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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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Bidwill: Franchising Jones, and London talk

Posted by Darren Urban on February 14, 2017 – 10:30 am

It’s been no secret — Bruce Arians made it pretty clear the day after the season — that the Cardinals are planning on using the franchise tag on linebacker Chandler Jones if necessary. Team president Michael Bidwill reiterated that Tuesday during an appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7.

“We’re not going to mess around with that,” Bidwill said. “He’s a great pass rusher, but if we can’t agree to terms that work for us, we’re just going to franchise him. His people know that.”

Some of the other points Bidwill made (aside from a concert moving training camp for a few days):

— On the Cardinals’ own significant free agents: “We’re going to be negotiating with these folks and we already are, and we’re hopeful to get everyone under contract,” Bidwill said. “If we get everybody under contract, that’ll be a huge win for us. If we get most of them, that will be very good for us.”

Bidwill wasn’t specific about the players, but among them are defensive keys, Jones, defensive lineman Calais Campbell and safety Tony Jefferson.

— On the London game against the Rams, which will be either Oct. 22 or 29. “We’ve been lobbying for us to get over there,” Bidwill said. “(The league) wanted us to give up a home game, which we will have to do as part of the next bid for the Super Bowl, but we really wanted to be a visiting team. This year we finally got the call.”

Bidwill said the NFL is “overdue” in making the announcement over the specific date, and he will be pushing for that decision so that the team and fans can plan for the trip.

— Wide receiver John Brown should regain his form after battling his sickle cell issues, Bidwill said. “He is very healthy,” Bidwill said. “It looks like they found the issue and we’ll get Smoke back the way we had him.”

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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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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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Franchise tagging Chandler Jones(?)

Posted by Darren Urban on January 2, 2017 – 1:49 pm

Bruce Arians, in his season-ending talk with the media Monday, covered a lot of subjects. Most talk about impending free agents was the nod to the team’s desire to bring most everyone back. In particular, though, Arians made clear unrestricted-free-agent-to-be Chandler Jones will be a Cardinal in 2017.

“Chandler’s not going anywhere because if we have to, we will franchise (tag) him,” Arians said.

(A quick refresher: If a team tags a player and he signs the tender, he is guaranteed a one-year salary an average of the top five salaries from the previous year at the position. A player can still sign an offer sheet with another team before he signs the tender, but if he leaves the new team would have to surrender two No. 1 picks and also has the chance to match the new offer.)

General Manager Steve Keim said weeks ago talks about a long-term deal are ongoing. Obviously, no deal is done yet. Free agency begins March 9, so that’s the time frame within which the two sides are negotiating before it comes to a tag. That the Cardinals would use the tag on Jones is no surprise at all; when Jones was acquired last March, he immediately became the most likely one to be tagged as a free agent.

Last year, the linebacker’s franchise tag was slightly north of $14.1 million. It should go up this season.

The Cardinals, including Jones, have 19 scheduled unrestricted free agents. Jones, who finished with 11 sacks this year as a Pro Bowl alternate, said he wants to remain with the Cardinals. Many of the current free-agents-to-be have said the same. The difference is that Jones might not have a huge choice in the matter, at least for 2017.

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“Stepbrothers” Jones and Golden pile up sacks

Posted by Darren Urban on December 29, 2016 – 4:37 pm

The Cardinals haven’t had two players with at least 10 sacks in a season since 1984, when Al “Bubba” Baker and Curtis Greer did it. If Chandler Jones can notch at least a half-sack Sunday in Los Angeles, he and Markus Golden (who has 10 sacks already) will end that drought. The two will be linked forever in that regard — even as they are already linked now, by their own choice.

“They’re like stepbrothers walking around since day one,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “They have a great camaraderie, they’ve become close friends on and off the field. … You can see it.”

Jones said Golden reached out to him as soon as the Cards traded for Jones last March and “we’ve been tight ever since.”

“We are just two guys, we’re good friends,” Golden said. “We like the same things, we like to do the same stuff, we play the same position. We’ve got a lot in common. And Chandler is just an all-around cool dude.”

Does that relationship help on the field? “You play for your brother, for sure,” Jones said. Golden said it does help with communication, but in the end, the sacks are coming because that is what he and Jones are paid to do.

“No matter what, you’re going to go out and hunt, man,” Golden said.

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Vikings aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 20, 2016 – 5:13 pm

Carson Palmer walked off the field Sunday, baseball cap on his head, his look muted. He was by himself, and if it wasn’t for a brief stop to sign a Cardinals helmet for a disabled fan in a wheelchair when he entered the tunnel, he would have been alone in his thoughts until the locker room.

