Washington used to be a division trip. The first two seasons I covered the Cardinals, there were home-and-home with the NFC East, before realignment. The last time the Cards went there as an NFC East team was in fact Pat Tillman’s last game in the NFL. It was played in a freezing rain, and the Cardinals came up short, 20-17 on the scoreboard and therefore in their quest to finish .500 – a rare achievement in those days. That was the 2001 season, the last game of the year and only the last game of the year because, as the Cards’ first game of the year, it was bumped because of the cancellations due to the 9/11 tragedy. Tillman talked to us in the locker room after, clad in only a towel, lips blue and teeth chattering, angry at the result.
I also remember the trip to Washington in 2008, because it was the front-end of a week-long trip away, in which the Cards stayed in Virginia to bridge games against the Redskins then the Jets. That was a memorable week despite back-to-back losses. Anquan Boldin famously broke his jaw against the Jets. And before that, with a 2-1 record after a loss to the Redskins, I went to dinner with three co-workers and we talked about what it would be like if the Cardinals won a Super Bowl. None of us really believed it could happen, and then, a few months later, that’s exactly where the Cardinals were.
I’m not sure this trip to Washington is going to hold the same memories, although, like the one in the 2001 season, getting to .500 (or above, if the Cards win out) is a goal. When the season started this game looked important for both teams when it came to potential playoff positioning. Now, the Cards have to win to keep breathing, and Washington is already done.
— So Adrian Peterson is done for the year, something that has certainly been trending that direction for a bit. Kerwynn Williams has entrenched himself as the starter so the Cards have already handled the idea they won’t have AD. The question now is whether Peterson – who is under contract for next season, for $3.5 million – returns. Bruce Arians said Friday he can see Peterson on the roster. But there are other factors. David Johnson will be back. Not only do you have to find a way for Johnson and Peterson to co-exist, but Peterson would have to be OK with a reserve role. The Cards will also have to be OK paying a chunk of money to a reserve back.
The roster can go so many different directions this offseason. Peterson’s role is just another detail to sort out.
— No one is getting into the muck of the postseason, really, but know this in terms of the Cardinals and being officially eliminated from the playoffs – it can happen one of three ways:
— A Cardinals loss
— A Seattle win
— A win by both Atlanta and Carolina.
— Washington coach Jay Gruden praises the toughness of new safety and former Cardinal D.J. Swearinger this season, after Swearinger arrived as a free agent. Swearinger was even named a captain, and he used that to its fullest this week, calling out his team for going through the motions at practice. We’ll see how they respond. One thing is for sure, and that’s Swearinger is geared up to play the Cardinals.
He said the Cards made him an offer last year but pulled it just before free agency started (which more or less makes sense; I’m sure the idea was that they wanted Swearinger but if they didn’t get him at their price, they were going to go in a different direction.)
As for Sunday, “It’s definitely extra juice,” Swearinger told the Roanoke County-Times. “I’m going to be on the edge. I can’t wait to play.”
— Everyone will be watching rookie left tackle Will Holden Sunday. He may just be the key to the game. If he holds up, I think the Cards should be fine. Arians said newcomer Kahlif Barnes will be active, but I’m sure they’d rather not have it come down to him playing on only a couple days of practice.
— As I write this, the forecast for Sunday is 49 degrees and only a 10 percent chance of precipitation. Perfect football weather.
— A victory by the Cardinals would give Arians his 49th win as head coach, including playoffs. That would tie him with Ken Whisenhunt for most wins in franchise history with postseason included. Arians already has the most regular-season wins as a head coach, with 47.
On to D.C.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Bruce Arians, D.J. Swearinger, David Johnson, Khalif Barnes, Larry Fitzgerald, Pat Tillman, Redskins, Will Holden
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A team can have up to four compensatory draft picks — extra picks a team gets when it loses more free agents than it signs — in a year. While the comp picks, maxed out at 32 across the league, are a moving target for now with free agency ongoing, the Cardinals seem to be in line for four extra choices. The actual formula remains a secret, but enough people have been working on it enough that a general idea of where the picks land can be estimated. Overthecap.com credits the Cardinals (as of now) with an extra third-rounder, an extra fourth-rounder, an extra fifth-rounder and an extra sixth-rounder in the 2018 draft.
Calais Campbell nets the third-round pick. Tony Jefferson the fourth-rounder. Marcus Cooper gets a fifth-rounder, and although the loss of D.J. Swearinger is canceled out by the signing of kicker Phil Dawson, Kevin Minter’s departure gets a sixth-rounder. The losses of Earl Watford and Alex Okafor are offset by the signings of Karlos Dansby and Jarvis Jones.
