Tyrann Mathieu is going to get a contract extension. When, exactly, remains an unknown, although Ian Rapoport reported Monday the team and Mathieu are “deep in negotiations” toward a deal. I’ve long felt this was a matter of when and not if with the all-pro safety. For a multitude of reasons for both sides, it behooves both to get a new contract done.
But from the Cardinals’ end, a big reason to want to lock up Mathieu is because of the laundry list of players who, as of right now, are free agents after this upcoming season. It’s a subject we’ve talked about before, and the reality is not everyone will be with the Cardinals after this year. Still, if you have hope to having some guys around, you’d think the Cards would want to pare down the work facing them before this year ends. Here is the list — and it doesn’t include every single FA-to-be — of guys who are contract-less after 2016, as it stands right now:
— S Tyrann Mathieu
— WR Larry Fitzgerald
— OLB Chandler Jones
— DT Calais Campbell
— WR Michael Floyd
— G Evan Mathis
— DT Frostee Rucker
— RB Chris Johnson
— RB Andre Ellington
— S Tony Jefferson
— TE Jermaine Gresham
— OLB Alex Okafor
— ILB Kevin Minter
— WR Jaron Brown
— S D.J. Swearinger
— RB Stepfan Taylor
That isn’t the entire list, but those are the bigger names. Obviously, each are taken individually to an extent. Some guys the team will just move on from in the normal course of roster change in a salary-capped world. But big picture, it’s a puzzle GM Steve Keim and his department are working on as this season approaches.
Tags: Alex Okafor, Andre Ellington, Calais Campbell, Chandler Jones, Chris Johnson, D.J. Swearinger, Evan Mathis, Frostee Rucker, Jaron Brown, Jermaine Gresham, Kevin Minter, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Stepfan Taylor, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu
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GM Steve Keim said he knew some were concerned about quarterback Carson Palmer after he hurt his right index finger in Philadelphia, and acknowledged Palmer did have to adjust a bit to account for the finger against the Packers. But he said he wasn’t surprised Palmer went out and played well despite being nicked up — Palmer “is like a machine,” Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 Monday — and Keim never saw anything watching the video that made him think Palmer was impacted by the injury.
“He’s as tough as they come,” Keim said.
Mostly, Keim had nothing but praise for a team that slapped around the Packers Sunday.
— Keim said that was the closest the Cardinals had come to playing a complete game this season. The Cards have won nine straight. It’s amazing to think the Cards, at 6-2, were considering such a daunting second-half schedule. Thus far, they are 7-0 in that stretch.
— Keim noted the intelligence of defensive coordinator James Bettcher, saying that one of the things he likes of all the coaches is that they cater to players’ strengths. As for Bettcher, he liked the fact he took some things from former boss/former defensive coordinator Todd Bowles but “at the same time, he’s true to himself.”
— The discussions between Keim and coach Bruce Arians about whether to rest players in the regular-season finale will go on the next day or two.
— The third-round pick of running back David Johnson continues to look incredibly smart. “Every week he continues to amaze me,” Keim said. “Some of the things he does athletically for a big man … he makes things look so easy.”
— Another good game for safety D.J. Swearinger, highlighted by his forced fumble to start the second half. Keim liked the performance, and it again looks like a smart pickup for Keim.
— Keim, a man who loves his men in the trenches, said he thought the offensive line played “excellent” and the defensive line rotation showed exactly why the Cardinals brought in so many guys, in order to stay fresh.
Tags: D.J. Swearinger, David Johnson, James Bettcher, Packers, Steve Keim
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It is unquestionably a harsh reality the Cardinals and Tyrann Mathieu were officially handed Monday, with the news Mathieu had torn his ACL and was done for the year. Mathieu has had a fantastic season. They will miss him on the field. But what struck me is how personal this is, for Bruce Arians and players. This cuts them, because Mathieu is such a great person. This is ground that has been covered many times, but it makes sense why people want to root for this guy. He has a charisma that few have. He is genuine. Add in the fact he can play football, and it resonates. I’m not afraid to say he’s one of my favorite guys to cover in my 16 years around this team.
This is why the news is extra painful.
“Luckily we have the next couple of days off to let this emotionally sink in,” safety Rashad Johnson said. “Not so much not having our guy to play in the playoffs, but our hearts go out to him because of everything he’s been through and how hard he has worked to get back to this point and having the season he’s having.”
As for on the field, the Cardinals have to find a way to make due defensively without Mathieu. You can’t replace the playmaking ability. That’s innate. You do have — assuming no more serious injuries — depth, however. Johnson should be back from his ankle injury. Jerraud Powers plays more slot. Justin Bethel gets on the field. And new safety D.J. Swearinger plays more with Tony Jefferson.