The quarterback said the same things as always when he met with the media – the team needs to figure out what mistakes they made and then set out on correcting them – but he knows the opportunities are slipping away for this team this season. All the Cardinals do. As safety Tony Jefferson said – quietly – “It’s never over ’till it’s over,” and mathematically the Cards aren’t really that close to eliminated.

But the tea leaves make it harder to remain optimistic, especially after a loss against a team the Cardinals are directly battling for a wild card spot. The Seahawks were handling the Eagles Sunday, and that’s another blow in the NFC West race.

It’s not like the Vikings were great Sunday. Bruce Arians said once again, it was his team beating itself. That’s happened way too often this season.

— Arians was asked if the special teams were being coached well enough. Special teams coordinator Amos Jones was not named specifically.  “Extremely, extremely well,” Arians said.

— Special teams did have some good plays. Justin Bethel blocking an extra point. Brittan Golden getting a 49-yard kickoff return. But the kickoff return was a killer, and the failure of John Brown to catch the final punt hurt a lot too – although there was no guarantee the Cards would have moved it either.

— That was the first time a team had an interception return of at least 100 yards and a kickoff return of at least 100 yards since the Cowboys did it in 1962.

— According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings targeted receiver Stefon Diggs eight times when Patrick Peterson was covering him. The result? Five receptions for 35 yards.

— The offensive line actually did a nice job blocking for the run all day – David Johnson was fantastic in both the run and pass game – but whatever it may have been able to do in the pass and play-action game was undone by the final quarter when Palmer was swamped repeatedly. Taylor Boggs was in at right guard at the end and not Earl Watford; there was no Watford injury reported.

— Palmer said he thought there was an obvious hold on John Brown on the 100-yard interception. Brown also said he was held although he was more muted in his statement.

— There was confusion – and anger – over the two 15-yard penalties called on Patrick Peterson (hitting QB-turned-wide receiver Sam Bradford) and Tony Jefferson (hitting what looked like a live Diggs on the sideline apparently too hard) and I personally am not sure why they were flagged. But it only lead to a field goal, and the Cards unfortunately couldn’t even generate enough to get into field goal range anyway. (UPDATE: This ESPN story contains a good analysis of the Peterson hit and the rule book.)

— Arians said the receivers didn’t run great routes. Michael Floyd can’t slow up on a deep ball, even if he isn’t sure if the ball will come his way. I’ll have to re-watch the end too, but when Palmer couldn’t find anyone open late, the wideouts seemed to have a tough time moving around to help him.

— It’s becoming weekly now – Chandler Jones with an important play. His strip-sack in the fourth quarter made it a game.

— Finally, it wasn’t a happy homecoming for Larry Fitzgerald. He started hot, with four catches for 53 yards in the first half, including a dazzling one-handed catch to get a first down inside the Minnesota 10 on the Cardinals’ first scoring drive. But he only had two catches for 10 yards after halftime. And the Cards suffered a painful loss.

“We had a bunch of yards and time of possession but at the end of the day it comes down to wins,” Fitzgerald said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s pretty or ugly. You are trying to come out with a win any way you can.”

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Keim: No such thing as disappointing win

Posted by Darren Urban on November 14, 2016 – 8:10 am

Steve Keim was blunt.

“I don’t think there are any disappointing wins,” the Cardinals GM said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “The one thing I’ve learned in this position is to respect and appreciate every win.”

The Cardinals are back to .500 after beating the 49ers. They have huge games coming up, on the road, with playoff contenders Minnesota and Atlanta. The good news is that Keim said the Cards came out of the game “relatively healthy” — Keim was not asked about the status of Larry Fitzgerald — and in keeping with the theme of respecting every victory, he found the positives from his team’s first game of the second half of the season.

— Keim said he was encouraged by the play of two players who struggled in the first half of the season: wide receiver Michael Floyd and kicker Chandler Catanzaro. Both continued to work every day despite their issues, Keim said. Especially for Floyd, “to see a smile on his face in the locker room was exciting for all of us,” Keim said.

