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Another coaching opening (and more all-pros)

Posted by Darren Urban on January 15, 2018 – 3:01 pm

The Cardinals, Giants, Lions and Colts still have coaching vacancies, but this morning, the Titans added themselves to the list when they and coach Mike Mularkey agreed to part ways. The rules say coaches still in the postseason can only interview again next week if they had been interviewed once already, but Ian Rapoport tweeted that meant any coach who had been interviewed period, not just by the Titans. So they have a small window for the Super Bowl coaches. Obviously, by next week, there will be only two teams left playing.

Also Monday came a bunch of reports of coaches heading places, none official yet but certainly more strong than previously. With those reports, Pats DC Matt Patricia will coach the Lions, the Giants have Pat Shurmur as their frontrunner and the Colts would get Josh McDaniels. There have been no such reports on the Cards (or the Titans, obviously). Patricia and Shurmur were both on the Cards’ candidate list and it was reported that the Cards like Shurmur. It will be interesting to see if the Cards get any more clarity this week.

— The Pro Football Writers of America released its all-pro team today, and like the Associated Press all-pro team, linebacker Chandler Jones and special teamer Budda Baker made it for the Cardinals.


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The workload of the Honey Badger

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2018 – 1:10 pm

Even Tyrann Mathieu had hoped he would’ve played a little better this season, but he did improve as the season went on and was healthy. And not only was the Honey Badger healthy, he played a lot. It’s remarkable that the safety, who didn’t play a full season until this year, ended up leading the entire NFL in snaps played.

Mathieu finished with 1,263 snaps on the field — 1,058 on defense and another 207 on special teams. That topped Tennessee cornerback Adoree Jackson’s 1,258 (1,022 on defense, 224 on special teams, and 12 on offense.) There were a handful of players who played more on defense (including former teammates and safeties Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger) but that was in part because the Cardinals’ sixth-ranked defense was able to get off the field more often. It wasn’t like Mathieu rested much. He sat out only six defensive snaps all season.

Five Cardinals played at least 1,000 snaps this season — Mathieu, Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson, A.Q. Shipley (who played 100 percent of the Cards’ 1,124 offensive snaps) and Larry Fitzgerald.

But the other four don’t grab the attention as much as Mathieu, who truly maximized his first season of total health.


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Seahawks — and the season — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 31, 2017 – 7:59 pm

It was late in Sunday’s game, right after Phil Dawson kicked his field goal to put the Cardinals ahead by two with a little more than two minutes left, when offensive coordinator/O-line coach Harold Goodwin found someone on the sideline and exclaimed, “We’ve got no linemen left.”

Goodwin smiled, because the reality was that he was right and that the Cardinals had also somehow made it work well enough to win – again – in the one place they want to win more than any other. It was also fitting given how the year unfolded. The Cardinals very well could have had issues even if everyone had played this year. But they wouldn’t be convinced they wouldn’t have overcome it and found a way into the postseason, not after getting eight wins despite their starting offensive line getting all of eight snaps together and their MVP-type running back playing less than a game and their quarterback less than half a season.

“It’s really hard to walk away from this,” Bruce Arians said. “It wasn’t hard to walk away four weeks ago, when you looked at what we were playing with. But to win three out of four, it’s very hard to walk away from that.”

Arians insisted he hasn’t made a decision. We’ll know soon enough. But for all the ups and downs of the season, it is remarkable they went 8-8.

“We’re just happy we finished the way we did,” defensive lineman Frostee Rucker said. “We didn’t want to finish 7-9. We wanted to finish 8-8.”

— The Cardinals, after all that, were the only 8-8 team in the league. They will draft 15th in the first round – unless, of course, they make a trade.

— Kerwynn Williams set a career-best with 23 carries (for 75 yards) and Elijhaa Penny added 39 yards and a touchdown. The Cards, even with all the offensive line issues, ran the ball decently. They struggled late, but it was enough. Penny was huge on the winning field-goal drive.

— There probably wasn’t a better place for Chandler Jones to try and get two sacks to break the franchise record, but there it was – and Jones missed out on a couple more, losing one on a facemask and having another near-miss. To get 17 sacks in a season is impressive. To have Jones do it in the first year of his new contract bodes very well. That trade couldn’t have worked out better.

