Coming Up


Potential extensions aren’t a given

Posted by Darren Urban on November 12, 2015 – 9:46 am

Last week, we delved into the number of Cardinals headed for free agency at the end of the season. General Manager Steve Keim has had discussions here and there with agents about particular players (no, he hasn’t been specific) in an attempt to get an extension or two done. But not surprisingly, it’s not a simple process.

Keim said the Cardinals would like to lock up a player or two before March but “any deal we do this early has to be beneficial to both team and player.”

“A lot of time, and it’s just the realistic way of business, sometimes these players want to see what is out there on the market,” Keim said. “Which is why our philosophy has been, go at them strong, be aggressive and let them know if they test the market, there might not be a home back here for them. That’s just the business, because you can’t be caught flat-footed.

“There are several key core players we’d love to have back but at the same time when you have a good football team, there’s only so much to go around with the salary cap and you have to be smart how you divvy up that money. The great thing is, in my opinion, with what has changed here, is the allure of playing here, of wanting to be part of something special.”

Half the Cardinals’ secondary are headed for free agency. There has been a lot of talk about running back Chris Johnson as well, although that’s a situation that will likely have to play out on the market. Johnson said he hasn’t even thought about a contract extension.


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Mathieu, Fitz, Palmer shine in Pro Bowl voting

Posted by Darren Urban on November 11, 2015 – 2:32 pm

The Cardinals are a) 6-2 and b) winning with some style points (i.e., winning by scoring a lot with familiar names.) So it’s not a huge surprise to see players doing well in the first round of Pro Bowl voting results. The biggest news is that both quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald are currently in the top 10 of all players.

Tyrann Mathieu currently leads all free safeties in voting too.

Palmer is seventh in the voting (and fifth among QBs) with his 87,838 votes. Fitz is 10th overall (and third among receivers) with his 77,709 votes. Palmer trails QBs Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Andy Dalton and Cam Newton. Fitzgerald is behind receivers Julio Jones and Odell Beckham, Jr.

Mathieu’s 31,097 votes have him ahead of Seattle’s Earl Thomas right now.

They aren’t the only Cardinals in the early Pro Bowl mix. A look at the rest of the players in the top 10 at their positions:

RB – Chris Johnson is sixth (43,941; Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman is first at 103,334.)

G – Mike Iupati is second (25,267; Dallas’ Zack Martin is first at 28,158.)

DT – Calais Campbell is fifth (34,038; Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins is first at 54,816.)

CB – Patrick Peterson is fourth (41,066; Carolina’s Josh Norman is first at 64,915.)

SS – Deone Bucannon is fifth (13,205; Oakland’s Charles Woodson is first at 46,698.)

Return specialist – David Johnson is ninth (9,557; Seattle’s Tyler Lockett is first at 23,006.)

Special teamer – Justin Bethel is third (18,330; New England’s Matthew Slater is first at 21,457.)

To vote for the Pro Bowl, click here or go to


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Shipley, Sendlein and Seattle

Posted by Darren Urban on November 11, 2015 – 9:27 am

We are still a couple of days away from knowing if starting center Lyle Sendlein, who is dealing with a shoulder injury, will be able to play against the Seahawks Sunday night. Bruce Arians said Sendlein missed practice Tuesday. The first injury report of the week comes out later today.

But if Sendlein can’t go, A.Q. Shipley would start at center. The question is what might that mean for an offensive line that has been solid. It’s true that Arians said he had been expecting more on the interior of the line at Cleveland, which includes Sendlein. But the veteran has something that Shipley does not — experience at CenturyLink Field.

Sendlein has started six games in Seattle during his career (and appeared in a seventh.) He knows what it’s like in that stadium, with that crowd, with that noise. Shipley has played in 51 games in his career, none at Seattle. A night game, with the knowledge that a national TV audience is watching, will boost the crowd intensity that much more. The center is the one who organizes the offensive line every play. In a season where everyone continues to say the offensive line communication is a developing work-in-progress, who starts at center — and how he handles the moment — will have an impact on how effective the Cardinals’ offense can be.


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Turnovers and a trip to Seattle

Posted by Darren Urban on November 9, 2015 – 9:30 am

It’s Seattle week. More specifically, at Seattle week, a game the Cardinals have been anxious to play for a long time now that Carson Palmer is healthy. It’s interesting that the Cardinals are coming off that four-turnover game in Cleveland, a game in which they won — because the last time they had turned the ball over four times in a road game, they had also won. That game was the 17-10 stunner in Seattle near the end of the 2013 season, the one in which Palmer threw four interceptions yet found Michael Floyd for a touchdown pass late in the game for the clinching points.