Again, this is an estimation. The league doesn’t release the formula, and other things eventually can be involved, including playing time and postseason honors. But if the Cards end up with four extra picks, that wouldn’t be too bad. There doesn’t seem to be much percolating with any new signings right now, which would mean more extra picks at this time next year.
Tags: Calais Campbell, compensatory picks, D.J. Swearinger, draft, Kevin Minter, Marcus Cooper, Phil Dawson, Tony Jefferson
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The Cardinals would’ve liked to keep Calais Campbell. And Tony Jefferson (or D.J. Swearinger), and Marcus Cooper too. But the prices got to be a lot larger than the team wanted to pay, and there was a flip side to those players defecting — and to the way the Cardinals have looked at bringing in free agents themselves over the last few days: Compensatory picks.
Comp picks are the extra selections at the end of each round, starting in the third, that teams get after all the free agent comings and goings are tallied. The NFL keeps the formula for comp picks secret, although a) it’s determined by each team’s free agents losses and gains, along with the size of those players’ new contracts, plus playing time and postseason honors; and b) there are only so many in a draft.
(This was made painfully clear to the Cardinals recently. The Cardinals get an extra fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft next month, and they had qualified for three other extra seventh-round picks — but the NFL caps the total number of comp picks at 32, and since teams across the league qualified for 39 total, the last seven didn’t count. The extra three of the Cards’ picks fell in that last seven “dead zone.”)
There are other things that dictate the comings-and-goings part of the comp pick equation. Players who are in the league 10 years or more don’t matter as much (so the Cards aren’t really hurt by the “coming” of Karlos Dansby, who was basically canceled out by the “going” of Alex Okafor to the Saints). This only applies to free agents who had contracts expire (so Antoine Bethea, cut by San Francisco, does not count in the equation.)
A team would max out with four comp picks in any given draft. Right now, it looks like the Cardinals would be in line for four — four pretty good ones. Those that break this down (the best they can, given the secrecy of the exact formula) estimate the Cardinals gaining potentially two third-round picks in 2018, plus a couple of others. Even if one of the picks isn’t a third but a fourth, plus a couple of other later ones in the fifth- or sixth-round to get to the maximum four, it would give the Cardinals a lot of firepower in the 2018 draft. (If it played out like that, it’d be 10 draft picks, because the Cards traded their 2018 seventh-rounder to Kansas City for Cooper).
Nothing is set in stone, but the money is a big driver in comp picks and at this point, you figure the big money in free agency is already gone. If the Cards were going to lose high-profile free agents, they at least figure to get something out of it.
Tags: Calais Campbell, compensatory picks, D.J. Swearinger, draft, Marcus Cooper, Tony Jefferson
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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.
Tags: Calais Campbell, Chandler Jones, D.J. Swearinger, franchise tag, free agency, Marcus Cooper, Tony Jefferson
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That sound you heard from the direction of California Sunday night was the Cardinals exhaling. No, David Johnson hasn’t had his MRI yet, but there is optimism that the knee injury he suffered Sunday will cost him only that record of 100 yards from scrimmage in every game and nothing further. If his ligaments are intact – and Bruce Arians seemed to think they were – then he will recover in plenty of time for training camp. And at this point, that’s all that matters.
So in that regard, Sunday’s 44-6 beatdown of the Rams isn’t like the beatdown of the Eagles last season, which won a division but had an ugly hangover because of the Tyrann Mathieu ACL tear. Nobody wants any of that.
Johnson wasn’t moping or looking like disaster had struck after the game, so take that for what it’s worth.
You also take for what it’s worth the pounding of the Rams. Jared Goff is nowhere near ready to play quarterback, and certainly not behind that line he had today or with the receivers he has. Still, the Cardinals held the Rams to a crazy 2.1-yards per play today – that’s nothing – and had a sack party in the backfield.
Momentum doesn’t carry over from one season to the next. I firmly believe that (just as the NFC title loss didn’t carry over.) But confidence can. And this team has a lot of confidence going into the offseason.
Of course, there are a lot of things that need to be figured out in the offseason. But that’s to talk about for the next few months.
— The Cardinals will pick 13th overall in the draft.
— Arians confirmed earlier reports that offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin is set to have three head coaching interviews in the coming days. ESPN reported those teams as the Bills, Rams and Jaguars. Goodwin joked the other day of getting a couple of calls from CFL teams, but it was always expected that Goodwin would be getting interviews after interviewing with the Buccaneers last offseason.