Also part of the equation: This happens. Take a look around the top teams. Almost all have lost at least one significant player, if not for the season, for an extended period of time.
— Seahawks: TE Jimmy Graham, RB Marshawn Lynch, RB Thomas Rawls
— Panthers: WR Kelvin Benjamin
— Steelers: RB Le’Veon Bell
— Packers: WR Jordy Nelson
— Bengals: QB Andy Dalton
— Patriots: WR Julian Edelman, every decent running back they had
— Broncos: LT Ryan Clady, QB Peyton Manning (yes, I understand you can quibble with the Peyton pick.)
The point is it’s the living example of that well-worn quote coaches and some players have been saying for years: “The other team isn’t going to feel sorry for us.” The other teams have their own personnel losses. It’s the business.
Tags: Andy Dalton, D.J. Swearinger, Jerraud Powers, Jimmy Graham, Jordy Nelson, Julian Edelman, Justin Bethel, Kelvin Benjamin, Le'Veon Bell, Marshawn Lynch, Peyton Manning, Rashad Johnson, Ryan Clady, Thomas Rawls, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu
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Sunday night was a good night for the Cardinals. They dominated. They won the NFC West. They had a rookie running back rush for 187 yards and look tremendous doing it. They were happy to win the division, but know they haven’t yet accomplished what they want, which is the right mindset to have.
“We want to put banners up,” defensive tackle Frostee Rucker said. “We want to keep this thing rolling, and we’re on the right track.”
But it was hard not to see the stoic faces of both Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer after Tyrann Mathieu went down on a non-contact play late in the game, his knee buckling. Non-contact plays like that are a scary thing in this league, and when Palmer said he had already been praying for Mathieu, it shows where his head was at.
No, the Cardinals have not yet reached their goals. There are a lot of boxes left that need to be checked before/if the Cards can start thinking about a Super Bowl. It would really help if Mathieu is there to help. That answer isn’t out there yet as the Cards fly home from Philly in the middle of the night.
— David Johnson was tremendous. He provided an injury scare himself late in the first half – after he had already surpassed 100 yards for the first time in his career – but came back. He said he knew he was fine, and he was. Johnson had 187 yards rushing and 229 total yards and is firmly entrenched as this team’s No. 1 running back.
— This nugget from longtime Eagles beat writer Reuben Frank: Two players have ever rushed for at least 185 yards and three touchdowns in a game against the Eagles. David Johnson Sunday night … and Jim Brown.
— What was it with the drops? From jump, when Smokey Brown dropped what should have been a 78-yard touchdown on the game’s first play, it was something that receiving group never does. Brown ended up with three drops – including one in the end zone – and Michael Floyd had a couple himself. Bruce Arians said it should’ve been a big game for Brown. (There were about three other deep shots to Brown that just didn’t connect.)
— The Cardinals wanted to get better in short yardage and self-scouted to do so. Sunday night, the Cardinals had third down/goal to go and either one or two yards to make nine times. They passed it four times and ran it five – and they converted all nine attempts.
— A.Q. Shipley did a nice job in replacing the gimpy Lyle Sendlein at center.
— Two hardest hits of the night: New safety D.J. Swearinger hammering tight end Zack Ertz to prevent a completion in the first quarter to force a field goal, and tight end Troy Niklas, who accidentally belted punt returner Patrick Peterson hard enough that Peterson fumbled. Niklas jumped on the ball to save the play.
— Well, it’s very late. The attention is starting to wane, so I’m going to cut this off. The Cardinals may be 12-2, but they haven’t wrapped up a bye yet, and the team chasing them comes to town this week. Packers-Cardinals is a pretty good game, no?
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, D.J. Swearinger, David Johnson, Eagles, Frostee Rucker, Jim Brown, John Brown, Michael Floyd, Patrick Peterson, Troy Niklas, Tyrann Mathieu
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The closing stretch for the Cardinals makes everyone take notice. Sure, the Cards are home for three of the four games, but thanks to the Eagles’ upset of the Patriots last weekend, every opponent is in playoff contention.
“Makes it real easy to practice every week,” coach Bruce Arians said. “I don’t have to say (expletive).”
Next week is “Sunday Night Football” in Philadelphia. The last two games are home games against the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. And tomorrow, of course, is “Thursday Night Football” against the Vikings.
