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With FA losses, comp picks in play for Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on March 14, 2017 – 10:03 am

The Cardinals would’ve liked to keep Calais Campbell. And Tony Jefferson (or D.J. Swearinger), and Marcus Cooper too. But the prices got to be a lot larger than the team wanted to pay, and there was a flip side to those players defecting — and to the way the Cardinals have looked at bringing in free agents themselves over the last few days: Compensatory picks.

Comp picks are the extra selections at the end of each round, starting in the third, that teams get after all the free agent comings and goings are tallied. The NFL keeps the formula for comp picks secret, although a) it’s determined by each team’s free agents losses and gains, along with the size of those players’ new contracts, plus playing time and postseason honors; and b) there are only so many in a draft.

(This was made painfully clear to the Cardinals recently. The Cardinals get an extra fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft next month, and they had qualified for three other extra seventh-round picks — but the NFL caps the total number of comp picks at 32, and since teams across the league qualified for 39 total, the last seven didn’t count. The extra three of the Cards’ picks fell in that last seven “dead zone.”)

There are other things that dictate the comings-and-goings part of the comp pick equation. Players who are in the league 10 years or more don’t matter as much (so the Cards aren’t really hurt by the “coming” of Karlos Dansby, who was basically canceled out by the “going” of Alex Okafor to the Saints). This only applies to free agents who had contracts expire (so Antoine Bethea, cut by San Francisco, does not count in the equation.)

A team would max out with four comp picks in any given draft. Right now, it looks like the Cardinals would be in line for four — four pretty good ones. Those that break this down (the best they can, given the secrecy of the exact formula) estimate the Cardinals gaining potentially two third-round picks in 2018, plus a couple of others. Even if one of the picks isn’t a third but a fourth, plus a couple of other later ones in the fifth- or sixth-round to get to the maximum four, it would give the Cardinals a lot of firepower in the 2018 draft. (If it played out like that, it’d be 10 draft picks, because the Cards traded their 2018 seventh-rounder to Kansas City for Cooper).

Nothing is set in stone, but the money is a big driver in comp picks and at this point, you figure the big money in free agency is already gone. If the Cards were going to lose high-profile free agents, they at least figure to get something out of it.


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The prices of free agency, and other stuff

Posted by Darren Urban on March 13, 2017 – 5:07 pm

As we get past the first few days of free agency and the contract numbers begin to trickle in, we got a sense of how pricey the market was for some (like Calais Campbell) and how the Cards have interpreted those who have left and who have arrived. With that, some thoughts on some of the contracts handed out to recently departed and freshly minted Cardinals:

— Campbell got $30 million guaranteed over the first two years of his four-year deal, and gets a $3M bonus in early 2019 if the Jaguars choose to keep him. That’s a lot of money, but it’s why the Cardinals-Campbell marriage was destined to end. The Jags had (have) oodles of cap space, so they front-loaded the contract. The Cards didn’t see fiscally how that would make sense for them.

— The same goes for the $19 million guaranteed for Tony Jefferson and the $8 million guaranteed for Marcus Cooper, who got a three-year deal with the Bears. Bruce Arians said Cooper could get big money, and he did. I have to say I was a little surprised.

— Along those lines, I’ve heard from a handful of fans asking me about doing something like a trade for Patriots RFA CB Malcolm Butler. Not going to happen. To give up a pick and be facing a need for a giant contract extension in a secondary that already has two giant contracts with Pat P and Honey Badger, nope. This draft class is strong at cornerback. I’d guess they will draft one at some point. Will they add a vet? Maybe, but it won’t be for giant money.

— Karlos Dansby gets $2 million if he stays healthy and plays a lot. That’s a reasonable contract for a soon-to-be 36-year-old who figures to start. (Kevin Minter, who was unlikely to return after Dansby signed, was reportedly visiting the Colts Monday.)

— Jarvis Jones, the Steelers’ OLB free agent, was visiting the Cardinals. That would seem tied to Alex Okafor, who was visiting the Saints. If Okafor comes back to the Cardinals, they won’t need Jones. If Okafor departs, there’s a need Jones could fill.

