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Analyzing the initial 53-man roster

Posted by Darren Urban on September 3, 2016 – 4:55 pm

The Cardinals have gotten down to the 53-man roster. Surprises? Perhaps a couple, although the way the wind was blowing over the last few days of the preseason, maybe not so much. Once we got to the end of the fourth preseason game, it was looking good for undrafted ILB Lamar Louis, and the knee injury of Kareem Martin might have helped ILB Gabe Martin on to the final roster (as well as his pick-6), although Martin has caught their collective eye for a while. I think cornerback Cariel Brooks had a good chance to make the team until he played so poorly against the Broncos.

The one legit surprise — in my eyes — was the Cardinals keeping Olsen Pierre, meaning there are nine defensive linemen on the final 53. Nine! That’s on a team with a 3-4 base defense that will use Chandler Jones as a defensive end in some passing situations. Then again, this could be partly for the future, not wanting to lose Pierre (and thinking he can play) when both Frostee Rucker and Calais Campbell are going into the last year of their contracts.

— The roster breakdown, right now, looks like this:
QB – 2
RB – 4
WR – 5
TE – 3
OL – 9
DL – 9
LB – 9 (counting Bucannon; sorry Deone)
CB – 4
S —  5
ST – 3

— So many wondered if Matt Barkley would stick, but as I have said many, many, many times, Drew Stanton was the No. 2 and Barkley simply didn’t show enough to pass him up. The Cardinals will have a QB on the practice squad — it could be Barkley — but it was clear listening to Bruce Arians over the time in camp he was disappointed Barkley didn’t come along faster.

— The trade for Marcus Cooper underscored the need for a veteran cornerback. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cards kept looking at that position.

— The same goes for backup tackle, although John Wetzel showed enough to stick for now.

— Only one draft pick wasn’t kept, cornerback Harlan Miller. I wouldn’t be surprised if Miller came back on the practice squad, but if you are Miller, knowing how much the Cards needed cornerbacks, you have to be disappointed you couldn’t make inroads in making the roster.

— When in doubt, teams go younger. That’s how you stay competitive.

— Teams will start making waiver claims tomorrow. There is still a (good) chance this 53 won’t be the 53 when the Cardinals return to practice Tuesday.

53blog


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Veldheer restructure would help cap space

Posted by Darren Urban on August 9, 2016 – 9:01 am

The Cardinals have been tight up against the salary cap — overthecap.com estimates they have (had?) only about $2.2 million in space, the NFLPA puts the number around $3.4 million — and usually at this time of year, GM Steve Keim likes to have more wiggle room than this. That’s partly to account for unknowns (IR players, needing to sign veteran help) and for potential other plans (like a contract extension.)

That’s why it was interesting but not altogether shocking to see the Field Yates tweet this morning saying the team had converted $6M of left tackle Jared Veldheer’s $7.25M salary into a signing bonus. It would be an immediate win-win. Veldheer gets his money now instead of in 17 installments over the season, the Cardinals create $4M more of salary cap room (although they push some of Veldheer’s cap hit into future years, so there is a down side.)

It becomes a little more interesting after Bruce Arians’ comment on Arizona Sports 98.7 Monday that the Cardinals are hoping to have another three or four extensions done at some point. That may be overly optimistic, but we will see — the Cards certainly have a laundry list of players who are up after the season. The Cards also might want to add a vet for depth on the offensive line too, although in my opinion D.J. Humphries is progressing just fine at right tackle. But the final decisions at center and right tackle remain up in the air for now.

There’s another point to be made about extensions too, and that’s any bigger one probably could lower the current salary cap number for a particular player, say a Chandler Jones (who I would guess be next of the big names the Cards would want to try and lock up) or a Michael Floyd or Calais Campbell. Their cap numbers for this year, respectively, are $7.8M, $7.3M and $15.25M. The recent Palmer and Fitzgerald extensions didn’t impact the cap. Those moves were about gaining roster certainty for 2017.

