The (real) opening of March Madness Thursday was a good time to break out the in-season Zoom episode of tight end Darren Fells, who spent a bunch of years away from the game of football playing first college basketball (no NCAA tournaments for him) and then pro basketball overseas. A couple of years ago he realized he would like to try his hand at football — he notes he wanted to be in a more physical game — and now he’s morphed into a feasible option for the Cardinals at tight end.
Fells actually looked pretty decent near the end of the season when he got a chance to play. The Cardinals and coach Bruce Arians really like 2014 second-round pick Troy Niklas (assuming he can stay healthy). John Carlson figures to be an option, and something could happen in the draft. The Cardinals are going to want four tight ends, given that Arians likes to use two at a time and, as the Cards proved in each of the last two seasons, injuries happen.
Fells should be in the mix. At 6-foot-7 and someone who has already admitted he likes the physical part of the game, Fells still must learn. You don’t play in college and the learning curve is a little more steep, and in football terms, Fells is still very young. He’s not going to be a Antonio Gates-type of basketball-player-turned-tight end. But if he continues to develop, he’s one of those down-the-roster finds that can really help a team become a contender.
Tags: Darren Fells, John Carlson, Troy Niklas
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The spring owners meetings get underway Monday here in town at the Biltmore, and among the many things that will go on will be the annual reveal of the compensatory picks for April’s draft.
A quick refresher for those who don’t know about comp picks: Each year, there are a bunch of extra draft picks sprinkled in through the draft (starting in the third round) that are awarded to teams with a net loss of free agents from the year before. The exact formula for doling out picks isn’t public, but it’s a mixture of the player, his free agent contract and performance. Basically, if you lose more free agents than you sign, you’ll get an extra pick or two.
(Or more, perhaps. Baltimore often lets players leave as free agents with the idea of stockpiling comp picks to replenish the roster with cheap labor. It’s great if you hit on many draft picks. The Ravens have made it an art form.)
As for the Cardinals, overthecap.com has estimated that the Cards are in line for an extra seventh-round pick. Now, there are caveats to the various qualifying players in this admittedly complicated guesswork. The Cards could conceivably get an extra fifth-rounder instead of a seventh or maybe no comp pick at all. As it stands, the Cardinals have their seven original draft picks, starting with the 24th overall in the first round. Last season, the Cardinals added tackle Jared Veldheer, wide receiver Ted Ginn, guard Ted Larsen and running back Jonathan Dwyer in free agency. They lost linebacker Karlos Dansby, wide receiver Andre Roberts, tight end Jim Dray and cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Javier Arenas. (Players that are cut by their previous team do not factor in the equation, which is why bringing in Antonio Cromartie did not hurt the Cards in this example and why losing Darnell Dockett this year will not help in next year’s comp equation.)
Tags: Andre Roberts, Antoine Cason, Antonio Cromartie, compensatory picks, Darnell Dockett, draft, Jared Veldheer, Javier Arenas, Jim Dray, Jonathan Dwyer, Karlos Dansby, Ravens, Ted Ginn, Ted Larsen
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In a division where keeping up with the Joneses is important just to have a chance at the playoffs — and goodness knows the Seahawks have been the Joneses for a couple of seasons now — the Cardinals feel like they have made strides to compete with Seattle. Their free agent class filled holes in the front seven of the defense and on the interior of the offensive line. More importantly, their quarterback is doing well in rehab. The Seahawks, meanwhile, added arguably the most dangerous tight end in the NFL. The Rams bolstered their defensive line with Nick Fairley and think they have upgraded at quarterback with Nick Foles (at least, he should be healthy enough to play.)
Then there are the 49ers, who have gone through one rough offseason, which started when they moved on from successful coach Jim Harbaugh.
The Niners got the shocking news young linebacker Chris Borland decided to leave the game instead of risking his long-term health to play. Borland was supposed to be the guy who filled in for Pro Bowler Patrick Willis, who retired because his oft-injured feet ended his hopes for a comeback. Defensive lineman Justin Smith likely will retire. Then they allowed multiple free agents to leave, like running back Frank Gore, guard Mike Iupati (who came to Arizona), linebacker Dan Skuta and cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox. They probably won’t bring back Michael Crabtree either.
