As we maneuver through the dead of the offseason (and I finally get some time off), it’s a chance to survey the landscape of the Cardinals and make predictions about the season opening starters a couple of months from now – like I did with the defense yesterday.
Today, before I disappear for a bit, here is the offensive version, which, given the return of all the skill players, isn’t exactly an exercise in rocket science:
QB – Carson Palmer. As long as he’s healthy and productive, the Cardinals will remain a contender.
RB – David Johnson. The Cards hope that vets Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington stay healthy and contribute to Bruce Arians’ multi-pronged offense. But make no mistake, David Johnson is the running back in this offense.
WR – Larry Fitzgerald. He’s coming of a renaissance season only to be stepping into the will-he-or-won’t-he-retire last year of his contract. Still, he remains the soul of this offense.
WR – Michael Floyd. Also going into a contract year. Had a slightly slow start, but his dominance for a long stretch mid-to-late in the year showed how much of an impact he can really make. Yet another of the weapons that will make this team so hard to defend.
WR—Smokey Brown. Arians said Brown slumped late in the year, so the goal now is for Brown to carry through his talents for 16 games. Avoiding a nagging hamstring injury like the one that bothered him for a chunk of last season would be a good starting point.
TE – Darren Fells. Jermaine Gresham will get plenty of playing time, but Fells quietly had a very solid season last year, and Palmer said he’s shed 20 pounds and looks even better through the spring.
RT – D.J. Humphries. One of the few offensive question marks. All signs point to the 2015 first-round pick starting this season after learning a hard lesson as an inactive player for all 16 games as a rookie. If the Cardinals sign a veteran right tackle as camp opens, all bets are off.
RG – Evan Mathis. The Cardinals signed the Super Bowl champ to a one-year contract hoping he can not only solidify the line but also serve as a mentor – or at least give veteran help — to Humphries.
C – A.Q. Shipley. Eventually, the Cardinals want fourth-round pick Evan Boehm to win this job. But can the rookie learn enough to beat out Shipley by September? I’m guessing it takes a little longer than that.
LG – Mike Iupati. Comes to Cardinals, makes the Pro Bowl, the running game piles up almost 2,000 yards. Probably not a coincidence.
LT – Jared Veldheer. The offensive line overhaul with Steve Keim began with the Veldheer signing back in 2013. The Cards wanted a left tackle anchor. They got one.
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Carson Palmer, D.J. Humphries, Darren Fells, David Johnson, Evan Mathis, Jared Veldheer, John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Mike Iupati
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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.
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?
Tags: Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Chandler Jones, Larry Fitzgerald, NFL Network, Tyrann Mathieu
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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.”
Tags: Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Evan Mathis, Patrick Peterson, Pro Football Focus, Tyrann Mathieu
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It’s not “Hard Knocks,” and that’s something Bruce Arians insisted upon from the start. That’s why the coach always said he didn’t want to do the HBO training camp series, because of how it showed things like players being cut — a cold way to have someone’s professional life laid bare for the world to see. Michael Bidwill agreed, although both liked some of the things “Hard Knocks” did show, like the human side of players and coaches.
In a very general way, that’s how “All or Nothing,” the story of the 2015 Cardinals, came to be.
There are still a few weeks before the series is available on Amazon. July 1 is that date (if you didn’t already know), when all eight episodes will be there on demand for everyone to see. Want to binge? Go ahead. Want to space them out? Your call. Do you prefer to watch with your kids and have the sometimes harsh words of the NFL bleeped out? There will be both unrated and edited versions.
I have only seen one episode, the seventh that chronicled the win over the Packers in the playoffs. It was, as you can imagine in something put together by NFL Films, pretty epic. The original score — which has a main theme that can be heard during the Brentson Buckner portion of the trailer — is excellent. And even though you know what will happen, to see how the emotions flowed not just for the players but others (like Arians’ wife Chris) is simply riveting television.
A couple other thoughts I had about the series, based on what we saw:
— Buckner, who is a great quote and a colorful figure, sure seems like he is going to be one of the stars.
— It reminds you of who isn’t here anymore. Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson were so important to last year’s team and this will rightfully reflect that and it’s a little weird since they are no longer on the roster.
— Carson Palmer had said that even with the mics and cameras Arians “was still B.A.” all last season and, yes, that was apparent.
— Crazy to think defensive coordinator James Bettcher specifically talked to the team about defending an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary before the game, and yet Rodgers still pulled one off.
I’m looking forward to seeing the whole series. I’m guessing it will live up to the hype.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, All or Nothing, Brentson Buckner, Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, James Bettcher, Jerraud Powers, Rashad Johnson
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The NFL Players Association announced today that the 2016 salary cap will be $155.27 million, about a $12 million jump from 2015. It’s a sizable number. With the slightly more than $3 million the Cardinals carried over from their leftover 2015 cap, General Manager Steve Keim will have a salary cap of about $158 million with which to work this season.
