The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
The Cardinals were sitting with the third overall pick in a draft heavy with quality quarterback options, so when the just-hired Dennis Green decided to cut incumbent veteran Jeff Blake in early February of 2004, it didn’t really raise any eyebrows (although it did lead to one of the greatest quotes I have ever collected, from Blake when talking about his career: “It’s not like I’ve played bad ball. I’ve just been on bad teams.”)
That changed quickly. So too did the future of the Cardinals.
Less than a week later, I happened to be at the Cards’ facility when Green was going to give what was expected to be an innocuous TV interview. No other reporters were there. Denny proceeded to say odds were “slim” the Cards would take a quarterback in the first three rounds of the draft.
“Josh McCown, I think he is going to be a great one,” Green said. Wait … what? I was stunned.
(So were a couple of other print reporters, who worked around their absence by coming the next day in an attempt to get Denny to repeat himself. He wouldn’t – not as strongly. At one point one reporter said, “We’re trying to get you to say what you told Darren yesterday.” Denny’s response was classic Denny: “That was yesterday.”)
McCown’s résumé wasn’t long. He had made the miracle pass to beat the Vikings in the season finale of 2003. He had five touchdowns and six interceptions in a three-game starting stint, but with a new coach, it just seemed like the Cards would nab someone like Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger.
The new coach was Green, however. As became evident soon, his belief in Pitt wideout Larry Fitzgerald – with whom Green was also close personally – was strong enough to make Fitz the Cards’ target. Clearly, Fitz was talented, and Green’s thoughts on what Fitzgerald could be have definitely played out over the years. Yet quarterback is always important, and regardless of how talented Fitzgerald would be, was it worth passing on what was available? You have to wonder, did it color Green’s evaluation of McCown? Because the only way the Cards could really justify taking Fitz at the time was the knowledge McCown could play. Green never was big with the draft smokescreens. I remember at the Scouting combine in 2005 he all but announced he wanted J.J. Arrington. In 2004, it was obvious he wanted Fitzgerald.
Draft weekend was a memorable couple of days. Pat Tillman’s death came to light on Friday, the day before the draft, overshadowing football. Then, as expected, the weeks of Green talking up McCown was capped when the Cards took Fitzgerald. (Green also kept to his word about the first three rounds, taking non-QBs Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett in one heck of a first-day draft haul. John Navarre was the QB selected, in the seventh round.) McCown was the Cardinals’ guy.
I believe the Cards would have taken Roethlisberger if they had decided on a quarterback. How different would things have been for so many connected to the Cards? Big Ben and no Fitz in Arizona probably would have meant Anquan staying and Kurt never coming. Would the Steelers – with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt – won a Super Bowl after the 2005 season? Would Whiz still have ended up with the Cards?
In the long term, it worked out well for the Cards. Warner and Whisenhunt did come to the desert, a combination that led to a Super Bowl appearance. McCown – one of the greatest guys ever to come through the Cards’ locker room – didn’t work out. But without him, there was no way the Cards take Fitzgerald, a potential Hall of Famer.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Ben Roethlisberger, Darnell Dockett, Dennis Green, J.J. Arrington, Jeff Blake, John Navarre, Josh McCown, Karlos Dansby, Ken Whisenhunt, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Pat Tillman, Philip Rivers, Revisionist history
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In 2002, the Cardinals signed tight end Freddie Jones as a free agent. He had a good start to his NFL career while in San Diego, and he was an upgrade at the position. Turns out he was necessary that season too, because starting receivers Frank Sanders and David Boston each suffered injuries (as did MarTay Jenkins and Bryan Gilmore, the No. 3 and 4 guys) and with green wideouts like Jason McAddley and Nate Poole forced to play, a tight end was incredibly important.
So, for the one and only time since the Cardinals moved to Arizona, a tight end – Jones – was the team’s leading pass catcher in a season. Jones had 44 receptions for 358 yards and one touchdown that season. Jones was even better the next season, with 55 receptions for 517 yards (that was Anquan Boldin’s rookie year, though, with 101 catches). And in 2004, Jones had 45 receptions for 426 yards.