The Cardinals are now 2-1 in four-turnover road games under Bruce Arians. The one loss was a 32-20 defeat in San Francisco in 2013, a game that is remembered for a crucial Larry Fitzgerald fumble with the Cards driving for a go-ahead score — but what might be better remembered for the 18-play, smashmouth TD drive of the 49ers that took up 9:32 and 11 of the plays (including the final eight) were runs up the gut.

The point is that there are always ways to overcome even messy turnover days. The three-turnover games that led to the Cards’ two losses this season weren’t based on the turnovers alone — in both cases, the Cardinals still had chances to win the game late.

But turnovers make the job so much harder. The Cardinals have 14 turnovers total in eight games and 10 turnovers in the aformentioned three games — the win in Cleveland, the losses to the Rams and Steelers. Other than the Packers and Bengals, the Cardinals (while facing a much harder schedule) don’t see a lot of great offenses. None that match up to what the Cards can bring on that side of the ball. But turning it over can change those odds quickly.



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Friday before the bye

Posted by Darren Urban on November 6, 2015 – 1:37 pm

There is nothing better than the bye at the true midway point in the season. Getting through a chunk of the games before you are off is invaluable both mentally and physically for a team — although as Carson Palmer said this week, there is no such thing as a bad bye. (Of course, Palmer was not a member of the 2001 Cardinals, who, because of an odd number of NFL teams at the time, drew the short straw and had a bye in Week 1 of the regular season. That’s right — 16 straight games after. That was an emotional time too, because 9/11 happened the Tuesday following Week 1 and games were canceled. The Cards had nearly a month between their last preseason game and their first regular-season game.)

But I digress.

The Cardinals are going to lament the two losses, games that frankly, they should have had, no matter what happens. They hope they don’t cost themselves something significant come playoff time. But it was a good first half of the season, and regardless of opponents, the Cards have proven to be a good team and one that should be in the postseason mix.

— What has surprised me in the first half of the season? Let’s start with Larry Fitzgerald’s big numbers. I thought Fitz had an excellent training camp and I thought he had a chance to get to 1,000 yards, but the Cards have gone to him more than I expected. Part of that started. I’d guess, because of Michael Floyd’s hand injury, but Fitz has looked terrific. Bruce Arians said a big reason is that he has stayed healthy, and if that’s what it took, that’s a good sign for the Cardinals because Fitz remains healthy.

— I’m surprised that Sean Weatherspoon hasn’t been a bigger part of the defense. I don’t see that changing much unless there is an injury. Deone Bucannon, at this point, is a linebacker. It makes for intriguing roster decisions beyond this year.

— I’ve never covered a Cardinals team (since 2000, mind you) that doesn’t say they have plans to significantly upgrade the running game going into a season. But this was the year it’s actually turned out that way. Chris Johnson has been marvelous. When you have a healthy Andre Ellington and he can barely get touches, that’s saying something about your depth.

— Take a listen to the latest Cardinals Underground podcast for talk between myself, Kyle Odegard and Paul Calvisi about the first half that was.

— This team will learn a lot about itself the next two games. In the national spotlight both weeks, at the defending NFC champion and hosting the sure-to-be undefeated Bengals (Cincy hosts Houston after 10 days to prepare.) The game against the Seahawks is paramount; you put Seattle in a tough, tough spot if you can knock them off in their place.

That’s next week, though. I’m going to enjoy a rare fall weekend off.



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An early look at the free-agents-to-be

Posted by Darren Urban on November 5, 2015 – 11:31 am

With the season halfway over and talk here and there about possible contract extensions, it felt like a good time to note who is scheduled to have their contract run out after the season ends. We’ve talked for a while about the secondary decisions that are coming, but in terms of players that are making an impact, it’s a lengthy list. This is only the players set to be free agents; There have been some of you wondering if, for instance, Tyrann Mathieu could get an extension. He is under contract through 2016, so I don’t expect anything soon. The Cardinals, according to the NFLPA, have about $5.3 million of cap space right now.


CB Justin Bethel
LB Dwight Freeney
TE Jermaine Gresham
RB Chris Johnson
S Rashad Johnson
G Ted Larsen
LS Mike Leach
T Bobby Massie
CB Jerraud Powers
C Lyle Sendlein
T Bradley Sowell
QB Drew Stanton
LB Sean Weatherspoon
LB LaMarr Woodley

WR Jaron Brown
P Drew Butler
LB Kenny Demens
S Tony Jefferson

(Tight ends Darren Fells and Ifeanyi Momah and defensive tackle Josh Mauro are all exclusive rights free agents, meaning they can be tendered and not go anywhere.)