Obviously, the Rooney Rule makes an impact with Goodwin, an African-American. But you can’t get a job without interviewing, and at some point, someone is going to decide Goodwin is the right man for the job.
— By the way, a major point in Goodwin’s favor – the amount of points the offense generated the last three games with his deep-in-the-depth-chart offensive line. Props to those players, but Goody can coach up an offensive line.
— Carson Palmer was wearing a glove on his left hand after cutting it on Christmas day and getting four stiches. Palmer joked he was saving orphans from a burning building. Whatever the reason, he said it didn’t bother him.
— Safety D.J. Swearinger again made a strong argument for the Cardinals wanting him to stay. A couple of big hits, a couple of nice tackles, a sack, an interception that was lost on a questionable Kevin Minter roughing-the-passer penalty.
— Chandler Catanzaro with a nice finish: 3-for-3 on field goals, 5-for-5 on extra points.
— Justin Bethel told me recently his foot – which has been injured basically since last year and never fully healed after he hurt it again in the offseason and needed surgery – is finally feeling better. So to see him play his best two games as a cornerback the last two weeks, including a 68-yard pick-6, is gratifying. Especially after Arians called him out after the Miami game.
— We’ll finish on this note: The Cardinals finished the season with a plus-56 point-differential. That’s something that usually translates into a playoff berth, not 7-8-1. In the NFC, only Dallas, Atlanta and Seattle are better. (AFC South winner Houston was minus-49!) But that’s how this season went. We move on to 2017.
Tags: Chandler Catanzaro, D.J. Swearinger, David Johnson, Harold Goodwin, Jared Goff, Justin Bethel, Kevin Minter, Rams
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Tony Jefferson, that one-time undrafted free agent who was not a happy man when he was undrafted, will wait to see what his future holds. He’s on IR after hurting his knee, his best season over after 92 tackles, 13 for loss, two sacks, five pass breakups and even four tackles on special teams (the unit on which Jefferson got hurt.)
The Cardinals want to bring Jefferson back, and I believe Jefferson wants to return. But money talks, and when you have a guy who was undrafted in the first place (and then got less as a restricted free agent, with no competing offers, last offseason, much to his chagrin) money will be screaming this time around. Understandable.
The thing is, the Cards will have to figure out this complex puzzle of their secondary and safety. D.J. Swearinger is also an unrestricted-free-agent-to-be, and he too will be looking for money after falling to practice squad status as recently as last season. Tyrann Mathieu will be back next season, fully healthy without surgeries and that bodes well. Tyvon Branch should be back too, but when Mathieu goes into the slot, that leaves a spot. And that’s assuming Branch and Mathieu can stay healthy, with which both have had issues.
Jefferson is the kind of home-grown talent you’d love to keep around. He’s had a good season. But he’s also one of those players that might’ve fallen into the cracks — too good to afford to keep him, not quite good enough that you don’t think you can’t replace him. Plus there are the intangibles that are hard to measure.
Tags: D.J. Swearinger, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu, Tyvon Branch
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For a few minutes, it was exactly how Bruce Arians wanted it to be all along.
Carson Palmer, with a clean pocket, threw perfect chunk passes off play-action. David Johnson picked up six yards running just falling forward. The Cardinals scored a touchdown on the first possession for the first time this season. Arians was thrilled.
“I take a lot of pride in that stat of scoring first,” Arians said.
The Cards couldn’t get a stop, though. They couldn’t get a stop all game when they really, really needed one. I take that back, they did to begin the second half – but then the offense had a three-and-out in their lone full possession of the third quarter.
That’s frustrating, Arians and everyone else asked about it will say. But that’s expected. There isn’t any one part of the game (unless you go with David Johnson himself as a part of the game) that has been excellent.
Defensive tackle Corey Peters, the one-time Falcon, shook his head at the lack of consistency. He was talking about the defense, and there is certainly reason to look at the defense that way. But the offense and special teams haven’t been able to find any either. That’s why they can shred a defense for an easy 75-yard drive to start, and have just 109 yards total in the second half.
“We’re 4-and-6, that’s our reality,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “We’re too talented to be under .500.”
— Arians is beside himself about the receiving problems. Smokey Brown gets hurt again. Michael Floyd drew a pause and an “I don’t know” from the coach, after a game in which he could have made a huge fourth-down catch and he did not. Floyd’s season will go down as one of the greatest mysteries in recent Cardinals history.