— Have to say I was a little surprised Andre Ellington returned, not because the Cards wouldn’t want him — they need players behind David Johnson and Ellington can produce, especially as a receiver — but because I thought he’d want to find a place where he might get more time. The running backs market is not robust. And Ellington said he wanted to stay. Speaking of prices, I’m sure it was a team-friendly contract. It’d be good to see Ellington break off a couple of those electrifying plays he had his first couple of years.


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David Johnson says he’s healthy, “full throttle”

Posted by Darren Urban on March 11, 2017 – 2:18 pm

Playing in Kurt Warner’s annual flag football tourney Saturday, David Johnson didn’t have to do much — the players involved are the all-time quarterbacks for their teams, which basically means grabbing the ball and standing there until someone gets open.

(Although I saw a first in all my years at this event, which started in 2004. Falcons wideout Mohamed Sanu — pictured below, laughing with Johnson — actually played defense for his team a couple of times.)

Johnson has some work to do as a quarterback. But as for his day job — and the knee injury he suffered late in the season — all is better now.

“My wheel is good,” Johnson said. “Good to go already. Back training, full throttle. Doing everything.”

He admitted he got a “harsh reminder” not to do things like jump out of pools, which he had put up on social media while rehabbing.

“I just wanted to show people I was back and ready to go,” Johnson said. Back to 100 percent? “For sure,” he said.


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Age is but a number, as free agency moves on

Posted by Darren Urban on March 10, 2017 – 4:25 pm

Yes, the Cardinals have gotten older. There are caveats to that, though. Phil Dawson, at 42, is way older than Chandler Catanzaro, but then again, that’s one of the reasons the Cards have swapped Dawson for Cat Man, because they wanted someone proven in tough situations. Dawson has shown that (and the fact Dawson wanted to come to Arizona means something too.) Karlos Dansby is going to be 36 in November, but my guess is that Dansby is a bridge for an inside linebacker coming in the draft. (Besides, Dansby played pretty well last year in Cincy, and the Cards obviously felt strongly enough to swap him out for Kevin Minter.)

No, Antoine Bethea’s age doesn’t help in comparison to Tony Jefferson, but Jefferson was leaving regardless. And this is a deep draft in the secondary. I’m sure that has played a role in this too. But age was always going to be a big part of this season, with Carson Palmer (37 in December) and Larry Fitzgerald (34 in August) knowing they are nearing the end.

Said Dansby, when asked what it meant adding that age to the roster, “wisdom.”

— On a personal level, one press conference with Los reminds me how much fun it is to have him around.

— The Cardinals carve out some cap room not only by extending Chandler Jones but also by getting safety Tyvon Branch to take a paycut from $4 million to $2 million this season.

— Dawson comes to the Cardinals, while Catanzaro signed with the Jets and coach Todd Bowles Friday.

— I would still expect a free-agent guard at some point, but I don’t know if it will be soon. I haven’t heard anything, and it’s possible they are going to let the market settle some. The Cards under Steve Keim have usually added some key free agents after the first wave. I don’t see why it would be different this year. We’re barely a day in.


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Comings, goings, kickers and Dansby

Posted by Darren Urban on March 9, 2017 – 5:21 pm

Free agency started Thursday and it was busy. As expected, Calais Campbell left, as did Tony Jefferson. And D.J. Swearinger. The Cardinals kept center A.Q. Shipley, and they found a new safety in Antoine Bethea. Things are moving at a rapid pace all across the league. That’s pretty normal.

— The safety trio of Tyrann Mathieu, Tyvon Branch and Antoine Bethea should be OK if Mathieu and Branch can stay healthy. That’s the hope.

— It’ll be Boehm vs. Shipley for starting center. Nick Mangold isn’t walking through that door. Don’t forget that the Cardinals felt comfortable with the job Shipley did last season. Boehm will get his chance, but I don’t think the Cards are worried if Shipley is the starter again this season.

— Bethea was released, so he does not count in the compensatory pick equation. Campbell, Jefferson and Swearinger will, and with the large deals Campbell and Jefferson got, the Cardinals are well ahead in the 2018 comp pick game. So there’s that.