By 2005, though, Jones was gone. And the Cards have been searching for a tight end since.
As of now, that hope rests with third-round pick Rob Housler out of Florida Atlantic, a speedy 6-foot-5 H-back type who should be able to stretch the field. His blocking needs work, something he admitted already, but it would help to have a quality receiving option in that spot.
Since Jones left, it’s been a lot about hope unfulfilled. The undrafted tandem of Eric Edwards and Troy Bienemann was the first attempt. Then Leonard Pope was drafted, and while he flashed a couple of times, it was clear after 2007 and coach Ken Whisenhunt’s first season he wouldn’t be the answer. Ben Patrick – whose contract is expiring — also flashed a few times as a seventh-rounder (especially with his TD catch in the Super Bowl) but he never has made a huge impact and never had more than 15 catches in a season.
Granted, in the Warner years, using three- and four-wideouts made more sense, especially when the wideouts had the talent that the Cardinals did. Whisenhunt made clear Housler could be split wide at times and create mismatches, however. And, as many fans have pointed out, when you are breaking in a younger quarterback, the safety valve of a quality tight end can help with the learning curve.
Housler will get a chance to show what he has, and there is a chance the Cards also look in free agency. Jim Dray should be back, and Stephen Spach could be too; Patrick may be more iffy depending on who else is signed. The Cards will have at least four tight ends in training camp.
We’ll see if any of them can, at the very least, echo Freddie Jones.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Ben Patrick, Bryan Gilmore, David Boston, Eric Edwards, Frank Sanders, Freddie Jones, Jason McAddley, Jim Dray, Ken Whisenhunt, Leonard Pope, MarTay Jenkins, Nate Poole, Rob Housler, Stephen Spach, Troy Bienemann
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Took part in a mock draft (it’ll be on Patriots.com sooner rather than later) today and got another version of the top four. I wasn’t told who took who, but by the time my “pick” came up, these were the four gone — Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus and Blaine Gabbert.
(That was the order listed too; it’d be interesting to see if that matches the teams. Miller to Denver? Dareus to Buffalo? Gabbert to Cincy?)
I stayed chalk with my thought process in that regard. I stuck with defense and went with cornerback Patrick Peterson. But … obviously, wide receiver A.J. Green remains on the board in that scenario. Anyone reading my stuff knows I think receiver here is highly unlikely. Highly unlikely. The Cards already have a top receiver in Larry Fitzgerald and they clearly want/expect him to be here long-term. Bringing in a second such playmaker at that position — especially when you very well should be able to find a playmaker at another position (like Peterson, for instance) — makes little sense to me. You aren’t even sure you have a QB who can get it to Fitz yet, much less to two such guys.
That being said, there are those who’d like to see it (I’m looking at you, Georgiebird) and there are arguments that can be made, as long as you operate under the assumption the Cardinals see Green as an exceptional, off-the-charts talent. (I’m not saying they do, and there are those who don’t even think Green is better than fellow draftee-to-be Julio Jones). For the moment, let’s make that assumption.
The Cardinals aren’t sure if they can keep Fitzgerald, whose contract runs out after the 2011 season, long-term. He needs to sign an extension, and while both he and the team have said many times they want it to happen, Fitz has also made plain his desire to win, and that involves the fluid situation of finding a QB. Even if Fitz is a lifetime Card, the rest of the receiving corps is still in question. Steve Breaston doesn’t have a contract. Early Doucet hasn’t proven he can stay healthy. Andre Roberts, as well as he finished the season, hasn’t proven he will succeed.
Then there is the idea — again, depending on the grades we won’t know — that Green would be the best player available, too good to pass up. We’ve played this game before, back in 2007, when it was Levi over Peterson when Edge was around. Need was above “best player,” and maybe this year the need — other than QB — lies on the defense.