In any event, Keim now would have some room to do any number of things as the Cards set up for what they hope is a deep run this season.

CapSpace


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Thoughts after the Red-White practice

Posted by Darren Urban on August 6, 2016 – 4:56 pm

Here we are after the Red-White practice, the annual first real break point of training camp. From here on out — save for the bye week — the Cardinals will have a football game every week. That starts this coming Friday with the preseason opener at home against Oakland.

But first, a few thoughts and analysis after the Red-White work, which featured a lot more live play than I was expecting. It was good to see real football again. I know Andre Ellington agrees.

— Among the “stars” Saturday was wide receiver Jaron Brown, who made several nice catches — including a 25-yard TD reception from Larry Fitzgerald on the WR option pass. Brown is one of those guys who could easily be with another team making more plays than he does in Arizona. He simply has too many talented guys ahead of him.

— Ellington also looked very good as a receiver. The Cards’ passing game looked pretty sharp all around.

— Calais Campbell and Chandler Jones caused havoc up front as the practice went on. Jones continues to show he will be a great pass rusher.

— Not a great sign considering both Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians have said short-yardage improvement is a priority, but during “live” play in the middle of the field Chris Johnson was stuffed for a loss on a fourth-and-1 run.

— And in the goal line “live” drill, the first-string offense failed to score in three tries. There was an incomplete play-action pass, and then David Johnson was swamped under on two other runs. Linebacker Kevin Minter got Johnson the first time (Minter had a smile about it, as you can see in the picture), while veteran DT Red Bryant led the charge to blow up the final attempt.

— The second-unit offense was more successful in goal line, scoring twice on runs by Chris Johnson and Elijhaa Penny.

— Despite all the hitting/tackling, no one seemed to get hurt, although guard Mike Iupati did go down on a play when it looked like someone rolled up on his legs. Iupati was able to get back in after one play though, so crisis averted.

— Crowd was estimated at 25,000.

— The Cards are off Sunday, and resume practice Monday.

MinterSmileUSE


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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 23, 2016 – 1:35 pm

The players have been gone for a couple of weeks. The coaches are on vacation. Now is the time for them to not think about football, since football will dominate lives when the end of July arrives.

In the meantime, it is the perfect time to speculate and predict.

As I have done for a number of years, here are my picks, in late June, of who will be the starters for the Cardinals when they begin the regular season Sept. 11 against the Patriots on “Sunday Night Football.” They are the best guesses for a team that has yet to take part in training camp, yet to absorb any of the inevitable camp injuries, yet to sign anyone late as a Steve Keim blue light special.

While the Cardinals often are in some sort of sub-package, for this post we are going with the base defense. I’ll post my thoughts on the offense tomorrow (and here they are):

DT – Calais Campbell. Going into the last year of his contract, Campbell’s future with the Cardinals is fuzzy. But the Pro Bowler has played well, and the addition of Chandler Jones figures to make him better, and in a year where the Cards are going to push for a Super Bowl, he’ll be a key piece.

NT – Corey Peters. The Cards like Rodney Gunter, who was solid as a rookie. But Peters was impressing coaches before his Achilles injury last season, and I expect him to make a similar push to get back into the starting lineup by the time the season starts. Other than Campbell, the defensive line starter positions are a) up for grabs and b) part of a rotation, anyway. One caveat: This is assuming Peters is indeed all the way healthy, but coach Bruce Arians said Peters would be ready to go come camp.

DT – Frostee Rucker. Rucker missed offseason work with a foot injury, and he may not be ready right when camp opens. But assuming he doesn’t miss too much time, he figures to find his way into the lineup again. He’s been solid the last couple of seasons, and while there is youth available (Gunter, Nkemdiche, Stinson) Rucker still leads the way.

OLB – Chandler Jones. He was penciled into the lineup the day he arrived in a trade. He’ll be a three-down player.

ILB – Deone Bucannon. Last year at this time I picked Bucannon to be the starting strong safety. It was, after all, where he spent the entire 2015 offseason working. Then, when camp began, Buc was back at dollar linebacker. The Cards don’t even pretend he is anything but anymore.

