Blogs

Stanton and stability at backup QB

Posted by Darren Urban on March 26, 2018 – 8:12 am

Drew Stanton officially moved on from the Cardinals this weekend, agreeing to terms with Cleveland in an interesting QB group that now has Stanton, Tyrod Taylor, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan and what is certain to be a rookie quarterback taken with the No. 1 choice in the draft, whether it is Sam Darnold or Josh Allen or whomever.

But Stanton’s departure also underscores the remarkable stability the Cardinals had at quarterback during the five years of Bruce Arians. Stanton was one of the first free agents signed by the Cards after Arians was hired, Carson Palmer was acquired in a trade a few weeks after, and that was the setup the whole time Arians was coach: Palmer as starter, Stanton was No. 2. There were others mixed in at No. 3, whether it was Logan Thomas or Matt Barkley or Blaine Gabbert or even Ryan Lindley, and certainly injuries impacted the position. But it was always Palmer/Stanton, stability that I think ultimately helped the offense. (Of course, that stability might have led to a comfort level that slowed a look for a future QB, but that’s a story that has been and will be talked about elsewhere.)

As for Stanton, here was a guy who signed with the Cardinals expecting to finally get a chance to start, and then never did because Palmer arrived soon after. But he eventually came to grips with who he was in the NFL and his role, and he did it pretty well. Stanton ended up winning nine of 13 starts in Arizona (and helped the Cards rally to a win against the Rams in 2014 in the game Palmer started and tore his ACL.) That he got a walk-off moment by beating the Seahawks in Seattle to close 2017 and his (and Arians’) Cardinals’ tenure was apropos.


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Justin Bethel heads to Atlanta

Posted by Darren Urban on March 24, 2018 – 11:00 am

Justin Bethel signed with the Atlanta Falcons Saturday, and his departure from the Cardinals at this point was all but a formality. Both sides were ready to move on. Bethel’s time as a cornerback did not go well in Arizona, and he had multiple chances to earn the job. His struggles, however, should not cloud the fact he was a Pro Bowl special teams player for a number of years, and turned out to be a very good sixth-round draft pick.

“Two numbers and 6 years later. I’ve made so many memories and brothers for a life time. I can’t thank the Arizona Cardinals organization and fans for welcoming me with open arms,” Bethel wrote on Instagram.

The other thing I’ll remember about Bethel is that he was always a standup guy when it came to his cornerback play. He stood and answered the questions, even when the subject wasn’t good. It will be interesting to see how the Falcons deploy him. He most certainly will be a special teamer first, but as a slot corner — which never was really a spot he was going to play in Arizona with Tyrann Mathieu — he had some good stretches.


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Tramon Williams leaves as Cards search for CBs

Posted by Darren Urban on March 23, 2018 – 11:58 am

It became official today that the Cardinals lost veteran free-agent cornerback Tramon Williams, as Williams goes back to the Packers (a team he never really wanted to leave a few years ago.) E.J. Gaines, who visited the Cards recently, signed with the Browns. The Cards are reportedly getting a visit from former Bear and one-time-Cardinal Marcus Cooper, who was solid in his lone season in Arizona in 2016.

Williams, though, turned out to be one of those excellent Keim Time signings when he arrived during training camp last season. He started off on the bench behind Justin Bethel, but when he got into the lineup permanently he made a significant impact even at age 34 (he just turned 35 last week.)

(UPDATE: The Cards signed CB Bené Benwikere Friday.)

It also means the search for stability across from Peterson continues. Since Peterson got into the starting lineup as a rookie, his starting corner across from him has changed yearly:

2011: A.J. Jefferson/Richard Marshall
2012: William Gay
2013: Jerraud Powers
2014: Antonio Cromartie
2015: Jerraud Powers
2016: Brandon Williams/Marcus Cooper
2017: Justin Bethel/Tramon Williams


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Pass interference, and how painful it should be

Posted by Darren Urban on March 23, 2018 – 10:17 am

Next week at the annual spring league meetings, owners have the chance to tweak various rules concerning the game — including yet again another adjustment to what constitutes a catch, but more on that next week — and that includes pass interference. Defensive pass interference has long had controversy with it, especially because it is often a judgment call in the first place and because it can be so harsh. DPI, of course, is a spot foul, so a flag thrown 45 yards downfield becomes a 45-yard penalty even if the interference was ticky-tack or unintentional. It can swing a game.

