Coming Up


An early look at the free-agents-to-be

Posted by Darren Urban on November 5, 2015 – 11:31 am

With the season halfway over and talk here and there about possible contract extensions, it felt like a good time to note who is scheduled to have their contract run out after the season ends. We’ve talked for a while about the secondary decisions that are coming, but in terms of players that are making an impact, it’s a lengthy list. This is only the players set to be free agents; There have been some of you wondering if, for instance, Tyrann Mathieu could get an extension. He is under contract through 2016, so I don’t expect anything soon. The Cardinals, according to the NFLPA, have about $5.3 million of cap space right now.


CB Justin Bethel
LB Dwight Freeney
TE Jermaine Gresham
RB Chris Johnson
S Rashad Johnson
G Ted Larsen
LS Mike Leach
T Bobby Massie
CB Jerraud Powers
C Lyle Sendlein
T Bradley Sowell
QB Drew Stanton
LB Sean Weatherspoon
LB LaMarr Woodley

WR Jaron Brown
P Drew Butler
LB Kenny Demens
S Tony Jefferson

(Tight ends Darren Fells and Ifeanyi Momah and defensive tackle Josh Mauro are all exclusive rights free agents, meaning they can be tendered and not go anywhere.)

Again, a long list. The restricted free agents, if you want to prevent them from hitting the market unfettered, can be tendered with one of three designations: A first-round tender (a one-year contract of about $3.3M), a second-round tender (about $2.3M) or the original draft spot ($1.5M). That means, if tendered, if another team signs them away, that team owes the Cardinals the tendered pick. Given that all those guys were undrafted, the Cards would get nothing for the low tender. It makes for hard decisions on a Tony Jefferson, and even to Jaron Brown.

As for the unrestricted guys …

It seems likely that the older one-year guys — Chris Johnson, Gresham, Freeney — would want to see what they might get on the open market. The secondary is the most intriguing area. It wouldn’t be a surprise that some team might want to swoop in and Greg Toler-contract a guy like Bethel, especially if they’d want him to start right away at CB. The Cardinals like Powers. They like Rashad Johnson too, but with all the safeties around, what will be the offer? What does the future hold (or rather, where is the future) for Deone Bucannon? Is he a linebacker or safety? That’ll come into play.


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Golden’s hit on Vick doesn’t cost

Posted by Darren Urban on October 23, 2015 – 4:43 pm

The play was controversial when it happened, and while a week later it’s fairly anticlimatic (and moot when it comes to the result of the game), Cardinals linebacker Markus Golden was not fined for what was called a helmet-to-helmet hit on Mike Vick in Pittsburgh. There isn’t any explanation that comes with that, but usually, no fine for a play like that means the league office didn’t feel a penalty should have been called. (Plenty of you out there made sure to show me at the time, in still photos off the TV and Vines of video, that Golden’s hit was to Vick’s shoulder.)

In fact, even with all the 15-yard penalties flagged in Cardinals-Steelers, there was only one fine handed out: Cardinals running back Chris Johnson was fined $8,681 for a chop block.

But tackle Bobby Massie and linebacker Kevin Minter were not fined for their unnecessary roughness penalties called after the play (although in both cases, I would have also thrown a flag). Not surprisingly, Steelers linebacker James Harrison was not fined for his crushing, helmet-knocked-off hit of wide receiver John Brown that caused Brown’s fumble. Brown was a runner by then, and Harrison’s hit, while vicious, was clean. Now, Harrison wasn’t fined for his unnecessary roughness call when he drilled Brown just after Carson Palmer’s last interception, it’s possible they decided Harrison should’ve been allowed to “block” Brown since Brown was going to touch safety Mike Mitchell down.


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For Cardinals, a running game takes root

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2015 – 12:34 pm

The Cardinals ran for 120 yards against the Saints, 115 against the Bears and 139 Sunday against the 49ers. It is the first time the Cardinals have rushed for at least 115 yards in each of the first three games of the season since 1988. The 374 rushing yards are the most for the franchise in the first three games of the season since the Cards had 416 in 2002. (That 2002 start was aided by Thomas Jones’ 173 yards in the first regular-season game ever at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, a Cardinals’ win, the second week of the season. The Cardinals had 249 yards rushing in that game alone.)