— The offensive line did OK. Keim said new left tackle John Wetzel “played good” although Keim acknowledged the 49ers don’t have much of an edge rush (Wetzel will most certainly face a harder test against the Vikings.) The 49ers came in with a plan to jam up the run, so even going against the NFL’s worst run defense, “do you want to run into a wall?” Keim asked rhetorically. Instead, the Cardinals threw the ball. It led to turnovers, all on passing plays — two interceptions, a fumble by Palmer trying to buy time to throw a pass, a fumble by J.J. Nelson after a catch. The turnovers are what made the game close, Keim said.

— He praised Fitzgerald. “Fitz continues to be a warrior, making plays in critical situations,” Keim said. Again, no comment (or question) about Fitz’s health.

— The big picture says the Cardinals “have opportunities ahead of us.” And the Cards did finish in a close game, something they didn’t do against New England or Seattle (or Los Angeles, for that matter.”

— Keim said there was a chance safety Tyrann Mathieu will be able to return either against the Vikings or the following week against the Falcons.

— Keim still doesn’t give much vibe one way or the other about the possibility of a Chandler Jones contract extension. “Without getting into the dialogue of negotiations, when you make a trade you’re not sure how its going to go,” Keim said. “But he’s been a great teammate, fantastic in locker room, he works hard on and off on field. He’s been great fit for us, and hopefully we can iron out something long term.”


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Niners too-close-for-comfort aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 13, 2016 – 8:24 pm

No one ever talks about “must-win” before a game, not players or coaches. But after Sunday’s nail-biting-when-you-hoped-there-be-no-nails-bitten win for the Cardinals, Bruce Arians acknowledged that the victory over the 49ers was not just vital, but that if the Cards couldn’t win that game at home, “it’s over.”

Safety Tony Jefferson paused a bit when that info was relayed to him. “I don’t know how that works,” Jefferson said. “I barely just found out who’s in the AFC and all that.” Jefferson chuckled. “I just go out there and play and try and get a ‘W.'”

The Cardinals did that. There was hope there might be some style points this week if for no other reason to build confidence. Instead, the Cardinals will have to take what they can — their field-goal unit came up with a kick it had to have. The passing game got some chunks. Michael Floyd emerged with a 100-yard game. Larry Fitzgerald was pretty awesome.

— It did not help that the Seahawks hung on in New England.

— Something to watch is Fitzgerald’s health. He had a big knee brace he was playing with by the end of the game. He landed awkwardly after one tackle by 49ers defensive back Jimmie Ward. “He ended up telling me that he ended up tearing something,” Ward said of Fitz. Which is probably not good — although Fitz played the whole game.

Afterward, Fitzgerald said he’s “been better” but said he’d be ready for this week. It would stun me if he wasn’t available — the last game Fitzgerald would ever want to miss is one in his home state of Minnesota. If he’s injured he’s injured, but I’d guess Fitz makes it work.

— I’ve covered Fitzgerald his whole career and he’s always been a great player. But one thing that’s really come into focus the last couple of seasons is how tough he is. He’s been tough blocking (doing something he still will say he doesn’t like to do) and he’s been tough playing through injuries — even if he won’t come out and call them injuries. If he did tear something, anything and still had a 12-catch game, most of them in traffic, it just underscores the thought.

— Chandler Jones two more sacks. Again, he’s been good.

— That’s the Floyd the Cardinals want and need. Great catches battling for the ball. The one he made on the final field-goal drive — after Carson Palmer bought some time and threw on the run, a nice play by him as well — was stellar and vintage Floyd. “Mentally I had to tell myself this is like playing in the sixth grade — going out and making plays,” Floyd said. Postgame was the first time Floyd really talked about making drops. The Cards hope it’s behind him.

— That last Palmer interception was straight out of first-half-of-2013 Palmer. He took way too long on the play he was stripped and lost the fumble too. Those are plays the Cardinals can’t afford to have Palmer make.

— Niners coach Chip Kelly said he didn’t really think about going for two with 1:55 left, instead kicking the extra point for the tie. His thoughts — which I agree with — is that a field goal still beats you and there was time for the Cards to get that field goal. “I didn’t want to lose it for them because I wanted to be a gunslinger and end up 20-19,” Kelly said.

— That 16-yard scramble Palmer had in the first half? Longest run of his career, which started in 2003.

— I thought David Johnson was going to have a huge game. And it’s funny, he still had 100 yards rushing + receiving and scored two touchdowns. Most guys would take that as a huge game. But we all know, against the league’s worst run defense, more was expected. It was a combination of things, I think. The blocking wasn’t great, no. Johnson could’ve avoided a loss a couple of times. But also, the Niners have heard for a minute now about giving up 100-yard rushers seven straight games. At some point, you gotta think there’s a little “no more” of a vibe.

