There’s no getting around it: The Honey Badger sucked me in. I let my guard down on a day I should not have, and when Tyrann Mathieu tweeted out that he ran three miles today without a brace, I dutifully retweeted the good news. Of course, he then deleted it — not after I added my “good news” note and dozens of fans retweeted that — and then Mathieu delivered the “April Fools” punchline. I knew there was optimism in his rehab. But I should’ve known better about three miles of running in April after the nasty knee blowout he had. You live and you learn. I owe him one.
Anyway, there was something real to say about the Honey Badger Tuesday — there is a new episode of the web series “Tenacious,” which is chronicling Mathieu’s rehab from his knee injury.
In “The King In Me,” Mathieu talks about his belief in how everybody, including himself, is a “King.” “I try and inspire people to not run from the world,” Mathieu said.
He also touches on the monotony of rehab. “I don’t try to look at the (big) picture right now,” Mathieu said. “I try to keep my mind on the first game of the season, what I am going to do when I get back on the field. That’s what I think of, because thinking about this process, it can drive you crazy.”
Tags: Tyrann Mathieu
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The Cardinals got 11.5 sacks out of starting linebacker John Abraham and excellent edge-setting run defense from fellow starting linebacker Matt Shaughnessy last season. With both coming back in 2014, it’s hard to believe those won’t be your starters at the position. It’s also hard to believe neither were starters when 2013 opened — instead, it was Sam Acho starting over Shaughnessy, and Lorenzo Alexander instead of Abraham.
That changed early in the season, when both Acho (broken leg) and Alexander (foot) suffered season-ending injuries Week 3 in New Orleans. Oh, and that was the same day rookie outside linebacker Alex Okafor (biceps) also was lost for the season. It opened the door for Abraham — who hadn’t been thrilled with his playing time — and Shaughnessy to play a lot and ultimately play well. But it also leaves in question the roles of Acho and Alexander going forward, as well as the spot for Okafor.
It would be an upset if the Cardinals do not take a pass rusher/outside linebacker in the draft. As well as Abraham played last season, he is 35 and in the last year of his deal and the team needs to find a longer-term solution as a dynamic pass rusher. Acho and Alexander have their strengths, but neither figure to fit that bill. Okafor (who said late last week he has been officially cleared to work post-rehab) still could become that guy, although missing his rookie year set him back in his development. Acho did have seven sacks as a rookie in 2011 but only four in 2012. Alexander, meanwhile, might not end up outside. Coach Bruce Arians has talked about Alexander’s ability to move inside and right now, the Cards could use the depth there after cutting Jasper Brinkley and losing Karlos Dansby to free agency.
Like cornerback, outside linebacker (and more specifically, pass rusher) is a position at which a team will constantly throw numbers. You always need multiples, and you can never have too many. Where Acho, Alexander and Okafor fit in Year 2 of the Arians/Steve Keim era will be something to watch. The landscape is definitely different from the last time they stepped on the field.
Tags: Alex Okafor, Bruce Arians, John Abraham, Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Shaughnessy, Sam Acho
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The Cards have made a couple of trades in the past year that included draft picks and possible draft picks, but as of right now, the team’s selections are pretty straightforward: The 20th pick in each of the first six rounds, with no seventh round choice after it was dealt to Oakland in the Carson Palmer trade.
– First round (20th overall)
– Second round (52nd)
– Third round (84th)
– Fourth (120th)
– Fifth (160th)
– Sixth (196th)
As GM Steve Keim has proven, he will make trades. Given the six choices, any Cardinals trade is probably going to be to move down instead of up, in order to gain an extra choice or two. Last year, wheeling and dealing gained the Cardinals eight total picks, dealing down (and still picking up LB Kevin Minter in the second round) and ending up with bonus fourth- and sixth-round picks. Those netted them Earl Watford and Andre Ellington, and if Watford ends up starting this year, that could be some very sound trading. (Ellington alone might make this true.)
Tags: Andre Ellington, draft, Earl Watford, Steve Keim
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The Cardinals’ initial foray into free agency was offense-heavy. Not a big shock, since that side of the ball need the most work. As the draft approaches, however, the focus may just shift. Because even though Bruce Arians is an offensive guy, GM Steve Keim has a belief that the good teams in this salary cap work have a dominant side of the ball. And the Cardinals — with the No. 1 rush defense and the sixth-ranked defense overall — aren’t in that realm on the offensive side of the ball.
“Seattle was a dominant defense with a solid offense,” Keim said. “Denver was a dominant offense with an OK defense. In our situation, we are closer to having a dominant defense. So I think you have to continue to throw gas on the fire. Continue to build the strength.”