— After the first half, it looked like Larry Fitzgerald was going to have a good shot at the NFL receptions title for a second straight season. Eight catches in the first half, but none in the second – although he was targeted. He and Drew Stanton just couldn’t connect. Fitz needed just one catch to set a career-high in a season, and instead he had 109, tying his big 2015 season.

Whether he gives it another try in 2018, well, that too is up in the air. But you knew that.

— You can argue about Drew Stanton’s ceiling but he did go 3-1 as a starter and Fitz tweeted he was playing on a torn ACL. I’m not sure how much medical background Fitz has, but that says a lot about Stanton. UPDATE: Stanton said it was not an ACL, but a bone bruise.

— Dawson bounced back so well this season. When Arians mentions winning three of the last four, he was a big reason why. He made 22 of his final 24 field goals, and one of those was blocked. It’s interesting that the Cardinals have won two games in a row in Seattle thanks to field goals.

— The Seahawks’ big second half cost the Cards’ defense a chance to be top five in the rankings. They finished sixth.

— It’s New Year’s Day tomorrow, but certainly no holiday, not for the Cardinals. Exit interviews await, as well as, well, a lot of stuff. One way or another.

“There are a ton of decisions this offseason,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “Steve Keim has his work cut out for him.”

— Time to fly home. The offseason is here.


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Rucker, Jones earn PFWA awards

Posted by Darren Urban on December 28, 2017 – 2:27 pm

The Arizona chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association presented its annual Steve Schoenfeld Good Guy and Lloyd Herberg MVP awards today. The latter was not a huge surprise. Linebacker Chandler Jones has 15 sacks, leads the NFL in sacks and tackles for loss, and deserves to be in the conversation for defensive Player of the Year. Larry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson have also been excellent, but Jones was a clear-cut choice.

It is fortunate that this locker room has multiple options for a the Good Guy award. Fitz and Peterson are always good, and there are plenty of others — A.Q. Shipley and Antoine Bethea among them, although again, this locker room has a lot of options. That’s excellent for writers like myself. But in the end the award went to defensive lineman Frostee Rucker. Rucker not only was available but he is always thoughtful in his answers, and in a year where the Cardinals (and the NFL) had some bumpy times with some bumpy subjects, Rucker was a go-to quote.

The awards are named after two former Cardinals and NFL beat writers for The Arizona Republic. Herberg was the team’s first beat writer, covering the Cards from the the time they moved to Arizona in 1988 until he died of cancer in 1994. Schoenfeld covered the NFL and the Cardinals from 1988 to the summer of 2000, when he moved to a national NFL writing job. Schoenfeld was killed by a hit-and-run driver in October of 2000. The awards were presented by current Republic beat writer Kent Somers.

 


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Keim: Learn from 2017, no “woe is me”

Posted by Darren Urban on December 26, 2017 – 8:16 am

The Cardinals are analyzing their free-agents-to-be and with some of them, the team has/will be formulating extension offers, General Manager Steve Keim said Tuesday during an appearance on 98.7, Arizona’s Sports Station. The players Keim wants back are, not surprisingly, not only competitors on the field but good in the locker room. That was a focus last year as well.

“That’s an ongoing process and we have made some of those players extension offers,” Keim said. “The bottom line is we have a lot of work to do, as I said last week.

“We’ve dealt with enough adversity this year with the injuries and with some of the losses, so we have to make sure we use this season and, in particular, our issues that we have dealt with, as learning things, where we can look back and grow from it instead of having the attitude of ‘woe is me.’ That is something I believe in wholeheartedly, not only on the scouting side of it but as an organization in general.”

— The many injuries have made it more difficult to evaluate some key players here and there, Keim acknowledged, but “at the end of the day there are still one-on-one battles these guys have to win.”

— Does having a chance to knock the Seahawks out of the playoffs mean a lot for Sunday? “Anytime you are playing a division rival it’s big regardless of what is at stake,” Keim said. “We are all competitors. We want to win every game. In my opinion, you can’t look at where your draft slot could potentially be. Let the chips fall where they may. We owe it to our fans, we owe it to our organization to compete every week and to try and put the best product on the field. We will deal with draft and free agency when it comes. This week our mindset is to go up to Seattle and get a win.”

