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On free agency eve, the Cards’ FAs-to-be

Posted by Darren Urban on March 8, 2017 – 4:07 pm

By this time tomorrow the Cardinals and the NFL will be well into free agency. The “tampering” period has given everyone plenty of opportunity to get a head start on signing players, although no visits are supposed to have been set up and no players — just agents — are supposed to have talked to teams yet.

What has floated around the Cardinals is all about their own guys so far. Linebacker Chandler Jones, who isn’t going anywhere because he was franchise tagged, is reportedly close to a contract extension with the Cards. That would help cap space, but there is nothing official yet and we’ll see how quickly it can get done. Calais Campbell has been linked to the Jaguars, Bucs and maybe Broncos, but nothing concrete, while Tony Jefferson can apparently break the bank in Cleveland if he wants, while the Ravens and Jets are also showing interest.

Reports also have cornerback Marcus Cooper getting interest from the Jets and safety D.J. Swearinger possible interest from  the Bears.

Where does that leave the Cards? Still with a long list of free agents who will hit the market officially at 2 p.m. Arizona time Thursday unless the team re-signs them beforehand. That current list:

— RB Andre Ellington
— RB Chris Johnson
— RB Stepfan Taylor
— TE Darren Fells
— G Taylor Boggs
— C A.Q. Shipley
— OL Earl Watford
— DT Calais Campbell
— DT Frostee Rucker
— LB Kevin Minter
— LB Sio Moore
— LB Alex Okafor
— CB Marcus Cooper
— S Tony Jefferson
— CB Mike Jenkins
— S D.J. Swearinger
— K Chandler Catanzaro

Free agency has arrived.


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Cardinals — on the basketball court?

Posted by Darren Urban on February 19, 2017 – 1:59 pm

Late in the season, the Cardinals’ offensive linemen installed one of those mini-basketball hoops above one of their lockers. Every once in a while, after practice, somebody (or somebodies) would take a few shots. There’s no question that over the years, plenty of players have come through that space thinking they were quite the basketball players.

Anquan Boldin could play. Kurt Warner could really play (and still does, hosting invite-only pickup games at his house in Scottsdale). Josh McCown could really play.

With the NBA all-star game today, it’s a good time to discuss who might make a solid unit for the hardwood. I’ve had the chance to talk to a handful of players about their basketball backgrounds. (I have not talked to everyone, and I am sure I will have inevitably missed some serious baller here. I ask, preemptively, for forgiveness.)

You’ve got to start with Darren Fells. The guy played pro basketball, after all. Larry Fitzgerald still likes to trash-talk Fells, and at one point there was a challenge of a one-on-one game, but I’m guessing Fitz wouldn’t like how that would turn out. Still, I’ve seen Fitz enough times in charity games that he probably could be in the starting lineup.

Our point guard would be Tyrann Mathieu, who might not quite be the same player as he was prior to a pair of ACL injuries, although I’m guessing he’d say different. (That video doesn’t exactly show the Badger against the best defense.) Calais Campbell, who at 6-foot-8 did some damage inside in high school, can be our center. And you don’t want to forget David Johnson (15.7 points, 7.9 rebounds a game as a senior in high school, and second-team all-state), who noted on Twitter he’s got a 41.5-inch vertical.

Off the bench? Kareem Martin, who played football at North Carolina, had a chance to walk on to the Tar Heels basketball team and maybe be the next Julius Peppers. Martin decided to concentrate on football, but you’ve got to have some game to be considered for UNC hoops. Some Earl Watford (Earl had some good stories about being the muscle on the court for his high school team), and a little A.Q. Shipley (A.Q., while shooting on that mini-hoop, assured me that back in the day, he was quite nimble on the court). Close it out with Tony Jefferson, who plays pretend basketball in the locker room with the trash cans more than any player ever and loves his Suns. (Yes, Jefferson was cut as a sophomore in high school, but noted that he had 16 points and five steals in his final lower-level high school appearance, so there’s that.)

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Jefferson, Campbell and “aggressive” FA efforts

Posted by Darren Urban on February 17, 2017 – 11:59 am

The Cardinals want to keep safety Tony Jefferson. They want to keep defensive tackle Calais Campbell. Whether they can is to be determined, with the free agent “tampering” period beginning March 7 and official free agency starting March 9.

“I’ve always been adamant about not negotiating through the media,” Cardinals GM Steve Keim said Friday during the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports. “But we have been, in my opinion, very aggressive with trying to re-sign the players we would like to have back. As we get closer to free agency, some players would prefer to test the market. We understand. It’s a business. But when you find guys who are core players, who you want to move forward with, you have to try to be active and aggressive and try to re-sign them.”

