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Blogs

Finding another Freddie

Posted by Darren Urban on May 13, 2011 – 11:36 am

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.


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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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Hyphen, Patrick, Porter sit UPDATE Spach out

Posted by Darren Urban on January 2, 2011 – 12:43 pm

UPDATE: TE Stephen Spach hurt his left calf in warmups — after inactives came out — so he can’t play today. Jim Dray is the lone tight end. It’ll be interesting if long snapper Mike Leach gets a chance to play a little tight end today. It’s an injury that obviously hurts.

LaRod Stephens-Howling won’t get a chance to add to his NFL-leading kickoff return yardage today. He’s one of the Cards’ inactives, still nursing his hamstring injury after pre-game work showed it to be a no-go. Andre Roberts will return kicks in his place. And as expected, LB Joey Porter (tricep) will sit again, with O’Brien Schofield playing in his place. Tight end Ben Patrick (hamstring) is also sitting out after testing his leg out pre-game. The rest of the inactives:

  • QB Derek Anderson (third QB)
  • CB A.J. Jefferson
  • CB Marshay Green
  • LB Gerald Hayes
  • C Ben Claxton

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One final practice and some awards

Posted by Darren Urban on December 31, 2010 – 1:16 pm

And then it was over.

The Cardinals came off the practice field for the final time Friday. “I’m too cold to have any emotion,” coach Ken Whisenhunt quipped.

“There is disappointment,” Whisenhunt added. “It’s the last one, and I enjoy our guys. One of the best things about being a coach is being able to spend time with the guys on the field. Knowing that is coming to an end is always hard. We didn’t have the greatest of years.”

– It looks like linebacker Joey Porter will not be playing again for the Cards this season. He is doubtful for Sunday with his triceps injury and didn’t practice again (and his long-term status with the team going into next year is probably in doubt too, but that’s discussion for another day). The other three injured players: running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (hamstring), tight end Ben Patrick (hamstring) and linebacker Clark Haggans (groin) are all questionable after being limited again.

– The Arizona chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association handed out its awards Friday. There are two: The Lloyd Herberg MVP award, and the Steve Schoenfeld “Good Guy” award, for the player deemed best for the media. Safety Kerry Rhodes received the MVP award, while running back Tim Hightower got the Good Guy honor. The Cards have a bunch of guys who are good with the media, but not only is Hightower thoughtful in his answers and manages to avoid too many cliches, but he also has been there all year no matter what — even through the losing, and even when he had to talk about his fumbling problems (which obviously was more than once).

The awards are sponsored by Oregano’s Pizza Bistros. Herberg was the original Arizona Republic beat writer covering the Cards before he lost his life to cancer. Schoenfeld was the long-time Republic Cards and NFL writer who was working for cbssports.com when he was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Tempe. (From left to right, XTRA’s Mike Jurecki, Hightower, Rhodes and the Republic’s Kent Somers).


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Neither wind, nor rain …

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2010 – 2:08 pm

Wednesday, the Cardinals were forced to practice in the rain. Thursday, it was some serious wind, which combined with the drop in temperatures made it darn cold. How cold? Cold enough that coach Ken Whisenhunt, who always wears shorts out to practice (even yesterday in the chilly wetness) went with sweatpants today. It isn’t exactly conducive to practicing a passing game.

“I don’t know what the speeds of the winds were, but some of the passes were what you’d expect,” Whisenhunt said. “It was a little like when we played in Kansas City. I am hopeful it won’t be quite that windy in Candlestick Park. But we made some good throws.

“The wind is usually harder to work in because it disrupts the ball so much in the air, especially in the longer throws. If you think about how tight the windows are that you have to fit the ball into sometimes, when you add in the wind you are talking about it makes it more difficult. When it is wet, you can always attempt to get a dry ball in there. That compensates for things a little bit.”

– There was no change on the injury report. Linebacker Joey Porter sat out again with his bad tricep and it’s looking more and more likely he won’t be able to make it back for the finale (although I am sure it’ll end up being a game-day decision). Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (hamstring), tight end Ben Patrick (hamstring) and linebacker Clark Haggans (groin) remain limited, but I am guessing they will be OK to play.

– Whisenhunt talked a little more about the impact of guard Alan Faneca, who has been the subject of much debate this season. With his professionalism, Whisenhunt said, “you can’t have enough of those guys on your team.” Whiz said that while Faneca isn’t the player he once was, he is still a good player, and thinks the judgments of Faneca early (especially training camp) were often premature. “I think he’s done a good job for us this year,” Whisenhunt said.


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A dreary final Wednesday

Posted by Darren Urban on December 29, 2010 – 2:30 pm

It was the last Wednesday practice of the season today, and during it came a fairly steady rainfall. Afterward, some boisterous freestyle rap battles (Do not mess with Rex Hadnot).