— The Cardinals’ first shutout since 1992 “says a lot of things about players on the field and the character in our locker room.” Keim credited the game planning of defensive coordinator James Bettcher. He also said he though $LB Deone Bucannon not only played his best game of the season, he had arguably his best game in the NFL, period. Chandler Jones provided pressure and drew a couple of holding calls, Frostee Rucker and Karlos Dansby are invaluable leaders, and safety Antoine Bethea was “exceptional” in getting a pair of interceptions.

— Keim added his thoughts to the huge game of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who Keim said took over the game offensively. “There’s no doubt he willed us to win on offense.”

— Keim added that it was nice to see John Brown contribute with a touchdown and a key third-down conversion with his two catches.


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A shutout and Giants aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 24, 2017 – 7:54 pm

I’ve covered the Cardinals for a long time, and I’ve seen them shut out a couple of (ugly) times. But I’ve never seen them pitch a shutout before Sunday – the first time the franchise has done it since 1992 and only the second time it’s happened since the team moved to Arizona in 1988.

No, the Giants aren’t very good and have lost all of their offensive stars, but it means something that the Cardinals still have that kind of consistent performance. It’s hard not to play what-if, the way this defense is performing. Win in Washington, like they probably should have, and beat the Tom Savage-Texans, like they probably should have, and next week in Seattle is much different.

But instead, the Cardinals will play spoiler, and while that isn’t ideal, it means something. If the Cards can knock the Seahawks out of the postseason, that would mean something.

— I truly believe that Larry Fitzgerald is undecided about playing next year. Actually, I think it’s not just about what he wants to do but also what this team looks like – who is coach, who is quarterback – that will play a factor. Fitz has not told me this. But it is logical.

Regardless, what a showing to close out 2017 at home Sunday. Fitz is fun to watch. Always has been. That the fun has not fallen off as he plays at age 34 – he’s the Cardinals’ best playmaker, for goodness sake – says so much about how good he really is.

— Chandler Jones didn’t get a sack, so he’ll need to do some work against Russell Wilson to get the franchise record for a season. He remains at 15, and Simeon Rice has the record at 16½. Two things on that: One, getting two sacks on Wilson –given his line and his penchant for running around in the pocket – is realistic. Also, Jones had another good pass-rushing game Sunday. He didn’t get a sack, but Pro Football Focus had him with four pressures of Eli Manning.

— The Cardinals rarely over the recent past have had teams miss field goals against them. It’s only happened twice this season. But one was Sunday, a 33-yarder from Aldrick Rosas that obviously allowed the shutout to happen. It doesn’t take away from the Cards’ excellent performance, but sometimes, you need a little luck to blank an NFL team.

— Back to Fitz. I’ve seen him throw a ton of passes over the years, in practice, in OTAs, messing around on the sideline. I’m not talk about plays, per se, but chucking the ball 40 yards on an accurate line back to one of the equipment guys after a practice catch, for instance. I’ve always felt they should try that once in a while. It doesn’t help that he’s not a threat as a runner out of the backfield, but still. The play was supposed to be a bomb to J.J. Nelson, but Nelson got knocked down and Jaron Brown instead got the 21-yard catch.

“I was hoping I was going to be able to throw it deeper, but I had to take what the defense gives me,” Fitzgerald said with a smile. “That’s what I was taught.”

Said QB Drew Stanton, “He’s coming for my job probably.”

— I thought Stanton was solid. He did exactly what Arians was hoping he would do – got them in the end zone, got them a win. The one time Arians has lost in Seattle since coming to Arizona, Stanton was the starting quarterback when Carson Palmer was hurt in 2014. Stanton gets a chance to redeem that next week.

— More (happy) Fitz: He noted that Jaron Brown, with two catches (putting Brown at 30 receptions) earned a $500,000 contract incentive. (Editor’s note: I have not confirmed this is true, but Fitz tends to be accurate when it comes to money.) “I made him an extra $500,000, so I’m happy for him and his family,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m glad I could be a part of that. Merry Christmas, Jaron!”

