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With free agency, younger is better

Posted by Darren Urban on March 5, 2013 – 2:55 pm

That sounds obvious, of course, younger is better. But as Pete Prisco formulates his annual top 50 available free agent list, it’s the law. No restricted free agents allowed, no tagged players (neither one of those types of guys are available in reality, although it may be interesting to see what happens with Saints running back Chris Ivory) and no one who is 30 or will be turning 30 this year. Prisco’s idea is that no one that old deserves big money, and I tend to agree. The road of free agency is littered with overpaid older players who switched teams and couldn’t live up to the contract.

(Now, I differ when you are extending one of your own guys, because it’s a different scenario and you know exactly what you are getting. Those on the market are on the market for a reason — because their former team didn’t see them worth the same big money they are about to get.)

I suppose, if you are a team on the verge, an older player can be helpful because he can put you over the top. But you’ll notice that most of the teams at the top don’t do that. They are at the top because they build via the draft and keep the best players from those drafts. Peyton Manning does not count. Unique situation.

The Cardinals have one free-agent-to-be on Prisco’s list. Cornerback Greg Toler is No. 24. “A year removed from a torn ACL, he played well in limited time last season,” Prisco writes. “He is a tough corner who will tackle.”

I believe the Cards still want Toler back, but the market will likely dictate that. What will Toler be worth, and is it in line with what the Cards think he is worth?

Interestingly, there are a pair of former Cardinals slightly higher than Toler on the list. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is 19th, and defensive tackle Alan Branch is 21st. I don’t want to start another round of “Will DRC come back?” I don’t think so. Prisco’s analysis is a reason why. “He wasn’t great last season, but he has a ton of athletic ability. It’s almost as if people are waiting for it to show.” DRC has been in the league four years. Consistency should have shown up by now.

I don’t know how active the Cards will actually be in free agency, so I’m not sure how much this would even apply. But as I mentioned yesterday, younger is probably going to be better around this team now.


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Friday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on September 23, 2011 – 5:02 pm

Talking to Patrick Peterson earlier this week about special teams – specifically, blocking field goals – and his other specialty of punt returns came up. I was down on the Cardinals’ sideline when Peterson grabbed the Redskins’ punt on the final play of last weekend’s game, and while there was a slew of bodies, it looked like he might have a seam to create a miracle, and I told him that.

Peterson, sitting on a stool, chuckled. “If someone would have blocked the punter,” he said, “I was gone. I was gone.”

Sure enough, when I went to watch the play on DVR, it was Washington punter Sav Rocca – one of the ex-Aussie Rules Football players, like Ben Graham, a big man – who actually tackled Peterson to end the game. It was too hard to tell if Peterson would have been able to go all the way, but …

Ah, time to live in the now. The Cardinals are 1-1. They need to win this game in Seattle. The Seahawks are reeling after just two weeks, and frankly, just don’t have the talent. They have faced two pretty good defenses – the 49ers are still good on that side of the ball – but the Cards’ defense needs to make this a game where it comes out feeling better about itself.

People will talk about the noise up there, but the bottom line is this – if you are the better team, the crowd won’t make the Seahawks win. The Cards have their silent count and their experience. Kevin Kolb doesn’t seem worried about anything but the Seahawks’ defense. Good sign.

– The Seahawks are coming off a game in which they played Pittsburgh, which figures to help both teams. Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson said his team can go through the film and glean quite a bit because the Cardinals are basically playing the same defense as the Steelers.

But defensive coordinator Ray Horton also thinks it will help his players see exactly what each position should be doing in certain situations, all while watching video of the upcoming opponent. Already, Horton said, his players “marveled” at how fast the Steelers played on defense. That’s what happens when everyone already knows what they are doing.

– Tight end Jeff King was fined $7,500 for his nasty-but-touchdown-saving facemask on Washington punt returner Brandon Banks. Safety Kerry Rhodes was not fined for his accidental hit on an official; Rhodes said his hand was actually slapped away by a Redskin and that’s how it ended up touching the official.

– It will be interesting to see how the injuries play out Sunday. The biggest question of course will be Beanie Wells and his hamstring. Someone asked me if he’d be limited in his carries if he plays. My thought is, if Beanie has to be limited to play, he probably shouldn’t play at all. If he doesn’t, I am curious to see what Alfonso Smith can bring to the table, and how Chester Taylor looks.

– Of course, LaRod Stephens-Howling could also carry the ball. He’s also a game-day decision, as is linebacker Daryl Washington. I’m feeling much more confident those guys are ready to give you something Sunday. Getting Washington, even if it is in spot duty, is important for this defense.

