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All-pro Cardinals, retirements, and other stuff

Posted by Darren Urban on January 6, 2017 – 2:36 pm

It’s only fitting David Johnson was named AP all-pro this season, and while I understand why Ezekiel Elliott earned the running back nod on the team, I personally felt like Johnson earned it. It’s good they changed the rules to allow for a “flex” player (instead of a fullback) because it would have been wrong for Johnson not to be a first-team this year. But I can’t really argue with the other decisions. I’ve heard from a couple of people about Patrick Peterson, but the players that earned the first- and second-team slots — Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Janoris Jenkins, Casey Hayward, Malcom Butler — all had really good years. It was good to see Calais Campbell with a second-team nod. He was good all season but really came on in the second half of the year. It’s too bad the whole team couldn’t have that consistency in their playoff push.

It was interesting to me as I looked back over the years to see what Cardinals made first-team AP all-pro that Larry Fitzgerald earned that honor only once — fittingly, in 2008, when he not only was great in the regular season but had the best playoff run any receiver has ever (and while I know there are arguments to be made for a couple of other guys, having witnessed what Fitz did in those four games, you’ll never convince me otherwise that anyone ever did it better.)

— A quick thought on the ongoing Fitz-Carson Palmer retirement speculation. Nothing has changed for me. I have long believed and still believe Palmer will play in 2017. I think if, for whatever reason, Palmer did leave, that would seal Fitzgerald’s decision. But like I said, I believe Palmer is going to play. I still think Fitz hasn’t made up his mind. Won’t surprise me whatever decision he makes (so I guess I’m saying I think he’s 50-50.) I know he took the ball for his last catch/touchdown, but he has kept significant footballs before — and don’t forget, this one did net him an NFL receptions-title — and besides, it can’t hurt to take it just in case. If he comes back, fine. I don’t think the football gives any hints, other than he is considering retirement, which we knew already.

— Don’t forget to take a listen to our Cardinals Underground wrapup season podcast.

— In case you missed it (and maybe you might’ve, since this is the first year I didn’t put it in the blog), here was my annual roster breakdown, along with who is a free agent-to-be.

Cardinals Rams Football


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Warner named Hall of Fame finalist again

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2017 – 6:48 pm

The Hall of Fame announced their 2017 finalists Tuesday, and once again, former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner has made the list. It’s not a surprise — Warner was close to making the Hall of Fame last year and it is expected to be just a matter of time before he is voted in. This is the third time Warner has made the final 15.

Warner isn’t the only one with Cardinals ties to make the fine 15. One-time Cardinals guard Alan Fanaca and former coach Don Coyrell also are on the list, as both were last year. Former Cardinals running back Edgerrin James, who was in the final 15 last year, didn’t make the cut. The full list:

— Safety Brian Dawkins
— Defensive end Jason Taylor
— Running back LaDainian Tomlinson
— Kicker Morten Andersen
— Coach Don Coryell
— Quarterback Kurt Warner
— Wide receiver Isaac Bruce
— Running back Terrell Davis
— Wide receiver Terrell Owens
— Tackle Tony Boselli
— Guard Alan Faneca
— Tackle Joe Jacoby
— Cornerback Ty Law
— Safety John Lynch
— Center Kevin Mawae

Warner has said he would be patient with the process. The vote occurs Feb. 4, the day before the Super Bowl. The 15 will be whittled to a list of 10, and then as many as five — plus the possibility of the Seniors committee possibility, safety Kenny Easley, and contributors committee nominees Jerry Jones, the Cowboys owner, and former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

“It’s always an honor. … Now you go into it and you appreciate the process, but you feel more than you’re not a Hall of Famer until you actually get the call,” Warner told NFL Network.

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Franchise tagging Chandler Jones(?)

Posted by Darren Urban on January 2, 2017 – 1:49 pm

Bruce Arians, in his season-ending talk with the media Monday, covered a lot of subjects. Most talk about impending free agents was the nod to the team’s desire to bring most everyone back. In particular, though, Arians made clear unrestricted-free-agent-to-be Chandler Jones will be a Cardinal in 2017.

“Chandler’s not going anywhere because if we have to, we will franchise (tag) him,” Arians said.

(A quick refresher: If a team tags a player and he signs the tender, he is guaranteed a one-year salary an average of the top five salaries from the previous year at the position. A player can still sign an offer sheet with another team before he signs the tender, but if he leaves the new team would have to surrender two No. 1 picks and also has the chance to match the new offer.)