ILB – Kevin Minter. He got his chance to show he could be a starter last year, and he made it work. He’ll be back in place again as he goes into the last year of his contract.

OLB – Markus Golden. When it comes to outside linebackers, Jones is the star, Alex Okafor is the former starter on the comeback trail after his dicey exit to 2015, and Dwight Freeney is the still-available free agent. Meanwhile, Golden, who was solid as a rookie, will slide into the starting spot opposite Jones. He’ll have the chance to be a nice bookend.

CB – Patrick Peterson. Yes, 2014 was mostly forgettable. Peterson couldn’t have made 2015 more memorable. That was the stud cornerback he could be, and the one the Cards are counting on going forward.

CB – Justin Bethel. There is competition, not from someone unsigned, but from the rookies. If Bethel is going to grab this job, he has to hold off raw rookie Brandon Williams. He should be able to do that.

FS – Tyrann Mathieu. In the end, I think Mathieu finds a way to be ready by “Sunday Night Football” to open the season. If not, Tyvon Branch – who will get a lot of playing time anyway – is around. The Cards need a healthy and productive Mathieu.

SS – Tony Jefferson. Branch will be in the mix too, and D.J. Swearinger will make a push, but in the end I think Jefferson finds his way on to the field first, as the Cards once again mix-and-match often their secondary. (Would I be surprised if Branch starts? Not at all.)

DefenseWorth


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Mathieu, Fitz go back-to-back on top 100

Posted by Darren Urban on June 22, 2016 – 5:33 pm

As the NFL Network’s top 100 list pulled into the top 30 Wednesday night, not one but two Cardinals made the list. Safety Tyrann Mathieu is No. 28 on the list, with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald at No. 27. It is Mathieu’s first inclusion on the list, while this is the sixth time Fitzgerald has made it. Both players figured to be honored, given how they played in 2015. Heck, Fitzgerald made the list even in his down statistical years, so he was a lock to get in after a 109-catch season.

For those keeping track, Fitz has gone from 14th to seventh to 22nd to 38th to 68th and now back to 27th.

Mathieu, meanwhile, was still an all-pro even with his ACL tear. The way he has been playing, Mathieu has proved when he is healthy, he’ll be a lock for this list. He’s not only incredibly productive, but popular too all across the league (this list is voted on by players.)

The Cardinals already had two others on this year’s list: DT Calais Campbell at No. 71, and OLB Chandler Jones at No. 48. Cornerback Patrick Peterson figures to land in the top 20 — which is all that is left. Is it possible QB Carson Palmer will be in the top 20? Or will he be left off the list?


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Five Cardinals make PFF’s top 101

Posted by Darren Urban on June 16, 2016 – 10:03 am

While the NFL Network top 100 list continues to be counted down, profootballfocus.com has their own list of the top 101 players in the league. The site usually has a top 101 list after the season based on the season just completed. But now, they have a top 101 list of players right now based on overall body of work and with all positions being equal — meaning a good quarterback could still be behind a lineman if the lineman is exceptional.

Five Cardinals made the list: DB Tyrann Mathieu at No. 18 (PFF is one of the strongest outlets in referring to Mathieu more as a cornerback instead of a safety, since he plays so many snaps there), CB Patrick Peterson at No. 32, QB Carson Palmer at No. 40, DT Calais Campbell at No. 89 and G Evan Mathis at No. 98. Here’s a sampling of what PFF said on each:

Mathieu: “Whether you want to call him a safety or a cornerback, Tyrann Mathieu is one of the league’s best defensive backs. He is a true playmaker on defense and has the ability to move around and cause matchup problems for offenses, putting them on the back foot for once in a league that usually forces defenses to react, not the other way around.”

Peterson: “At his best, Patrick Peterson is one of the league’s top shutdown corners, or as close as anybody can get to that term in today’s NFL of pass-happy rules.”