With that number, both overthecap.com and spotrac.com estimate the Cards will have between $19M and $20M of cap space going into free agency. The Cardinals have seven players that are scheduled to have cap hits of at least $5 million in 2016:
— QB Carson Palmer $17.88M
— WR Larry Fitzgerald $15.85M
— DT Calais Campbell $15.25M
— CB Patrick Peterson $13.07M
— T Jared Veldheer $9M
— WR Michael Floyd $7.32M
— G Mike Iupati $5.7M
Of those players, it makes the most sense to adjust the numbers of Campbell and Floyd through extensions. Otherwise, Keim and the front office have already figured out their plan for free agency through these numbers. There will be teams with tons of cap room, in order to overpay a player if they chose. The Cards will do what they do — target free agents at a certain price, and if they can’t convince them to sign, then move on. The “legal tampering” part of free agency begins in a week. Actual agreements cannot begin until March 9, a week from Wednesday.
Tags: Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, free agency, Jared Veldheer, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Mike Iupati, Patrick Peterson, salary cap
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Is there an urgency for the Cardinals to develop a young quarterback, given that starter Carson Palmer is 36 years old? That’s not even a question that needs to be asked at this point. It’s not like the Cards haven’t been talking and thinking about this since Steve Keim and Bruce Arians came into power, though. There was a reason they drafted Logan Thomas in 2014.
So Thomas didn’t work out, and the team traded for Matt Barkley, and at this point, Barkley too is mostly an unknown. He didn’t get any significant practice time in the Cardinals’ offense, and they haven’t seen him in a preseason game. Pinning their hopes on his development — at least, pinning them only on his development — wouldn’t be prudent. The Cardinals probably need to draft a quarterback, and as I sit here in Indianapolis for the current version of the Scouting combine, long before the Cards have had any draft meetings, I will guess they will take one at some point in April.
But it’s not a guarantee. Both Keim and Arians acknowledge the need and importance to obtain a young QB. But both left the door cracked that the Cardinals might not. Keim insists he does not want to force a pick, especially at quarterback. The Cards will scour the background of these second-tier QB hopefuls — like Michigan State’s Connor Cook (pictured below) — knowing the top guys will be gone by the time they draft, and see if one makes sense. If you don’t feel a guy has a legitimate chance to play in the league, it doesn’t make much sense to draft one.
But the search is important. Someone has to play QB when Palmer is done. You’d rather make that decision pro-actively, rather than having it made for you when the time comes.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Connor Cook, draft, Logan Thomas, Matt Barkley, Steve Keim
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Tyrann Mathieu wants to remain a Cardinal, and he has said as much. General Manager Steve Keim agrees, and with the safety due to become a free agent after the 2016 season, Keim said Thursday night on the Big Red Rage the team wants to get an extension done. When that might be is still a question, Keim acknowledged, but “I don’t think there is any doubt that’s our goal.”
Keim has been mostly holed up in his office this week watching as much college video as he can in advance of the upcoming Scouting combine. But he took some time to be a guest on the Rage, hitting on a variety of topics, including the fact he remains disappointed with the way the season ended, with the Cardinals “embarrassed” in the NFC Championship game against the Panthers.
“Our expectations as an organization, our expectations as a fan base, are to hang banners every year,” Keim said. “Not just the West (division) championship, but the big one.”
Among the other topics Keim addressed:
— Yes, an edge rusher is an important target, but it’s not the only spot. Keim said there are “a lot of areas we need to improve,” and he said that includes depth positions and not just looking at starters.
— Keim said the Cardinals will be as active in free agency as they usually are. But he reiterated that when looking at players who are seeking longer contracts with big guarantees, there must be a certain amount of caution with that aggressive mindset. There are usually reasons these players couldn’t get such deals with their original teams.
— While he would not get into specifics about the Cards’ own free agents — saying there are, as usual, some the team would very much like back — he knows the market could dictate how many return. As for both free agency and the draft, “you can’t force signings and you can’t force picks,” Keim said. “I’ve said that for a long time. When you get into a habit of forcing need, you are leaving better players on the board.”
— Keim wouldn’t be specific with how much cap space the Cardinals will have but added he feels “very good” with where the Cards are right now. Since arriving in 2013 to his current job, “the thing we’ve done the best job of is eliminating the dead money,” Keim said.
— There is always planning for the future, but even with the possibility of guys like QB Carson Palmer or wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald retiring in the next few years, that doesn’t change the expectation of the franchise.
“The NFL doesn’t allow you not to be in a win-now mode,” Keim said.
— Speaking of Palmer, Keim didn’t hesitate in saying he thinks his quarterback will be fine in 2016 even after the rough NFC Championship and has no concerns there is a mental hurdle for Palmer to overcome.
“When we made the trade for Carson three years ago, there was a perception, because you’re talking about a guy who sat out a year in Cincinnati, that maybe he was a quitter or whatever the thought was across the country,” Keim said. “After getting to know him for three years, I haven’t been around many people who are as tough mentally or as competitive as he is. I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Carson Palmer in every aspect of the game.”