The Cardinals have done it with nearly equal contributions from Andre Ellington — who looked great against the Saints before he got hurt — and David Johnson and Chris Johnson. Chris Johnson had 110 yards rushing and two touchdowns against the 49ers, and showed plenty of burst just a couple of days after his 30th birthday. Better yet, after Bruce Arians said that generally Earl Watford was a better run blocker than Bobby Massie at right tackle, the Cards had their best rushing game against San Francisco with Massie in there. And this team hasn’t even gotten to see what guard Mike Iupati — arguably their best run blocker — has to offer yet.

“It’s just a start,” veteran center Lyle Sendlein said. “You can’t just show up and expect you’ll get that kind of yardage every week.

“Obviously it had a level of importance in the offseason that they had been working on, and when I got here (in training camp) it was pretty apparent we were going to commit to getting yardage in the run game.”

Under Arians, the Cardinals are 14-1 when rushing for at least 100 yards. That can be misleading; Arians always says being committed to balance only counts in the first three quarters and then the game itself dictates how the fourth quarter will be called. Against the 49ers, for instance, the Cardinals went into the fourth quarter with a 40-7 lead and 10 of 13 Arizona offensive plays were runs as they drove for one more touchdown. (The final “drive” was three Drew Stanton kneeldowns, which count as “runs” but also screw up the stats with minus-one yard on each kneel.)

Like everything else, Sendlein emphasized it’s only a start. But it’s a start. The Cardinals, since 1995, have ranked higher than 21st in the NFL just once — 15th in that 2002 season — and haven’t been higher than 23rd since 2004. Seven times they have been ranked 30th or lower. This year, the Cards are currently 11th in the NFL.



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No Iupati against 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on September 27, 2015 – 11:30 am

An inability to get on the practice field fully wasn’t a good sign for Mike Iupati this week. The guard is not going to play today against his former team, his knee not quite ready to go yet after surgery. Ted Larsen remains the left guard for the Cards — although there is a change on the offensive line with Bobby Massie playing right tackle.

Because of injuries, the inactive list against the 49ers was predictable today:

— QB Matt Barkley

— WR J.J. Nelson (shoulder)

— RB Andre Ellington (knee)

— LB Shaq Riddick

— T D.J. Humphries

— G Mike Iupati (knee)

— DT Xavier Williams

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Arians picks Massie for right tackle

Posted by Darren Urban on September 27, 2015 – 12:17 am

Given Bruce Arians’ comments that Bobby Massie is a better pass protector – and given that Carson Palmer’s health is paramount to the success of the Cardinals this season – there was not much surprise Saturday night when Arians said Massie would be moving into the starting lineup at right tackle against the 49ers, replacing Earl Watford, who had started the first two games of the season.

“We’re going to go with Bobby Massie and see how it goes,” Arians said during his weekly TV show, “Flight Plan with Bruce Arians.”

“Earl did a heck of a job. We had a few too many hits on the quarterback. I’ll say this: Bobby is on a short leash.”

Massie missed the first two games of the season because of suspension.

“It’ll be good to get back on the field with those guys and help them win,” Massie said this week.

Arians also said he’d like running backs Chris Johnson and David Johnson to each get 10-to-15 touches this week. David Johnson only has nine touches in two games so far, including two kickoff returns.


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Friday before the 49ers, humble edition

Posted by Darren Urban on September 25, 2015 – 4:30 pm

Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin was blunt talking about rookie running back David Johnson.

“He could be special,” Goodwin said. “Very special.”

That’s an easy conclusion to reach after three touchdowns on just nine NFL touches, including a 55-yard touchdown reception and a 108-yard kickoff return. One thing coaches and teammates love about him isn’t his talent – although, yes, they love his talent – but his ability to be humble. Of course, he does have to absorb some grief.

“I don’t believe no one in this locker room is really reading their press clippings,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “Well, maybe David. David is probably reading his.” Mathieu chuckled. “I’d be reading them too.”

Johnson chuckled himself when he heard Mathieu’s comments. “It was a little harder this week,” Johnson said, “but the coaches made sure I stayed grounded, and the players around me reminded me it’s a long season.”