(But even then it’s not always cut-and-dried even when it works. Cards went BPA in 2004, because Fitz was the BPA. Would the Cards, who already had star-in-the-making Anquan Boldin, been better off with a top three class of Roethlisberger, Dansby and Dockett instead? Sure, Kurt Warner came along a year later, but it’s interesting food for thought).
I reiterate, I think the Cards go defense. I think Peterson would be the pick over Green. But there’s always room to speculate.
Tags: A.J. Green, Andre Roberts, Anquan Boldin, Ben Roethlisberger, Bengals, Bills, Blaine Gabbert, Broncos, Cam Newton, Darnell Dockett, draft, Early Doucet, Julio Jones, Karlos Dansby, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Marcell Dareus, Patrick Peterson, Steve Breaston, Von Miller
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As I complete what was a four-day weekend for me (i.e., don’t expect anything else today), just wanted to touch base after an interesting playoff weekend for the NFL:
– I don’t think the second interview for a defensive coordinator position came off last week, but I could be wrong. Maybe something was done over the phone, or pushed back. I don’t know. Obviously, if there is interest in a playoff coach — like Pittsburgh’s Keith Butler — that has been put on hold with the Steelers winning again. I don’t know if it means the Cards will move on or if they will continue to wait, or even if coach Ken Whisenhunt knows unofficially if he can or cannot get a chance at Butler. I think back to the Cards’ Super Bowl run, when Todd Haley becoming the Chiefs’ head coach was the worst kept secret around even though technically Haley was still coaching and hadn’t even had an interview yet. (And no, I’m not saying that is happening with Butler or anyone else, before someone runs with “Darren Urban is reporting Whisenhunt is having secret talks with a DC candidate.”)
– Senior Bowl week starts in a week, when every coach in the world descends on Mobile, Alabama. That too can be a place where candidates are found/interviewed.
– As I mentioned on Twitter, the Seahawks’ playoff run ended up mirroring the Cards’ 2009 playoffs (shootout home win then decisive road loss) than the 2008 team (home win and then shocking the world on the road to earn a home game in the NFC Championship).
– Man, did Santonio Holmes’ TD catch Sunday bring back some haunting memories.
– I am shocked Anquan dropped that pass. Although how does a defense like the Ravens’ give up third-and-19?
– Watching Aaron Rodgers dice up the competition every week, I keep thinking he would have done the same thing last year in the playoffs had Kurt Warner not come up with one of the greatest playoff performances ever. There was irony in that thought when people were trying to put into perspective how great Rodgers was against Atlanta — and he was, but still not quite up with Warner’s game versus the Packers.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Anquan Boldin, coaching staff, Ken Whisenhunt, Kurt Warner, Packers, Ravens, Santonio Holmes, Seahawks, Senior Bowl
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In weeks like this – a Monday game, in which the Saturday before becomes a normal Friday, at least in the regimented world of the NFL – the time after the final practice is oddly quiet. The offices are closed, so while the team is going about normal business, the rest of the building is shut down. Media coverage is even lighter than normal. And this week, it gave coach Ken Whisenhunt a chance to be a little more introspective after the camera (there was only one, from azcardinals.com) was off.
Whiz was asked if, around the holidays right now, he was finding any chance of relaxing away from the game. He had already mentioned to us previously that night time – when there wasn’t any work left to be done and he was alone in his thoughts to mull what was going on – was the hardest.
Not surprisingly, Whiz said no.
“It’s hard,” Whisenhunt said. “I am disappointed. I want to win. It doesn’t sit in your gut right. You think about a million things that could have gone differently or been done differently. It’s not easy. That’s the way it is.”
Whiz hasn’t been through this as a head coach, although he mentioned a similar season he dealt with in Pittsburgh (which I noted earlier this week). There, however, Whiz was an assistant. And that doesn’t compare to living with it as a head coach.