That’s why cornerback Antonio Cromartie shot to the top of the to-do list after he was cut by the Jets. The move surprised the Cards — they did not think New York would let him go — but rallied to understand the situation and aggressively court him. It was only a one-year contract, but the team proved last year with linebacker Karlos Dansby that could be a golden type of situation. There are still spots defensively that need shoring up (like the need for a safety or inside linebacker depth), and there is also Keim’s quest to get longer and more athletic with his 3-4 defensive ends and the pass rushers outside. The draft could very well provide those things. But when you start looking at the top end talent on the roster, it is the defense that claims many of the spots, whether it is Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell or Daryl Washington. (Or even, as Ron Wolfley points out, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who fortunately for the Cards did not get a head coaching job.)
The offense isn’t going to be ignored — “We know we have areas we need to fix and it certainly needs to catch up with the defense,” Keim said — but a defensive juggernaut is the first goal. It’s what has put the Seahawks and 49ers into the stratosphere they are in, and why the Cards returned to relevance last season.
Tags: 49ers, Antonio Cromartie, Calais Campbell, Daryl Washington, defense, draft, Patrick Peterson, Seahawks, Steve Keim, Todd Bowles
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The Cardinals grabbed a headline when they signed a speed receiver in Ted Ginn. And Larry Fitzgerald remains at the top the receiving food chain in Arizona, especially after he restructured his contract. But the team leader in yards and yards per catch last season was former first round pick Michael Floyd, who broke out in his second season to surpass 1,000 yards and remains — because of the lengthy shadow of Fitzgerald — somewhat under the radar.
That can change, coach Bruce Arians thinks, because Floyd is still developing.
“He became a 1,000-yard receiver,” Arians said, “but he can improve as much this year as he did last year.”
If Floyd legitimately makes as big a leap in his third season as he did in his second, the Cardinals would be looking at a superstar. The Cards could use that on multiple levels, one of which being what could happen with Fitzgerald’s future given his unwieldy 2015 salary cap number. Because of the way the Cards run the offense and the way they want to use Fitzgerald now that he has moved inside because of his age, Floyd will get the shots down the field (although some figure to go to Ginn). At some point, defenses may start to see him as a double-team candidate, but can they risk leaving Fitz one-on-one? Or Ginn deep? Or Ellington split out wide? These are the problems the Cards are trying to create.
Floyd can get better. Arians wants to see more consistency, although Floyd had a stretch last season where he looked pretty darn consistent, grabbing first down catch after first down catch. He is so physical in his battles with defenders.
“He learned how to play hurt, play through injuries, but he lost some big plays,” Arians said. “We have tape for him to watch when he gets back. A real good one and a real bad one. He needs to eliminate the real bad one.”
That should be a natural progression anyway.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Ted Ginn
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About five weeks into the season last year, Carson Palmer approached coach Bruce Arians to talk about rookie running back Andre Ellington.
“Let’s make him a wideout,” Palmer said.
“No,” Arians responded. “We can use him as a wideout as a running back.”
Arians recounted the conversation Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. Ellington’s receiving skills are not only well-known but have been discussed quite a bit, by Arians, Palmer and Ellington. “We are going to have a lot of fun this spring because his skill set is so unique,” Arians said. Once again, Arians talked about the Ellington workload and the fine line between riding the running back and not subjecting him to too much punishment.
“He is still not a guy who you will pound up the middle 30 times a game and survive,” Arians said. “He can run the football 30 times a game if you do it correctly, but you’d rather have him have 10 catches and 20 carries and let Stepfan Taylor or (Jonathan) Dwyer have the rest of the carries pound the rest of the ball up in there.”
(Noteworthy that Arians didn’t mention Ryan Williams as a possibility? Perhaps.)
Arians said the mismatches offensive coordinators find these days with tight ends used to be the ones for running backs, naming old-school guys like Ronnie Harmon and Todd McNair. “It will be fun with Andre, see how people play him,” Arians said.
One other Ellington note: Arians said the staff has to be careful with how much of the offense is actually built around the back. “You’ve got to watch that you don’t create too much stuff and then he sprains an ankle and you don’t have any offense because you put too much in one basket,” Arians said. “You still have to have your cinch-it-up, grind-it-out football.”
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bruce Arians, owners meetings
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The subject is not taboo in Tempe, that’s for certain. Super Bowl XLIX, coming early next year after the 2014 season, will be played at University of Phoenix Stadium, and the Cardinals — after 10 wins last season and improvement — have mentioned the possibility of playing in the game. Just last week, when cornerback Antonio Cromartie was signed and team president Michael Bidwill appeared with Cromartie at his press conference, both alluded to the idea.
“You look for a team that has been a big-time contending team that is coming up for a Super Bowl,” Cromartie said. “A chance to play a Super Bowl in your own stadium would speak volumes.”
But coach Bruce Arians had the ear of the national media Wednesday morning at the NFL owners meetings, and not only did he address the idea, he emphasized his belief in his team making such a run.