Again, a long list. The restricted free agents, if you want to prevent them from hitting the market unfettered, can be tendered with one of three designations: A first-round tender (a one-year contract of about $3.3M), a second-round tender (about $2.3M) or the original draft spot ($1.5M). That means, if tendered, if another team signs them away, that team owes the Cardinals the tendered pick. Given that all those guys were undrafted, the Cards would get nothing for the low tender. It makes for hard decisions on a Tony Jefferson, and even to Jaron Brown.

As for the unrestricted guys …

It seems likely that the older one-year guys — Chris Johnson, Gresham, Freeney — would want to see what they might get on the open market. The secondary is the most intriguing area. It wouldn’t be a surprise that some team might want to swoop in and Greg Toler-contract a guy like Bethel, especially if they’d want him to start right away at CB. The Cardinals like Powers. They like Rashad Johnson too, but with all the safeties around, what will be the offer? What does the future hold (or rather, where is the future) for Deone Bucannon? Is he a linebacker or safety? That’ll come into play.


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Barkley finally gets work in Cards’ scheme

Posted by Darren Urban on November 4, 2015 – 2:28 pm

Matt Barkley isn’t going anywhere. The trade that brought him to the Cardinals from the Eagles said he had to be on the Cardinals’ roster for six weeks in order for the Cards to surrender their seventh-round pick and that deadline passed a couple of weeks ago. It only made sense, because the Cardinals hadn’t even had a chance to see Barkley do anything in their own system by that point. In-season, the third-string quarterback works the scout team when everyone is healthy.

Finally, that changed with the Cardinals’ lone practice of the bye week. Bruce Arians worked mostly those players who don’t get much game-time work. That included Barkley at quarterback for the first time in the Cards’ scheme.

“(It) was fun, for the first time to get some real live offensive reps as opposed to just the surface reps we’ve been doing,” Barkley said. “It’ll take some time to get that muscle memory of the footwork and where (the ball) needs to go, but a lot of these concepts are similar to what I did in college. You don’t want to think back to the terminology and what you did in former offenses, but a lot of it does have similarities that I’ve been used to. So I’ve just got to get back trained like that as opposed to being in the gun and doing zone-read all the time (like in Philadelphia).”

The only downside? Most of the vets weren’t going to relish the bye week practices.

“They all want to get out of here,” Barkley said. “They were yelling at me to get the huddle in and out. But no, it was a good day.”

Barkley remains an unknown for the Cardinals, someone whose play in the offseason work likely will determine his future more than what scraps he gets now. But with backup Drew Stanton a free agent after the season and the Cards still looking for what they might do post-Carson Palmer, it’s worth kicking the tires on Barkley.


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Motivating Calais

Posted by Darren Urban on November 3, 2015 – 10:12 am

Bruce Arians was asked about the play of defensive tackle Calais Campbell Monday, and Arians was (as he is wont to do) blunt on the subject.

“He needs to be dominating the game,” Arians said. “He got very close, but he loses his technique sometimes and doesn’t use his hands. He should have had a four-sack day (in Cleveland). His stats were minimal. Frostee (Rucker) had a great day.”

It was interesting to see later in the day, in their highlighted analysis of the Cardinals-Browns game, praise Campbell as the best player on the Cards’ defense Sunday.

“Calais Campbell again led the way for the defense at +3.3 (as a grade), including four QB hurries and three defensive stops” was the chatter line.

This isn’t new for Campbell. The coaches have pushed him constantly, and truth be told, Campbell in turn has been pushing himself. He had a great game in the loss to the Rams, and he wasn’t necessarily happy. I asked him then if there was a game after which he was satisfied and he said no. “I guess if there was a game where I was like, I made every play I could, I mean, maybe. But I haven’t done it yet. I haven’t done it yet. I’m hoping for it. I’m chasing it.”

That’s where Arians is with Campbell. The coach never says Campbell is playing poorly. He only says Campbell could be playing better. It’s that quest for perfection all the players and Arians keep bringing up. Campbell is the Cards’ best defensive lineman (although Rucker indeed played very well in Cleveland.) He is playing that way. Arians just wants more.

“He’s got the talent,” Arians said. “He’s got the talent and he’s shown he can. He needs to do it all the time.”


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Keim: Trade talks, but “no reason to panic”

Posted by Darren Urban on November 2, 2015 – 8:16 am

The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday. Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said there are always talks going on, but there is “nothing imminent.”

“It’s always tough to pull off a deal,” Keim said Monday during his appearance on “Doug and Wolf” on Arizona Sports 98.7. Teams often want more than other teams are willing to give up. “We’re in a position where we feel pretty good about our roster,” Keim said. “There is no reason to panic.”

He was asked specifically about finding a pass rusher. Keim noted teams aren’t trading pass rushers (they’re not) unless a) they make too much money for what they are or b) there is another issue off-the-field. That’s what happens. Teams need pass rushers too much to ever want to trade a decent one.