General Manager Steve Keim said weeks ago talks about a long-term deal are ongoing. Obviously, no deal is done yet. Free agency begins March 9, so that’s the time frame within which the two sides are negotiating before it comes to a tag. That the Cardinals would use the tag on Jones is no surprise at all; when Jones was acquired last March, he immediately became the most likely one to be tagged as a free agent.

Last year, the linebacker’s franchise tag was slightly north of $14.1 million. It should go up this season.

The Cardinals, including Jones, have 19 scheduled unrestricted free agents. Jones, who finished with 11 sacks this year as a Pro Bowl alternate, said he wants to remain with the Cardinals. Many of the current free-agents-to-be have said the same. The difference is that Jones might not have a huge choice in the matter, at least for 2017.

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Rams, and the season, aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2017 – 9:15 pm

That sound you heard from the direction of California Sunday night was the Cardinals exhaling. No, David Johnson hasn’t had his MRI yet, but there is optimism that the knee injury he suffered Sunday will cost him only that record of 100 yards from scrimmage in every game and nothing further. If his ligaments are intact – and Bruce Arians seemed to think they were – then he will recover in plenty of time for training camp. And at this point, that’s all that matters.

So in that regard, Sunday’s 44-6 beatdown of the Rams isn’t like the beatdown of the Eagles last season, which won a division but had an ugly hangover because of the Tyrann Mathieu ACL tear. Nobody wants any of that.

Johnson wasn’t moping or looking like disaster had struck after the game, so take that for what it’s worth.

You also take for what it’s worth the pounding of the Rams. Jared Goff is nowhere near ready to play quarterback, and certainly not behind that line he had today or with the receivers he has. Still, the Cardinals held the Rams to a crazy 2.1-yards per play today – that’s nothing – and had a sack party in the backfield.

Momentum doesn’t carry over from one season to the next. I firmly believe that (just as the NFC title loss didn’t carry over.) But confidence can. And this team has a lot of confidence going into the offseason.

Of course, there are a lot of things that need to be figured out in the offseason. But that’s to talk about for the next few months.

— The Cardinals will pick 13th overall in the draft.

— Arians confirmed earlier reports that offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin is set to have three head coaching interviews in the coming days. ESPN reported those teams as the Bills, Rams and Jaguars. Goodwin joked the other day of getting a couple of calls from CFL teams, but it was always expected that Goodwin would be getting interviews after interviewing with the Buccaneers last offseason.

Obviously, the Rooney Rule makes an impact with Goodwin, an African-American. But you can’t get a job without interviewing, and at some point, someone is going to decide Goodwin is the right man for the job.

— By the way, a major point in Goodwin’s favor – the amount of points the offense generated the last three games with his deep-in-the-depth-chart offensive line. Props to those players, but Goody can coach up an offensive line.

— Carson Palmer was wearing a glove on his left hand after cutting it on Christmas day and getting four stiches. Palmer joked he was saving orphans from a burning building. Whatever the reason, he said it didn’t bother him.

— Safety D.J. Swearinger again made a strong argument for the Cardinals wanting him to stay. A couple of big hits, a couple of nice tackles, a sack, an interception that was lost on a questionable Kevin Minter roughing-the-passer penalty.

— Chandler Catanzaro with a nice finish: 3-for-3 on field goals, 5-for-5 on extra points.

— Justin Bethel told me recently his foot – which has been injured basically since last year and never fully healed after he hurt it again in the offseason and needed surgery – is finally feeling better. So to see him play his best two games as a cornerback the last two weeks, including a 68-yard pick-6, is gratifying. Especially after Arians called him out after the Miami game.

— We’ll finish on this note: The Cardinals finished the season with a plus-56 point-differential. That’s something that usually translates into a playoff berth, not 7-8-1. In the NFC, only Dallas, Atlanta and Seattle are better. (AFC South winner Houston was minus-49!) But that’s how this season went. We move on to 2017.

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Cardinals’ opponents set for 2017

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2017 – 2:10 pm

It’s not exactly on par with the news that the Cardinals will play a game in London next season, but the opponents the Cards will play in 2017 is just about set. The only part left is Sunday night’s Packers-Lions game. The Cards will travel to play the loser of that game next season. UPDATE: The Packers beat the Lions, so the Cardinals will go to Detroit.

As always, the schedule is to be announced, although we know the London game will be either Week 7 or 8 (and will be followed by their 2017 bye). The full NFL schedule comes out in mid-April.