— Deone Bucannon looked great, and that’s important. You want to see him continue to come back from the ankle surgery that clearly set him back. Robert Nkemdiche too, getting involved, will hopefully be a spark to get him going into next season. Oh, and the signing of veteran safety Antoine Bethea has been a good one. Five picks? And he’s done a solid job all year.

— I could go on but I won’t. It’s Christmas Eve. Hopefully you’re reading this, but I’ve got a family to get home to. Happy holidays and a Merry Christmas to all.


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TDs on the wish list, Friday before the Giants

Posted by Darren Urban on December 22, 2017 – 3:04 pm

Who wouldn’t want a touchdown for Christmas?

The Cardinals certainly do. They’d like for the move to Drew Stanton to mean a TD on their first possession. They’d like to break that paydirt drought that has grown to more than 10 quarters. It’s gonna be Christmas Eve, after all. Are the Cards ready to do that? Bruce Arians hopes so, but he can’t predict it.

“You don’t know until you get in a game,” Arians said. “It’s totally different than practice. (Red zone) is one of the looks that’s hard to get from the scout team.”

Of course, it doesn’t have to be in the red zone. They’d take a 50-yard Stanton-to-J.J. Nelson bomb. They’d take a one-yard Elijhaa Penny plunge. They’d take another Ricky Seals-Jones end zone sighting. They’d certainly take a Fitz fade.

“B.A. talks about it, I talk about it, it’s simple execution,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “You go back to last week (in Washington), there are plays there to be made. Ball is a little high or (tackle) Will Holden gives up a sack, little things. Many opportunities, and we didn’t get it done. I kick myself all the time, we score one touchdown, we probably win that game.”

We know what’s on the Cardinals’ wish list.

— The roof at University of Phoenix Stadium will be open Sunday for the game. Temperatures are supposed to be in the upper 60s, so dress accordingly.

— When Carson Palmer went down, the Cardinals knew they were going to have to rely on their defense. The defense knew this, and they have basically played like it. Starting with the Seahawks game in Week 10 (the Cards still only allowed 10 points the game before against the 49ers), the Cardinals are the No. 1 defense in the NFL. They haven’t been perfect, but if the offense had been able to do a little more against the Seahawks, Texans and Redskins, the Cards would be in a different place, even with all the injuries.

— Linebacker Chandler Jones said he’s happy with his 15 sacks so far because it accomplishes his goal – which is an improvement over the previous season. “It was always to do better than last year,” Jone said.

The bar is going to be pretty high for 2018, then.

“Exactly,” Jones said. “Because I know next year around training camp, you guys are going to be asking me, ‘What’s your goal?’ And I’ll say,  ‘Better than last year, uhhhhh.’ ”

— In what could be Larry Fitzgerald’s final home game, he needs eight catches for 100 on the season and 18 yards for 1,000. It would be fitting for him to get both.

— The Giants have three players from near the Cardinals’ practice facility. Defensive end Avery Moss played at Tempe Corona del Sol, linebacker Devon Kennard played across the freeway at Desert Vista in Ahwatukee, and running back Paul Perkins is from Chandler High School.

— Karlos Dansby likely will play Sunday, but with Josh Bynes out, rookie Haason Reddick has a chance to play some inside linebacker for the first time since moving outside following Markus Golden’s season-ending injury. That would be good. Reddick’s future is inside in this defense.

— A better draft pick awaits if the Cardinals lose out, but the players would like to climb back to 8-8 (especially because it would mean beating the Seahawks in Seattle.), Besides, “you don’t want to put bad things on tape,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We have great guys in this locker room that understand that.”

— For all you seeking a retro look, the Cardinals will finally be wearing their red pants with their red jerseys Sunday. It’s a festive look after all.

See you Christmas Eve.

 


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Paydirt drought, and Washington aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 17, 2017 – 4:36 pm

It was the kind of catch you just expect Larry Fitzgerald to make, because he’s simply done it so many times before – fourth down, a gotta-have-it-grab from the guy you go to when you gotta have it. But the ball dribbled out as Fitz hit the ground. So close, just like the rest of the day for the Cards.

