The Cardinals’ initial foray into free agency was offense-heavy. Not a big shock, since that side of the ball need the most work. As the draft approaches, however, the focus may just shift. Because even though Bruce Arians is an offensive guy, GM Steve Keim has a belief that the good teams in this salary cap work have a dominant side of the ball. And the Cardinals — with the No. 1 rush defense and the sixth-ranked defense overall — aren’t in that realm on the offensive side of the ball.
“Seattle was a dominant defense with a solid offense,” Keim said. “Denver was a dominant offense with an OK defense. In our situation, we are closer to having a dominant defense. So I think you have to continue to throw gas on the fire. Continue to build the strength.”
That’s why cornerback Antonio Cromartie shot to the top of the to-do list after he was cut by the Jets. The move surprised the Cards — they did not think New York would let him go — but rallied to understand the situation and aggressively court him. It was only a one-year contract, but the team proved last year with linebacker Karlos Dansby that could be a golden type of situation. There are still spots defensively that need shoring up (like the need for a safety or inside linebacker depth), and there is also Keim’s quest to get longer and more athletic with his 3-4 defensive ends and the pass rushers outside. The draft could very well provide those things. But when you start looking at the top end talent on the roster, it is the defense that claims many of the spots, whether it is Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell or Daryl Washington. (Or even, as Ron Wolfley points out, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who fortunately for the Cards did not get a head coaching job.)
The offense isn’t going to be ignored — “We know we have areas we need to fix and it certainly needs to catch up with the defense,” Keim said — but a defensive juggernaut is the first goal. It’s what has put the Seahawks and 49ers into the stratosphere they are in, and why the Cards returned to relevance last season.
Tags: 49ers, Antonio Cromartie, Calais Campbell, Daryl Washington, defense, draft, Patrick Peterson, Seahawks, Steve Keim, Todd Bowles
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During this slow time of the NFL year, it’s hard not to notice little things, like the comments of Karlos Dansby saying he expects to remain a Cardinal. Big news? Not really. But it’s more defined than Dansby was at the end of the season, so that, to me, breeds more optimism. Dansby is probably the most high-profile free-agent-to-be the Cards want to re-sign. Which got me thinking of the franchise tag, because of all the free agents the Cards have (and in part because the Cards, Dansby and the franchise tag were synonymous for a while.)
Teams can use the franchise tag as early as Monday. The tag, for those unfamiliar, is a set number for each position based on the top five or top 10 salaries at that position the previous year. It’s a guaranteed salary as soon as the player signs it. If a player is tagged, he can still sign elsewhere, but his original team has a chance to match, and if they don’t, there is a heavy price to pay — usually a pair of first-round picks. The chances are good right now, for instance, that Saints tight end Jimmy Graham will be tagged so he doesn’t hit the open market in March.
The Cardinals, however, don’t have that issue. Dansby is not going to be franchise tagged (at a projected $10.9 million for linebackers for one season.) None of the Cards’ free-agents-to-be fall into that category, in fact. Even for players the Cardinals could want to re-sign — linebacker Matt Shaughnessy, wide receiver Andre Roberts, tackle Eric Winston, for instance — aren’t going to command the kind of money nor get from the Cards anywhere close to the kind of money the tag dictates. There is a reason it is called the “franchise” tag because it is supposed to be for franchise-type players.
UPDATE: I was reminded of a ruling in a case of Drew Brees, who was once franchised by San Diego and later by New Orleans, that tags are considered cumulatively over a player’s entire career, not just if they are in consecutive years. So Dansby, since he was already franchised twice in his career, would be considered tagged for a third time if the Cards were to do so, making his salary an average of the top five salaries in the league. That’s quarterback money, and only underscores why Dansby wouldn’t be tagged again.