— Arians said the Cardinals used more maximum protection on pass plays Sunday than any time since he has been coach. The group was not perfect, but I did think they held up – at least until the end when the Falcons figured a pass was coming every down. I fully expect that group – from left tackle over, Humphries, Iupati, Shipley, Wetzel, John – to remain the starting five.
“I really would like to see it on film, just to critique the small stuff,” Humphries said. “But I felt the way stuff was shuffled around and the wat we had to pull together in a short time, it was a good outing. But it wasn’t good enough. Clearly.”
— Mathieu talked again about accountability in the locker room. I don’t know if he has things in particular he is thinking of or if he just feels like, when you are losing, people need to go under the microscope. It may be the latter, because he said in the same breath they have to stick together. That will be tested these last five games.
— Patrick Peterson hurt his knee. He said he got kicked by the cleat of Julio Jones on D.J. Swearinger’s interception. We’ll see what that means for him this week, although he said it was “painful.”
— Swearinger’s reputation earned him that interception he made. Jones beat Patrick Peterson on the in-route but Jones was staring straight at Swearinger as Jones made his way across the middle. That moment of lost concentration – and that knowledge Swearinger lights up receivers going across the middle – caused the bobble and Swearinger was gift-wrapped an INT.
— Unfortunately, Swearinger couldn’t hold on to the interception later, which would have stalled a Falcons’ TD drive. But the way it went Sunday, that might’ve been a band-aid. Not sure the Cards could’ve stopped the Falcons enough.
— Well, the Cards and Peterson didn’t let Jones beat them. So …
— The series of plays before halftime was a well-executed as anything the Cardinals have done this season. The loss buries the plays, but after the Swearinger interception, the Cards had just 25 seconds at their own 37. A 17-yard pass to J.J. Nelson that may or may not have been incomplete. Rushing to the line to run a play and make sure it wasn’t reviewed. Then Palmer hit Fitz, who in one motion slid to catch a 10-yard pass and called timeout, using only four seconds of the five left and allowing Chandler Catanzaro to boot the 54-yard field goal.
Yes, I’m looking for silver linings.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Chandler Catanzaro, Corey Peters, D.J. Humphries, D.J. Swearinger, Falcons, J.J. Nelson, Larry Fitzgerald, offensive line, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu
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Both running back Chris Johnson and safety Tyvon Branch went on injured reserve on Oct. 4, and a potential return date — for only one of them — is the Dec. 4 game against the Redskins. For his part, Johnson said he is “ahead of schedule” in his rehab from a groin injury (Branch suffered the same injury) and is optimistic about his availability to practice two weeks before that.
The new rule this season declares that while one player can return from injured reserve (it’s always been just one), teams do not have to declare which one is coming back. So both Johnson and Branch are in play. (In contrast, when the Cardinals put Johnson on IR last year with his knee injury, they said it was IR-to-return.) If chosen to return, players can return to practice after six weeks on the sideline, and play eight weeks later.
At the time Johnson and Branch went on the list, coach Bruce Arians said the decision on which one would return — and those two are the only real options on IR right now to come back — would not only be based on rate of recovery but also positional need.
As of now, running back actually would seem to be a greater need, with the number of touches starter David Johnson is receiving along with the depth in the secondary. While Tyrann Mathieu is still rounding into form, he isn’t leaving the lineup, and the other two safeties — Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger — are playing well. If the Cardinals can maneuver through the next four games (the bye is mixed in there), bringing Johnson back for a playoff push over the final five games makes sense.
Tags: Chris Johnson, D.J. Swearinger, David Johnson, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu, Tyvon Branch
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For me, the moment was a couple of plays before Carson Palmer hit Michael Floyd for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was after Palmer had delivered a couple of lasers on out routes to Smokey Brown, passes Palmer seemed to have had some issues with earlier in the season. But here the Cardinals were on the New York 33. On first down and second down Palmer threw incompletions, and Palmer was hammered to the turf both times. Not ideal, but Palmer got up both times.
And on third down, with a decent pocket but still some pressure, Palmer stood tall. He stepped into the throw. And he delivered a bullet to Jaron Brown for a first down.
That felt like the Palmer — and the Cardinals’ offense — that had been absent. Things might go awry, but the quarterback would stand tall and deliver when needed. In some ways, the second half Monday night was vintage Palmer. It wasn’t necessarily 2015 Palmer, because the Jets were not going to let the Cards beat them deep and the Cardinals are definitely running more than ever before. David Johnson makes that smart. But while Palmer’s numbers aren’t going to fetch an MVP, they were good in context. The Cards might just be where they want to be.