Will it matter? Matt Miller, an NFL writer who has had friendly interactions with Jefferson on Twitter before, tweeted Friday that Jefferson is expected to hit the free-agent market and garner offers at $7 million a season. The news has been a lot quieter around Campbell, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything either way.

The key part to this is that it is Feb. 17. That’s an eternity before March 9 in this context. Talks with everything tend to ramp up before a deadline, and we’re just too far from a deadline right now. It’s also good to note that Jefferson getting that nugget out there helps his leverage, much like the Cardinals continuing to point out they will franchise tag Chandler Jones if a deal cannot be reached with him.

(Keim said the team has had “great dialogue with Chandler” so perhaps a long-term deal isn’t out of the question quite yet.)

Still, this comes down to reality, and the reality has always been that the Cardinals have been longshots to retain Jones, Jefferson and Campbell.

“You can’t have everybody back,” Keim said. “The way the salary cap is situated, you have to make some tough decisions. You have to make some tough decisions based on what the salary is, their age, their injury history. So many things go into it. That’s the tough part of the business, because we all get emotionally attached to these guys.”

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Cards on top 101 list, but no Peterson

Posted by Darren Urban on February 8, 2017 – 1:37 pm

Is Patrick Peterson among the top 101 players from this past season?

One list — from Pro Football Focus — does not have the Cardinals cornerback on it. PFF ranks players based on grades they gave out for that season’s work. There are five Cardinals from 2016 on the list. Running back David Johnson (the guy who PFF called the best receiver in the NFL) is No. 23. Defensive lineman Calais Campbell is No. 24. Edge rusher Chandler Jones is No. 62. Safety Tony Jefferson is No. 84, and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is No. 89.

So no Peterson.

It’s not a huge surprise. PFF even talked about Peterson’s absence from an earlier all-pro team. The other five were deserving. Johnson was high on everyone’s list this season, and PFF had multiple times praised the seasons of Campbell and Jefferson. Jones proved to be a valuable acquisition and Fitz was, well, Fitz. In Peterson’s case, it was in part because of a good season by other cornerbacks (and, as my cohort Kyle Odegard points out, PFF grading doesn’t seem to take into account a lack of targets because teams throw away from a certain DB, or for the quality of receiver being covered.)

From PFF: “Peterson has been good this year, but he has allowed as many touchdowns (three) as he has interceptions, and allowed 60.6 percent of the passes thrown his way to be caught, a career high. When targeted he allowed a passer rating of 80.7, which wasn’t bad, but ranks 30th in the league and not in the same ballpark as players like Aqib Talib, who led the NFL at 47.0.”

Peterson had a response. “So does that mean these ‘experts’ will be releasing a Top 100 ‘Not Targeted’ List? Nope.” Peterson wrote in a tweet.

The other thing I see from the five Cards here — three are unrestricted free agents. All those guys are talented, but the contract year is real too.

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The market — and future — of Calais Campbell

Posted by Darren Urban on January 19, 2017 – 11:46 am

In a few weeks, Calais Campbell will be a free agent. And in many ways, he’s the most intriguing of all the Cardinals’ free agents-to-be. He’s a very good player coming off a very good season, and it won’t be a surprise to see more articles like this one come out, saying the Denver Broncos should chase the big defensive lineman to shore up some of that team’s defensive weaknesses. It makes some sense — Campbell is from Denver, that’s a team primed to keep winning (assuming they can get some consistent quarterback play), and DeMarcus Ware might be done.

But buried lower in the column is the point that Campbell wouldn’t get a big contract from the Broncos, that he’d have to come for the chance to a) come home and b) play for a winner. That’s where this gets sideways in my eyes. The Cardinals want Campbell back. No, they don’t figure to offer him the biggest contract. But if the Cardinals and, say, the Broncos are both offering similar “lesser” deals, I’d guess Campbell would stay right here. And home, for Campbell, is Arizona. It’s not Denver anymore. So there is that.

With the money that will be available overall in free agency, Calais is going to have a chance to go elsewhere and make a nice chunk of change. I don’t doubt that. He will have options to go other places, and probably multiple options. How far the Cards are willing to go for a player who will be 31 in September will be the ultimate question. It’s something the organization — and Campbell — have been considering for months. We’re just coming to the end of the story.

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Cardinals on the open market

Posted by Darren Urban on January 17, 2017 – 12:58 pm

It’s that time of year — and will continue to be, as free agency doesn’t even begin until March 9 — where the speculation of who the best free agents are and where they might land heats up. ESPN’s John Clayton put together a list of his top 50 free agents-to-be (again, contracts don’t expire until March 9, and there is always a chance teams will extend some of these guys).

