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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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Smokey Brown back, Okafor will play

Posted by Darren Urban on August 21, 2016 – 1:50 pm

Bruce Arians just spoke to the media prior to Sunday’s practice, with a lot of good injury news coming out of it (all of which will extrapolated upon later on azcardinals.com.):

— LB Alex Okafor has decided to try and play with his torn biceps muscle. Arians said it will be a matter of pain tolerance more than functional strength.

— WR John “Smokey” Brown has been cleared from concussion protocol and will return to the practice field. Needs to get in shape, but he’s finally back.

— DT Robert Nkemdiche is “close” to coming back from his bad ankle. Arians said he hopes he’s out there Wednesday. The Cards practice today and Monday and are off Tuesday.

— The PUP guys — S Tyrann Mathieu, CB Justin Bethel and DT Frostee Rucker — are back doing individual drills today and are in uniform for the first time.

— G Mike Iupati (knee) is not practicing.


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Chargers aftermath, and Okafor

Posted by Darren Urban on August 19, 2016 – 11:26 pm

The Cardinals got a lot good work in this week while practicing in San Diego. Bruce Arians said that, his players did too. But the end result didn’t feel all that good. The offense looked ugly, which really isn’t what you’d like to see at this point of camp (and things went pretty well in the first-unit’s one series in the preseason opener, so it’s not like they were bad a week ago).

But then you throw in the news that best case scenario, linebacker Alex Okafor would have to play the season with a torn biceps tendon, and that’s only if he decides not to have surgery. That’s a tough call. Okafor is going to be a free agent after the season. If he waits on surgery, he won’t be a full strength and he’ll have to have surgery right before signing with another team. Surgery now, and he’ll have no season in which to entice teams to sign him. He called it one of the most difficult decisions he’s made (and he had to make the same exact decision already, with Arians, when he was a rookie in 2013.)

Okafor suffered the injury in practice Tuesday night. We’ll see what his choice is and what it means. Okafor is/was the third linebacker to give relief to starters Chandler Jones and Markus Golden.

— Interesting that Arians said Jaron Brown is the best receiver the Cardinals have right now. Brown did make a pair of great grabs against the Chargers. One of the few bright spots.

— Larry Fitzgerald sat with a minor MCL sprain, Arians said. It isn’t serious.

— Deone Bucannon hammered wide receiver Dontrelle Inman early in the game, a clean hit (a penalty wasn’t called and the replays I’ve seen show a hard hit to the upper chest) that knocked Inman’s helmet off. Inman was checked for a concussion and cleared, but did not return.

“I’m a physical player,” Bucannon said. “That’s what it is and I like setting the tempo for the team and making plays within the rules of football. I love playing the game with passion.”

— Couldn’t tell exactly how D.J. Humphries did at right tackle, but frankly, there wasn’t anyone on offense (except maybe Jaron Brown) that will be able to be excited about how he played.

— Cornerback Brandon Williams gave up a 13-yard pass early, but held up better in my opinion. Overall, it seemed like a better performance.

— Arians, in his postgame radio interview: “You can’t play the game without passion, energy or brains and we didn’t have any of the three.”

One more week of training camp to go.

Dontrelle Inman, Deone Bucannon


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Freeney’s visits and the roster wait

Posted by Darren Urban on May 25, 2016 – 2:06 pm

Would Dwight Freeney be brought back? Until he signs elsewhere, I suppose that’s possible. But he just visited the Bengals and news came today he’s going to visit the Falcons, and at some point, if he makes sense somewhere else, he may just come off the market. In the meantime, it’s understandable that the Cardinals don’t see a need to have him right now.

The trade for Chandler Jones obviously impacted the situation. If Freeney — who was originally signed because Alex Okafor got hurt, if you recall — was the lead pass rusher, well, that’s Jones’ job now. Markus Golden likely is the other starter, and a healthy Okafor is back and apparently past whatever was left from his playoff disappearance. Plus, the Cards want to see what they have in Tristan Okapalaugo, Shaq Riddick and Zack Wagenmann.

If we get to training camp and Freeney remains unsigned and the depth isn’t looking quite like what the Cardinals wanted, Freeney would be a natural option. This deep into the offseason, though, it feels like a long-term waiting game, if it were to happen at all.

OLBFreenyOkblog


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Mathieu and the Cards’ contract cliff

Posted by Darren Urban on May 16, 2016 – 10:25 am

Tyrann Mathieu is going to get a contract extension. When, exactly, remains an unknown, although Ian Rapoport reported Monday the team and Mathieu are “deep in negotiations” toward a deal. I’ve long felt this was a matter of when and not if with the all-pro safety. For a multitude of reasons for both sides, it behooves both to get a new contract done.

