Tags: Alligators, Arizona Cardinals, AZ Cardinals, AZ Cards, Darnell Dockett, NFL
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Next week, the decision-makers for the Cardinals and the rest of the NFL will head to Indianapolis for the annual Scouting combine. Already teams, including the Cards, have been meeting and ranking their rosters and figuring out what direction they will need to go in. Free agency, which begins March 11 officially (although teams came start to talk to guys from other teams a couple of days before that), will impact what happens in the draft and the rest of the offseason.
But before all that, and before the Cardinals re-sign any more of their own players, here are — in my opinion — the positions that need to be addressed the most over the next few months:
1) Offensive line: It doesn’t hurt that this encompasses multiple positions. Ultimately, it is left tackle that the Cardinals likely need to go after the most. I have no doubt Bradley Sowell can be depth at the position, but clearly the Cards would like to upgrade there. Easier said than done, of course, and we’ll see if it comes in free agency or the draft.
2) Defensive line: You’re not going to win in the NFC West unless both lines of scrimmage are fortified. As it stands now, the defensive line seems to be OK, with Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams. But Alameda Ta’amu was an important co-nose tackle with Williams, and he is coming off ACL surgery. Dockett’s age and contract will likely call into question his future after 2014. And with Frostee Rucker a free agent, the Cardinals need depth there, especially after using rotations during the season.
3) Linebacker: This is in part a continuation of the defensive line issue, because whether you consider a pass rusher a linebacker or a defensive end in nickel situations, the Cards still need pass rushers. John Abraham was a godsend in 2013 but he is not getting younger, even if he has another double-digit sack year in his arsenal. Alex Okafor is an unknown quantity at outside linebacker after his lost rookie season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Matt Shaughnessy get away as a free agent. It’s hard to tell, since both missed most of the season, how well Lorenzo Alexander and Sam Acho fit in the defense as well. That doesn’t even include the inside, where Karlos Dansby could still leave.
4) Tight end: This position probably should be higher on the list, considering all the free agents the Cardinals have. Then again, maybe I’m just used to the Cards just getting along the best they can at tight end to make sure other spots are taken care of first. But Bruce Arians likes to use the tight end in multiple ways and use multiple tight ends. The Cards need bodies, and that’s even if Jim Dray returns. Rob Housler had flashes again last season but this is likely a make-or-break season for him to stay healthy and be consistent.
5) Safety: Even if Yeremiah Bell returns he is older. Tyrann Mathieu is coming off major knee surgery. The depth is thin, and the Cardinals, as you might have heard, had some issues covering tight ends last season. As good as Richard Sherman is, a big reason why the Seahawks secondary is so good is because Earl Thomas is backstopping Sherman and all those corners. Getting a safety like that wouldn’t be too bad.
Bonus) Quarterback: There’s no reason to list QB in the top five because the Cardinals are fine going into next season playing with Carson Palmer. There’s no argument there, really. But reality says the future QB has to be acquired sooner rather than later. This is a draft-only kind of scenario. I don’t see the Cards seeking another trade or anything. But at some point, GM Steve Keim is going to come across a quarterback he likes very much when the Cards are on the clock. And he needs to pull that trigger for down the road.
Tags: Alameda Ta'amu, Bradley Sowell, Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Darnell Dockett, draft, free agency, Frostee Rucker, John Abraham, Karlos Dansby, Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Shaughnessy, offensive line, Rob Housler, Sam Acho, Tyrann Mathieu, Yeremiah Bell
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Tags: Arizona Cardinals, Auburn, AZ Cardinals, AZ Cards, BCS National Chamionship, Darnell Dockett, Florida State, NCAA, NFL
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This time around, the Cardinals aren’t going to be looking for a coach or general manager, so this early part of the offseason figures to be much more quiet than it was in January of 2013. But there is still plenty for GM Steve Keim and his people to work on, because the combine is in less than two months, free agency is soon after that, and it’s time to focus on what the offseason roster in 2014 will look like.