The last time the Cardinals used a franchise tag, it was on defensive end Calais Campbell in 2012. That time, the tag did exactly what it was supposed to do — buy the two sides extra time to negotiate a long-term deal. Before that, the last tagged guy was Dansby. He got it two years in a row, and then, well, we know how that turned out. Funny that now that the Cards won’t be tagging him again, he probably has a better chance of sticking around.
Tags: Andre Roberts, Calais Campbell, Eric Winston, franchise tag, Karlos Dansby, Matt Shaughnessy
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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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Defensive end Calais Campbell had a Pro Bowl year, although he didn’t make the team. (He was an alternate, but alas, no bump up.) Linebacker Karlos Dansby had a Pro Bowl year (yet, stunningly, he wasn’t even an alternate). But they haven’t been completely overlooked, with both showing up on a couple of more all-star-type postseason lists.
Profootballfocus.com did their all-NFC West team, and given the strengths of the defenses in the division, cracking that lineup is impressive. Campbell and Dansby did, along with cornerback Patrick Peterson (and there was also a mention of Daryl Washington as a strong candidate, too.) Offensively, the Cardinals got wide receiver Michael Floyd and running back Andre Ellington on the team, as well as special teamer Justin Bethel, whom PFF considers the best special teams player in the NFL.
Meanwhile, the USA Today has put out its annual “All-Joe” team, which is a nod to the under-appreciated around the league. Two Cards found their way on to that list: Campbell and Dansby.
The line on Campbell: “The best 3-4 end in the NFL not named J.J. Watt, Campbell posted a career-best nine sacks while crushing tailbacks for the NFL’s top run defense. He also excels at blocking kicks with his 6-8 frame.” The line on Dansby: “Returned to the desert after three years in Miami and turned in his best season. His career-high 114 solo tackles complemented 6.5 sacks. He also picked off four passes (returning two for scores) and broke up 19 passes, tied for most among linebackers.”
Tags: Andre Ellington, Calais Campbell, Justin Bethel, Karlos Dansby, Michael Floyd, Patrick Peterson, Pro Football Focus, USA Today
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This is what happens, even after a 10-6 season and a finale that goes down to the final play of the game and an exciting trading of four scores in the last 3:30 of the fourth quarter. All of it seems so inconsequential, because immediately, your thoughts go to the future.
There will be lots and lots of time to speculate, break down and report on what is going to happen with the Cardinals this offseason. Certainly I won’t cover it all tonight or even tomorrow on the final day for the players. There are a lot of free agents-to-be, a lot of decisions that have to be made, and most guys are going to say they’d love to be back. Because of course they will, as long as the money is right, and I do not blame them. The shelf life is relatively short in this league. You don’t pass up a big contract elsewhere because you like the vibe your feeling in the current locker room. I mean, you can (and sometimes, you might), but you take the guaranteed money where you can get it. That’s the business.
So where does that put the Cardinals now, on Sunday night, after a finale that started terribly and ended almost magically and once again underscored just how far this team has come.
“This is a totally different ballclub (from 2012), not just looking at the wins and losses but with the mindset of the guys in the locker room,” safety Rashad Johnson said. “That starts with coach Arians. You can tell it’s a different feel with this team.”
– In a lot of ways, Sunday encapsulated the season. There was a slow start but ultimately, the Cards rallied. The defense played well against the run and gave up a crucial pass or two. Offensively the Cardinals threw an interception but did enough to keep the team in the game. If nothing else, the Cardinals showed the last two weeks they have nothing to fear from the Seahawks or 49ers. Remember that Arians’ training camp quote about how he didn’t see a dominate team in the division? Well, from the perspective of his team, he was right.
– Yeah, that Saints game went exactly how it looked like it was going to go. And the NaVorro Bowman pick against the Falcons was really the death knell.
– If you are looking for the Cardinals’ full list of 2014 opponents, click right here.
- -And as I mentioned in that post, the Cards will pick 20th in the draft.
– It’s been mentioned before but the Cardinals have got to find a way to stem the turnover tide against the Niners. In the last 10 games – nine losses – the Cards have turned the ball over 30 times and forced just seven.