“I feel like, ‘You let everybody down,’ ” Whisenhunt said. “You’re working hard, you’re trying to do it right, you want to have success. But you’re not. And it’s hard.”
– So the Cards will be on the national TV stage trying to break a five-game losing streak. Whisenhunt made it clear this week that while technically the Cards are still in the NFC West race, it was folly to think about such things until the Cards won a game (or two or three) and he’s right. The reality, however, is this: The Cards will know by the time they play what Seattle and St. Louis have done this week. If they have both lost, the winner of this Monday game is better off than any 4-7 team deserves.
– This is the fourth straight game the Cards are playing a team that is coming off a beatdown the previous week. The Vikings, Seahawks and Chiefs all had suffered multiple bad games in a row before beating the Cards. The Cards have to make that fact work in their favor for once.
– San Francisco QB Troy Smith is a wild card here – Beanie Wells has been swearing by his former Ohio State teammate all season, insisting he was the best the Niners had – but maybe the Bucs showed a blueprint of how to deal with Smith last week.
– That said, I have seen two Niners – Frank Gore and Vernon Davis – be particular pains-in-the-rear to the Cards over the years. Those two, I think, are the keys to the game. Gore especially seems to just kill the Cards. They have to contain him.
– If you missed it, this is a great video on former-Cards-receiver-turned-team-mentor Anthony Edwards.
– Steve Breaston talked about scoring touchdowns. The Cards have to find a way. The offense has scored more than one touchdown in just four of 10 games this season.
– No official word on the roof being open, but given that it is a night game and a national telecast, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the sky. We already know we’re going to see the black uniforms.
– It would be cool for Larry Fitzgerald to get the nine receptions he needs to become the franchise’s all-time leader in catches (he is eight behind Anquan Boldin’s 586). Then again, it’s not like he won’t be breaking the mark at home, with three straight home games.
– The last time both the Cards and 49ers used the same starting quarterbacks for both regular-season matchups was 2003, when Jeff Blake faced off against Jeff Garcia twice. Since then, one or both of the teams has used two different starting QBs. The chances both Derek Anderson and Troy Smith still will be starting in the regular-season finale Jan. 2? I’m just sayin’ …
– Jon Gruden took Fitzgerald on to the “Monday Night Football” bus this afternoon to talk a little and go over some video. I squeezed in to the tight hallway to snap a picture of Gruden and Fitz – Fitz was admiring Gruden’s Super Bowl ring. And if you notice on the screen in the background (sorry about the flash), cued up on the video is the moment right before Fitz broke his 64-yard Super Bowl touchdown.
Ahh, good times. But time to live in the now. It’s on to Monday night.
Tags: 49ers, Anquan Boldin, Anthony Edwards, Beanie Wells, Derek Anderson, Frank Gore, Jon Gruden, Ken Whisenhunt, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, Troy Smith, Vernon Davis
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The Sporting News has put up their annual list of the top 100 NFL players and the Cardinals have three guys in the top 50: wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is fourth in the entire league (behind Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Chris Johnson), while defensive tackle Darnell Dockett is 47th and safety Adrian Wilson is 48th (and former Card Anquan Boldin is 92nd). The 49ers, by the way, have two three on the list: linebacker Patrick Willis is 12th, running back Frank Gore is 55th and tight end Vernon Davis is 69th. Wonder if Dockett will let Davis know via Twitter. Or whether Wilson will when the teams actually play.
Speaking of Wilson, he is hosting the first regular-season Big Red Rage tonight at 6 p.m. at Majerle’s Sports Grill in Chandler. Special guest? Quarterback Derek Anderson, who can talk about his college buddy, Rams running back Steven Jackson. It’ll be on live on Sports 620 KTAR if you can’t make it there.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Anquan Boldin, Big Red Rage, Darnell Dockett, Derek Anderson, Frank Gore, Larry Fitzgerald, Vernon Davis
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OK kids. Here is part two – The Final Chapter — of my starting lineup blog guesses. Today is the offense, after I offered up the defense yesterday. There seems to be less in flux on the offensive side of the ball, so these are my thoughts of who will be on the field when the Cards go against the Rams in St. Louis Sept. 12:
WR – Larry Fitzgerald. Fitz had a big year with touchdowns but his yardage shrunk. With Anquan Boldin gone, I’d expect Fitz to look for more of everything.