That starts, of course, with figuring out what they liked and didn’t like with the roster from 2013. It also comes down to budget, and contracts, and how many of these unrestricted free agents-to-be want to come back to Arizona based on the deals Keim wants to/is willing to offer. These are not always simple solutions but it is why Keim, as they say, earns the big bucks. When I talked to Keim as early as the week in Florida prior to the Week 4 game at Tampa, Keim was already acknowledging the work that had to go into this offseason.
“There are going to be some tough decisions to be made after the season based on the numbers, just looking at the three-year view,” Keim said then. “We will obviously have to make some tough decisions like we did this past year after the season. The one thing fans and other people don’t realize (is) there are certain contracts that bind you and you can’t do anything (with) and you have the dead money factor.
“Once we get to 2015 I feel really good where we are going to be from a salary-cap standpoint.”
With that all in mind, here is my annual roster breakdown, with most players by position, when their contracts expires and a quick comment on each. There are a lot of choices to be made, and not just by Keim. If you are Karlos Dansby, for instance, do you like the scheme Todd Bowles has put you in — and like playing next to someone like Daryl Washington enough — to want to stay? Money, as always, talks. Dansby did not get the kind of interest he expected last offseason in the market. He had a better year this season, but will that translate for a player who will be 33? These are the things the Cardinals, and Dansby, must balance.
The Larry Fitzgerald situation, and a looming $18 million salary cap number, is another touchpoint. The Cardinals really need to get it lower. How they can work with Fitzgerald on that impacts a lot of things, including, for instance, any potential Patrick Peterson contract extension. When you start mulling all these numbers, you start seeing why Keim is targeting 2015 for salary cap comfort.
There are other key things the Cards must look at roster-wise, aside from the draft. Other key free agents like Matt Shaughnessy, Rashard Mendenhall or Andre Roberts. Other contracts, like perhaps those of Daryn Colledge or Darnell Dockett. Other issues, like the long-term rehab of Tyrann Mathieu and Alameda Ta’amu, or a possible suspension of Daryl Washington, and whether absences at the beginning of the season could make a difference on who is needed on the roster for depth.
The offseason is just beginning. So too is the job of the Cardinals to get ready for 2014.
Tags: Alameda Ta'amu, Andre Roberts, Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington, Daryn Colledge, Karlos Dansby, Larry Fitzgerald, Matt Shaughnessy, Patrick Peterson, Rashard Mendenhall, Roster, Steve Keim, Tyrann Mathieu
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It was a must-win game and everyone knew that. The playoffs were only possible with a victory, and the Cards got that. But it felt like more. For all the success the Cardinals had this season, there was a reason Bruce Arians called the trip to Seattle a barometer. Were the Cardinals in purgatory, a good team but a notch below Seattle and San Francisco? Now we have an answer.
It’s a far cry from the 58-0 pasting from a year ago. Everyone knew that wasn’t going to happen again. Last year’s team was out of it by the time it got to Seattle and that played a major role in last year’s meltdown. This team is in a totally different place. This team believes it can win. This team is confident enough to bring Skittles to the sideline – the favorite treat of Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch – and break them out (picture below) at the end of a rugged victory in which Lynch was neutralized in the second half.
Arians downplayed last year’s game in Seattle, but he slipped in a postgame reference: “I guess we are 66 points better than last year,” Arians quipped. The math says it was really 65, but you get the point.
– “Any time you come on the road and a team beats you 58-0 and you’ve got to go back to their place, it lingers in the back of your head,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “If you’ve got any pride or care about football, when a team beats you 58-0, you think about it. And it stuck with us. People ask, ‘You get a butt-whupping, does it stay on you a while?’ That one stayed on us for a whole year. We were determined not to let that ever happen again.”
– Playoff update, in a nutshell: If the 49ers win Monday night, the Cards have to win against San Francisco next week and hope the Saints lose – at home – to Tampa Bay. If the 49ers lose Monday night, the winner of Arizona and San Francisco is in the playoffs.
– Carson Palmer has thrown at least three interceptions in a game twice this season. He is 2-0 in those games. Sunday, he beat the Seahawks with four picks. And he beat the Panthers with three.
– Palmer was not on target most of the game. He threw too many interceptions. But he never should’ve been benched, despite what seemed like a constant call from the fanbase. He wasn’t the main reason the Cards won Sunday but he was a reason when he piloted the final drive. And he’s been good enough to win 10 games.