– A quick side note. A big-time Cardinals fan from back East who works as an animal cruelty investigator just lost a close friend who was a police officer. Nick mentioned how all police officers need to be appreciated – his friend Joe Szczerba was killed on a routine disturbing the peace call – and, as I was thinking, so too do firefighters. I know there was a lot of that a couple weeks ago for the 9/11 ceremonies – so many police and firefighters had their lives touched by the tragedy – but also on a daily basis simply because it is the job they have chosen. To all of them, thank you.

– Former Card Alan Branch is playing well as a starter in Seattle. Does this offensive line — which is doing better than most think — know enough of him to neutralize Branch? That will make for an interesting subplot.

– From the there-are-no-sure-things-in-the-draft department: The Seahawks took linebacker Aaron Curry with the fourth pick of the 2009 draft and many at the time believed he was the surest thing in that draft. Here we are, a couple of years later, and Curry has been demoted to second-string.

– The Seahawks have a 6-foot-4 cornerback named Brandon Browner. He was a four-year star in the Canadian Football League. Now they are asking him to do it in the NFL. It isn’t working – not yet, anyway. According to ProFootballFocus.com, the Steelers threw 10 passes Browner’s way last week – and completed every single one (for 194 yards). He also had a 39-yard pass interference call against him. And that’s the guy they keep saying is going to cover the 6-foot-3 Larry Fitzgerald? Fitz said all the right things this week about Browner, but I would guess he’s got to be jacked up over the possibility of such a matchup.

I always like the trip to Seattle. I like the city, like hanging out there. It’s always a better visit after a win, though.


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Kolb’s first day as camp nears

Posted by Darren Urban on July 29, 2011 – 1:16 pm

Kevin Kolb, in his press conference, talked about how comfortable he already was in this city. And he looked it. He handled the questions as you’d think, acknowledging he has a lot to prove and that there is risk involved from the Cardinals’ end. But he clearly is confident he will make this deal pay off, and while you’d expect him to say just that, it’s one thing to say it and another thing to sound like you mean it. Kolb is the latter.

He said, after working out with Larry Fitzgerald that one time in the offseason that it was a “good fit.” Better yet was this line on Fitz: “Great teammate and you can tell he’s a great leader … you don’t always find that in a receiver.” When Kolb arrived, by the way, Fitz was there and gave him a big hug.

Kolb said he hopes to “work something out” with kicker Jay Feely to wear No. 4. I’m guessing that isn’t going to be a problem. Kolb also will be sidelined practice-wise until Aug. 4. As a refresher, anyone signing a new contract this offseason has to wait until that date — next Thursday — meaning all the non-rookies the Cards sign (including their own, like center Lyle Sendlein) can’t do anything until then.

– The Cards agreed with Eagles LB Stewart Bradley (and, I didn’t note this last night, lost DL Alan Branch to Seattle).

– The Cards will get a veteran WR, but it’s not going to be a big name (i.e., no Malcom Floyd or Braylon Edwards). They are still looking at cornerbacks.


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Revisionist History: Draft Daze

Posted by Darren Urban on June 17, 2011 – 3:24 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

For this installment, we check out what was being said on the day some current Cards were drafted …

– Back in 2001, Adrian Wilson was kind of an afterthought on the first day of the draft. Back then, there were two days of the draft, with rounds one through three on Saturday. The Cardinals had the second pick overall, so offensive lineman Leonard Davis was the BIG story. The Cards also took defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch – who turned out to be a pretty good player, but after two blown-out knees and a coaching change sent him packing from Arizona – and cornerback Michael Stone. I wonder how A-Dub feels when he thinks how the great Michael Stone has a better draft pedigree than him.

Wilson was a surprise pick in some ways, because the Cards needed defensive line help more. He was raw. The Cards even briefly considered using him at cornerback at the time, believe it or not. I love the jump headline – “Could be a keeper for the Cardinals.” Uh, yeah.

– There was no question that first day of the 2004 draft turned out awesome – Larry Fitzgerald, Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett – but that was what was thought at the time, too. While Fitz was celebrated, looking at Dockett’s quotes from the day resonate. “I’m going to be the next Anquan Boldin,” Dockett said, referencing Boldin’s outplaying of his draft status. And he was “disgusted” that teams passed on him before he went as the first pick of the third round. Turns out Darnell was right.

– The Cards traded up in 2007 to get Alan Branch, although it seems that it took until the end of 2009 and 2010 for Branch to really hit his stride. Of course, the big story of 2007 was the decision to take Levi Brown fifth overall (part one and part two here), but at the time, it didn’t seem as big of a deal as hindsight has portrayed. Of course, that draft was also highlighted by the late pick of Steve Breaston. It’s funny to see I thought Breaston’s big competition to make the team was LeRon McCoy.

