This isn’t necessarily about starters, since I have already addressed that directly. But the battles of training camp aren’t always about who plays first or the most. Sometimes it’s about roster battles and depth and who plays more than who. Some competition will come seemingly from nowhere — going into camp last season, no one would have guess Paul Fanaika would have gotten into the mix, but the Daryn Colledge injury helped that come into focus — so there will be other players to watch.
But for now, here is some of the competition I will be watching:
Guards Earl Watford, Paul Fanaika, Ted Larsen and Anthony Steen. Larsen has been backing up Lyle Sendlein at center while Steen, who can also back up both spots, didn’t do anything in the offseason recovering from injuries. Someone will be the starting right guard. The Cardinals would like for Watford to step up. It very well could be Fanaika for a second straight season. Watford should be on the roster regardless, so if he’s not starting, that will be a spot that must be won. The Cards likely will only dress seven on game days, making those swing interior guys valuable.
Tackles Bobby Massie and Bradley Sowell. OK, everyone knows this one. It doesn’t make it any less intriguing. Like Watford, Massie is the guy the Cardinals would like to win the job. But he’s got to win it. Sowell isn’t going away without a fight. Sowell, however, can be a valuable game-day backup since he played left tackle all last season and can play the right. That’s a one-for-two guy on your bench.
Cornerbacks Justin Bethel and Jerraud Powers. With Tyrann Mathieu still hurt, Powers is an important piece in nickle coverage to start the season. But when Mathieu gets back, can Bethel — who got so much love for his potential this offseason — find a way past Powers on the depth chart? Bethel still has much to prove. Powers has his limitations, but his smarts make him a favorite of Todd Bowles and Bruce Arians.
Inside linebackers Ernie Sims and Kenny Demens. Sims has the experience, but he also has the reputation of struggling the past couple of seasons, which is why he finds himself bouncing around the league. The Cardinals have been intrigued with Demens since his (undrafted) rookie year last year, when he spent most of his time on the practice squad. Sims came in late and is trying to catch up. Losing Daryl Washington sent a lot of things into flux at inside linebacker. One of these guys are vying for a depth role probably behind Kevin Minter, Larry Foote and Lorenzo Alexander.
Kickers Jay Feely, Chandler Catanzaro and Danny Hrapmann. This is another obvious one. Still it’s one to watch. It’s definitely a subject that seems to get the fans riled up — and looking around the league, it’s a position that tends to do that with the fan base, for whatever reason.
Running backs Robert Hughes, Jalen Parmele and Zach Bauman. Arians came out praising Hughes. He figures to be the top choice as the fourth running back behind Ellington, Dwyer and Taylor. But Parmele is another big guy who has played in the league and could sneak his way into the spot instead. What will be interesting is if the Cardinals want less of a bruiser as a fourth, like a Bauman, considering Dwyer is a big back and Taylor is more of a between-the-tackles guy too.
Wide receivers Jaron Brown, Walt Powell and Brittan Golden. The top four receiving spots are taken. Fitz is Fitz and Floyd is Floyd. Ted Ginn will have a role, as will third-round pick John Brown. Brown flashed last year but again, he’s got competition. He’s bigger than Powell and definitely Golden — Golden would seem to be in trouble given the arrival of Brown and Ginn — but Powell is a draft pick and that usually ends up playing a role if it’s close.
Quarterbacks Logan Thomas and Ryan Lindley. It’s hard to believe that, barring a meltdown, Thomas doesn’t find a way on to the roster. But you never know, and both players figure to get plenty of playing time in the preseason to let any battle play out in front of us.
Tags: Anthony Steen, Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Brittan Golden, Chandler Catanzaro, Danny Hrapmann, Earl Watford, Ernie Sims, Jalen Parmele, Jaron Brown, Jay Feely, Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel, Kenny Demens, Logan Thomas, Paul Fanaika, Robert Hughes, Roster, Ryan Lindley, Ted Larsen, training camp, Walt Powell, Zach Bauman
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Offensively, the Cardinals need to take a step forward this year. They need to so they don’t pressure the defense as much as last year (especially after some unknowns with defensive changes) and they need to so they can keep up in the NFC West arms race. Good news – there is a confidence there it will happen. Who are the guys who will be at the forefront of that plan? Here’s my guess, at least for the regular-season opener. (If you want to see the defensive picks, click here.)