But from the Cardinals’ end, a big reason to want to lock up Mathieu is because of the laundry list of players who, as of right now, are free agents after this upcoming season. It’s a subject we’ve talked about before, and the reality is not everyone will be with the Cardinals after this year. Still, if you have hope to having some guys around, you’d think the Cards would want to pare down the work facing them before this year ends. Here is the list — and it doesn’t include every single FA-to-be — of guys who are contract-less after 2016, as it stands right now:

— S Tyrann Mathieu
— WR Larry Fitzgerald
— OLB Chandler Jones
— DT Calais Campbell
— WR Michael Floyd
— G Evan Mathis
— DT Frostee Rucker
— RB Chris Johnson
— RB Andre Ellington
— S Tony Jefferson
— TE Jermaine Gresham
— OLB Alex Okafor
— ILB Kevin Minter
— WR Jaron Brown
— S D.J. Swearinger
— RB Stepfan Taylor

That isn’t the entire list, but those are the bigger names. Obviously, each are taken individually to an extent. Some guys the team will just move on from in the normal course of roster change in a salary-capped world. But big picture, it’s a puzzle GM Steve Keim and his department are working on as this season approaches.

Contacrtcliffblog


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A pass rusher arrives as Coop leaves

Posted by Darren Urban on March 15, 2016 – 2:55 pm

Not even 24 hours had passed since the Cardinals had lost the NFC Championship, and Steve Keim made clear his offseason priority.

Create a pass rush,” the Cardinals GM said.

Easier said than done. There were a few pass rushers on the free agent market, although none were coming off eye-popping seasons. That didn’t stop the money from flowing, however, and the Cardinals tried to get into it, making a push for Jason Pierre-Paul that ultimately came up short. It didn’t look all that promising going forward, unless the Cardinals could grab someone with the 29th overall pick in the draft. Free agency overall was quiet for the Cards.

And then suddenly, the news broke Tuesday. A trade, and Keim had his pass rusher. Chandler Jones, who made the Pro Bowl with his 12.5 sacks in New England, was coming to Arizona (pending physicals, of course) in exchange for guard Jonathan Cooper and the Cards’ second-round draft pick in April. It’s hard not to see this as a huge win for the Cards. The reality was Cooper had never really developed into what the Cardinals wanted, and flipping a second-round pick for a proven pass rusher was simply a good move. This trade won’t be evaluated fully for a while, but on the day it happened, it is a Keim win.

Some other thoughts:

— Jones is going into the last year of his contract (making $7.8 million this season). That’s reportedly one of the reasons the Patriots were willing to deal him, because they have others who can do his job and they have so many players who need to be extended. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are in the same boat. The laundry list of scheduled free agents after this season is, right now, frighteningly long: Jones, Fitz, Floyd, Mathieu, Campbell, Rucker, Gresham, Minter, Ellington, Jefferson, Catanzaro and Fells, for starters. But I am guessing there will be an extension or two the Cardinals will be trying to get done.

— Jones was hospitalized in the postseason, reportedly after a bad reaction to synthetic marijuana (which, apparently, has no actual marijuana in it and is not illegal). It was a mistake, but one source in New England said it was not reflective of who Jones is and shouldn’t be an issue going forward.

— The addition of Jones shouldn’t rule out further pass rush help if the Cards find some in the draft or elsewhere. It will be interesting to see if Dwight Freeney will remain in play, and what this could mean for Alex Okafor, who had been starting along with Markus Golden.

— Cooper’s departure leaves a lot of unknowns on the offensive line. Center is still a mystery. With the possibility Ted Larsen could leave as a free agent, so is right guard. The assumption is D.J. Humphries can play right tackle, but that is no lock, especially with the news Andre Smith could still sign. Earl Watford could have a big chance to win a starting job, and the Cards have been intrigued by Antoine McClain on the practice squad. But there is still work to do to fill out the group next to Jared Veldheer and Mike Iupati.

UPDATE: This could change some things. Ian Rapoport reports veteran guard Evan Mathis visited the Cardinals and he was offered a contract. Rapoport also said veteran guard Geoff Schwartz is also supposed to visit the Cardinals.

— The saga of Cooper is over. He will not be playing center (I’m not sure that was ever really a serious option, to be honest). He will not be the guard, he will not be getting back to his pre-broken leg level, at least not with the Cardinals. Three years into his career, questions still swirled around Coop. He admitted after the season he struggled with criticism — including from coaches — which is tough in this business.