– Then there was 2008, when the Cards got DRC and Calais Campbell on the first day. Apparently, one kidney and a small school wasn’t going to scare off the Cards from Rodgers-Cromartie, and his speed didn’t hurt. All things considered, that’s been a good pick – although we all understand DRC’s need for a big 2011.


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A little of this, a little of that

Posted by Darren Urban on June 2, 2011 – 11:35 am

How much it ultimately means is anyone’s guess, but the under-the-radar meeting between owners and the NFLPA’s De Smith has to be a good sign, right? There is a hearing scheduled for tomorrow about the lockout once again, but it’s June and as long as there is talking, well, that’s better than the alternative.

– Hard to argue that Fitz is the fourth-best offensive player in the NFL (non-QB) when Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson and Andre Johnson are ahead of him. Interestingly, three of the four have no idea on this date who their quarterback will be for 2011. That always will impact how any running back or wide receiver will do (although lately, it’s not like Chris Johnson has had greatness in the backfield to lean upon).

– Interesting breakdown on “Run Stop Rates” for 2011 by position. Essentially, it measures the plays a defender made on a run and how effective that stop was (The post itself explains the whole thing). Alan Branch had a 90 percent stop rate, third in the NFL among defensive linemen and in the end, one reason why he finally emerged as a player the Cards likely want to keep around after so much disappointment.

The other two Cards on the list came at defensive back, and neither are big surprises. Strong safety Adrian Wilson was fifth (62 percent) as far as best run-stop rate as a defensive back — he’s always been solid against the run — and free safety Kerry Rhodes was sixth (26 percent) among the worst DBs. Then again, the entire “worst” list is virtually all free safeties, and those guys are usually further down the field before getting a crack at a ballcarrier. UPDATE: Not sure how I missed CB Greg Toler, who also made the list at 59 percent. He’s another guy who isn’t afraid to be physical, which should serve him well under new DC Ray Horton.


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Less Dockett means more Dockett?

Posted by Darren Urban on March 23, 2011 – 11:34 am

A little earlier today, Darnell Dockett tweeted out this message to the world: “ONE of my weakness is I have to rotate EARLY in the game! I feel like I can’t come out but watching this film its to my advantage that I do!” It’s an interesting self-evaluation by the Pro Bowl defensive lineman, and one that speaks to the importance of depth.

While Dockett did make the Pro Bowl as an alternate, there is little question is impact was not as great in 2010 as it had been in 2009 (Dockett still had five sacks, five quarterback pressures, 11 quarterback hits and three fumble recoveries this past season). When you have a high-end player, you’d rather have him out there. And Dockett isn’t the kind of guy who wants to sit either, something I am sure probably was ramped up even more after he signed his large contract extension.

But if he can rotate out more early in games, that could make a difference late in games. Again, depth will be a factor — as of now, defensive linemen Bryan Robinson, Gabe Watson, Kenny Iwebema and Alan Branch are not under contract for 2011 — but shuffling Dockett is a good idea. The fact it came from Dockett himself might even be more important. The self-awareness to see weaknesses is always a good thing.


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Considering change

Posted by Darren Urban on March 7, 2011 – 11:29 am

One faithful reader e-mailed me this weekend, asking for details on restricted free-agency rules and what it would mean to have tendered more of the possible restricted guys. His concern was the amount of turnover there could be on the roster.

A quick recap: Seven players were tendered RFA offers. Of those, four have already played four NFL seasons, meaning if the new collective bargaining agreement reverts back to its pre-2010 form as it regards to free agency, the tender offers will not matter and those players (Breaston, Lutui, Sendlein, Branch) will be unrestricted. Bringing them all back in that scenario is not a lock by any stretch.

There’s also the analysis of the rest of the list and those RFAs who weren’t tendered, which will make them UFAs when a new CBA is reached — guys like Ben Patrick (a four-year guy) and Stephen Spach at tight end, Kenny Iwebema at defensive end and cornerback/special teamer Michael Adams. I’d expect some of them to come back, although not all. It’s impossible to know what the salary comparisons were to tender or not to tender because that is all TBD with the new CBA.

Regardless, there is potential for major roster change. That probably shouldn’t be a shock after a 5-11 season. Churning the bottom of the roster always is possible after every season, and with so many free-agents-to-be NFL-wide, it may be even more likely this offseason (once the CBA is determined). What that will mean specifically for the Cards is impossible to know. They’ve already plotted out free agency — they, like every team, needed to be ready by last weekend when free agency was originally supposed to start — and have players targeted. Does that mean current players would be on the backburner in case replacements are signed? Sure it could. It will also be interesting to see the demand on certain lower-tier players in a flooded market.

