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The case for more speed and Daryl Washington

Posted by Darren Urban on February 26, 2015 – 9:39 am

It’s been repeated many times over the past few weeks, by both GM Steve Keim and especially coach Bruce Arians: The Cardinals are seeking more speed on defense. That was the first thing Arians mentioned at the recent Scouting combine, when he was asked what the team needed to do in rebuilding.

“We need speed at all our linebacker positions,” Arians said. “And continue to develop Kevin Minter into a better player. That’s important. But overall speed at all our linebacker positions.”

Minter is a key because he was a former second-round pick, but he was never drafted to be a speed guy. That was supposed to be Daryl Washington, whose game is predicated on speed. Washington’s future continues to be murky. According to the CBA, he can’t even begin the reinstatement process until sometime in early March, or 60 days before the end of what will be a year suspension. (The suspension was for at least a year; It was announced May 30 but the official notice might have come before that.) Then the NFL has to rule. Until then, the Cardinals say they aren’t even thinking about Washington and I would suppose they move forward in their defensive rebuild without him in mind. If he returns — remember, he still could face NFL punishment for his assault plea from last year — then it’s a bonus.

But in 2013, Arians saw first-hand what Washington’s speed could do. There is no denying Karlos Dansby had a fantastic season in 2013, but his play jumped another level when Washington returned from a four-game suspension that season. When you have guys that can cover ground sideline to sideline, when you have guys who can watch and keep up with someone like Russell Wilson if Wilson decides to scramble, then your defense has a different look.

That would seem to be a natural place for the Cardinals to start in free agency. How much speed might be available on the inside linebacker FA market is a different story. But when the first word out of the coach’s mouth each time he’s asked the question is “speed,” it’s obviously a priority.

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Foote, as player, or as coach

Posted by Darren Urban on February 9, 2015 – 10:13 am

When the news first trickled out last week that the Cardinals could be interested in Larry Foote as Bruce Arians’ “ex-player-to-add-to-the-coaching-staff” candidate, I immediately thought of something Foote said back in October. It struck me a bit odd at the time, but in the current context, maybe Foote’s coaching possibility has been long in the queue.

Foote was talking about what the Cardinals wanted him as initially, because that was before Daryl Washington was going to be lost for the season by suspension — but the Cards were assuming Washington would be sitting a few games as a suspension because of his assault guilty plea.

“Daryl was supposed to be suspended four to six games and I was, ‘OK, I can come play and coach’ and he ended up gone for the year,” Foote said.

Again, Foote brought it up in the context that he was drastically underpaid given what role he ended up having. But the line about coaching seems relevant now. Foote said after the season he hadn’t decided if he still wanted to play in 2015. I’d be stunned if the Cardinals wouldn’t want him back as a player if that’s what he decided to do, as a leader and mentor. You wouldn’t want him playing as much as he did in 2014 — Foote wore down as the season went on, understandably — but he could still be a valuable piece and certainly a guy you want influencing players like Kevin Minter and Washington.

(A quick side note: I found it interesting O’Brien Schofield admitted he was following the wrong guys in the locker room when he was with the Cards. The team doesn’t have to worry about that if Foote is around.)

If Foote decides playing isn’t what he wants, he can still be that leader as a coach. The players know he’s done it before. Foote can help with that bridge between the departed Todd Bowles and new defensive coordinator James Bettcher. Either way, Foote “gets it” and is someone you want around. As he intimated a few months ago, coaching might have always been part of the plan.

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Cards will take Washington absence into account

Posted by Darren Urban on January 29, 2015 – 3:19 pm

One of the many things the Cardinals must sort through this offseason is what to do with suspended linebacker Daryl Washington if and when he returns — and how to plan for the season with his status in limbo for the next few months. Washington’s suspension, which is for a year before he can request NFL reinstatement, lasts until late May. That’s after free agency, and it’s after the draft. Until this suspension ends, it seems unlikely the NFL will hand down whatever suspension Washington might get for his assault conviction from last year.

That’s a lot of uncertainty, and why team president Michael Bidwill said Thursday the Cardinals are going to go through the offseason ready to not have Washington available — and if he is around, the Cards will be that much better off.

“He’ll be facing the issue with the domestic violence and there has been no determination of what happens there,” Bidwill said. “He was only suspended for the drug issue, so we want to make sure we understand what that (other punishment) is. Last year, we learned about his suspension after free agency. This year we are going to plan to make sure we address all the issues not knowing whether Daryl will be back for part of next season or all of next season. ‘Next man up’ is real but we have to make sure we’ve gone into free agency and addressed that situation.”

— Bidwill reiterated once again he is optimistic the Cardinals and Larry Fitzgerald will come to an agreement on a new contract.