“I ain’t afraid of it,” Arians said. “We played well at the end of the season. If we can do that early, the confidence of the core of the team is back. Our leadership is back. We are talented enough. Talent is not the issue. I told them that last year but they didn’t believe me until it was too late. There is no reason we can’t be the first team to play a home Super Bowl. Absolutely no reason.”
Arians has never shied away from being confident, in both himself and his players. He sets the bar high.
Tags: Bruce Arians, owners meetings, Super Bowl
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Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson, one of the founding members of the American Football League and a Pro Football Hall of Fame member, died today at the age of 95. The Cardinals released a statement from team president Michael Bidwill.
“At a critical juncture in the National Football League’s history, Ralph Wilson provided a level of leadership and vision that helped make the NFL what it is today,” Bidwill said. “He not only recognized the sport’s potential popularity and success but was pivotal in helping to achieve it. Our hearts go out to his wife Mary, the Bills organization and everyone in Western New York on their tremendous loss.”
Tags: Bills, Michael Bidwill, Ralph Wilson
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A few things as the owners meetings continue in Florida and things around the Cardinals’ Tempe complex have slowed down considerably:
– The Cardinals, as expected, did not receive a compensatory draft pick, meaning they still have six selections in May’s draft (the seventh round pick went to Oakland in the Carson Palmer trade.) The first three picks are No. 20, No. 52 and No. 84 overall. It is not surprising the Cards didn’t get any comp picks.
A quick review: Teams get comp picks based on a formula that starts with the free agents signed and free agents lost from the previous offseason. Included in the NFL’s secret formula are the size of the contracts signed by those players and various honors they earn that season. So the comp picks for the 2014 draft are based on the 2013 offseason, and so forth. If you come out “negatively” in the formula and seem to have lost more than you gained in free agency, you get as many as four extra comp picks. Those picks can come at the end of the third round at the earliest and cannot be traded.
Looking ahead, there will be a chance the Cards could come up with a comp pick next year. It’ll depend on the rest of the offseason and what all these players do. Something to keep in mind: Only true free agents — those whose contracts expired — count in the formula. That means the Cards’ signings of tight end John Carlson and cornerback Antonio Cromartie will not hurt them because those players were free because they were released, not because their contracts ran out. On the flip side, if Daryn Colledge signs somewhere, he won’t help the cause.
So for those scoring at home, the Cards (in comp pick math) have added Jared Veldheer, Ted Ginn, Ted Larsen and Jonathan Dwyer. They have lost Karlos Dansby, Andre Roberts, Javier Arenas, Antoine Cason and Jim Dray. Veldheer signed a pricey contract, but so did Dansby and Roberts. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
– The NFL will be tweaking a few rules. The biggest one is outlawing the dunk of the football on the goalpost. There’s been a lot of blowback on this, but truthfully, as soon as Jimmy Graham bent the crossbar last season and delayed a game while it was fixed, you knew it was a matter of time before the NFL said no more.
Also coming is the ability for a central replay booth based in New York to begin video replays before a referee even gets under the hood, hopefully to speed up the process and to let the official know for what exactly to be looking. The referee on-site will still make the final call.
Tags: compensatory picks, draft, free agency, owners meetings, rules
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Part of the collective bargaining agreement is the performance-based pay system every season. Each team has a pool of money — this year it is $3.46 million — to distribute among all the players who played for it the previous season. The money is doled out based on playing time and the amount of money you made in the first place. In other words, think of the lesser paid players (rookies, cheap starters) who played a ton. They get the most cash. There is a caveat. Players don’t actually get the money until April 1, 2016, an agreement made by the players’ union in a trade to have a larger 2013 salary cap.
For the Cardinals, safety Yeremiah Bell made the most. Bell was paid just $905,000 last season (adjusted, with his veteran status, to a $621,000 salary cap hit) but played almost 80 percent of the defensive snaps. That earned him an extra $263,097.
Nine Cardinals total earned an extra six figures through the distribution:
– T Bradley Sowell $247,150 ($480,000 adjusted compensation last season)
– G Paul Fanaika $223,625 ($683,500)
– S Tyrann Mathieu $209,788 ($570,625)
– TE Jim Dray $165,375 ($647,850)
– S Tony Jefferson $131,510 ($408,366)
– WR Jaron Brown $125,954 ($408,000)
– RB Andre Ellington $125,680 ($430,966)
– DL Frostee Rucker $104,261 ($624,200)
Everybody who played in a game got something — even linebacker Vic So’oto, who signed in Week 4 and briefly played against Tampa Bay before suffering an injury that ended his Arizona tenure. Of the nine, Dray, of course, is gone, having signed with the Browns. Bell is unsigned but there is still a chance the Cards could bring him back. The other seven are on the roster and figure to be a part of the 2014 roster.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bradley Sowell, CBA, Frostee Rucker, Jaron Brown, Jim Dray, Paul Fanaika, performance pay, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu, Vic So'oto, Yeremiah Bell
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