UPDATE: Bob in the comments has asked me to explain tender offers. In a nutshell, a tender offer to a restricted free agent gives teams the right of first refusal or at least compensation for a player if he leaves. For instance, take tendered Tim Hightower. We don’t know exactly what level he was tendered, but for the sake of argument, let’s say he was tendered at a second-round level. That means, for a set salary (last year it was in the  ballpark of $2 million, if I recall correctly) the Cards hold his rights. If Hightower signs as a free agent elsewhere, the Cards have two options: Match the contract he signed, or let Hightower go and receive a second-round pick in return. If he didn’t sign anywhere else, he can sign the tender offer for the scheduled salary (or, in theory, sign a long-term deal).


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The RFA tender offers

Posted by Darren Urban on March 4, 2011 – 2:15 pm

I know there are many wondering exactly which players were tendered restricted free agent contracts for the Cardinals, so here is that list:

  • RB Tim Hightower
  • WR Early Doucet
  • G Deuce Lutui
  • WR Steve Breaston
  • DL Alan Branch
  • C Lyle Sendlein
  • T Brandon Keith

Some quick thoughts on these. These were clearly done — not surprisingly — based on the 2010 rules that it takes six accrued seasons to reach unrestricted free-agent status. Conventional wisdom is that the new CBA will again call for four years to reach UFA status, which in the Cards’ case would mean the tenders wouldn’t matter to Lutui, Breaston, Branch or Sendlein — all would be unrestricted.

It’s also notable (although not a shock, given how much he was inactive) that the Cards declined to tender NT Gabe Watson, who would be in the same boat as Lutui, for example, after playing five seasons. TE Ben Patrick also could have been in that vein, although again, that doesn’t absolutely rule out a return. It just means the Cards weren’t willing to lock them into a high salary. Same goes for TE Stephen Spach and DE Kenny Iwebema, among others.

The level of each tender offer was not available.


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Who is expiring?

Posted by Darren Urban on March 3, 2011 – 2:53 pm

Regardless of the status of the CBA, the Cardinals have a chunk of players whose contracts will expire whenever the league year ends. What that means for free agency is uncertain because the CBA will address those rules. But as an FYI, here is a list of the current Cardinals who will have their contract run out this offseason. If a player has an asterisk, he has at least four accrued seasons in the NFL:

  • FB Nehemiah Broughton
  • RB Tim Hightower
  • FB Reagan Maui’a
  • RB Jason Wright*
  • WR Max Komar
  • WR Steve Breaston*
  • WR Early Doucet
  • TE Ben Patrick
  • TE Stephen Spach
  • T D’Anthony Batiste
  • C Ben Claxton
  • G Alan Faneca*
  • T Brandon Keith
  • G Deuce Lutui*
  • C Lyle Sendlein*
  • DL Alan Branch*
  • DL Keilen Dykes
  • DE Kenny Iwebema
  • DL Bryan Robinson*
  • DT Gabe Watson*
  • LB Curtis Gatewood
  • LB Cyril Obiozor
  • LB Reggie Walker
  • S Hamza Abdullah
  • CB Michael Adams
  • CB Trumaine McBride
  • S Matt Ware*
  • P Ben Graham*

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Breaking down the roster

Posted by Darren Urban on January 4, 2011 – 12:27 pm

That change coach Ken Whisenhunt was talking about? It’ll come. How fast? That’s TBD.

“I wish we could do it all in a day, but it is not a quick fix,” Whisenhunt said. “You have to make sure that you do it within the constraints that are given to you and you do it the best you can.”

In the meantime, that leaves us to speculate and break down. As of now, the coaching staff remains intact and I have heard nothing yet to suggest otherwise. Will there be movement there? Usually, Whisenhunt has come out and said there will be no changes if there will be no changes. He didn’t say that yesterday, so the door is open. If anything does happen, I’d think it’d have to come in the next two or three days. I guess I’d be a little surprised if nothing happened given the outcome of the season, but not shocked.

As for the roster, I’ve broken down it all by player within positions right here. Included is each player’s contract status, and obviously, one of the first things you notice is the many players not under contract for next season — I count 29 all told, several of whom have played significant roles. One of the free agents, Jason Wright, talked yesterday about how talks have been slowed because of the CBA and how the Cards don’t know what the labor landscape will be going forward, making it harder to negotiate contracts right now. It’s not a unique situation, clearly; Panthers ownership came out today saying they are waiting to sign any of their own free agents until a labor deal is done.

The problem is that the labor deal might not be done for a few months. The free agency period might have to be a  very quick (Three weeks? Four weeks?) time frame late in the summer. There is no question until  that CBA is figured out (and when), it is a complicated offseason.

All that said, there are obvious players the Cards will have to look at at some point. Steve Breaston (pictured below), Deuce Lutui, Lyle Sendlein, Alan Branch, for example. And since there are players already under contract that seem to be long shots to return (thinking Anderson, Hayes, Porter off the top of my head), it puts the roster in an even greater state of flux.


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