It gets harder. The Seahawks come to town next Sunday night. The Seahawks, who have beat the heck out of the Cardinals in each of the three games they have played the Cardinals in Arizona since Arians arrived. But the performance against the Jets, that was one to note.
— The teacher definitely bested the student. Todd Bowles has some injuries, and he definitely doesn’t have the talent on the back end. But Bowles wasn’t going to give up the deep stuff, so the Cards ran and ran and when they threw, it was in front of the defenders. Smart playcalling by Bruce Arians, and good execution.
— Floyd had a TD catch, but it’s clear that he’s not coming back up the depth chart for now (although if Jaron Brown is banged up, that could be a factor.) The guy who made some plays Monday was J.J. Nelson, including on a couple of jet sweeps. I like that wrinkle.
— Speaking of wrinkles, having six or seven defensive backs on the field at times was interesting to watch. Justin Bethel was getting his first defensive snaps of the regular season, and Tharold Simon also got some work. Now, if Tyrann Mathieu can turn flashes into what he was pre-injury …
— Robert Nkemdiche was active and played a handful of snaps. “I couldn’t even see him out there from my angle,” Arians said, deferring his analysis until he saw the tape. “I didn’t see him on the quarterback,” Arians added with a smile. “I would’ve seen that.”
To be fair, Nkemdiche did knock down one pass and was credited with a quarterback hit.
— He didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but linebacker Chandler Jones had a heck of a game.
— It’s hard to believe that the Cardinals actually had D.J. Swearinger on their practice squad for about a week last season. He’s been a nice pickup that went under the radar. His quality play is magnified with no Tyvon Branch around.
— It was a good night for DJs overall — Swearinger, right tackle D.J. Humphries and David Johnson. Not so good for Williamses (All three guys named Williams on the roster were inactive.)
— What else can you say about David Johnson, other than superstar in the making? What’s funny is he missed a blitz pickup and was dwelling on it — “(Number) 25 (Calvin Pryor), that was definitely my guy,” he said.
You don’t want your QB to get whacked on the blitz. But it feels a little bit like picking at nits. Yes, the Cardinals want Johnson humble. But everything expected of him before the season? He’s that guy. And those expectations were kinda big.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Chandler Jones, D.J. Humphries, D.J. Swearinger, David Johnson, Jaron Brown, Jets, John Brown, Justin Bethel, Michael Floyd, Robert Nkemdiche, Tharold Simon, Todd Bowles, Tyrann Mathieu
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The Cardinals’ first game is Friday night against the Raiders, so that means the first depth chart of the season was put out today. As always, it’s a preseason depth chart, and there is a ton of wiggle room in what it says and what happens once the games start and who plays on the field.
“It’s (in) invisible ink,” coach Bruce Arians said, laughing. “It ain’t even in pencil.”
That said, it’s always interesting to take a look at where the players are at this point.
— On offense, there is nothing really wacky. The starters, given what Bruce Arians has said about both A.Q. Shipley and D.J. Humphries, are as expected. Perhaps the only notable thing is that, as of now, tryout rookie Chris Hubert — who has flashed multiple times in practice — is ahead of veteran Brittan Golden at one of the wideout positions (behind Fitz and Jaron Brown.)
— On defense, even though Ed Stinson has been with the first-unit much of the offseason and camp, it is Rodney Gunter listed as a starter with Calais Campbell, and the now-injured Corey Peters as the starting nose tackle. Given the depth at the defensive line, the rotation will show starting means little since so many guys will be moved in and out.
— Brandon Williams, the rookie, is the starter at cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson. That’s not a surprise since Justin Bethel has been hurt for so long. Bethel hasn’t been on the field to play since the NFC Championship, although he should be close to a return.
— At safety, something to watch. The starters are the injured Tyrann Mathieu, and he is backed up by Tony Jefferson. The strong safety starter right now is listed as D.J. Swearinger, ahead of Tyvon Branch. Before the offseason, you would’ve thought Branch or Jefferson would be penciled in there, but it is Swearinger right now. As much as the Cards have had to figure out their cornerback situation, their safety spot — especially with rookie Marqui Christian making strides — is pretty strong. There might have to be a tough choice made there too, especially once Mathieu is considered healthy.
Here’s the whole chart:
Tags: Brandon Williams, Brittan Golden, Chris Hubert, D.J. Swearinger, depth chart, Ed Stinson, Justin Bethel, Marqui Christian, Rodney Gunter, Tony Jefferson, training camp, Tyrann Mathieu, Tyvon Branch
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