QB – Carson Palmer. Biggest question around Palmer at this point? What happens in 2015, considering Palmer is scheduled to be a free agent after the season. But he is the guy the Cards will ride or die with this season.
RB – Andre Ellington. No-brainer. He’s earned the right, and we’ll see about the touches per game, which I will guess will be 20 to 22 a game.
WR – Larry Fitzgerald. Big year for Fitz, who scored last year like he once did but is still searching for his first 1,000-yard season since 2011 and who is coming to a crossroads – along with the franchise – with his contract in 2015.
WR – Michael Floyd. He’s a star on the rise. He played well last year, and he should be better this season. The third wide receiver should be Ted Ginn, but I fully expect John Brown to at least have a chance to play a role in the offense.
TE – John Carlson. This is assuming he stays healthy, but Carlson has looked good in the offseason and could prove to be a very nice bargain.
TE – Jake Ballard. At some point – maybe not until 2015 – this will be Troy Niklas’ spot. The rookie is far behind right now. Rob Housler still has a chance to work his way into the lineup. But right now, Ballard is feeling good with his knee and he is closer to the blocker that Arians likes.
LT – Jared Veldheer. The left tackle they have always wanted.
LG – Jonathan Cooper. He’s going to be back to health. Time for the 2013 first round pick to get his time on the field and show why the brass so believes in him.
C – Lyle Sendlein. Old reliable is what they want in the middle.
RG – Earl Watford. Paul Fanaika has been running first unit and there is also veteran Ted Larsen lurking as a possibility. But the Cardinals are hoping Watford comes around and takes control of a job he was drafted to have.
RT – Bobby Massie. Another wide open spot. There’s always a possibility of a late-summer free agent signing. Bradley Sowell isn’t go to go away. But Massie has looked better in the offseason work and in a lot of ways, this is probably his last chance to take ahold of the place he held as a rookie.
So that’s that. There will be a lot of time and practices between now and the opener. Injuries happen. Battles will be won or lost. We will see how this guesstimate (educated as it might be) holds up.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Carson Palmer, Earl Watford, Jake Ballard, Jared Veldheer, John Brown, John Carlson, Jonathan Cooper, Larry Fitzgerald, Lyle Sendlein, Michael Floyd, Paul Fanaika, Rob Housler, Ted Ginn, Troy Niklas
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On a day in which the Cardinals took their physicals ahead of this week’s mandatory minicamp (with many top players shooting special pictures and video for various forms of TV for the upcoming season, like Fitz below), the Cardinals are still roster shuffling. The team made a change Monday by releasing guard Christian Johnson and re-signing center John Estes. Estes was just cut by the team a couple of weeks ago after the Cards signed tryout players following rookie minicamp.
Of potentially more impactful news is the report the Cardinals tried out veteran right tackle Tyson Clabo Monday. Clabo, 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds, could end up being this year’s Eric Winston (at this point, no, I do not expect Winston to return.) Clabo played with Miami last season, but he spent the vast majority of his career with the Falcons and made a Pro Bowl at one point. If he were to sign, it’d throw another potential starter in the mix and would make a cluttered right tackle competition (already with Bradley Sowell, Bobby Massie and Nate Potter) even more chaotic. At some point, someone isn’t going to get many reps, even with training camp coming. We’ll see if Clabo ends up with a deal, or if that becomes a waiting game closer to training camp.
UPDATE: Clabo and the Cardinals did not come to an agreement.
Regardless, minicamp starts tomorrow. And by Thursday afternoon, the veterans will have scattered for the rest of the offseason, returning in late July for training camp.
Tags: Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Christian Johnson, John Estes, minicamp, Nate Potter, offensive line, Tyson Clabo
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There are, in the end, few starting spots that will truly be up for grabs as the Cardinals move toward the regular season. That’s reality. But as the Cards begin organized team activities today, there are some things to watch for. Through the Phase 2 work, there have been certain people running with the first unit. For instance, on the offensive line, Bradley Sowell is the first-team right tackle and Paul Fanaika remains the starting right guard. Bobby Massie and Earl Watford are with the second team. I don’t know if that is going to change before we get to training camp — I’d be a little surprised if it did — and camp will be when Massie and Watford will have to make their push.