“Larry and I have met about it, just he and I talking about it, and I know he’s interested in getting something resolved,” Bidwill said. “After the playoff game, he got away, left the country. He’s back now, it’s a busy week this week and we’ll start working on this next week. I think we’ll get this all worked out.

“He’s such a great person and a great player, he’s got many years left and I want to see him retire as an Arizona Cardinal. I want to see us move past getting this contract resolved and move forward.”

— The other Cardinal facing legal issues, running back Jonathan Dwyer, had his case play out Thursday. The running back, who had been arrested in September, pled guilty to a misdemeanor of disorderly conduct. He was sentenced him to 18 months probation and community service. Dwyer is scheduled to become a free agent in March.

— Bidwill said again he plans on giving General Manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians contract extensions soon.

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New drug policy doesn’t impact Washington

Posted by Darren Urban on September 17, 2014 – 9:43 am

The NFL and NFL Players Association jointly announced their new drug policy today, which changes acceptable levels of certain drugs and other issues. There have been a lot of questions — a lot — about Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington and his current one-year suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The new policy does not change Washington’s situation. I know that mystifies some, but a) the new policy was not going to change the situation for many guys under suspension and b) you (and I, for that matter) don’t know all the details of Washington’s trouble and how he ended up with a year-long ban. Bottom line, nothing has changed for him.

Further, whenever (and if) Washington is reinstated — because the current suspension is for at least a year — he still faces NFL discipline for his assault charge for which he pleaded guilty. You’d think Washington is far from returning to the football field, if he ever does.

The full text of the joint NFL-NFLPA release about the new drug policy:

The NFL and NFL Players Association have reached agreement on wide-ranging improvements to their policy on performance enhancing substances that include the use of third-party arbitration appeals of positive tests and implementation of testing for human growth hormone within the next few weeks.

The NFL and NFLPA are nearing an agreement on changes to the substance abuse policy that is expected to be announced when it is completed.

Key revisions to the program on performance enhancing substances are:

  • HGH testing will be fully implemented this season.  Information on testing procedures will be sent to clubs and players within the week, and testing should begin by the end of this month.
  • Appeals of positive tests in the performance enhancing drug programs (including HGH) will be heard by third-party arbitrators jointly selected and retained by the NFL and NFLPA.  Appeals will be processed more expeditiously under improved rules and procedures.
  • Discipline of players for certain violations in the 2014 league year will be adjusted to reflect the new policy. Wes Welker of the Denver Broncos, Orlando Scandrick of the Dallas Cowboys and Stedman Bailey of the St. Louis Rams will be eligible to return to their teams this week.
  • Discipline for violations of the performance enhancing drug policy (including for HGH) will be modified. 
  • A first violation will result in a suspension without pay of up to six games depending on the nature of the violation. Use of a diuretic or masking agent will result in a suspension without pay of two games. Use of a steroid, stimulant, HGH or other banned substance will result in a suspension without pay of four games. Evidence of an attempt to manipulate a test will result in a suspension without pay of six games.
  • A second violation of the steroid policy will result in a suspension without pay of 10 games.  A third violation will result in banishment for a minimum of two years. 
  • Players who test positive for banned stimulants in the off-season will no longer be suspended.  Instead, the player will be referred to the substance abuse program.  Players who test positive for banned stimulants during the season will continue to be suspended without pay for four games.
  • In cases involving discipline for violations other than positive tests (for example, a violation of law), the Commissioner will retain his current disciplinary authority.  A player will have a right of appeal based on due process issues or a claim of disparate punishment.  This appeal will be heard by a member of the existing CBA Appeals Panel.

Previously, the Collective Bargaining Agreement ratified in 2011 utilized the policies in place under the 2006 CBA.

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Game day for Andre and Saturday before the Chargers

Posted by Darren Urban on September 6, 2014 – 3:02 pm

Will he or won’t he? I’m sure the last thing the Cardinals wanted going into the opener was having their key offensive piece be a game-day decision, but that’s where we are left with running back Andre Ellington and his pesky foot problem. Bruce Arians said Ellington did enough in practice Saturday (pictured right) to convince him that Ellington could possibly play Monday, so there is that.

“We can’t worry about injuries,” Arians said. “Nobody cares but us.”Andre3MAINblog

Even if he doesn’t play, the beat moves on. If you look at the key guys not playing in total that you had hoped would – Washington and Mathieu and Dockett and Cooper, aside from Ellington – it can be a daunting list. But these are things that don’t make Bruce Arians flinch. He will forever have that 2012 season with the Colts burned on his brain, when everyone seemed to get hurt for Indy (except for Andrew Luck) and they still won 11 games. That will be the memory Arians will fall back upon, and why his “Next Man Up” battle cry isn’t just lip service. Whether the Cardinals can too make it work, we’ll see. The Chargers are just the first in a tough schedule.