“I will work on that because that is a major key to me improving is me being able to have my headspace correct,” Cooper said. “Letting one or two mistakes snowball and keep me down, I can’t let that happen anymore. Even hearing negatively from outsiders, I can’t let than bring me down.”

CooperBlog


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The case to keep Freeney

Posted by Darren Urban on February 10, 2016 – 10:58 am

There were so many reasons last year to think that a pairing of the Cardinals and veteran pass rusher Dwight Freeney made sense, long before it actually happened. (The fact it took an injury to starter Alex Okafor to make it happen, and then to have Freeney perform as he did while Okafor somehow got hurt away from the team on playoff bye week, probably isn’t lost on the Cardinals.)

Freeney is a free agent. At his age — he turns 36 on Feb. 19 — he made clear both during the season and after that he is in year-to-year mode. He didn’t know if he was going to try and play in 2016, and if he did, there’s a question of whether the Cardinals will want to bring him back. But ESPN did a list of 10 “sleeper” free agents, and of them Freeney is one. The site notes Freeney had 36 pressures in just 264 snaps (and eight sacks, which is a pretty nice number for 264 snaps). For a team that is still looking to upgrade its pass rush, having Freeney around certainly cannot hurt.

Would Freeney take another lower-salary deal with incentives like he signed this season? Possible. Freeney made it clear he doesn’t want to play for a non-contender, so a) money can’t be everything and b) he definitely likes being with the Cardinals and Bruce Arians. He brings so much to the team besides QB pressures too; his ability to be a role model for younger rushers like Markus Golden is invaluable.

Freeney first has to decide if he wants to play again. If he does, it’ll be interesting to see what money that season he just had can generate. It’s possible he could wait it out and be a just-before-camp guy for the Cardinals. But I’d think as they put together the roster, if they see Freeney as a key component, that signing would come much sooner.

FreeneyBlog


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Friday before the playoffs and Packers

Posted by Darren Urban on January 15, 2016 – 12:30 pm

Once upon a time, before the Cardinals ran their home playoff record all-time to 4-0 with a thrilling 51-45 overtime win over the Packers, before Kurt Warner had more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four), before Karlos Dansby’s fumble return brought Mike McCarthy to his knees, there was a baby on the way.

No, not my kid. (My boys were watching at University of Phoenix Stadium that day, in fact.) But I have a good friend who has covered the Packers for a long time. And he had a daughter due to be born about a week after that Packers-Cardinals tilt. A Green Bay win, and there was going to be some serious juggling to do in his life.

Cardinals cornerback Michael Adams unknowingly had my buddy’s back though, and Money Mike’s strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers, leading to Dansby’s return touchdown allowed no complications with job and family.

A few weeks later, I sent my friend a surprise gift. It was a picture – the one you see below – signed by Adams, addressed to baby Madison:

Madison – I’m glad I could make sure your Dad was there for you. Michael Adams

This is one of the first things I think of when I think of Cardinals-Packers in the playoffs – in addition to Warner, and Money Mike and Dansby and Early Doucet’s helmet flying off and Fitz’s diving touchdown and Rodgers being thisclose to hitting a wide-open Greg Jennings in overtime for what would have been a game-winning TD and made my friend’s life that much harder.

This game Saturday night, will it be as memorable? If it puts the Cardinals in the NFC Championship, I’m going to say yes.

— I think the Cardinals can survive the loss of Alex Okafor. Not sure yet how they make it happen – I will be curious to see if they use DT Josh Mauro on the edge in run-down situations – but I think they’ll be OK. They managed fine in run defense in the games Okafor missed (Steelers, Ravens, Browns) and against the pass, they should be good with Dwight Freeney and Markus Golden.

— Saw this nugget from another Packer writer friend of mine, Wes Hodkiewicz: The Packers are 10-0 this year when hitting the QB at least five times. On the flip side, you have the Cardinals offensive line, which has allowed only 27 sacks this season – tied for fourth-fewest in the NFL.

“Knock on wood,” offensive coordinator/line coach Harold Goodwin said, chiding the reporter for bringing it up. “You can’t do that to me.

“We’ve done a decent job all year of protection. I don’t know where we’re ranked or finished, as far as how many. I really don’t pay attention to that. We’ve just got to make sure we’ve got 11 guys on the same page, which is the biggest thing when it comes down to protection, and win the one-on-one battles up front.”

Goodwin said the Cards lost two such battles early in the last Packers meeting. They know – as they have known all season – protecting Carson Palmer is crucial.

— That said, Palmer has been so fantastic this season with his footwork and moving in the pocket. He’s not Rodgers or Russell Wilson, but he’s better than Palmer 2013 or 2014 in that regard.