One key about lists like this — free agency is always about demand. If you are 30th on this list but have multiple teams trying to track you down, that’s better than being 12th and having little interest.

Clayton has four Cardinals on this list:

— No. 4 OLB Chandler Jones
— No. 10 DL Calais Campbell
— No. 28 S Tony Jefferson
— No. 41 ILB Kevin Minter

We know where the Cardinals stand — or have an idea where they stand — on Jones, Campbell and Jefferson. Minter is a little different, although his case figures to be determined not only by the open market but also what the Cardinals want to do early in the draft.

The other interesting part of this list — the cornerbacks. Without knowing what kind of price tag they’d bring (and knowing that a cornerback might be a good target in the draft, and may be even if one is picked up in free agency), Clayton lists five in the top 49: Buffalo’s Stephon Gilmore (13), Houston’s A.J. Bouye (14), L.A.’s Trumaine Johnson (21), New England’s Logan Ryan (44) and Jacksonville’s Prince Amukamara (49).

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All-pro Cardinals, retirements, and other stuff

Posted by Darren Urban on January 6, 2017 – 2:36 pm

It’s only fitting David Johnson was named AP all-pro this season, and while I understand why Ezekiel Elliott earned the running back nod on the team, I personally felt like Johnson earned it. It’s good they changed the rules to allow for a “flex” player (instead of a fullback) because it would have been wrong for Johnson not to be a first-team this year. But I can’t really argue with the other decisions. I’ve heard from a couple of people about Patrick Peterson, but the players that earned the first- and second-team slots — Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Janoris Jenkins, Casey Hayward, Malcom Butler — all had really good years. It was good to see Calais Campbell with a second-team nod. He was good all season but really came on in the second half of the year. It’s too bad the whole team couldn’t have that consistency in their playoff push.

It was interesting to me as I looked back over the years to see what Cardinals made first-team AP all-pro that Larry Fitzgerald earned that honor only once — fittingly, in 2008, when he not only was great in the regular season but had the best playoff run any receiver has ever (and while I know there are arguments to be made for a couple of other guys, having witnessed what Fitz did in those four games, you’ll never convince me otherwise that anyone ever did it better.)

— A quick thought on the ongoing Fitz-Carson Palmer retirement speculation. Nothing has changed for me. I have long believed and still believe Palmer will play in 2017. I think if, for whatever reason, Palmer did leave, that would seal Fitzgerald’s decision. But like I said, I believe Palmer is going to play. I still think Fitz hasn’t made up his mind. Won’t surprise me whatever decision he makes (so I guess I’m saying I think he’s 50-50.) I know he took the ball for his last catch/touchdown, but he has kept significant footballs before — and don’t forget, this one did net him an NFL receptions-title — and besides, it can’t hurt to take it just in case. If he comes back, fine. I don’t think the football gives any hints, other than he is considering retirement, which we knew already.

— Don’t forget to take a listen to our Cardinals Underground wrapup season podcast.

— In case you missed it (and maybe you might’ve, since this is the first year I didn’t put it in the blog), here was my annual roster breakdown, along with who is a free agent-to-be.

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Keim: Agent talks ongoing with FAs

Posted by Darren Urban on December 19, 2016 – 8:18 am

Steve Keim noted — as was easy to see — that Calais Campbell played well in the loss to the Saints. And the Cardinals General Manager is not unaware of all the talk — including by Campbell himself — that Campbell might not be with the Cardinals next season with his free agency coming up (Campbell has made pretty clear he’d like to stay, but it’s a business.) The Cardinals have a lot of players who are about to become free agents. Keim, speaking on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, emphasized Monday it’s not like the Cards aren’t trying to be proactive with their roster.

“One thing public does not generally know, we have spoken to many agents regarding players whose contracts expire after the season and some whose contracts do not expire after the season that we’d just like to try to extend,” Keim said. “It takes two sides. Those are conversations I’ll keep to myself, that we don’t generally talk about through the media. There are several players we’d like to have back, but it takes two sides.”

— Keim said the Michael Floyd situation and subsequent release was “an unfortunate incident for both sides. Michael has moved on and we have moved on and I wish him nothing but the best.”

Keim was also asked about the reaction from the players about Floyd’s release — it wasn’t hard to see Larry Fitzgerald wasn’t thrilled with the situation — and whether the team talked to the leaders in the locker room about the move.