– The only Cardinal not to practice was LB Joey Porter (tricep). He continues to rehab, but the Cards don’t want him to play and totally tear the injury, so they will be cautious. Three others — RB LaRod Stephens-Howling (hamstring), TE Ben Patrick (hamstring) and LB Clark Haggans (groin) — were limited today.

– The 49ers have already ruled LB Patrick Willis (hand) out for the game. And interim coach Jim Tomsula said Alex Smith will be his starting quarterback. Why? “Experience” was Tomsula’s one-word answer. Remember, it was Troy Smith that beat the Cards on “Monday Night Football” back on Nov. 29.

– Long snapper Mike Leach was named the team’s Walter Payton “Man of the Year” award winner, given to a player both for playing excellence and community work. Each team names a winner, and the overall league winner is announced at the Super Bowl. Wednesday, team president Michael Bidwill presented the award to Leach (who, by the way, once managed to break down exactly how he, as a long snapper, could be named Super Bowl MVP. I wish I had a transcript).


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Post-presser notes from Whiz

Posted by Darren Urban on December 27, 2010 – 11:52 am

After a day off yesterday thanks to the Saturday game, coach Ken Whisenhunt officially had his “day-after” press conference today. Nothing earth shattering.

– TE Ben Patrick has a hamstring injury. The Cards are waiting to see how LB Joey Porter and RB LaRod Stephens-Howling are this week.

– DB coach Donnie Henderson is feeling better and back to work after fainting while driving in to the parking lot Saturday before the game. They still aren’t sure what happened, but Henderson is OK.

– The use of four down linemen on defense is mostly due to injury at linebacker. Whisenhunt wants to be able to use it, especially against the run. But it terms of flipping the scheme and becoming a 4-3 team long-term, it’s not a consideration.

– Whiz said you need to be “careful” about telling a young QB where to throw the ball, RE the lack of catches for Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston. The Cards use a read-progression for their passing game, and deviating from that too much to force the ball to one place or another would hurt the offense more than help, Whisenhunt said.

– Whiz believes John Skelton’s accuracy will improve over time as he gains experience. It’s not a mechanical issue, he said.


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Chiefs aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 21, 2010 – 10:10 pm

It felt a little like Chinese water torture Sunday. There were no dramatic shifts in the game, no real knockout punch. The Chiefs just kept drip-drip-dripping their way to a win, and it eventually felt there was no way the Cards could wiggle out from beneath the spigot.

Postgame was about as weary as I have seen coach Ken Whisenhunt. He’s still going to say the right things – that’s how he believes it should be done – but the losing obviously is eating at him. What now? Well, barring a shift in the division race, the Cards are in the week-to-week storyline mode. You don’t look big picture. You shrink it, meaning the much-anticipated-once-upon-a-time Monday night home game (with the black uniforms and I believe a better-than-average chance of an open roof) will have to be an event in itself.

You win – and once again, the Cards will be playing a team on the downslide, so at least it feels like even footing – and reevaluate later.

Since I’ll have basically an extra day to sift through this, I’m keeping this short tonight. (And I doubt I will be getting to the comments tonight, so bear with me. I will approve everything in the morning. I’m not censoring. I’m taking a bit of my life back. There’s not a lot new to say anyway).

– Whisenhunt said there wouldn’t be any personnel changes, but rookie tight end Jim Dray was in there extensively Sunday ahead of Ben Patrick. Dray struggled, but as we get deeper in the season, those are the kinds of developmental moves we may see going forward. (No, I don’t think John Skelton is playing next week).

– Derek Anderson has thrown high passes before but he seemed particularly skewing high Sunday. Maybe the wind was playing a major role, but it made for some harrowing catch attempts. And obviously one of them knocked Early Doucet out of the game.

– Wide receiver Steve Breaston was not a happy camper. “You’ve got to find what motivates you inside. You’ve got to push on. Don’t look for others to make plays. Do it yourself.” It’ll be interesting to see if his message gets across.

– Todd Haley wasn’t going to let Larry Fitzgerald beat him. On the Cards’ second field goal, on the third-down pass, the Chiefs not only double-teamed Fitz but did it with bump coverage with both. The pass ended up incomplete to Breaston.

“(The Chiefs) have done that a couple of times, they did it against (Chargers tight end) Antonio Gates, (Broncos receiver) Brandon Lloyd,” Fitzgerald said. “Anytime they are in the red zone they try to take away the guy who is the most targeted usually.”

– At some point, I would think Whisenhunt will consider heavily changing quarterbacks again, to give a rookie some experience. But it’s not going to be now, not when the NFC West is frightening still not out of reach and not against the 49ers on “Monday Night Football.”

– No, I don’t know if the Cardinals have interest in Vince Young if he becomes available.


 


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