The proposal out there is for DPI to be a 15-yard penalty only, as it is in the college game. The caveat is that officials would have the right to make it a spot foul for an “egregious” foul, or one considered intentional. That would truly be the ultimate judgment call.

The NFL’s executive VP of football operations just happens to be a former longtime defensive back, and Troy Vincent on a conference call Friday morning didn’t sound enthusiastic himself about a change. Vincent said NFL defensive backs are “too skilled, too smart” to give them such a loophole.

“You don’t want the defensive back being able to strategically grab a guy,” Vincent said.

Still, the possibility of a change wouldn’t have gotten this far without some support. In his heyday a couple of years ago, one of the strengths of former Cardinals receiver John Brown was his ability to draw pass interference calls deep downfield even if he couldn’t make the catch. Those were always important yards that wouldn’t really be seen in the statistics. In an NFL where the rules have long tilted toward offense and the passing game in particular, this might be a shift to make it a little more even.

Unless (until?) defensive backs do figure out a way to use it to their advantage.


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Fewer early kickoffs for Cardinals in the East?

Posted by Darren Urban on March 20, 2018 – 12:17 pm

The annual spring owners meetings are next week, and as always, there will be a handful of new rules proposals to consider for the teams. One interesting one was noted by SI’s Albert Breer:  “No team will be scheduled to play more than three away games with a scheduled kickoff time prior to 1:00 p.m. in the time zone of their home stadium (without consent).”

The proposal was created by three teams, all of which are (obviously) in the West: The Cardinals, Chargers and 49ers.

This has long been a point of contention for teams on this side of the country. It’s always a 10 a.m. kickoff for California teams (or the Seahawks) when they play a 1 p.m. game in the Eastern time zone. The Cards catch a minor break after daylight savings kicks in, since later in the season those kickoffs would mean 11 a.m. Arizona time as opposed to the 10 a.m. they face earlier in the year.

Regardless, it’s never been something that’s ideal. Last season, the Cardinals had four games kick off at 10 a.m. Arizona time (although to be fair, one was a London game that was 6 p.m. local time after the Cards were there a week), and two more that kicked off at 11 a.m. The rule would have been a big deal if three of those games would have had to have made their kickoffs later. The Cardinals started the first two games of the season last year at 10 a.m. Arizona time, in Detroit and Indianapolis.

This year, the Cards’ away games are the three in-division, and then games at Kansas City, L.A. Chargers, Green Bay, Minnesota and Atlanta. While K.C., Green Bay and Minnesota are in the Central time zone, they would still fall under this situation given that a noon start would be in the early window. The Cards have done that more than once, especially when the Rams were in St. Louis. If the rule passed, at least one of those games would have to be a late kickoff. Whether the proposal will pass or not is another thing entirely.


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Sam Bradford and his contract

Posted by Darren Urban on March 19, 2018 – 1:47 pm

When Sam Bradford signed last week, the immediate reaction was tied in part to the contract he got and the numbers that were being thrown around. Monday, the details of the contract leaked out in multiple places, underscoring that the Cards did give Bradford a nice contract — but, given his injury history, he will have to be on the field for it to be as nice as it can be.

The key points: A $10 million signing bonus and a $5 million salary — the $15M guaranteed originally reported. Bradford can get another $5 million, but it will be doled out on a per-game basis, which works out to $312,500 each time he is active for a game. Interestingly, he also got a no-trade clause, perhaps not a shock after he was dealt right before the season started in 2016 from Philadelphia to Minnesota.

The Cardinals hold a team option for 2019, which has to be exercised a couple of days into the 2019 league year.


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Justin Pugh and Pat Tillman’s jersey

Posted by Darren Urban on March 18, 2018 – 1:09 pm

New Cardinals guard Justin Pugh grew up on the East Coast and is playing some catch-up in learning about the history of his new team. But Pugh’s brother is in the military, and there is one Cardinal Pugh knows very well — Pat Tillman.

“It’s actually funny when I signed … My nephew is nine years old,” Pugh said. “We have a Pat Tillman jersey at my house. So, my nephew was like, ‘We already have a jersey hanging in the rafters right now,’ and it’s a Pat Tillman jersey.”

Pugh feels very strongly about the military, using his My Cause, My Cleats window to support Merging Vets and Players. Even though Pugh played for the Giants the past five years, it was a Cardinals jersey that hung near an American flag on the wall of the house in Holland, Pennsylvania.

“That’s (a picture) he sent to me,” Pugh said. “I sent him a picture of Pat Tillman’s locker right now, and he’s like, ‘No offense to you. I think Pat Tillman might be the first Cardinals (jersey I wear). I’ll have that jersey, wearing it, before I get your own jersey.’