— It looks like linebacker Karlos Dansby could end up with a third tenure with the Cardinals. That’s huge, man. Huge. Mostly because Kevin Minter — the man who replaced him after the 2013 season — is a free agent and who knows if he will return. Dansby had more than 100 tackles with the Bengals last season, so he’s still plugging along.

— Dansby is older (he’ll be 36 during the season) but not as old as kicker Phil Dawson, the former 49er who looks like he’ll be coming to Arizona as well. If Dawson does, that’s the steady kicker the Cards didn’t have a season ago. The Cards have moved on from Chandler Catanzaro.

— Like Catanzaro, tight end Darren Fells was a restricted free agent whom the team did not tender. Fells is going to visit the Lions.

— Should hear something soon on the official front with the Chandler Jones extension, but judging by reports it’s going to look a lot like Olivier Vernon money ($80+M in potential value, $50+M in guarantees.) Which makes sense, because Vernon’s deal always was the likely benchmark for an extension.

— On the first day of the new league year, the NFLPA had the Cardinals with $21.3 million of salary cap space. That’d be prior to Bethea and Shipley signing (and tight end Jermaine Gresham, who officially signed his contract Thursday as well.)

Day one is done. Hopefully.


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Campbell, Jefferson close to new addresses

Posted by Darren Urban on March 8, 2017 – 9:32 pm

Nothing can happen before 2 p.m. Thursday, but the expected — that Calais Campbell and Tony Jefferson would be signing elsewhere as free agents — is close to happening, according to multiple reports Wednesday night. Campbell is expected to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Jefferson is expected to sign with the Baltimore Ravens. Jefferson reportedly could have gotten more money from Browns. Campbell was reportedly wooed also by Washington.

It’ll make for an interesting visit to University of Phoenix Stadium this coming season when the Jaguars visit Arizona for the first time in more than a decade.

Campbell and Jefferson aren’t gone yet. Nothing done at this point can be official. There is always a chance something could change at the last second — a la Frank Gore — but it looks like Campbell will be a Jag, Jefferson a Raven, and the Cardinals out two defensive starters.


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On free agency eve, the Cards’ FAs-to-be

Posted by Darren Urban on March 8, 2017 – 4:07 pm

By this time tomorrow the Cardinals and the NFL will be well into free agency. The “tampering” period has given everyone plenty of opportunity to get a head start on signing players, although no visits are supposed to have been set up and no players — just agents — are supposed to have talked to teams yet.

What has floated around the Cardinals is all about their own guys so far. Linebacker Chandler Jones, who isn’t going anywhere because he was franchise tagged, is reportedly close to a contract extension with the Cards. That would help cap space, but there is nothing official yet and we’ll see how quickly it can get done. Calais Campbell has been linked to the Jaguars, Bucs and maybe Broncos, but nothing concrete, while Tony Jefferson can apparently break the bank in Cleveland if he wants, while the Ravens and Jets are also showing interest.

Reports also have cornerback Marcus Cooper getting interest from the Jets and safety D.J. Swearinger possible interest from  the Bears.

Where does that leave the Cards? Still with a long list of free agents who will hit the market officially at 2 p.m. Arizona time Thursday unless the team re-signs them beforehand. That current list:

— RB Andre Ellington
— RB Chris Johnson
— RB Stepfan Taylor
— TE Darren Fells
— G Taylor Boggs
— C A.Q. Shipley
— OL Earl Watford
— DT Calais Campbell
— DT Frostee Rucker
— LB Kevin Minter
— LB Sio Moore
— LB Alex Okafor
— CB Marcus Cooper
— S Tony Jefferson
— CB Mike Jenkins
— S D.J. Swearinger
— K Chandler Catanzaro

Free agency has arrived.


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Bethel: I think I should start at CB

Posted by Darren Urban on March 7, 2017 – 10:34 am

Really, it’s no surprise. A player is asked if he should start. He’s going to say yes. That’s what Justin Bethel did Tuesday, when asked on the NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” show if he should start at cornerback for the Cardinals this season.

Yes, I think so,” Bethel replied.

“That was my mindset going into this past season,” Bethel said. “Even when I did get hurt, I thought I was going to be back soon enough to get a chance to (be the starter), and obviously a couple of setbacks and that wasn’t the case.”