Palmer: “Palmer had the league’s highest average depth of target, and his expected inaccuracy rate given the passes he was attempting should have been the highest in the league. As it turned out, he was the best on intermediate and deep throws, and if I knew I was getting that guy in 2016, he would by vying for a place inside the top-five on this list.”

Campbell: “While his ceiling may be some way short of J.J. Watt or Aaron Donald, he is still a major impact player on defense and capable of screwing up an offense’s plans almost single-handedly.”

Mathis: “PFF’s affinity for Evan Mathis has been no secret over the years. He is a player that has consistently graded well when he has been on the field, and even this past season when carrying injuries and splitting time in Denver, he was one of the best-graded guards in the league, and the highest-graded run blocker.”

PalmerPFF101


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Campbell first Cardinal on NFLN top 100

Posted by Darren Urban on May 18, 2016 – 6:42 pm

It’s that time of year when the NFL Network has begun their countdown of the top 100 players of the league, based on voting from players (I’m not sure how many vote; that’s always been a little bit of a mystery.) The first Cardinal showed up Wednesday at No. 71, when Calais Campbell — listed by the Cardinals as a defensive tackle, listed in the video as a defensive end — was named. It was a nice jump for Campbell, who was No. 99 on the same list this time last year.

Campbell should be the first of a handful of Cardinals on the list, based on what the team did last season. Patrick Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald will repeat on the list, Tyrann Mathieu should be on there and it’s hard to think Carson Palmer wouldn’t make an appearance. Ten more players are unveiled every Wednesday.


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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 little cap space, and potential vets

Posted by Darren Urban on May 11, 2016 – 2:14 pm

The Cardinals have signed everyone. Their six draft picks are under contract and they have their current 90-man roster. Any moves from here have to be one-for-one on the roster, and whether they impact the offseason salary cap would depend on who they bring in (A reminder: Only the top 51 count against the cap until the first week of the regular season.)

As of Wednesday, the NFLPA website has the Cardinals with about $4.9 million in cap space and the most current contracts in the league (91 — which includes the suspended Daryl Washington.) That’s not a ton of room, although, as always, there are moves that can be made to create space if needed. Many have asked if the Cardinals are going to sign a veteran cornerback (Jerraud Powers most often comes up) or vet pass rusher Dwight Freeney. I could still see either, but at this point, I’d expect it to be one of those Keim Time deals around camp for minimum or close to it, if it were to happen.

In the meantime, I’d think the Cardinals will use the offseason work of OTAs and minicamp to figure out if there is a big need at either of those spots, or perhaps a veteran backup offensive tackle. To bring in a vet means one less spot for a young player. If you believe in the two cornerbacks you just drafted, for instance, it’s much harder to keep both on the roster if a guy like Powers comes back.

The Cardinals also have to figure within the cap any potential contract extensions, which could add to the cap crunch (Tyrann Mathieu) or ease it (Calais Campbell), although Kent Somers noted no new deals are close.


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Campbell gets an agent, and the cap

Posted by Darren Urban on March 31, 2016 – 10:41 am

Recently, defensive tackle Calais Campbell noted he was searching for a new agent. Campbell has one now, according to the NFLPA, choosing power broker Tom Condon. Campbell, of course, has a salary cap number of $15.25 million this season and a salary of $9.5M in the final year of his deal, so he is a candidate to be extended if the Cards wanted to lower that number. Campbell recently said he wasn’t sure if the Cardinals were going to engage in contract talks, but that they had asked who is agent was going to be.

Interestingly, Condon is also the agent for safety Tyrann Mathieu, who figures to be in contract extension talks himself as he also heads into the final year of his contract. Mathieu, on his rookie deal, would have his cap rise with a new deal, however. Mathieu’s cap number is only $1.74M for 2016.

Right now, the Cardinals only have $3.62 million in salary cap space, according to the NFLPA. Some type of move seems inevitable for the Cards to get through the rest of the offseason. They still need to eventually sign draft picks, not to mention the possibility of adding a veteran at a later date.


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