“I think Carson Palmer has good football left in him,” Keim added, noting that there are 12-to-15 teams looking for a quarterback. The Cardinals are not one of them. “I’m proud to have Carson Palmer as our quarterback.”
Tags: Carson Palmer, draft, free agency, Steve Keim, Tyrann Mathieu
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Former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner again reached the final 10 of Hall of Fame finalists, but for a second straight year he was not voted for the sport’s highest individual honor. The five modern day inductees were quarterback Brett Favre, tackle Orlando Pace, coach Tony Dungy, wide receiver Marvin Harrison and linebacker Kevin Greene. (Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. was elected as a contributor and quarterback Ken Stabler and guard Dick Stanfel were put in through the seniors committee.)
Warner is going to get in at some point. That seems inevitable.
Quarterback Carson Palmer did win the FedEx Air Player of the Year award, which was announced earlier Saturday, but the Cards didn’t capture anything during Saturday night’s NFL Honors ceremony. Palmer was second to Chiefs safety Eric Berry for Comeback Player of the Year (Berry came back after battling cancer in 2014). Palmer also got a vote for MVP, as did Tom Brady, although Cam Newton won the award by getting the other 48 votes. Former Cardinal Anquan Boldin, now with the 49ers, was named the Walter Payton Man of the Year.
Tags: Carson Palmer, Hall of Fame, Kurt Warner
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The Cardinals had a long season with a crushing ending, and so, with the Pro Bowl coming Sunday only a week after the team’s NFC Championship loss, perhaps it shouldn’t be very surprising that most of the team’s Pro Bowl representatives will not be going to Hawaii.
Only two of the seven Pro Bowlers — defensive tackle Calais Campbell and special teamer Justin Bethel — are going. Safety Tyrann Mathieu (replaced by the Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins) was never going to go, since he was hurt before he was even named to the team. This week, quarterback Carson Palmer (replaced by the Vikings’ Teddy Bridgewater), wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (replaced by the Colts’ T.Y. Hilton), guard Mike Iupati (replaced by the Bills’ Richie Incognito) and cornerback Patrick Peterson (replaced by the Bengals’ Pacman Jones) all bowed out.
Palmer said he wanted to give his banged-up right hand a rest. Iupati cited shoulder issues. I’m not sure what the reasons were for Fitzgerald and Peterson, although in every case, it might’ve just been a need to just get some downtime after a rough end to the season.
Tags: Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Justin Bethel, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Iupati, Patrick Peterson, Pro Bowl, Tyrann Mathieu
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There wasn’t a lot of time for reflection — Steve Keim did his radio spot just about five hours after the Cardinals landed on their return trip from Carolina — and the Cardinals General Manager was not surprisingly muted after his team lost in Sunday’s NFC Championship. But Keim made clear that despite Carson Palmer’s bad game, Palmer was the man who would lead the Cards into 2016.
“There is nobody I respect and appreciate more than Carson Palmer,” Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “In a league full of teams who are looking for a quarterback, I’m certainly proud he’s our guy.”
Keim was asked directly if Palmer choked.
“I don’t think he performed particularly well but I would say that goes for a lot of our players,” Keim said. “You look at the big picture and some of our stars had a rough night. But make no mistake, we wouldn’t have been in the position we were in without Carson Palmer and his play this year.”
Keim was asked again if Palmer’s finger was a problem. “He would be the only one who can tell you that,” Keim said (and Palmer has insisted every time it has come up that it was not an issue, including again last night.)
Going forward, Keim remains bullish on his QB: “I feel strongly he will bounce back and be ready in 2016.”
— Keim’s take on the NFC Championship overall: “It’s a bitter ending and the harsh reality of the NFL … 2015 was a special year for all of us, yet at the end of the day there are 31 teams that end the season in disappointment and unfortunately we are one of them.”
— “Experiences like this only fuel me,” Keim said, noting that this game will be a lot like the 58-0 loss in Seattle did a couple of months before Keim became GM. Keim said he is flying out to Mobile soon to do work at the Senior Bowl. “I couldn’t be more excited to put this team back together.”
— Asked what the first thing is on his priority list, Keim didn’t hesitate: “Create a pass rush.” The Cardinals didn’t do that enough, either last night or most of the season, and Keim noted that when a team has to blitz a lot to do so, problems can easily happen. He acknowledged the secondary did not play well in Carolina, but added part of that was because Cam Newton had too much time to throw.
— The offseason has already started. Keim said he and coach Bruce Arians were already discussing various offseason moves on the plane ride back from Charlotte.
— Keim’s final thoughts were simply that he and the team appreciate the fan support all season, including more fans coming to road games than Keim could remember. “I apologize we let them down at the end.”
Tags: Carson Palmer, offseason, Steve Keim
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