Now, the Niners have added some pieces. Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. Darnell Dockett. Lions running back Reggie Bush (although he may be beyond his productive years.) But the way things have gone, it’ll be tough for the 49ers to right the decline they went through in 2014. That comes with the QB caveat all teams have — if Colin Kaepernick emerges as a star, that covers most issues.
While it could be considered the “offseason from hell,” the Cardinals did have one of recent vintage that they could put up in any argument. It’s tough to forget the offseason after 2009. In case you have forgotten, a refresher: quarterback Kurt Warner retired, safety Antrel Rolle was released for cap reasons (and subsequently signed with the Giants), linebacker Karlos Dansby left as a free agent and Anquan Boldin was traded. All were still playing at high/Pro Bowl levels. Those were a gut punch of transactions that eventually took out a coaching staff and brought the Cardinals to the Bruce Arians/Steve Keim era.
Tags: 49ers, Anquan Boldin, Antrel Rolle, Chris Borland, Chris Culliver, Colin Kaepernick, Dan Skuta, Darnell Dockett, Frank Gore, Justin Smith, Karlos Dansby, Kurt Warner, Michael Crabtree, Mike Iupati, NFC West, Patrick Willis, Perrish Cox, Rams, Reggie Bush, Seahawks, Torrey Smith
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It was quite the weekend, with free agency around the league slowing down and some tidbits floated here and there about the Cardinals and Adrian Peterson. No, I don’t think anything is imminent and I continue to hold to my original thought — that the Vikings will find a way to keep him. Keeping him, even at his salary, to help with young QB Teddy Bridgewater, is in my opinion the best football decision for the Vikings. Maybe Peterson is unhappy and doesn’t want to stay. But I don’t see them just cutting him, and the reality is, Peterson only has so much leverage. What’s he going to do — sit out a second straight season in his prime? That doesn’t make sense to me.
As for some of the other stuff that’s been said:
— Peter King is saying the Cardinals haven’t even had any discussions with the Vikings.
— Charles Robinson, who certainly seems to be talking someone in Peterson’s camp, keeps saying Peterson wants $25 million guaranteed over three years. OK. If you are just doing the guaranteed money, that’s a little more than $8M a year, but it’d be all guaranteed. Most deals have money beyond guaranteed too. Do you do that for a guy who will be 30 next week? Yes, it’s less than what he’s making, but …
— Robinson says Peterson is willing to restructure. What Carson Palmer did was restructure. Is Peterson willing to take a pay cut? If so, how much?
— The draft is full of prospects. Cheap prospects. If you still like Andre Ellington — and there is no reason to think the Cardinals do not — the Cards could pick up a good between-the-tackles guy in the first or second round and pair him with Ellington and still be left with cap room.
— Everyone assumed the Palmer restructure was a harbinger of something. It still could be. But the Cards might have just been getting low on cap space — they have, according to the NFLPA, about $9.9 million in space, and Palmer’s move created about $7M — and if they were going to do something with Palmer’s deal they had to when they did because his bonus was due last week. It might’ve been as simple as that. The Cards need around $4 million in cap space to bring in their top draft picks. Without Palmer’s move, they had about $3 million.
— Fitz isn’t being traded. Period. Forget the logistics or cap hit or anything. Ownership wanted Larry Fitzgerald in a Cardinals uniform. He is an important face of the franchise, and that’s why this new deal was done. The Cardinals aren’t going to let him go.
Again, I’m not saying a Peterson trade could not happen. But there are so many moving parts, between what his contract would be, what the Vikings might want in trade, whether the Vikings would even want to part with him, and what other teams around the league might offer (just because Peterson says he wants to go to this team or that doesn’t mean the Vikings have to accommodate him) it’s tough to get a true handle where this will go.
As far as “going for it,” I just keep coming back to this thought from GM Steve Keim, who has said a version of this to me many times: “You always have to think about the long-term health of the organization.” He’s talking in terms of the salary cap. Keim often mentions “sustained success.” That doesn’t mean you can’t add a veteran who costs some money. But any undertaking will have some deep thought, and deep research, behind it.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Andre Ellington, Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Keim, Vikings
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I covered Lyle Sendlein in high school.
It was only one game, a championship game he played in with Scottsdale Chaparral, and I mostly knew of him because of his older brother Austin, who had dominated as a sophomore at the school in my last full year covering high school sports. I paid attention that Lyle Sendlein went to Texas, playing for a national championship, and by the time he reached the NFL I had been covering the Cardinals for a few years. By the time he reported for his first training camp in Flagstaff, I was now doing the same job, but for the team site.