It is going to be a long season. That’s why almost everyone around the Cardinals followed Bruce Arians’ lead this week in brushing off the 2-0 start. Playing the 49ers Sunday is both a step up in opponent and a foray into the NFC West, and the Cards understand both cannot be underestimated.

— No word on the offensive line as of yet. The fact Mike Iupati still has not been able to practice fully any one day has to raise a red flag, but we’ll see if he’s able to go against his former team Sunday. As for right tackle, Arians said Bobby Massie is better at pass protection and Earl Watford is better in run blocking. He’s also noted Watford has given up too many quarterback hits. The Cards like to the throw the ball. We’ll see if that impacts the decision.

— The 49ers are a grind-it-out team. That makes sense because a) they have a talented running back in Carlos Hyde and b) quarterback Colin Kaepernick, while he has made strides as a passer, still isn’t someone you’ll lean on the majority of the time.

Then there is Kaepernick’s ability to run himself, which will force the Cardinals to be on top of things while he scrambles around back there.

“From an awareness standpoint, I think our guys have to know that any down, any distance, he could tuck the ball and run with it,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said.

— Goodwin, talking about the Bears game Thursday: “Last week there were a lot of things I didn’t agree with in terms of hitting the quarterback, a couple of shots he took. (Carson Palmer) is going to get hit. We just have to minimize it.”

Friday, Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee was fined $17,363 for his low hit on Palmer on the flea-flicker touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald. McPhee was flagged for a personal foul on the play.

Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson was also fined $17,363 for his hit to the helmet of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Johnson did not draw a flag on the play.

— Don’t forget Adrian Wilson will be inducted into the Cardinals’ Ring of Honor at halftime of Sunday’s game. What was behind Wilson growing into one of the best players in franchise history? Take a look back at my “Making of A-Dub” piece from 2010.

— Bettcher said the defensive line has a “great rotation” right now, and that includes some snaps for Calais Campbell at nose tackle. In reality, the Cards don’t really use a true nose tackle – Xavier Williams has been inactive, and starter Rodney Gunter (whom Bettcher said is doing well) is more like a Campbell. Again, the Cards were going for versatile on the line this season.

— Campbell makes it on Sports Science.

— Will Larry Fitzgerald go off again this week? Who knows? Arians is always coming up with different things. Even Fitz knows things can change.

“Coach Arians is like a mad scientist,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s always finding ways to get guys involved, to create mismatches for his playmakers.”

— Anquan Boldin gets another chance at his former team. He’s said in the past playing the Cardinals is just another game, but frankly, I don’t believe him. Q is too intense along those lines to have it be otherwise.

“He’s a physical receiver,” Mathieu said. “He’s 100 percent for 4 quarters. I’ll be matched up with him so I have to bring my big boy pads.”


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No right tackle news yet

Posted by Darren Urban on September 25, 2015 – 1:35 pm

Bruce Arians admitted he has an “pretty good idea” who will start at right tackle for the Cardinals Sunday. But he isn’t saying who. Arians declined to name his starting offensive line Friday. “We’ll wait and see what is best,” he said when it came to whether Mike Iupati is going to be able to go at left guard and whether right tackle is manned by Bobby Massie or Earl Watford.

Whoever starts at right tackle is the right tackle. There will not be any switching “unless it’s a problem,” Arians said. Iupati is officially listed as questionable, and he has yet to practice fully since returning to the field. The Cards may end up erring on the side of caution with him Sunday.

One minor upset: Running back Andre Ellington (knee) was limited in practice and Arians is calling him a game-day decision. There’s no need to rush him back, Arians acknowledged, but if he is ready to play he’ll play, because he provides a skillset David Johnson and Chris Johnson do not have. Ellington is listed officially as doubtful.


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Kerwynn Williams cut as Massie returns

Posted by Darren Urban on September 22, 2015 – 1:01 pm

The Cardinals had to make a roster move to create room for reinstated tackle Bobby Massie, so Tuesday the team cut running back Kerwynn Williams — who had just been promoted from the practice squad Saturday. It wasn’t the only move. On the practice squad, the Cardinals released guard Anthony Steen and tight end Brandon Bostick, and signed to the practice squad running back Mike Gillislee, who had spent time with the Miami Dolphins.

