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Wilks, Bidwill wait on Fitz like everyone else

Posted by Darren Urban on January 23, 2018 – 2:44 pm

New coach Steve Wilks said Tuesday he had a conversation with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, but the wide receiver has not indicated to him one way or the other if Fitzgerald was planning on playing in 2018. Wilks made it clear it was important to him — and the Cardinals — that Fitz return.

“We would definitely love to have him back,” Wilks said. “He’s a major part of our success, past, present and future. First ballot Hall of Famer, so we’d definitely want him back.”

Team president Michael Bidwill, who has said before he had no interest in speculating — or even speculating on the speculation — was asked what his gut told him about what Fitzgerald might do.

“My gut says everyone needs to relax, let Fitz go through his process, and give him a few weeks to make his decision,” Bidwill said. “He’ll let us know.”


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In the wake of Steve Wilks arrival

Posted by Darren Urban on January 22, 2018 – 3:44 pm

The wait is over, and even with all the talk/speculation about potential assistant coaches hung up working in the playoffs, the Cardinals, Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim went with a man whose team was sent home a couple of weeks ago — Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.

This comes with all the caveats, the same ones that show up with every head coach. We won’t know what this means on the field until September at the earliest. Even in the case of Bruce Arians, when the Cards stumbled around for half a season, it took a minute for things to settle in. And as we all know, Wilks’ first year will be dictated in part by a quarterback that we not yet know. Well, we might know of him, we just don’t know if which one will be the Cardinals’ guy.

All that said, in my brief interaction with Wilks today, you can see why he can command a room. Michael Bidwill said recently that in the second round of interviews, usually someone stands out, and I can see why that would have been Wilks. We will see how his staff builds out. But now, the offseason feels like it can officially get started.

— No official word yet on assistants, but there has been some speculation. Jason LaCanfora reported that the Cards will have former Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in for an interview. Bevell interviewed for the Cardinals’ vacant head coaching job in 2013 that went to Arians and is a product of Scottsdale Chaparral High School. Meanwhile, LaCanfora said Panthers offensive line coach Ray Brown (who began a long NFL playing career with three years as a Cardinal) could be coming to Arizona, with Joe Person saying Panthers linebackers coach Al Holcomb could be as well.

One thing to remember about all the assistant coach talk and speculation is that while some names will accurately land on staff, others won’t, for various reasons. It always plays out like that.

— There are some Cardinals assistants still under contract that Wilks will undoubtedly sort through over the next couple of days. I know many are asking, but there is nothing yet about what might happen with defensive coordinator James Bettcher.

— Speaking of defense, yes, Wilks ran a 4-3 in Carolina. The personnel he has inherited is for a 3-4 base. Something is going to have to change, although do not forget that the vast majority of defensive snaps these days are spent in packages that usually include extra defensive backs. And when the Cards rush in obvious passing situations, they line up with four up front anyway.

— I’m thinking it’s too early to know what the impact of Wilks is on Larry Fitzgerald’s decision. I’d think he’d want to know who the offensive staff will be first.

— The Wilks press conference is Tuesday at noon, and it’ll be streamed live on azcardinals.com. (Thanks to the Panthers for the pic.)


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David Johnson talks coach, contract, Fitz

Posted by Darren Urban on January 18, 2018 – 4:44 pm

David Johnson’s wrist is healed, with his strength and full range of motion having returned, and he’s anxious to play again given that he doesn’t even feel like he played football in 2017. And like everyone else, the running back is paying attention to the Cardinals’ current search for a head coach.

“I’m definitely staying aware but I don’t know what (GM) Steve Keim and (president) Mike Bidwill are thinking,” Johnson said on the PFT PM podcast. “I know they will get a coach that fits the team and is going to be ready to elevate this team and get us to that Super Bowl.”

Johnson touched on a few subjects, including the possibility of a new contract. The 2015 third-round pick has a year left on his rookie deal and now is finally eligible for an extension. The collective bargaining agreement prevents extensions for players on rookie deals until after their third season.

“I hope so,” Johnson said about talks for a new deal. “But I’m really focusing more on getting this injury (healed) and making sure I’m ready to play in 2018, that I am healthy as possible. Especially with so much going on in the offseason with the coaches and the quarterback and stuff, I can’t really focus too much on the contract talk.”

— On the subject of Larry Fitzgerald’s potential return, Johnson was blunt. “Larry is going to come back,” Johnson said. “He’s still playing at a high level.”

Johnson rattled off Fitz’s stats, including another year of more than 100 catches and more than 1,000 yards. “He’s gotta come back,” Johnson added. “He’s got to help us get us to that Super Bowl we’re trying to get.” Along those lines, Johnson had been hoping quarterback Carson Palmer wouldn’t retire and tried to “recruit him to come back.”

— Johnson said he was “hit hard” by the retirement of Bruce Arians, and that he believes he and Adrian Peterson “can really elevate each other’s game” if they play together this season.

— The running back said he has no idea who the quarterback will be, but that he has confidence in both Blaine Gabbert and Drew Stanton if one of them is the starting signal-caller.

— His injury and season on the sideline left him more grateful to play the game. “Football can end in the blink of an eye,” Johnson said. “So I feel more grateful to where I’ll do as much as I can to stay on that field as long as I can.”


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Campbell thanks Fitz, Dockett for age defiance

Posted by Darren Urban on January 17, 2018 – 1:57 pm

It’s been a magical year for former Cardinals defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who went for the big money in Jacksonville as a free agent all the while insisting the Jaguars could win this year — and he was right. It’s been in no small part because of Campbell, who had a career-high 14.5 sacks and was named Wednesday as the Pro Football Writers of America’s choice as NFL defensive player of the year.

Obviously, Campbell’s career was built in Arizona, regardless of what happens in Jacksonville. That subject came up during Campbell’s press conference this week prior to the AFC championship game, as Campbell was asked about his huge year as a 31-year-old. Campbell said he simply has worked hard to make sure he has stayed in shape and preserved his body — something he had to learn in his early years as a Cardinal.

“When I was younger I wasn’t as active in taking care of my body,” Campbell said. “But I did have some good leadership from guys that taught me how to take care of my body, so it becomes just a habit. That makes a big difference. I’ve got to take my hat off to Larry Fitzgerald and Darnell Dockett. They were two guys that definitely pushed me to take care of my body at a young age and I think that’s really paying off now.”


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Another coaching opening (and more all-pros)

Posted by Darren Urban on January 15, 2018 – 3:01 pm

The Cardinals, Giants, Lions and Colts still have coaching vacancies, but this morning, the Titans added themselves to the list when they and coach Mike Mularkey agreed to part ways. The rules say coaches still in the postseason can only interview again next week if they had been interviewed once already, but Ian Rapoport tweeted that meant any coach who had been interviewed period, not just by the Titans. So they have a small window for the Super Bowl coaches. Obviously, by next week, there will be only two teams left playing.

Also Monday came a bunch of reports of coaches heading places, none official yet but certainly more strong than previously. With those reports, Pats DC Matt Patricia will coach the Lions, the Giants have Pat Shurmur as their frontrunner and the Colts would get Josh McDaniels. There have been no such reports on the Cards (or the Titans, obviously). Patricia and Shurmur were both on the Cards’ candidate list and it was reported that the Cards like Shurmur. It will be interesting to see if the Cards get any more clarity this week.

— The Pro Football Writers of America released its all-pro team today, and like the Associated Press all-pro team, linebacker Chandler Jones and special teamer Budda Baker made it for the Cardinals.


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