You never know how each undrafted rookie class will sort itself out. There are almost always a couple of guys who come out of “nowhere” to make the team, and it didn’t take much to find out that Sendlein had won over offensive line coach Russ Grimm. After his rookie year — and after Al Johnson’s career was derailed with injuries — Sendlein took over at center for good.
It soothed some of the hurt of never being drafted, although it never totally went away. Not that Sendlein was a complainer. He preferred to be quiet and plug along, often his body beat up without anyone knowing. He ended up as an offensive captain on four different teams, a designation that both underscored the respect he had earned in the locker room and that made him a team spokesman. Sendlein wasn’t going to fill the notebook but he knew it came with the job, and in those years where the Cards didn’t have success, he would stand there week after week trying to supply answers that weren’t easy to come by.
He didn’t play as well as he wanted to last season, and apparently, the Cardinals decision makers noticed the same thing. When A.Q. Shipley was signed Wednesday, after Ted Larsen did fine at center when Sendlein was hurt during 2014 training camp — and with Sendlein’s big 2014 salary — things for Sendlein were headed in the wrong direction. Then Sendlein was released Thursday.
It’s early enough in free agency that he should be able to hook on somewhere. But he’ll be missed in the locker room. He’ll be missed by the community arm of the team, since Sendlein was a mainstay in those events all year.
And truth be told, I always had a kinship with Sendlein because, like him, I graduated (much, much earlier) from Chaparral and that was an easy way for us to delve into a working relationship. There are plenty of good guys who have come through that locker room downstairs, and Sendlein was unquestionably one of them.
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Lyle Sendlein, Ted Larsen
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Palmer was due a roster bonus of $9.5 million, and it was converted into a signing bonus. What it means is that the bonus money can be prorated over the life of his current contract, dropping his salary cap number $7.1 million (and clearing that space for the Cardinals.) That’s a big help in trying to maneuver through free agency. His cap number for 2015 dropped from more than $14 million to $7.4 million.
(This is the classic NFL restructure as opposed to any pay cut; it impacts Palmer zero. He gets all the money he was going to get anyway. It’s just the way the Cardinals account for it with their cap.)
Of course, that also means the rest of that prorated bonus balloons his future cap numbers. Palmer now has a cap number of $19 million in 2016 and $22.7 million in 2017 (including some heavy dead money if for some reason he isn’t playing.) That will be something GM Steve Keim will have to deal with at some point, you would think. In the short term, however, the Cardinals have more flexibility right now, especially after the release of center Lyle Sendlein created another $3 million of cap space. No way to know how much room they currently have, but the Palmer/Sendlein moves alone freed up around $10 million for Keim to continue to reshuffle his roster.
Tags: Carson Palmer, Lyle Sendlein, salary cap
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The inevitable happened Thursday, with Antonio Cromartie getting the long-term (four years) and hefty ($32 million, at least at its max, reportedly) contract he sought and right where he wanted to be — back with the Jets, back with Todd Bowles and Darrelle Revis, and back where he has his home. The Cardinals knew for a long time Cromartie was a likely one-and-done, like Karlos Dansby before him.
There is a reason Bruce Arians often talks about Justin Bethel’s potential as a cornerback, and now here we are, with — at least as of today — Bethel seems the choice to step in across from Patrick Peterson. That’s assuming Jerraud Powers remains the slot cover man, where he is most effective. Even Bethel reacted to the Cromartie departure news in a similar vein:
Time to take the spot I already thought was mine. #nextlevel
— Justin bethel (@Jbet26) March 12, 2015
Bruce Arians has never been shy about praising Bethel’s potential as a cornerback. Last offseason, he said he thought Bethel could end up being better than Peterson and multiple times during the season said Bethel might be starting if he were on another team and not stuck on a depth chart populated with Peterson, Cromartie and Powers.
“Oh, he’s moved up the depth chart in my mind,” Arians said in mid-December. “He’s a starter. He has potential to be a starter in the league. I’m very excited about his future.”
As usual, there are moving pieces to all of this. Powers — who is going into the last year of his contract — could be in the mix to return to the starting spot he had with Peterson before Cromartie arrived. That possibility could increase if the Cardinals decide to use Tyrann Mathieu in the slot, like he was used in his rookie season before tearing his ACL.