– Defensively, the Cardinals were outstanding. I am of the belief Russell Wilson is an MVP candidate and the Cards made him look very much like an overwhelmed second-year quarterback Sunday.
– Of the Seahawks’ 14 possessions, 12 were of four plays or fewer. Nine gained nine yards or less.
– The Seahawks had won 26 straight games – dating back to 2001 – when they forced at least four turnovers. Until Sunday.
– So a Washington state lawmaker decided to tweet out (since deleted, of course) that the Seahawks’ loss to the Cardinals was worse because the state is a “racist wasteland.” Alrighty then.
– Linebacker Karlos Dansby had six tackles, missed one early interception but made the big one at the end, and postgame was classic Karlos. “I am putting my name in the hat. Defensive player of the year,” he said. “You are looking at him. No one is playing better. That is how I feel. I am going to hang my hat on that. I am going to go out there and make my statements and I put one out today.”
– The officials weren’t on their ‘A’ game again. Both teams had issues. The Cardinals shouldn’t have had a first-and-20 after Frostee Rucker’s unsportsmanlike penalty after a kickoff, and they certainly weren’t happy with the flag on the extra point that negated a Seahawks miss. The Seahawks didn’t like, among other things, the Rashard Mendenhall fumble-that-wasn’t or the final Dansby did-it-hit-Baldwin’s-arm-or-the-ground interception.
– The offensive line, I thought, played pretty well. They opened up lanes on the ground and the Cardinals ran the ball well. The game was won up front on both sides. That’s something the defensive line has come to expect. The offensive line, that’s a nice victory.
The postseason may be out of their hands, but Sunday will make Christmas be a little bit nicer for the Cards.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Darnell Dockett, Frostee Rucker, Karlos Dansby, Michael Floyd, Rashard Mendenhall, Russell Wilson, Seahawks
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The Cardinals as a group haven’t just moved far forward from this time last year. So too has Darnell Dockett. The trip to Seattle was the back end of a very rocky week for the defensive tackle last season, after his sideline confrontation with Kerry Rhodes at the end of the Jets game and the let-them-score issue. Dockett was demoted that week in practice and then came off the bench in Seattle. It was a bad time for both him and the team.
“Mentally for me, I wasn’t in the right place, our team wasn’t in the right place in the middle of that losing streak,” Dockett said.
Dockett has bounced back, of course. He was happy with the new scheme that Todd Bowles brought in. He has 4½ sacks, and is coming off – according to profootballfocus.com – two of his best games of the season. The Cardinals need him to play well Sunday in Seattle during this return trip. Dockett sure remembers the last time.
“They had a team that was struggling in every phase and they took full advantage of it,” Dockett said. “They ran the score up. Passing the ball with five minutes left. But that’s cool. I’m not mad. As a team, we have to understand the environment we are going into and we have to understand what is at stake. We have to understand we will face adversity there. Every team that goes there faces adversity. You will have to overcome it real fast.”
Can the Cardinals do that? An excellent question. When Bruce Arians calls this a barometer of where his team is at, that’s a guarantee.
– Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was disappointed in his unit last week, not necessarily because they played poorly but because for the first time this season, he felt the players began watching the clock instead of playing the game once the Cards took a 34-17 lead.
“I thought we shut it down,” Bowles said.
I doubt that will be a problem Sunday, nor a possibility, but it’s always good to learn such a lesson in a win.
– As for the rash of penalties the Cards had in the second half, Bowles said “I thought we lost our composure.” Some flags might have been questionable, but Bowles is right, the Cards have to make sure they keep it together.
– Speaking of penalties, fines were handed out from the Titans game. Tennessee linebacker Kamerion Wimbley was hit for $10,000 for his low hit on Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, the one that left Palmer with a sprained left ankle (and luckily nothing else.) Titans running back Jackie Battle was not fined for his concussion-inducing hit on Larry Fitzgerald, although it wasn’t a foul and I didn’t even think it was that big of a hit.