“None bigger than the one I needed to make at the end of the game there,” Fitzgerald said. “Going a whole 60 minutes not scoring a touchdown offensively, that’s obviously below standard.”

It’s been a whole 60 minutes two games in a row. Plus the second half of the game before that. It’s not that the offense is doing nothing. The Cards had 141 yards rushing Sunday, and reached the red-zone six times. It’s that they can only get three points at a time, which makes winning so hard.

Blaine Gabbert will remain the starter at quarterback. Gabbert took the blame but had no specifics on why the offense stalls so much. As well as Gabbert began his games as a Cardinal, the recent work, even behind the beat-up offensive line, will give the Cardinals’ braintrust a lot to consider when looking at Gabbert for the future

— Larry Fitzgerald is 18 yards shy of 1,000 yards receiving this season, and he would have been a lot closer had he been able to make that catch.

— Speaking of missed catches, tight end Troy Niklas was understandably upset with himself for not pulling in that last would-be touchdown. He was a stand-up guy to talk about it. Truth be told, if he doesn’t pull a sure interception away from linebacker Zach Vigil early in the drive, he wouldn’t have even had a chance to get the TD.

— Bruce Arians was right. One touchdown would’ve been enough. I think of two specific times: After the long onsides kick to open the second half – the fans, who booed the Redskins off and on all day even though they led the whole game, were ready to turn if the Cards could’ve put it in the end zone – and then, of course, right before the half. Two straight plays to D.J. Foster were open for TDs. Foster didn’t look soon enough for the first one – off his helmet incomplete, and it’s possible he and Gabbert didn’t see the same hot read – and the second one was batted away with Foster by himself in the end zone. Epic levels of frustration there.

— If Brittan Golden was going to end up with a fractured arm on his last excellent punt return of 15 yards to set up a short field, it would’ve been nice to reward him with a win. Golden is one of those guys you root for, busting his butt to have whatever role he can fill.

— Chandler Jones sack counter: He got one Sunday, giving him 15 on the season, putting him third on the franchise single-season list and putting him 1½ shy of Simeon Rice’s franchise record with two games left. Jones also pressured Washington QB Kirk Cousins a ton of other times.

— You know D.J. Swearinger wanted this one. And he made sure to let the Cardinals sideline – and coach Bruce Arians – know it on one of the last plays of the game, an incompletion to Fitz on third down, the play before Gabbert’s final throw.

— Speaking of that final throw and Swearinger, there was a moment where Swearinger’s emotion almost cost the Redskins dearly. After the ball came loose from Fitz – on fourth down – Swearinger ripped his helmet off in celebration. The problem? You can’t take your helmet off on the field. If it had been third down, the Cards would have had an automatic penalty. But because it was fourth down and it came after the incompletion, it ultimately didn’t hurt Washington.

— Phil Dawson seems to be well past his accuracy problems, right?

— Speaking of special teams, Andy Lee has had a tremendous second half of the season. He’s punting like he did when he was dominating as a 49er all those years (and making life miserable for the Cardinals).

— If you would’ve told me the Cardinals would outrush Washington, 141-31, I would’ve expected a win going away. The defense did enough to win.


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Jones, Baker top positions in NFC Pro Bowl voting

Posted by Darren Urban on December 16, 2017 – 1:46 pm

Fan voting — which accounts for a third of the Pro Bowl vote — ended this week, and the Cardinals had a pair of players that ended up with the most votes at their position in the NFC. Both Chandler Jones at outside linebacker and Budda Baker on special teams got more votes than anyone else in the conference, which usually is a pretty good harbinger of Pro Bowl status.

We will see — the coaches get another third of the vote and the players the final third, so there is a still a chance for it to go drastically different, especially on special teams when only one player per conference is chosen. In all, the Cardinals had five players to finish in the top 10 at their position in the fans’ Pro Bowl vote. The Cards’ complete list:

— OLB Chandler Jones (fourth in voting in the NFL, first in the NFC)
— ST Budda Baker (1,1)
— WR Larry Fitzgerald (5,3)
— CB Patrick Peterson (7,4)
— FS Tyrann Mathieu (7,4)

The Pro Bowl rosters will be announced Tuesday at 6 p.m. Arizona time. The game will be played Jan. 28.