WR – Steve Breaston. Breaston has proven he can be a good receiver in this league. Assuming Early Doucet stays healthy, the Cardinals will still be in good shape at wideout.
FB – Nehemiah Broughton. The position is open, but the Cards liked what they saw from Broughton late last season once they signed him. They will need a bruiser to help in what is expected to be a more prominent run game.
RB – Tim Hightower. Ahh, the most “controversial” of the starting calls. Will I be shocked if Beanie Wells is starting in St. Louis? No. Could Hightower start Game One and then have Wells move in? Sure. Might they stay Hightower-Wells all season as last year? Yes. Have I mentioned before it doesn’t matter? I am feeling pretty good in saying Beanie will have more carries and be the leading rusher. The other details are window dressing.
TE – Ben Patrick. This is a hunch. They like how Anthony Becht blocks, and I believe Becht will again play a role. I think Patrick would have been in a better spot last season had he not been suspended to start the regular schedule. Patrick can catch, Becht can block. A better, pretty interesting question is whether Dominique Byrd, Stephen Spach or even Jim Dray can find a way into the mix. But that’s for a blog on another day.
LT – Levi Brown. Since the day he arrived, Levi said he felt better at left tackle. Now he gets his chance to show it. Along with more running – the part of the game he is better at – the Cards hope Brown really blossoms.
LG – Alan Faneca. I know coach Ken Whisenhunt didn’t guarantee anything when Faneca signed, but he’s going to be in the lineup and he’s going to be at left guard. The guy has made nine straight Pro Bowls.
C – Lyle Sendlein. I don’t know if Rex Hadnot can slip in here, but Hadnot was playing guard this offseason with Ben Claxton running second team. Again, Sendlein has always been a favorite of Russ Grimm. I think that makes an impact.
RG – Deuce Lutui. Here is the upset pick (and remember, this is my gut – not necessarily because I know it to be true). Reggie Wells will have a good chance to hold on to this spot and Lutui must prove he is a) in decent shape and b) not too far behind after missing all the offseason work. But Lutui is a guy this team wants around long-term and someone they were pleased with the second half of the season.
RT – Brandon Keith. This is what they have been grooming Keith for the past two seasons. Herman Johnson may have a spot on the line in the future, but this is where they see if Keith is ready. Considering how little Keith has played, I think that confidence level is remarkably high.
QB – Matt Leinart. Derek Anderson may be sitting in the background (yes, I’m playing off the photo below) but this is Leinart’s job to lose and his team to lead. No reason to hash and re-hash everything we’ve already said. We’ll see what happens. But Leinart will get his chance to show what he can do after his Warner tutelage.
OK, that’s wraps it up. Catch you all in a couple weeks.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Anthony Becht, Beanie Wells, Ben Claxton, Ben Patrick, Brandon Keith, Derek Anderson, Deuce Lutui, Dominique Byrd, Early Doucet, Herman Johnson, Jim Dray, Ken Whisenhunt, Larry Fitzgerald, Levi Brown, Lyle Sendlein, Matt Leinart, Nehemiah Broughton, Reggie Wells, Rex Hadnot, Russ Grimm, Stephen Spach, Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower
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So the second week of OTAs opened today with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the sidelines. And that’s not even what grabbed your attention with DRC. No, it was his hairstyle, which once again seemed DRC-unique. He had shaved off half his hair. His beard remained, but half his skull was clean (as you can see below). “They call me Two-Face around here,” DRC said later. “They say they never know what you’re gonna get. So I wanted to give them a look.”
Batman did not attend the voluntary workout.