Keim was also asked about possible contract extensions. It was reported Sunday Keim has been talking extension with running back Chris Johnson, which isn’t a surprise (and I’d guess CJ isn’t the only one that the team has talked with about a deal.) But talks don’t mean a deal is close. Sometimes, it just means the team and the agent trade ideas of what they are looking for. There are a lot of variables that go into this.

“To get a deal done, it needs to be beneficial to both team and player,” Keim said. “Sometimes that’s difficult to do.”

When a player is eight games away (plus playoffs?) from unrestricted free agency and the open market, there are reasons to want to wait. And the Cardinals want to make sure their deals fit the budget and the future plan and all the puzzle pieces that come together for the 2016 roster, and the 2017 roster, etc.

As for the rest of Keim’s thoughts …

— Keim said he is not satisfied with the season given what the Cardinals still have to work on, but “but I feel good about the record. We’re in a pretty good position.” The Cardinals are 6-2, after all.

— Keim praised the “attitude and toughness” of tight end Jermaine Gresham, noting that Gresham is coming into his own. Gresham did make a couple of nice third-down catches Sunday.

— Michael Floyd also had his best game of the year. “With Mike, we were never down on him,” Keim said. Floyd just had to wait for his opportunities with all the weapons the Cardinals have. A quick aside: Floyd was big Sunday with John Brown not playing. We’ll see how they mesh when Brown gets back on the field.

— Keim was happy with the play of rookie wideout J.J. Nelson. The speed is obvious. Keim liked his stop-and-start ability and his precise route-running.

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Rallying to Browns aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 1, 2015 – 7:20 pm

There are times when Larry Fitzgerald is, let’s say, careful with his words. The veteran receiver understands what and what not to put out for public consumption, so there are times when he’s delivering sanitized material. Not Sunday, not when the first question was what exactly happened at halftime to change the Cardinals’ fortune in Cleveland.

“We just pulled our heads out,” Fitz said, and thankfully he allowed us to fill in to ourselves from where the Cards were doing the pulling.

Between the turnovers and the sloppy defensive moments it wasn’t hard to figure out that the Cardinals were doing themselves dirty in that first half. They are fortunate they were able to turn it around. Why it took so long – “It seems like until we get pissed off or something, then we start playing and we can’t be like that to get where we want to be,” defensive tackle Frostee Rucker said – is something that will be a point of emphasis. But if there is always something to be learned, this week it is that this team can overcome turnovers and pull one out. Now, if you are a minus-two (and at one point, a minus-four) against a good team, that will be problematic. But this week, it was not.

— From the time the Browns scored their third and final touchdown, the Cardinals’ defense forced five punts, had an interception, forced a fumble and then got a stop on downs. The Browns gained a total of 92 yards on those eight possessions.

— The last time a Cardinal running back had 30 carries in a game before Chris Johnson’s 30 Sunday (for 109 yards?) Edgerrin James had 36 on Oct. 16, 2006. Perhaps you remember that one. James had only 55 yards in that game, and well, the Bears were who we thought they were.

— CJ2K is also the first Cardinal to have four 100-yard games in a season since … wait for it … Stump Mitchell, now Johnson’s position coach, who did it in 1985.

— Former agent/cap guru Joel Corry tweeted out that with his surpassing of 664 yards rushing on the season, Chris Johnson has earned the first $280,000 of the $1.13 million in incentives built into his contract. Why 664 yards? Because he had 663 yards rushing last season while playing for the Jets.

— The Cardinals did not get enough pressure on Josh McCown in the first half. That changed in the second half, and you could see the results. In a side note, Dwight Freeney had his second sack in as many weeks.

— Carson Palmer was just talking last week about how he doesn’t care about stats but how he cares about red-zone efficiency and third-down conversions. Sunday, the Cardinals were 3-for-5 in the red zone – a very solid 60 percent – and 13-for-16 on third downs – an amazing 81 percent.

— And this is a team that missed on two wide-open bombs down the field on overthrows both Bruce Arians and Palmer said were because of the wind.

— Palmer is on pace for 40 touchdown passes.

— The bye comes at a good time. Arians pegged both wide receiver John Brown and cornerback Jerraud Powers at “85 or 90 percent” Sunday, but were held out because the Cardinals could afford to hold them out. If that’s the case, you figure a week off will do wonders and set them up to be ready after the bye. Same goes for Larry Fitzgerald, who hurt his ankle late and will get some welcome rest.

— The players are off Monday – “Victory Monday” has arrived. With the bye week, they’ll have practice Tuesday and Wednesday, and then get the mandated four-day weekend. At 6-2 halfway home, and with a two-game lead in the NFC West, it’s been a solid start.


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