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A defensive night, and Titans aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 10, 2017 – 7:41 pm

Chandler Jones got his 14th sack of the season. He almost had his 15th – it went later in the play to Haason Reddick – and he probably already should have toppled Simone Rice’s franchise record of 16½.

“How many sacks do I think I should have? I don’t want to talk about it,” Jones said. “How many times I have slipped off the quarterback. Fourth quarter I slipped off the quarterback. I think I get too excited. My eyes get big and he just ducks off of me. I think I have to work on that.”

A more effective Jones is a frightening concept. But there was a chance to talk about near-sacks and records falling – like Larry Fitzgerald’s toppling of Randy Moss in receiving yards – and other good things, because the Cards pulled out a win. The playoffs aren’t going to happen, but suddenly, you play reeling Washington next week and the reeling Giants the week after and is there a way for the Cardinals to go to Seattle with a chance at a nine-win season?

— Speaking of Fitz, no one asked him directly if he’ll play in 2018. He was asked, however, if he plans on catching Terrell Owens, who is some 600-plus yards ahead of Fitz now for second place in all-time NFL receiving yards after Fitz passed Moss Sunday. Fitz, ever coy, wasn’t biting.

“That would require me to play another year I think,” Fitzgerald said. “I hope to catch him this year.”

— Marcus Mariota had a 39.6 passer rating today – the worst of his career.

— The Titans did have 12 sacks their previous two games but the Cards allowed eight Sunday and that just doesn’t work. Maybe Jared Veldheer wasn’t in the best place dealing with a bad elbow. I thought there was a couple of times Blaine Gabbert could’ve helped things. But the Cards did seem to go with quicker passes in the second half to avoid too much pressure.

— Oh, Fitz should’ve had a touchdown catch. He was wide-open in the fourth quarter. Gabbert simply missed him.

— Patrick Peterson had a 29-yard pass play go to Eric Decker in which Peterson basically stopped right as Decker was catching the ball, helping allow Decker to get loose for more yards. Peterson was clearly upset at the time, looking back at the official because he felt Decker pushed off. (Even aside from this play, it wasn’t one of Peterson’s best games.)

“The field judge can’t see that because he’s playing through me,” Peterson said. “We have to ask someone else to the field, so we can have an even playing field for the receiver and the DB. I said, ‘Why didn’t you call it?’ He said, ‘I didn’t see it.’ I’m tired of hearing the same response. Why are you on the field if you didn’t see it? I’m not criticizing the ref at all. I’m just saying that if he didn’t see it, we have to have somebody else out there watching both sides.”

— Bruce Arians didn’t have the best special teams challenge last week when he tried to get a fumble called on the opening kickoff. But he came out ahead on what I think it’s the toughest challenge there is – the spot of the ball, on the Titans’ fake punt. Surprisingly (and yes, I know many thought it was a bad spot, but it was still a spot) it was overturned, and the Cards got a short field, leading to a field goal. Titans coach Mike Mularkey was not happy afterward it was overturned, but Arians said the official right in front of him blew the play dead, and that’s what he thought should happen.

— The go-ahead field goal drive began when wide receiver Chad Williams came on the jet sweep (or end around, as I like to call it) and raced 33 yards. It was a good way to get the rookie involved.

“We needed a spark,” Arians said. “I had another play called. I said, ‘What the hell, it’s time for one.’ It’s either going to be a five-yard loss or a big gain, and we needed a spark.”

— Tramon Williams will be an intriguing free agent going into the offseason. He has been solid since stepping into the starting lineup, and Pro Football Focus graded him with his best game of the year Sunday – allowing only three catches for 23 yards on eight targets, with a pass breakup and an interception. He is also 34. He might be a one-and-done CB like Antonio Cromartie or Marcus Cooper.

— Same goes for linebacker Josh Bynes, who also had a pick and who is also playing very well and is also going to be a free agent. He’s younger, and I don’t see how the Cardinals wouldn’t want Bynes back – unless he decides he can make a lot of cash on the open market.


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