– Linebacker Karlos Dansby, on his Pro Bowl snub: “(I’ve) got to do more. There’s always room for improvement.”
– Dan Williams played very well at nose tackle Sunday. But that ACL tear for Alameda Ta’amu hurts. The Williams/Ta’amu combo was a big reason the Cardinals finished with the best rush defense in the NFL. Ta’amu, if he does have an ACL tear, is gonna be down for a while.
– Speaking of that run defense, Frank Gore (14 yards on 13 carries) was absolutely stoned. The Niners got cutesy early with some impressive misdirection, running wide receivers Anquan Boldin (11-yard run) and Quinton Patton (26 yards) on the first drive on end arounds. That’s 37 of the 83 rushing yards the Cards gave up (and QB Colin Kaepernick had 24 himself.)
– Fitz finishes with a flourish, 113 yards on six catches. Couldn’t get the 160 he needed for 1,000, but a nice ending.
– Do the Cardinals draft a quarterback? Possibly. As I said before, Steve Keim won’t take a guy he doesn’t love. But I fully expect Carson Palmer to go into the offseason work as starter, and I expect if he plays next season to be more efficient (with fewer picks.)
– Defensive end Calais Campbell with his ninth sack. Here’s hoping, as an alternate, he ends up in that Pro Bowl. Because he really had a Pro Bowl season.
OK, that’s enough for now. More tomorrow as the Cardinals wrap up with exit physicals, and much more over the offseason. No one ask me what I do now that the season is over. There will be plenty to write about.
Tags: 49ers, Alameda Ta'amu, Bruce Arians, Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Dan Williams, Frank Gore, Karlos Dansby, Larry Fitzgerald, quarterback
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The Pro Bowl players will be announced Friday night at 7 p.m. Arizona time during a special on NFL Network (and you’ll get the info here too, on azcardinals.com), but for now, the Cardinals hoping to go can only wait. Cornerback Patrick Peterson seems like a lock to make his Pro Bowl appearances three-for-three in his young career, and defensive end Calais Campbell is certainly deserving.
There are a couple of other deserving Cards too, and they might be the most intriguing storylines. One is special teamer Justin Bethel, who has had a fantastic season. So too has linebacker Karlos Dansby, who is seeking his first Pro Bowl bid in his 10th NFL season. Both are helped by the fact in the new Pro Bowl format in which conferences do not matter — all the choices from a position could conceivably come from just the NFC, which gives breathing room — but at this point, neither one is counting on anything.
“I’m kind of nervous, but I’ve done all I can do,” Bethel said. “Hopefully everyone saw (my play) and we will see what happens.”
It’s long been the Pro Bowl adage that a player ends up making the Pro Bowl a year after he deserves to go and at the end of a career, a year beyond he should have. Bethel knows such things, but he is hoping he showed enough as a rookie last season that this would be “the year after.”
“I was thinking about that last year, because at the end of the season I was playing at a high level,” Bethel said. “If it happens it happens. (Not making it) is not going to deter me from working harder.”
Dansby is in a slightly different spot. He wants to make the game, but he has made a lot of money and is confident in his play — and he also knows that Pro Bowl slots don’t always line up with the players that are most deserving.
“It’d be a great honor,” Dansby said. “But it ain’t going to crush me because my play speaks for itself. It always has. It’s just getting recognized now. Balled in the AFC too, different scheme, first time playing Mike linebacker (last season). This is my second year playing Mike. I’m having fun. I’m still learning the game from a different angle and I’m having fun. I can’t say that enough.”
– There are only a couple of hours left in this auction of Anquan Boldin’s game-worn jersey that December Sunday back in 2003 when he set the NFL record for receptions by a rookie in a season. If you’re up for trying for the jersey — with proceeds going to Cardinals Charities — click here.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Calais Campbell, Justin Bethel, Karlos Dansby, Patrick Peterson, Pro Bowl
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