HOME

— Dallas Cowboys
— New York Giants
— Jacksonville Jaguars
— Tennessee Titans
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— Los Angeles Rams

AWAY

— Philadelphia Eagles
— Washington Redskins
— Houston Texans
— Indianapolis Colts
— Detroit Lions
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— Los Angeles Rams (in London)


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Ankle sidelines Nkemdiche in finale

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2017 – 12:57 pm

The ankle injury defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche suffered in practice this week will cost the rookie the last game of the year, as he is inactive for the finale against the Rams in Los Angeles. Other than that, a relatively normal inactive list:

— QB Zac Dysert

— WR Marquis Bundy

— CB Brian Dixon

— DT Olsen Pierre

— T D.J. Humphries (concussion)

— DT Robert Nkemdiche (ankle)

— DT Ed Stinson


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Friday before the Rams – and season’s end

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2016 – 3:27 pm

One of the friends and family of Frostee Rucker that will be at the game Sunday in Los Angeles will be his first football coach. Rucker was 6 at the time. He later ended up playing at USC, and so will be back at the Los Angeles Coliseum playing for the first time since college.

“It’s almost like full circle in a sense,” Rucker said.

The season will come to an end as well. Can’t say it’s full circle, since at the beginning expectations were so high and here we are, on the final day of practice and it’s not even January. That certainly wasn’t the plan back in August. The mood was good this week, I’m sure in part because of the win in Seattle. They’d like to finish off with the revenge win against the Rams. “You build your team to win in the division,” coach Bruce Arians said, and, despite all the ups and downs, if the Cardinals win Sunday, they will have gone 4-1-1 in the NFC West.

That’s a record that Arians admitted, had he known before the season, he’d have assumed they would have won the division.

— Here’s another stat (oh, those sometimes misleading stats) that also would’ve made you think they could’ve (would’ve?) won the division: There are only three teams in the NFL ranked in the top 10 in offense and defense. The Cardinals (eighth in offense, third in defense) are one of them. The others? Playoff-bound New England and Pittsburgh.

— The Cardinals have not lost an NFC West road game since 2014. They’ve won five straight heading into this one.

— It’s amazing to think the Cardinals will be starting their fifth different right guard Sunday. It’s gone Evan Mathis to Earl Watford to John Wetzel to Earl Watford to Taylor Boggs and now to Evan Boehm.

— For those wondering, I had a chance to ask Carson Palmer about the late slant pass to J.J. Nelson. It indeed was an audible.

— The crazy stat of the week: Running back David Johnson is averaging 10.7 yards per catch (77 receptions). Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is averaging 9.6 yards per catch (102 receptions). Yes, Fitz has more catches, but you’d never think a running back would be ahead of a receiver.

— Speaking of Fitzgerald, Arians said he would not lobby the veteran wide receiver to return in 2017. “It’s up to Larry,” Arians said of Fitzgerald playing another year. “I’ve got my fingers crossed. Hopefully he will come back but that’s strictly up to him.”

— Arians does have other business with Fitz, though. On Chandler Catanzaro’s game-winning field goal last week, Fitz celebrated with the coach a bit too hard. The jumping bear hug hurt Arians’ right shoulder, and he admitted Friday it still hurts. What did the MRI show? “Haven’t taken one yet,” Arians said with a chuckle. “I don’t even want to know.”

There could still be a price to pay, though.

“If I can’t play golf this year (in the offseason), I’ll be driving one of those real nice cars,” Arians added with a grin.

— The in-flux offensive line, whatever its shortcomings, has allowed only two sacks total the last two games.

“Proud of them,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “That’s what I told them Wednesday. Just proud of them.”

— Palmer doesn’t like sitting out Wednesday practice but he never really fought it either. The Cardinals put a lot of time and effort into the sports science of workload, hits and repetitions — led by assistant strength coach Anthony Piroli — to judge such things. Palmer’s Wednesday work is part of that science.

“There’s reason for it,” Palmer said. “There’s data behind it. It’s amazing the stuff that they keep track of and the information that you get back from that. It makes sense. I see why they do it, and like I said, they’re paid professionals. That’s their job and that’s their role, and you don’t have a choice but to listen.”

— This Rod Tidwell “Football Life” trailer is pretty good, NFL Network. I’m going to stick with my Tidwell effort, however.

— Congrats to Johnson for being named MVP by the Arizona chapter of the PWFA. Same for Kevin Minter for taking the “Good Guy” award for his dealing with the media. Truth be told, there are a bunch of guys that could win the Good Guy award — Calais Campbell, Patrick Peterson, Tony Jefferson, D.J. Humphries, Tyrann Mathieu and A.Q. Shipley immediately come to mind, and that’s not a total list — but the truth is, we have a very good locker room when it comes to this part of the job.