— Goodwin on getting Larry Fitzgerald to block so well: “It comes with a lot of choice words, is what you say to him to get him to block. ‘If you want the ball, bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep, you’ve got to block some.’ ”

Goody smiled as he said it. There is little question Fitz has become arguably the best blocking wide receiver in the game. Oh, and he had 109 catches too.

— Hall of Fame cornerback Roger Wehrli will man the Big Red Siren Saturday pre-game.

— GM Steve Keim and team president Michael Bidwill will speak at a pre-game pep rally on the Great Lawn at 4:15 p.m. Saturday. And don’t forget Flo Rida is singing at halftime.

— This feels like a David Johnson game to me.

— Bruce Arians said the 13-3 season has been “fun.” But (and there is always a but) “it doesn’t mean crap if we don’t win it.”

— Which leads me to this: There has been a lot of talk about pressure this week, and undoubtedly, the Cardinals understand that after a 13-3 season, winning at least one playoff game is expected. But as the talk veers into the favorite and the underdog and that pressure I mentioned, it’s better to be the better team. Just in my history covering this team, I’ve seen losing streaks and the Monday Night Meltdown and fumbles in field-goal range and horrific blowout losses. I’ve seen “the worst playoff team in NFL history” – yes, that was a hell of a ride – and injuries overwhelm a playoff team in New Orleans and trying to win a postseason game with a third-string quarterback.

This is the first time the Cardinals were considered better, the first time they’ve earned “better.” And it’s the position where you want to be, pressure or not.

MoneyMike


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Clemons to IR; Okafor out up to a month

Posted by Darren Urban on October 13, 2015 – 6:00 pm

The Cardinals’ special teams took a hit despite their win in Detroit this past weekend: They have lost a pair of their best special teams players. Linebacker Kenny Demens tore his ACL and was replaced on the roster by Dwight Freeney, and then Bruce Arians said tonight on his weekly SiriusXM NFL radio appearance that backup safety Chris Clemons (hamstring) was also going on season-ending injured reserve.

In a little better news, Arians said linebacker Alex Okafor, who hurt his calf Sunday, was expected to be out 2-to-4 weeks, which isn’t a terrible timeline because Arians said it was once feared worse. Even a month out would include the bye, so it essentially gives Okafor an extra week to recover. Arians said the Cardinals worked out a handful of players today to see who would fill Clemons’ roster spot.

(It reminded me a lot of the last time the Cardinals spent a week away. Okafor got hurt that trip too, and it was on this Sirius spot on Tuesday night that Arians broke the news Okafor was out for the season. This time, much better.)

As for Freeney, Arians said the plan is to play Freeney as a pass rusher only in nickel and dime packages, around 15 or 20 snaps a game. Arians didn’t say whether or not that included this weekend in Pittsburgh, but he did say Freeney had already dived into the playbook today.

BATueBlog


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Keim: CJ just hitting his stride

Posted by Darren Urban on October 12, 2015 – 8:23 am

Steve Keim said the one-year contract under which running back Chris Johnson is now playing is “something we will look at” in terms of a potential extension. That sounds about right — as good as Johnson has been, Keim and the Cardinals are very careful with older veterans who they have signed to one-year deals, and regardless of how well they play, the Cards will be smart with further contract offers (see Dansby, Karlos and Cromartie, Antonio.) They will have a number they are comfortable with, and if it isn’t good enough for Johnson, the Cardinals will be ready to move on. That’s the model.

Still, Johnson is tied for the second-most rushing yards in the league with 405 yards (the Bears’ Matt Forte has 438) and after not having an offseason and getting hurt (hamstring) almost as soon as he showed up to training camp, Keim noted Johnson is still on the upswing.

“Chris Johnson is just now starting to hit his stride,” Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7.

— Keim said he had no updates yet on the injured players from Sunday: LB Alex Okafor (calf), LB Kenny Demens (knee) and S Chris Clemons (hamstring).

— Safety-as-dollar-linebacker Deone Bucannon had 11 tackles Sunday and played well. What is he? “He’s playing linebacker but there is no question to me it’s an advantage to have hybrid players,” Keim said.

“He’s one of the guys who stood out (Sunday),” Keim said. “When he runs to the football he looks like he was shot out of a cannon.”

— Keim said he was pleased with the performance in Detroit — how could he not? —  but “by no means did we play flawless.” Keim said the defense was opportunistic but gave up too many explosive plays. And offensively, the blocking is still allowing too many hits on quarterback Carson Palmer. Keim said there remain communication issues on the offensive line.


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