(Quote to note on Powers from Arians: “I don’t think anybody played any better than Jerraud Powers last year. He was probably our best guy.”)
The Cardinals probably need to add a cornerback at some point, either by free agency or the draft, for depth. But the secondary still has a lot of good remaining, with four safeties that can play (Mathieu with Rashad Johnson, Tony Jefferson and Deone Bucannon) and the ability the mix-and-match.
Still, this seems to be Bethel’s chance to emerge beyond being a Pro Bowl special teamer.
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, Bruce Arians, Deone Bucannon, Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel, Rashad Johnson, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu
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The Cardinals added two more free agents Wednesday, bringing in a pair of ex-Colts: center/guard A.Q. Shipley and defensive end Cory Redding. Both are Bruce Arians specials; He coached both when he was in Indianapolis. Shipley has been with Arians three times now (he started in Pittsburgh when Arians was there) while Redding said he came to lean on Arians when Colts head coach Chuck Pagano got sick in 2012.
Both are the kind of depth signings GM Steve Keim has begun to master. Redding — below, signing his deal — will be great in the locker room and still can play, even though he contemplated retirement after the 2014 season. He’ll be perfect to mentor guys like Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson (as will fellow signee Corey Peters.)
Shipley fits into the mix on the interior of the offensive line. The numbers are starting to grow there, however, and it’s getting crowded for the current bunch even with a 90-man roster. Paul Fanaika is leaving (reportedly is going to sign with the Chiefs) but with Shipley and Iupati coming in, adding in with Lyle Sendlein, Ted Larsen, Jonathan Cooper and Earl Watford, it’s a logjam. Sendlein’s $4 million-plus salary cap hit sticks out right now. We’ll see how it plays out, and who might be able to find their way onto the revamped offensive line.
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Bruce Arians, Colts, Cory Redding, Earl Watford, Ed Stinson, Jonathan Cooper, Kareem Martin, Lyle Sendlein, Paul Fanaika, Ted Larsen
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The Cardinals now have some official free agent additions, with Mike Iupati, Sean Weatherspoon and Corey Peters. (#asexpected). But they will also have some departures from that defense that played so very well in 2014.
Nose tackle Dan Williams played very well last season, and it was becoming clear his future might not be in Arizona because he’d find free agent riches elsewhere. Turns out those riches were in Oakland. Williams will get, according to Kent Somers, about $15 million guaranteed and an average of $6 million a season, which is a lot more than the Cardinals were ever going to give him. Once the Cards turned to Peters, it was pretty clear that was going to be the sign Williams would exit.
Meanwhile, all signs out of New York continue to point to cornerback Antonio Cromartie getting something done with the Jets, where he can be reunited all at once with fellow cornerback Darrelle Revis and new coach and former Cards defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. If he gets Cro, Bowles will go from Patrick Peterson and Cro as his cornerbacks to Revis and Cro. That’s the way to run a defense.
As for the Cardinals, their own defensive overhaul continues. Peters and Weatherspoon are here, the Cardinals are trying to get deals done with Colts defensive end Cory Redding and perhaps Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo and Broncos linebacker Nate Irving. The front seven could look a lot different this season (especially if Daryl Washington is reinstated) and these are all the moving pieces with which new coordinator James Bettcher must work.
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, Brian Orakpo, Corey Peters, Cory Redding, Dan Williams, James Bettcher, Jets, Nate Irving, Raiders, Sean Weatherspoon
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As the official start to free agency approaches, some quick lunchtime stuff:
— The Cardinals bring in outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley on a one-year contract. Woodley was recently cut by the Raiders. Woodley had no sacks in six games last season in Oakland, tearing his biceps against, of all teams, the Cards. Before that, Woodley had a solid career in Pittsburgh. He has just nine sacks since 2011, though, and will be depth. This year’s Larry Foote signing, a vet for cheap.
— That’s why it isn’t surprising to hear that the Cardinals still are pursuing Redskins soon-to-be-free agent Brian Orakpo.
— Cornerback Antonio Cromartie went on Stephen A. Smith’s radio show and said his decision where to sign is coming down to the Cardinals, Cowboys and Jets. Cro has said the decision comes down to family; we’ll see what that means. But money always talks.
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