— Another season (almost) done. That’s 17 in the books for me. Where does the time go?

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Palmer bonds with ACL donor family

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2016 – 9:36 am

In 2014, Carson Palmer’s season ended with a thud, after his left ACL gave away against the Rams, derailing what had been a great season for the team. But the play — in which Palmer’s injury happened non-contact — resonated further than just the Cardinals and their fan base. The ACL tear was the second in that knee for Palmer. When he tore it the first time, back in the 2005 playoffs, it was repaired with donor ligaments of a woman named Julie De Rossi, who had been killed in a car accident in Houston.

At the time, De Rossi’s mother, Dorothy Hyde, found out her daughter had helped Palmer. She became a fan of Palmer’s, watching from afar as the small piece of her child lived on as Palmer played his career. When that ligament tore again in 2014 and Palmer had to have it repaired again (this time with his own tissue), De Rossi’s family figured that was the end of their connection with Palmer.

But it was not. In November, the weekend of the Cardinals’ home win against the 49ers, Hyde, her other daughter, and her grandson — De Rossi’s son — came to Arizona to meet Palmer for the first time and attend a game. It was all chronicled in a great NFL Films piece.

“She’s probably watching me play thinking about Julie,” Palmer said. “I don’t want her to lose that attachment to me and those joyous feelings she gets just because this knee no longer has her Achilles tendon. There’s part of Julie still with me.”

It’s well worth the watch.


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“Stepbrothers” Jones and Golden pile up sacks

Posted by Darren Urban on December 29, 2016 – 4:37 pm

The Cardinals haven’t had two players with at least 10 sacks in a season since 1984, when Al “Bubba” Baker and Curtis Greer did it. If Chandler Jones can notch at least a half-sack Sunday in Los Angeles, he and Markus Golden (who has 10 sacks already) will end that drought. The two will be linked forever in that regard — even as they are already linked now, by their own choice.

“They’re like stepbrothers walking around since day one,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “They have a great camaraderie, they’ve become close friends on and off the field. … You can see it.”

Jones said Golden reached out to him as soon as the Cards traded for Jones last March and “we’ve been tight ever since.”

“We are just two guys, we’re good friends,” Golden said. “We like the same things, we like to do the same stuff, we play the same position. We’ve got a lot in common. And Chandler is just an all-around cool dude.”

Does that relationship help on the field? “You play for your brother, for sure,” Jones said. Golden said it does help with communication, but in the end, the sacks are coming because that is what he and Jones are paid to do.

“No matter what, you’re going to go out and hunt, man,” Golden said.

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Gurley, David Johnson, and the right situation

Posted by Darren Urban on December 28, 2016 – 12:54 pm

Here we have the tale of two very different running backs.

Not necessarily in the way they play, although the styles of Todd Gurley and David Johnson — friends from their time in the 2015 draft — aren’t exactly parallel. No, this is about the seasons each is having, both on teams that have not been as good as expected. For Gurley, that has meant disaster. Johnson, of course, has been electric — arguably the best in the NFL.

A couple of weeks ago, Gurley noted after a Rams’ loss that the team “looked like a middle school offense.” He’s averaged just 3.2 yards a carry this season, and unless he torches the Cards’ defense for at least 155 yards, he won’t reach 1,000 for the season. Interim Rams coach John Fassel was asked about Gurley’s confidence.

“He’s struggling to maintain it,” Fassel said. “There’s really no other way around it. I’m sure he wanted more this season, and it really just hasn’t happened yet. But, he’s tough, practices every rep at practice, he’s there early and attentive at every meeting. But, there’s no doubt confidence deteriorates a little bit when you don’t have the success that you anticipate.”

Contrast that to Johnson, who is playing for an offense that is unquestionably much better than the Rams but still has struggled much more than expected this year. Yet Johnson has been spectacular, reaching 100 scrimmage yards in every game despite constant shuffles in the offensive line, threatening to become only the third 1,000-1,000 player in NFL history (like Gurley, he likely won’t reach his mark either) and scoring a franchise-record 20 touchdowns already.

The issues with the Rams’ offense were known coming into the year. L.A. has bigger offensive line problems than the Cards. But Johnson is having the kind of season running backs dream about — the kind of season everyone was waiting for Gurley to have.

David Johnson, Todd Gurley


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