“No, I think the one thing, as players, you never can tell what they are thinking,” Keim said. “There is no doubt there is a tremendous amount of loyalty from player to player, which you have to respect. These guys are in the locker room and they are fighting and they are competing. There is a natural love. And listen, it’s no different as an organization, you get emotionally attached to these players. So when you have to make tough decisions it’s extremely difficult because you don’t just think of guys as football players. You also care about the person.”

(As for the reasons why Floyd was cut, team president Michael Bidwill addressed those Sunday.)

— Overall, with the playoffs officially gone, Keim said his biggest disappointment was that the team “underachieved.” He wants to use the lost season as a learning tool. Along those lines, it includes the need to build the “right kind of locker room.” Looking at a guy’s physical tools sometimes can overshadow the smarts a player has or his ability to process information, which need to be factored in.

“That’s the hardest to see as an evaluator, the heart and the mind,” Keim said.

— Keim liked what he saw from Carson Palmer Sunday, as well as Smokey Brown, Campbell and Tony Jefferson. He thought the offensive line held up “fairly well” given their circumstances. As for some of the newer/younger guys, he noticed linebacker Scooby Wright make a good block on special teams and guard Taylor Boggs hold up after being beat early. Linebacker Sio Moore was active, although Keim acknowledged he got beat a few times later in the game. As for rookies Brandon Williams and Robert Nkemdiche, Keim was muted in his praise but he still gave some, saying Nkemdiche flashed a couple of times and he still feels both will improve heading into 2017.

“Like I said last week, we’re using these last three games as somewhat of a litmus test of where you want to go in 2017 (with the roster),” Keim said.


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Saints — and playoff-hope — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 18, 2016 – 8:22 pm

OK, so the Cardinals already knew their playoff chances were basically done after the loss in Miami, but they were officially killed off Sunday. Drew Brees hadn’t done anything for two games, and then he erupted to tear apart the Cards. All the while, it was the last home game of the year and one of those games where many players understood what that meant — Calais Campbell had already been talking about it, and Tony Jefferson tweeted about it pre-game — as contracts are ending and there is so much up in the air for 2017.

Carson Palmer is under contract for 2017. He was asked about next year, and he said he expects to be playing. Larry Fitzgerald is under contract for 2017. He said he will play the final two games “as hard as I can” and then see how the offseason plays out. If Fitz is gonna stick around, he’s going to want to know he’s got a chance to make the postseason and win.

Nobody coming into this season — even if you expected the Cardinals to take a step back from 13-3 — thought the Cardinals would be a pedestrian 4-3-1 at University of Phoenix Stadium. But here they were again, in a one-score game late, unable to win it like they had so many times the past two seasons at home. That’s what stuck with Bruce Arians, and that’s one of the (many) things to undo the 2016 season.

— It wasn’t his best game statistically but it was a very good game for David Johnson, tying the franchise record for touchdowns in a season and playing more regular wide receiver than normal because of a thin receiving corps. The Saints were also attuned to Johnson as a receiver, bracketing him often on passing plays — which is new for him.

“I was joking with one of their DBs and he was telling me when they were scouting us, (they said) don’t think of me as a running back, think of me as a receiver,” Johnson said. “That was cool to hear.”

— But Johnson now needs 200 receiving yards the final two games to reach 1,000, against two good defenses. So that will be tough.

— Palmer was good, and that was with an inability to hook up with John Brown on one wide-open deep pass (Brown did haul in a 30-yard TD bomb later) and with J.J. Nelson dropping what would have been a 56-yard TD bomb. It helped that the offensive line — from left tackle to right, Wetzel, Iupati, Shipley, Boggs and Watford — held up perhaps better than expected.

“I was happy with the way we played up front,” Shipley said. “There were obviously a couple things we would like back. But for a guy like Boggs who really hasn’t played and going against a top 10 pick (Nick Fairley), I thought he did admirable. There was one play early but other than that, he did a pretty good job. And Earl being in a position he hasn’t played in a long time, and Wetz, I don’t know what number combination of offensive line this is (for us) … I was happy with how the guys responded.”

— Another rough night for special teams. Chandler Catanzaro missed a long field goal and another extra point, although the latter ended up not mattering. Justin Bethel’s offsides on the field goal was painful though, as was the fact Bethel was offsides on three different kicks — the field goal and a pair of extra points, yards added on the kickoffs.

— Linebacker Sio Moore, on the questionable blow-to-Brees’-head penalty that killed the chance for the Cardinals to hold the Saints late in a seven-point game: “I didn’t even know the flag was on me until late,” Moore said quietly. “It was unfortunate timing for a call like that. I can’t argue with the refs. I’ve just got to figure what I’ve got to do so that situation doesn’t come up on my bill.”