At tight end, there’s been a lot of work for John Carlson and Jake Ballard and I think Rob Housler is going to have to work hard to stay up on the depth chart, although with his skill set and Bruce Arians’ love for multiple tight ends there will be plenty of work to go around. On defense, Kevin Minter and Daryl Washington are your inside linebackers, although Larry Foote is there to step in if Washington can’t be there. On the outside, Matt Shaughnessy and Sam Acho are getting reps although I’d expect John Abraham to be the starter when he’s around (remember, all this work is voluntary right now).
The rookies, meanwhile, will be worked in slowly. It was interesting to see first-round pick Deone Bucannon basically shadow Tony Jefferson at strong safety during the Phase 2 run-throughs of defensive plays. That’s one way to learn on the job. I anticipate a two-field system like last summer for the young players, although we’ll see if Arians sticks with that. I’ll have more after today’s workout.
Tags: Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Deone Bucannon, Earl Watford, Jake Ballard, John Abraham, John Carlson, Kevin Minter, Larry Foote, Matt Shaughnessy, OTAs, Rob Housler, Sam Acho, Tony Jefferson
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It’s a holiday. Kind of. And not Cinco de Mayo, but instead that day in the offseason when the players officially return to the field for football. It’s called Phase 2 in the parlance of the collective bargaining agreement. The rules are simple: Coaches can finally talk to players on the field. Offense can work with offense, defense with defense. No mixing. No helmets. The hour allowed on the field looks a lot like the first chunk of a regular practice, with individual drills and walkthrough-type situations with each unit.
There will be two weeks of this before organized team activities — the ones with the helmets and portions that are offense versus defense — begin May 20. Had the draft happened 10 days ago as usual, the rookies could have been out here but instead, they must wait. It also remains a voluntary situation, so while there was good participation, some players were not here. Interestingly — and not surprisingly — it was Paul Fanaika at first-unit right guard and Bradley Sowell at first-team right tackle to open things up.
We’ll have a photo gallery and a video up later today.
Tags: Bradley Sowell, CBA, offseason, OTAs, Paul Fanaika
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One of the reasons Steve Keim liked hiring Bruce Arians as head coach was because Arians was so blunt in proclaiming his ability to go young. Young, in this league, often means inexperienced and with the potential for mistakes, and that’s not always a coach’s favorite thing. Of all the ways Arians and predecessor Ken Whisenhunt are different, it is the use of the inexperienced that stands out the most.
Last year, first-round pick Jonathan Cooper and third-round pick Tyrann Mathieu each were inserted into the starting lineup (although Cooper’s injury sidelined him). Andre Ellington got more and more time as the season went on. It’s not as if Whisenhunt didn’t play rookies, but looking at first-round picks alone — the guys you would think would play a lot from the outset — Whiz clearly moved them in slowly. Patrick Peterson was an anomaly (and don’t forget, if it wasn’t for a Greg Toler injury, even PP might’ve started the year on the bench.) Michael Floyd, Dan Williams, Beanie Wells, DRC all were slow to be worked in. Levi Brown needed Oliver Ross’ injury.
Meanwhile, Arians doesn’t bat an eye to go to a Mathieu, or to stick a Bradley Sowell in at left tackle when Brown fails. It leads you to a couple of thoughts. One, whomever is drafted May 8-10 could make an immediate impact. It’ll depend on who it is and what position they play, but even though Arians has repeatedly said this team could go play the season as is and it would work, I’m guessing there will be draft picks that make a difference a la Mathieu and Ellington. The other is that if you are a young player upon whom this staff hesitates, you clearly need to ramp it up, for example, Bobby Massie. It’s not age alone that will provide hesitation in getting you on the field.