Bethel had a foot injury that kept him out the entirety of the offseason, and part of camp. It bothered him most of the season, although Bethel was back to feeling like himself in the last couple of games.

“At the end of the season, seeing myself being able to go out there and making plays kind of showed me, ‘OK, you’re getting back to where you need to be,’ ” Bethel said.

What will be interesting is whether he gets that chance. The Cardinals are trying to figure out what to do with that starting cornerback job opposite Patrick Peterson. The draft is deep in cornerbacks. And Bethel, even with the injuries, hasn’t been able to consistently show himself at cornerback (Bethel played there a chunk at the end of 2015 after Jerraud Powers was hurt). Coach Bruce Arians did praise Bethel at the Combine, noting he played better after “I said what I said” (the infamous “failure-in-progress” comment). Bethel, with a $4.75M salary, is paid like a No. 2 starting cornerback. He’s earned that money as a Pro Bowl special teamer too, but it’ll be an interesting story to watch — again, with such a deep CB draft class.


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To WR or not WR? That is question

Posted by Darren Urban on March 6, 2017 – 10:31 am

A year ago, the Cardinals had no better unit that their wide receiver corps. Larry Fitzgerald had an excellent season. Smokey Brown was a 1,000-yard pass catcher. Michael Floyd piled up 100-yard games down the stretch. J.J. Nelson was a big-play rookie, and even Jaron Brown and Brittan Golden had proven to have moments.

It’s different now. Fitz was still excellent in 2016. But Smokey got sick, and Floyd all but disappeared before being released. Nelson came on, but Jaron Brown got hurt. Questions at the position swirl, both for 2017 and the future given Fitz’s vague countdown to retirement sooner rather than later. That’s the backdrop the Cardinals have going into both free agency later this week, and into next month’s draft.

“It’s an interesting deal when you look at your depth chart every year and you think that’s really one of your strengths,” General Manager Steve Keim said of the arc of his wide receivers from season to season. “It always teaches you a lesson that you can never have enough good football players at one position because injuries, different things that can occur during a season (that) depleted the wide receiver corps this year.

“It goes back to show you, you may have a guy who is fourth or fifth on the depth chart, but you have to be comfortable when you head into the season that ‘I may be playing with this guy.’ Not only from a mental aspect but you have to feel he can get the job done physically as well.”

Coach Bruce Arians likes getting the smaller, fast wide receivers in the later rounds. But post-Fitz the Cards figure to need a bigger receiver. Maybe they seek someone in free agency, but if everyone is healthy, the Cards could conceivably roll this season with this corps intact. If someone pops up in the draft, you can think about that move.

ReceievrsBlog


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QB meetings ≠ drafting that QB

Posted by Darren Urban on March 5, 2017 – 10:21 am

The quarterbacks are coming through Indy, as the top ones stood at their respective podiums for media interviews, they were asked — as always — about some of the teams they had met or would meet with. UNC’s Mitchell Trubisky and Clemson’s DeShaun Watson were specifically asked about meeting with the Cardinals, and both acknowledged it had or would happen. My guess is that had Pat Mahomes or DeShone Kizer or Davis Webb been asked (and Webb was asked about teams before declining to be specific) they too would have a Cards’ visit somewhere in there.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians had said he likes “five or six arms” at quarterback. But that’s on first pass. And it certainly doesn’t mean the Cardinals are ready to jump on five or six quarterbacks in the draft.

“You look at every aspect of the quarterback,” Arians said. “Mental aspect. The heart and head, they’re the hardest things to evaluate. I can see his arm strength, I can see his feet, I can see him jump, but the two things he plays with, his brain and his heart, they’re very hard to evaluate.”

Like every position, quarterback evaluation is a projection. By the time the Cardinals are done, they may find that only one or two of those five or six make sense as an early pick, either in the first or second round. And that one or two may be long gone by pick No. 13. That’s what this due diligence is all about. The Cardinals — who we all know want to find a young quarterback sooner or later — are of course going to talk to all these guys. Whether they draft one (or have a chance to draft one) is TBD.

Deshone Kizer


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