Two Cardinals were fined. Linebacker Marcus Benard was docked $15,750 for his roughing the passer penalty on Ryan Fitzpatrick. And linebacker Daryl Washington paid $5,000 after his taunting penalty. Safety Rashad Johnson and defensive end Calais Campbell were not fined for their personal fouls.
– I think Larry Fitzgerald plays. He said he’s never missed a division game and that’s true. He’s missed only four games in 10 seasons, against Cleveland in 2007 and against Chicago, Oakland and Green Bay in 2006.
– A bigger concern is the ankle of Palmer. With all those pass rushers, you want your quarterback as mobile as possible. Coach Bruce Arians didn’t sound concerned. We will see how that plays out. Palmer has played at a high level which is why the Cards are doing so well. He hasn’t seen a defense like the Seahawks though, since, well, the Seahawks game.
– Won’t go through all the playoff permutations again but again, a Cards’ loss and a Carolina win and it’s over. Otherwise, the Cardinals are still breathing.
– Finally, below is a message from Tyrann Mathieu that he wanted to make sure the fans saw.
On to Seattle.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington, Larry Fitzgerald, Marcus Benard, playoffs, Todd Bowles, Tyrann Mathieu
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Justin Bethel is having a Pro Bowl season on special teams and deserves a spot in Hawaii. And with two-thirds of the Pro Bowl vote coming from players and coaches that is still possible. But Bethel isn’t getting any help from the fan vote. Despite his excellent year — and to be fair, a special teams player rarely has a ton of recognition outside his home city — Bethel has now fallen out of the top 10 among special teams players. Bethel had been in the top 10 in votes every week until now.
That’s the second Cardinal to lose his place on the top 10 list. Tyrann Mathieu was taken out of the free safeties list after he was placed on injured reserve.
Voting ends Dec. 26. Click here for a ballot.
Three Cardinals are still in the top 10. Darnell Dockett remains 10th among defensive tackles, Karlos Dansby is ninth for inside linebackers (although Bengal and former ASU star Vontaze Burfict is only 110 votes behind) and cornerback Patrick Peterson remains third and a likely Pro Bowler.
Tags: Darnell Dockett, Justin Bethel, Karlos Dansby, Patrick Peterson, Pro Bowl
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Another harsh — but understandable — reality of the Tyrann Mathieu season-ending injury: Once a player goes on injured reserve, he is officially removed from the Pro Bowl voting lists no matter how many votes he has accumulated. So Mathieu, who had been sixth last week and even if he didn’t get a single vote in seven days would still be in the top 10 of free safeties, no longer appears in the top 10. (And voting for him going forward is a moot point.)
But there are still other Cardinals chasing votes, which you can do by clicking here. Here are the players still appearing in the top 10 with a couple weeks left in the voting:
– Patrick Peterson remains third in cornerbacks with 289,024 votes. Seattle’s Richard Sherman is first with 430,234 votes.
– Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby is ninth (91,478). Buffalo rookie Kiko Alonso (306,054) is first.
– Special teamer Justin Bethel is ninth (40,617). Denver’s David Bruton (109,243) is first.
– Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett is 10th (110,916). Dallas’ Jason Hatcher (262,099) is first.
And speaking of Peterson, here is my opus posted yesterday about the Pro Bowl cornerback/burgeoning businessman/emerging face of the franchise, who is mature beyond his years. Give it a read, won’t you?
Tags: Darnell Dockett, Justin Bethel, Karlos Dansby, Patrick Peterson, Pro Bowl, Tyrann Mathieu
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It probably shouldn’t be a surprise, both with his play and most importantly, his fan base, that Tyrann Mathieu is rising up in the Pro Bowl balloting at free safety. Mathieu, who wasn’t even on the ballot the first few weeks voting was open, is now sixth at his position with 42,359 votes. Seattle’s Earl Thomas leads with 277,482 votes; no other free safety has reached 88,000. Mathieu remains one of five Cardinals among the top 10 at his position in this new year of “unconferenced” teams in the Pro Bowl. Fan balloting remains one-third of the final voting, with coaches and players counting for the other two-thirds. Once players make it, the teams will be “drafted” by former players who are serving as captains.