Tags: Beanie Wells, Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Bruce Arians, Dan Williams, draft, DRC, Jonathan Cooper, Ken Whisenhunt, Levi Brown, Michael Floyd, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu
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Part of the collective bargaining agreement is the performance-based pay system every season. Each team has a pool of money — this year it is $3.46 million — to distribute among all the players who played for it the previous season. The money is doled out based on playing time and the amount of money you made in the first place. In other words, think of the lesser paid players (rookies, cheap starters) who played a ton. They get the most cash. There is a caveat. Players don’t actually get the money until April 1, 2016, an agreement made by the players’ union in a trade to have a larger 2013 salary cap.
For the Cardinals, safety Yeremiah Bell made the most. Bell was paid just $905,000 last season (adjusted, with his veteran status, to a $621,000 salary cap hit) but played almost 80 percent of the defensive snaps. That earned him an extra $263,097.
Nine Cardinals total earned an extra six figures through the distribution:
– T Bradley Sowell $247,150 ($480,000 adjusted compensation last season)
— G Paul Fanaika $223,625 ($683,500)
— S Tyrann Mathieu $209,788 ($570,625)
— TE Jim Dray $165,375 ($647,850)
— S Tony Jefferson $131,510 ($408,366)
— WR Jaron Brown $125,954 ($408,000)
— RB Andre Ellington $125,680 ($430,966)
— DL Frostee Rucker $104,261 ($624,200)
Everybody who played in a game got something — even linebacker Vic So’oto, who signed in Week 4 and briefly played against Tampa Bay before suffering an injury that ended his Arizona tenure. Of the nine, Dray, of course, is gone, having signed with the Browns. Bell is unsigned but there is still a chance the Cards could bring him back. The other seven are on the roster and figure to be a part of the 2014 roster.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bradley Sowell, CBA, Frostee Rucker, Jaron Brown, Jim Dray, Paul Fanaika, performance pay, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu, Vic So'oto, Yeremiah Bell
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Eric Winston, currently a free agent but the Cardinals’ starter at right tackle last season, was elected president of the NFL Players Association Wednesday, replacing the outgoing Domonique Foxworth. Winston, who has started 119 straight games in his career, has been active in the NFLPA since 2010 when he was named one of the player reps for the Houston Texans. He has served on the NFLPA’s finance committee and the committee for agent discipline. It makes a ton of sense. Winston is intelligent and he understands the ins and outs of the business that is the NFL.
UPDATE: It’s been a big day for Cardinals and the top of the union food chain. Kicker Jay Feely and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander were elected to the NFLPA’s executive committee as well.
Winston said at the end of the season he wanted to return to the Cardinals, but he knows the reality. He made about $2 million last year in an incentive-laden deal. I’m sure he’d like more and for more years than just one, but the Cardinals will likely approach his situation much like last year — looking for younger options, and seeing where Winston stands after those options are explored. Bobby Massie is still around as a potential right tackle and there is also Bradley Sowell, but the Cardinals figure to add another possibility there.
Someone asked if I thought Winston’s position as NFLPA president would hurt his chances to return to Arizona. I don’t think so. What would hurt his chances is if the Cards sign a veteran right tackle, or if they draft one. Winston went unsigned until training camp was opening last season. I don’t know if that will happen again, but it wouldn’t be shocking if it did. He is a smart, stabilizing force in the locker room, however, so if he is on the roster, the Cards get more than just an offensive lineman.
Tags: Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Eric Winston, Jay Feely, Lorenzo Alexander, NFLPA
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The Cardinals got themselves a left tackle. That was the main goal of free agency, and it was accomplished with the Jared Veldheer signing last week. Questions remain about what the offensive line will look like for the Cards in 2014, with veteran Eric Winston still a free agency and Daryn Colledge released. In reality, three of the positions are set, barring something crazy:
LT — Veldheer
LG — Jonathan Cooper
C — Lyle Sendlein
There are questions about the other two spots. At right guard, the Cardinals are hoping 2013 fourth-round pick Earl Watford can step into the starting role after watching all last season. Watford looks the part, a big, athletic, not-sloppy-at-all 295 pounds. On the roster right now, the main competition should come from either Paul Fanaika, who started at the spot all last season after Cooper’s injury, or free-agent signee Ted Larsen. I don’t see them adding another guard in free agency, but we’ll see. The draft is a different animal, but again, I don’t see another guard in the offing.