— If you missed it, team president Michael Bidwill before the game addressed — strongly — the Michael Floyd situation.

— Campbell, in his ninth NFL season, scored on a 53-yard fumble return and that was the first time Campbell had been in the end zone since his senior year in high school when he had a four-touchdown game as a tight end. That was 2003.

— Tim Hightower is famous around these parts for scoring the game-winning touchdown in the NFC Championship game back in the 2008 season. He was traded away before the 2011 season, suffered a terrible knee injury and didn’t play in an NFL game from 2012-14, but has resurrected his career in New Orleans. Sunday, he scored two touchdowns in the same end zone where he beat the Eagles in 2008.

“I’m just thankful,” Hightower said. “This process has been one that has tested me in every way. … Just thinking of the last (Saints) loss here a year ago (in the 2015 opener). I wasn’t even on the roster. I was released the day before the game. It kind of had everything come back full circle. It was special.”

— Hightower was in the same Cardinals draft class as Campbell. It wasn’t surprising to see the two friends swap jerseys after the game. Campbell said he knew Hightower was behind him on his touchdown run, as Hightower tried to Beebe Campbell from behind. “I felt it,” Campbell said. “I pulled the ball up when I felt him coming for it. I told him, ‘If you had knocked the ball from my hands, we wouldn’t have been friends any longer.’ ”

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Friday before the Saints

Posted by Darren Urban on December 16, 2016 – 4:21 pm

Larry Fitzgerald slowly sat in the chair in front of his locker for his weekly meeting with the press.

“The body is definitely feeling Week 15-ish and 33-ish,” Fitzgerald said with a weary smile.

The season has taken a toll on the Cardinals physically. You can see that in the lengthy injured reserve list alone. An inability to reach expectations has taken a toll mentally too, and that was apparent this week with the virtual elimination from the playoffs and the Michael Floyd situation.

“When things are not going the way you expected or hoped it would go, it does feel not only worse on the body but it feels like the season is longer,” Fitzgerald said. “I remember last year, I woke up and we were in the playoffs. It was like it was fast forward the whole season. I guess that’s how it goes when you are having fun and enjoying it and things are kind of clicking.”

Things have not been clicking for the Cards, not lately, and not enough. You think back to the last time the Saints were in town and the Cardinals beat them, 31-19, in the 2015 opener in a game sealed by David Johnson’s first touchdown.

Man, that seems like a lifetime ago.

— With a ton of free agents and even the possibility of a Fitzgerald retirement, this could be the last home game for a lot of guys. One is defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who will be a free agent and as we noted last week, may be too expensive to keep. So this could be his last home game too.

“It’s only natural to think back and realize that possibility,” Campbell said on his Big Red Rage radio show Thursday night. “It’s a harsh reality but it is reality. I really want to embrace it and enjoy it. It’s sad — it’s been nine years and I’ve had an unbelievable time playing at University of Phoenix Stadium and playing with the Arizona Cardinals in front of these amazing Birdgang fans. It’s been quite the ride, so I’m looking forward to it and hopefully we can make some good things happen.”

“It’s definitely going to be emotional,” Campbell added. “Probably going to have to hold back some tears.”

— Bruce Arians said newcomer Scooby Wright will be active Sunday. The former University of Arizona star will play special teams. I don’t expect him to play defense. Sio Moore is replacing Deone Bucannon in the defensive lineup.

— It’ll be interesting to see how the new offensive line holds up and how much quarterback Carson Palmer will have to endure. This week is one thing, but the Cards face the daunting defensive fronts of the Seahawks and Rams — on the road — the final two games.

— Palmer insisted he wasn’t worried about the line. He was going to play behind whomever was out there and it would be fine. So, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, if Palmer says he’s not worried, does that make you feel better?

“If he’s not worried, I’m not worried — but I’m always worried,” Goodwin said. “It’s the nature of the beast.”

— Arians wouldn’t say that rookie first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche would play Sunday, although he didn’t rule it out. He did say Nkemdiche was “working hard.” It was a more positive take on the defensive tackle. Hopefully that’s good news.

— It’s so cool to see Tim Hightower still having some NFL success. I still remember being on the field, standing on the sidelines at the 10, watching him pile into the end zone to win the NFC championship.

— This is, by the way, the 200th career game for Fitzgerald.

— One home game left. In some ways, it does seem like it flew by. But mostly, Fitz is right — kickoff against the Patriots seems years past, and not just months.

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