“Obviously, (Tillman) made the ultimate sacrifice for this country, and everything that he did, you wish you could be half the man that he was.”


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Tyrann Mathieu heads to Texans

Posted by Darren Urban on March 16, 2018 – 8:11 pm

Tyrann Mathieu was released Wednesday. Friday, he found a new home — albeit for one year, at least for now.

The Honey Badger agreed to to a deal with the Houston Texans for one year. Reportedly, the Cardinals’ last offer on the pay cut was $8 million. Mathieu said a couple of times in interviews since his release money wasn’t the most important thing. The Houston Chronicle’s John McClain reports that the deal is worth $7 million — a $4.5 million signing bonus, $2 million in salary, and $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses (which would average $31,250 per game).

The Texans, assuming quarterback Deshaun Watson is healthy again after tearing his ACL, have a chance to be good. They also will get back from injury defensive end J.J. Watt — who is friends with Mathieu and who was openly recruiting Badger to come to Houston.

Whatever the contract, Mathieu will be in line to return to free agency in 2019. If he is able to take his game back to its 2015 levels, the bet on himself will be pretty valuable. The Cardinals don’t face the Texans in the regular season, but a preseason matchup wouldn’t be out of the question.

As a side note, guard Justin Pugh has also reportedly agreed to a deal with the Cardinals. I’d expect news on that tomorrow. Meanwhile, wide receiver Jaron Brown is headed to the Seahawks on a one-year contract.


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Mike Iupati sticking around

Posted by Darren Urban on March 15, 2018 – 8:00 am

As the Cardinals look to reshape their offensive line, it looks like one key member will be remaining. Guard Mike Iupati has restructured his contract, according to ESPN’s Field Yates, so he can remain on the roster this season. Iupati took a pay cut, from a scheduled salary of $7.75 million to $5 million for 2018, in addition to giving up a $250,000 roster bonus due Friday. In return, his 2018 salary is guaranteed, and — much like cornerback Justin Bethel did a season ago — his 2019 season, the final year of his deal, can now be voided, allowing him to reach free agency after this season.

The move earns the Cardinals some cap space, and it gives Iupati flexibility. It also points to Iupati remaining the starting left guard. The Cardinals have D.J. Humphries at left tackle, and they are reportedly signing Andre Smith, who could become the new right tackle (and leaving Jared Veldheer’s status up in the air.) There is also a report that the Cards will be visiting with free-agent guard Justin Pugh of the Giants.


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Safety and life after Tyrann Mathieu

Posted by Darren Urban on March 14, 2018 – 12:55 pm

From the day he signed his new contract, Tyrann Mathieu and everyone else knew revisiting the deal might be a possibility. No one thought it was probable, because the last time we had seen the Honey Badger on the field he was playing like an NFL defensive Player of the Year and certainly — despite an other ACL tear — he’d be back to that same player by March of 2018. While Mathieu was solid in 2017 (and played the most snaps in the NFL) even he acknowledged he wanted to play better. And the team wanted to adjust his contract with that revisiting deadline had finally arrived. The two sides couldn’t come to an agreement, and Mathieu is no longer a Cardinal.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out on the field. It’s not like the Cardinals didn’t want him — they tried to re-do the deal — so they had plans for him. There is this notion out there that his role would be diminished, and while we don’t know exactly what the defense of new coach Steve Wilks will look like, it’s hard to imagine Mathieu marginalized if he had stayed. He didn’t, however, so now Budda Baker is the focal point at safety, along with veteran Antoine Bethea. Tyvon Branch is a free agent and coming off a major injury, so the secondary — which also as of now needs a cornerback across from Patrick Peterson — needs some help.

As for the Honey Badger, it will be interesting to see what his market is, after Kent Somers reported that the pay cut Mathieu was asked to take was said to be “reasonable.” (Everyone has a different perspective on reasonable, of course.) What teams might reach out to him? Could he land in New York, where both of his former defensive coordinators (Todd Bowles as Jets head coach, James Bettcher as Giants DC) are working? Where does he fit?

On a personal level, Mathieu’s story was fantastic to cover and he was always excellent to deal with — even when you would delve into subjects not everyone would want to talk about. He was open about his past. He was interesting talking about the height of his play. He was introspective when speaking about his hometown of New Orleans, and how it’s been a difficult place for him to be. He’s a player you want to see succeed.

 


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