Right tackle is a different story. With Winston unsigned — and who knows if he is coming back here — the options are Bobby Massie (the leader in the clubhouse right now), Bradley Sowell and Nate Potter. I think they see Sowell as a reserve swing tackle who could back up both spots. Potter is in a big offseason; he had a lot of chances last year to step up and he did not. He’ll be fighting for a spot on the roster. I could see them still signing a vet right tackle as a free agent at some point, and it would definitely be an option in the draft.
The Cardinals are not done trying to upgrade the line, one way or the other.
Tags: Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Daryn Colledge, Earl Watford, Eric Winston, Jared Veldheer, Jonathan Cooper, Lyle Sendlein, Nate Potter, offensive line, Paul Fanaika, Ted Larsen
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Next week, the decision-makers for the Cardinals and the rest of the NFL will head to Indianapolis for the annual Scouting combine. Already teams, including the Cards, have been meeting and ranking their rosters and figuring out what direction they will need to go in. Free agency, which begins March 11 officially (although teams came start to talk to guys from other teams a couple of days before that), will impact what happens in the draft and the rest of the offseason.
But before all that, and before the Cardinals re-sign any more of their own players, here are — in my opinion — the positions that need to be addressed the most over the next few months:
1) Offensive line: It doesn’t hurt that this encompasses multiple positions. Ultimately, it is left tackle that the Cardinals likely need to go after the most. I have no doubt Bradley Sowell can be depth at the position, but clearly the Cards would like to upgrade there. Easier said than done, of course, and we’ll see if it comes in free agency or the draft.
2) Defensive line: You’re not going to win in the NFC West unless both lines of scrimmage are fortified. As it stands now, the defensive line seems to be OK, with Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams. But Alameda Ta’amu was an important co-nose tackle with Williams, and he is coming off ACL surgery. Dockett’s age and contract will likely call into question his future after 2014. And with Frostee Rucker a free agent, the Cardinals need depth there, especially after using rotations during the season.
3) Linebacker: This is in part a continuation of the defensive line issue, because whether you consider a pass rusher a linebacker or a defensive end in nickel situations, the Cards still need pass rushers. John Abraham was a godsend in 2013 but he is not getting younger, even if he has another double-digit sack year in his arsenal. Alex Okafor is an unknown quantity at outside linebacker after his lost rookie season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Matt Shaughnessy get away as a free agent. It’s hard to tell, since both missed most of the season, how well Lorenzo Alexander and Sam Acho fit in the defense as well. That doesn’t even include the inside, where Karlos Dansby could still leave.
4) Tight end: This position probably should be higher on the list, considering all the free agents the Cardinals have. Then again, maybe I’m just used to the Cards just getting along the best they can at tight end to make sure other spots are taken care of first. But Bruce Arians likes to use the tight end in multiple ways and use multiple tight ends. The Cards need bodies, and that’s even if Jim Dray returns. Rob Housler had flashes again last season but this is likely a make-or-break season for him to stay healthy and be consistent.
5) Safety: Even if Yeremiah Bell returns he is older. Tyrann Mathieu is coming off major knee surgery. The depth is thin, and the Cardinals, as you might have heard, had some issues covering tight ends last season. As good as Richard Sherman is, a big reason why the Seahawks secondary is so good is because Earl Thomas is backstopping Sherman and all those corners. Getting a safety like that wouldn’t be too bad.
Bonus) Quarterback: There’s no reason to list QB in the top five because the Cardinals are fine going into next season playing with Carson Palmer. There’s no argument there, really. But reality says the future QB has to be acquired sooner rather than later. This is a draft-only kind of scenario. I don’t see the Cards seeking another trade or anything. But at some point, GM Steve Keim is going to come across a quarterback he likes very much when the Cards are on the clock. And he needs to pull that trigger for down the road.
Tags: Alameda Ta'amu, Bradley Sowell, Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Darnell Dockett, draft, free agency, Frostee Rucker, John Abraham, Karlos Dansby, Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Shaughnessy, offensive line, Rob Housler, Sam Acho, Tyrann Mathieu, Yeremiah Bell
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