That said, the Cardinals still have too many hiccups in getting yards — Sunday, it was in the air — but not enough touchdowns.

— A win is a win. It wasn’t the one everyone wanted, but I know this — it’s not a loss. I agree with Arians, it would’ve been over. But it isn’t.

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Going deep, Friday before the Panthers

Posted by Darren Urban on October 28, 2016 – 3:22 pm

It’s a weekly occurrence, the concern about the Cardinals’ deep ball that just isn’t there anymore. Is there anything that can be done about it? Maybe not. It’s a simple equation for offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin of why they’ve dried up.

“Because no one is giving them to us,” Goodwin said. “People are playing deep coverage on us, and forcing us to make intermediate and underneath throws. That’s one reason the running game is a little bit better too.

“People know we live for the shot and people aren’t going to give it it up anymore. We respect that. We just have to beat them in different ways.”

The Panthers are a team that’s had problems on the back end and would seem to be susceptible down the field. Then again, the same things were said about the game against the Jets and the Jets played off and the Cardinals bludgeoned them to death with David Johnson. The Panthers are stout against the run, but the Cards aren’t giving up that part of the game.

But Bruce Arians continues to say — with a stronger nod to running the ball these days — that there will be times to take shots and some are still open. Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer definitely lamented the J.J. Nelson bomb against the Seahawks that Palmer simply threw too far out of bounds.

“I missed a couple,” Palmer said. “I had J.J. on a couple the other night. I’ve taken shots that I shouldn’t have in certain situations. I think one thing I need to do is be a little bit more picky – when to take them, when not to take them. That’s something I’ve really been trying to work on.”

— I didn’t think the Panthers were going to be 15-1 again this season. But they shouldn’t be 1-5. I thought Kelvin Benjamin was going to be a huge upgrade in helping their passing game. In all honesty, I didn’t think Josh Norman — or a lack thereof — would have this sort of an impact.

— Larry Fitzgerald had a tough flight home the last time the Cardinals were in Carolina. Bruce Arians, not so much. “Steve (Keim) and I were working on next year already.”

— The Cardinals need better special teams. And not just Chandler Catanzaro kicking field goals. Protections have to be cleaned up. Last week, the Cards were hurt when Jaron Brown went down, forcing Kerwynn Williams in as a wing protector on the punt team. Williams is the one who surrendered the blocked punt. There’s no question injuries have taken a toll on special team — Four guys on IR, Tyvon Branch, Jaron Brown, Alani Fua and Troy Niklas, were all key special teams pieces to begin the year.

“You always have to be ready,” special teamer Stepfan Taylor said. “It’s kind of a want-to and a technique kind of deal. We do a good job of everybody ready, but you can only suit up 46 people in the game. It becomes limited. You have people who have never played it before having to be in-game ready and jump in.”

— We’ll see if the 10 a.m. kickoff Arizona time impacts anything. The Cardinals didn’t play well in the 10 a.m. kickoff in Buffalo, although I’m not sure that was time-related. It would’ve been better to have the 1:25 p.m. Az time kick as originally scheduled (TV moved it because both teams aren’t playing well), but it’s not like they haven’t done it before. The team is in the air right now flying out to Carolina.

At least I’ll get home at a reasonable time. Hey, I’m looking at the silver lining.

— Injuries will play a big role in how the pass rushes for both teams might look. When the Cardinals are on offense, how does left tackle Jared Veldheer hold up with a cast on his right hand against the formidable Carolina defensive line? On the other side, not having starting left tackle Michael Oher (concussion) could make things interesting against edge rushers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden.

— One last word on the two field goal block/miss in Seattle. The NFL explains why both were legal in this video.

— There’s been a lot of talk about the tie the Panthers had in 2014, allowing them to win the NFC South at 7-8-1 over the 7-9 Saints. In context, of course, it was a point made after the Cardinals had their own tie last weekend. There’s only one problem — while the tie made the final standings cleaner in terms of seeing who won, the Panthers were going to win the division anyway. The Panthers and Saints split their two games, and the Panthers had a better division record. So even if the Panthers had lost and not tied the Bengals, they would’ve won the South.

— Don’t forget the Pat Tillman “A Football Life” tonight at 6 p.m. on NFL Network (and probably replaying a time or two. Check your local listing.)

— The Cardinals get the bye next week. There’s a pretty big difference between 4-3-1 and 3-4-1. At least in the chase to make the postseason.

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