The other four Cardinals showing up on the voting list:
– DT Darnell Dockett is ninth (99,561 votes, trails first-place Dontari Poe of the Chiefs, who has 233,212.)
– ILB Karlos Dansby is ninth (79,050, Buffalo’s Kiko Alonso, 265,232)
– CB Patrick Peterson is third (253,688, Seattle’s Richard Sherman, 367,076)
– Special teamer Justin Bethel is eighth (35,775, Denver’s David Bruton, 95,841)
Voting concludes Dec. 26. If you want to vote, click here.
Tags: Darnell Dockett, Justin Bethel, Karlos Dansby, Patrick Peterson, Pro Bowl, Tyrann Mathieu
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Bruce Arians stuck with them. That’s what popped to mind Sunday. There were many calls to dump Rashard Mendenhall to the bench and Carson Palmer too. The Cardinals’ coach didn’t. Sunday that paid off.
This isn’t to reignite the Mendenhall-Ellington debate. I still think Ellington is the better back (and oh my he showed some of his shifty goodness against the Colts, especially with that 17-yard run along the sideline) but Mendenhall had a burst against Indy we hadn’t seen. And if he can play like that, he’s worth having on the field and worth being the yin to Ellington’s yang. As for Palmer, the cacophony surrounding him when he was throwing way too many interceptions was hard to ignore. Arians stood by him. Now? Palmer looks like a QB of a playoff team.
“The biggest difference really is trust,” Palmer said, before admitting, “It took a little longer than you’d like.”
There are many things going well for the Cardinals right now. But offensively, they are clicking, and those two vets are in the middle of it.
– It does feel like sometimes, the defense gets a short shrift. They just do what they do, they control the game, and the Cards are winning (or at least have a chance to win). Palmer said it best: “Identity-wise, we’re a defensive football team,” the quarterback said.
– After all the talk all week of Arians and his Colts memories, that was more or less put aside Sunday. Lots of pre-game hugs (and a few postgame) but basically it’s been the B.A. the Cards have known all year. “It’s crazy, he’s been even keel all week,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said.
– If there was a question about which better second-half unit would win the second half – the Colts’ offense or the Cardinals’ defense – it came out on the Cardinals’ favor. Arizona took the second half, 13-8, and honestly, I’m not sure how safety Yeremiah Bell didn’t get a hand on the lone touchdown pass to tight end Coby Fleener.
– Then again, if you would have said Luck would give up as many touchdowns throwing the ball as scoring, the Cards would have taken it.
– Good to see you hold on to one, Karlos Dansby.
– Good to see Darnell Dockett not get a sack on that play, too. “I don’t care,” Dockett said. “They say, ‘You had the sack.’ I don’t care, Karlos had the touchdown, and I’ll take the interception touchdown over a sack any day. I’m glad I didn’t hit his arm and knock the ball out.”
– Arians with his quote of the day, talking about his second half defense against the explosive Colts: “We didn’t want any bullets left in the gun. I know I’m not supposed to say bullets anymore. It’s not the politically correct thing. But here in Arizona it’s OK.”
– It was kind of amazing that the Cardinals, on their first two TD drives, did not face a third down. That’s one way to avoid the third-down conversion problem.
– Speaking of that, 7-for-14 on third downs works. And Dave Zastudil only punted twice. He had never had fewer than four in a game since joining the Cardinals in 2011.
– Palmer’s touchdown of 26 yards to Larry Fitzgerald was a thing of beauty. Palmer hung in the pocket a long time and absorbed a crushing hit by linebacker Kelvin Sheppard while delivering the perfect pass – with Fitz being chased by two defenders.
– According to media relations VP Mark Dalton, that makes the Cards 13-3 overall wearing the red-red uniforms and seven in a row. And here I am feeding into the frenzy. I disappoint myself.
– Fitz looked like Fitz on those touchdown catches. He now has eight this season, double his 2012 total. His other numbers don’t match up to what he’d like, but heck. All he does is catch touchdowns. The Cards could live with that.
Tags: Carson Palmer, Colts, Darnell Dockett, Dave Zastudil, Karlos Dansby, Larry Fitzgerald, Mark Dalton, Rashard Mendenhall, uniforms, Yeremiah Bell
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