(For the many wondering about a flex to SNF for the Packers game, it seemed unlikely after the Cards’ game in Philly was switched and in fact, Arians said he’s hearing it will stay as an afternoon game. “I don’t think FOX is giving that one up,” Arians said.)
— The Cardinals, by the way, clinch a playoff spot with a win. They clinch the NFC West if they win (or tie) and the Seahawks lose in Baltimore Sunday.
— Arians said the Cards have three padded practices left this season but he isn’t sure if he will use them, or when. The most important thing is keeping players fresh at this point.
— Adrian Peterson can be a scary matchup. But even if he gets loose a little, it’s hard to imagine the Vikings having enough offense to hang with the Cards – assuming the Cardinals play as they are capable and don’t turn the ball over. The Vikings are missing four defensive starters. Advantage, Carson Palmer.
— Larry Fitzgerald this week, when I asked him about this receiving corps compared to 2008’s Fitz-in-his-prime, Q-in-his-prime, Steve Breaston group, said it’s the versatility that is so much different. Fitz is a better wide receiver in terms of knowledge and range these days. And while Brown and Nelson and Floyd are the deep threats, what strikes me about this group is the fact that Fitz could still go deep if needed. And Smokey Brown or even Nelson have shown they can go over the middle.
All that said, Fitz is satisfied right now of his role and why he has his role (setting a pace to set career-highs in catches and yards doesn’t hurt.)
“I can still go down and make plays,” Fitzgerald said. “But the fact is Mike and Smoke and JJ are much faster than I am at this point. They can get behind the defense easier.
“Everyone is comfortable in their roles and I think everyone is genuinely happy when they have success. We’re a close-knit group.”
That happens when you are throwing for at least 350 yards a game and everyone gets their bite at the apple.
— Adrian Peterson, by the way, drew some attention this week when he said the Vikings, among other things, were outcoached in their blowout loss to Seattle last week. Peterson didn’t see his criticism as a big deal, and actually made a good point about it.
“When the players don’t play well, or a guy throws an interception, or a guy fumbles, or a guy gives up a sack, or the defense doesn’t play well, it’s so quick for people to say, ‘Oh, the defense didn’t play well,’ or ‘This guy threw an interception at a critical time,’ ” Peterson said. “Like, that’s always OK. But, then when someone mentions something about coaches and being outcoached, it’s always like a big issue. To me, it’s not a big issue. We are a team, so we win together and we lose together. And we lost together, you know? We didn’t play well as players and the coaches didn’t coach well.”
— New safety D.J. Swearinger, who was signed to the practice squad when running back Chris Johnson was put on injured reserve, was promoted to the active roster when guard Earl Watford was put on IR this week and Arians said Swearinger will have a role in the defense. True, Tony Jefferson might not be able to go (or be limited) with a hamstring issue, but either way, Arians said Swearinger – a former second-round pick of the Texans – will have a defensive role.
— There is a toy drive at the game Thursday. If you are attending, please bring a new or gently used toy to any of the stadium entrances.
— John Brown hurt his hamstring way back in the Detroit game Oct. 11. He is still listed on the injury report as the Cardinals try to protect him, but Smokey is just about healthy. He showed that in his 68-yard bomb last week in St. Louis. And even with the injury, and a game he didn’t play in Cleveland and being slowed other times, Brown is just 183 yards shy of 1,000 this season.
— Set the DVR: “Bruce Arians: A Football Life” will debut on NFL Network Friday at 7 p.m. Arizona time, 9 p.m. Eastern.
— Speaking of TV, yes, the Vikings game will be on the NFL Network, but locally it will also be on CBS, Ch. 5, in the Valley.
— Interesting story in the Wall Street Journal, ranking the 10 most “unwatchable” teams in the NFL this season based on eight factors, such as fair catches, fewest big plays, pre-snap penalties, things like that. (The Colts topped the list.) No, the Cardinals aren’t in there, but I did notice that the Cardinals lead the league in a couple of their categories – most failed challenges of replay, and most rushes for no gain.
— One final anecdote: Rookie running back David Johnson had a good first start last week (Arians said he’d get 25 touches, D.J. ended up with 24) as the Cards rushed for 175 yards. Johnson came out late to give Kerwynn Williams and Stepfan Taylor some work, and it cost him a 100-yard game. Johnson finished with 99 yards on 20 carries.
The funny thing is, Johnson not only knew he was close to 100 yards, he actually thought he got it – to the point where he took the ball and brought it to the sideline so he could have a memento.
Guess he’ll have to do it all over again. The Vikings await.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Bruce Arians, D.J. Swearinger, David Johnson, Earl Watford, Freddie Kitchens, John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Vikings
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