With Massie back and Williams out, it means the Cardinals have decided to keep 10 offensive linemen on the 53-man roster. It’s a big group, especially considering that Mike Iupati is likely healthy enough to play. So there are no injuries of those 10 linemen. Who is active on Sunday against the 49ers will be an interesting choice. You figure first-round pick D.J. Humphries will remain an odd man out, but there are a lot of other variations available.


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Keim: Watford has earned time

Posted by Darren Urban on September 21, 2015 – 8:07 am

Bobby Massie comes back from suspension today, and so the question has to be asked: Does Earl Watford remain the starting right tackle for the Cardinals?

General Manager Steve Keim, during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” Show on Arizona Sports 98.7 Monday, said that later today he, coach Bruce Arians and offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin will discuss the lineup. Keim acknowledged he usually defers to the coaches in such situations.

But, Keim said, “I know this: Earl has earned the right to be on the field.”

Watford has held up well in two games (against admittedly weaker defenses in the Saints and Bears), especially in run blocking. And perhaps the most important thing to remember is that Arians said it was Watford’s job to lose when Watford was inserted into the starting lineup. It’s hard to think Watford has done anything to lose the job.

As Keim said, “we’ll have some options” at offensive line. Left guard Mike Iupati is expected back this week from his knee surgery, and while Keim said he likes the job Ted Larsen has done, it’s hard to believe the big free-agent signee of the offseason won’t get back to the lineup once he’s ready. Especially going against his former team in the 49ers.

Other Keim comments:

— He said the Cardinals saw some similarities between David Johnson coming out of Northern Iowa and the Bears’ Matt Forte. You have to say Johnson was the more effective running back Sunday when the Cards and Bears played.

— Keim on the Cardinals’ 2-0 start: “More than anything we have a chance to be a pretty good football team if we eliminate the mistakes.”

— The blown coverage that led to the Bears’ first touchdown, Keim said, was a miscommunication between Patrick Peterson and Jerraud Powers trying to cover out of a bunch formation.

— He said he liked the cuts and patience of running back Chris Johnson, and also his toughness in pass protection.

— Keim’s call on quarterback Carson Palmer: “He’s been a godsend for this organization.”

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Keim: Cards like Barkley’s mental makeup

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

We’ve delved into why the Cardinals took Matt Barkley at quarterback already, but General Manager Steve Keim — during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” Show on Arizona Sports 98.7 Tuesday morning — got into a little more detail.

“When you are looking at a quarterback … and you’re saying, ‘What are the traits you look for,’ the first thing you don’t say is arm strength, or foot speed or mobility,” Keim said. “To me, when you look at quarterbacks, the first thing you want is mental toughness, the second thing is the ability to process and learn.

“Those are the things that excited us about Matt Barkley. When he came out of college we spent a lot of time with him. We liked him coming out. We know he is a football junkie. The mental part of the game is not too fast for him. Now, we bring him in, not a lot of risk involved, and you see what he’s got physically. To me, that’s how you have to approach that position because they are so hard to find.”

Other Keim’s points:

— The roster is “always in flux.” Keim wouldn’t even say the current 53 would stay static through Sunday’s opener against the Saints. Something to watch, although I’d be surprised if there was a move at this point just given what is out there (and assuming no one gets hurt in practice.)

— The fact the Cardinals have only three cornerbacks on the roster isn’t lost on Keim. Having safety Tyrann Mathieu there is a bit reason the Cards were comfortable with the move, but Keim did point out there is a reason the team has three cornerbacks on the practice squad. Any one of them could be pulled up in a given week.

— Once Bobby Massie is reinstated from his two-game suspension, then Keim and Bruce Arians will figure out who might be released to make room on the roster. No reason to talk names now, Keim said, because no one knows what injuries may happen, if any, over the first two games. Keim was pleased with the way Earl Watford played right tackle in the final preseason game.

— That said, Keim deferred to Arians on any starting lineup announcements, including center. He also said he had nothing concrete to report on injury updates of G Mike Iupati and WR Michael Floyd. Arians already said Iupati wouldn’t be playing this week.

— Keim said it was “good to see” both RB Chris Johnson and LB Sean Weatherspoon play “extremely well” in the final preseason game. Keim reiterated the Cards were excited for both additions when they signed and the team is counting on their contributions.

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