Some other things that happened:
– I thought tight end Dominique Byrd made a few nice plays today. Obviously he isn’t quite the blocker that the Cards might want at the position, but he definitely can catch the ball and he’s nifty after the catch. He snared a Derek Anderson bullet on one play that was particularly noticeable.
– Safety Kerry Rhodes made an interception on 7-on-7 (I didn’t see who threw it) but DRC, watching on the sideline, good-naturedly warned Rhodes not to celebrate too much. “They don’t count right now,” DRC bellowed.
– Anderson threw a nice bomb to Early Doucet, and Max Hall found Stephen Williams on a deep out pattern among the other passes I noticed.
– Speaking of Doucet, during wide receiver drills, he’d usually go first and then peel off to make a couple throws to his teammates during the same drill, giving special-teams coach Kevin Spencer — the normal “QB” for such drills — a break. “Q’s gone,” Doucet said with a smile, noting the absence of former receiver-who-once-was-a-college-QB Anquan Boldin. “I’m just letting them see my potential if they want to draw something up.” UPDATE: For some sights and sounds from receivers and a glimpse of a Doucet throw, check out today’s video here.
– A handful of players besides DRC were sidelined with various dings, including linebacker Gerald Hayes (back), who was absent last week.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Derek Anderson, Dominique Byrd, DRC, Early Doucet, Gerald Hayes, Kerry Rhodes, Max Hall, Stephen Williams
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When a team deals a player away like Anquan Boldin, the first thought is what happens going forward. Clearly, the Cards (who also lost Jerheme Urban to free agency) aren’t quite as deep at the position as before. But it’s hard to look at the Cards’ receiving corps at the top and not still have serious confidence.
Matt Williamson of Scouts, Inc., wrote a piece (it’s under the Insider paywall, FYI) breaking down the receiving groups of a handful of teams, including the Cardinals. Larry Fitzgerald is a great starting point of course, and he’s clearly bullish on Early Doucet — not only calling Doucet a possible breakout player but even going as far to say Steve Breaston is better suited for the No. 3 role and implying Doucet could be No. 2 (I don’t necessarily agree; I think Breaston’s toughness is underrated). In Williamson’s estimation, Doucet is an ideal Boldin replacement, which wouldn’t make him the first person to view Early that way.
Here is also what Williamson said about the rest of the pass-catching situation: “I also love the draft pick of Andre Roberts in the third round. Although he is from the Citadel, his game is polished and he should quickly assert himself as one of the best No. 4 wideouts in this league. Surely Boldin’s loss will be felt and Arizona’s tight ends are glorified offensive tackles, but I don’t have any worries about the wide receiver position.”
I feel the same way at this point. Again, guys have to stay healthy (and it wouldn’t hurt to find another young guy to develop besides Roberts) but the Cards are in good shape out wide.
Tags: Andre Roberts, Anquan Boldin, Early Doucet, Jerheme Urban, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston
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If you haven’t had a chance to check out the rookie-reporting video, it’s a pretty good look of behind-the-scenes. The best part to me was when the camera caught veteran nose tackle Bryan Robinson meeting rookie nose tackle and first-round pick Dan Williams for the first time.
“You’re the guy I came back to mentor,” Robinson said to Williams. “You’re the guy that’s going to take my spot — and I want you to do that. I really do. I’m going to help you as much as I can.”
Those words have to be music to the ears of coach Ken Whisenhunt.
– As a P.S. for anyone coming out to Fan Fest Saturday (gates open at the Tempe complex at 9 a.m., practice is at 10:45), in addition to the normal Cards’ gear on sale, there will also be a special “historical” store for anyone interested. All proceeds will go to Cardinals Charities, so if you’re looking for, say, an Emmitt Smith autographed football (that’s been scanned with WeTrak, Emmitt’s own authentication system) or maybe an Anquan Boldin authentic jersey, those will be available.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Bryan Robinson, Dan Williams, Emmitt Smith
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