— Punter Dave Zastudil was added to the injury list as questionable Saturday with a groin injury. That’s not good, obviously. The Cardinals did cut linebacker Desmond Bishop Saturday, so maybe the Cardinals fill that spot with a new punter if Zastudil can’t go. (Kicker Chandler Catanzaro punted once last season in college at Clemson.)

— If I had to pick just one major key to the game Monday, I’d have to go with the pressure the Cardinals need to put on Philip Rivers. There are other important aspects, of course. The Cardinals need to show they can stop the run again, and they need to protect Carson Palmer as promised. But after the vanilla preseason, it’s important that the Cards can hurry Rivers in the pocket. Once in a while without a blitz, preferably.

— Here is not a surprise in the least: The presence of new left tackle Jared Veldheer has completely changed the tension level for offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin.

“For me, for Carson, it’s about being comfortable,” Goodwin said. “For me, I can worry about other things. I don’t have to worry about chip-help for the tackle all the time. That relieves a whole lot of stress.”

No question Veldheer gives the Cardinals something Levi Brown simply did not, and that Bradley Sowell can not. In the end, Veldheer is seen by many fans as a savior to that position, although Veldheer isn’t all that comfortable with the notion.

“I guess that’s an OK thing, but to me, the biggest thing is being accountable to the guys on the line and the offense and the team,” he said. “And that’s me doing my job.”

— Got a chance to catch up briefly with Darnell Dockett yesterday, and he was as Darnell as always. He’s already pushing himself hard on his knee, even this early.

“You put the time in, got nothing else to do,” he said. “My coaches are supporting me, they know my work so they give me the green light to do everything I can to come back faster. There can’t be a better situation other than not being in this situation in the first place.”

— I’ve had many people ask me what the ramifications might be for suspended linebacker Daryl Washington if the new drug policy – rumored to be close – is passed. The truth is, I have no idea. Part of the problem is that it hasn’t publicly been said why Washington was suspended. He said in his statement it was for marijuana, but you’d need more details than that. Let’s put it this way, first this new policy actually has to be put in place – and it hasn’t yet. I still wouldn’t hold my breath for Washington even if it does.

— It’ll be an emotional night Monday. Aside from the game itself and the knowledge it is on national television, Kurt Warner gets inducted into the Ring of Honor at halftime. I’d guess there will be some well-remembered highlights played too. Don’t leave your seats.

— Carparks open at 3 p.m. Monday. Don’t forget your clear bags.

— With all the Ellington news, the possibility of Tyrann Mathieu playing has seemingly been pushed to the background. I still think the Cardinals are going to err on the side of caution and keep him out for now, but Arians said again it’ll be a game-day thing.

— Crazy to think Alameda Ta’amu is fine after tearing his ACL in the 2013 season finale, but the nose tackle should be in the defensive line rotation and his biggest issue is his stamina. “He’s full go. He runs on and off the field and gets out of gas. That’s a lot of ass to carry back and forth out there.”

So, on that note, on to Monday night.

 


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The impact of losing Darnell Dockett

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2014 – 10:16 pm

Injuries happen every preseason. They are not all created equal.

Even the long-term injuries are not created equal. As much as Jonathan Cooper’s injury hurt the Cardinals last year — and at the time, GM Steve Keim felt Cooper was the Cardinals’ best offensive lineman — there is an jarring emotional slam with the news Darnell Dockett is done for the season. That comes on many levels. On a defense that already lost Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington from last year’s unit, losing Dockett is a difficult pill to swallow.

After Dockett was carted off and practice resumed with some 7-on-7 work, defensive line coach Brentson Buckner gathered his players on the field and they all took a knee. I don’t know exactly what was said, but it certainly looked like Buckner was helping his guys get through what already looked like a rough patch that was later confirmed.

Now though, it’s about moving on. It’s about the future, which is in the short-term the 2014 season and in the long-term where 2015 might take Dockett and the Cardinals. Veteran Frostee Rucker should move into Dockett’s starting role, but again, there was always going to be a rotation on the defensive line. There was a reason the Cardinals drafted Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson. Those rookies are going to have to play a bigger role. They are going to have to grow up very fast because Dockett won’t be there to anchor — along with Calais Campbell — the line. One potential free agent to look at is long-time 3-4 defensive end Brett Keisel, Keisel was cut by the Steelers this offseason but he knows Bruce Arians and Buckner from their time in Pittsburgh. I have no idea if it’s possible he could come — I have no idea what kind of money he might want — but the Cardinals will need to add someone.

What will happen next year becomes very interesting. Dockett will turn 34 in May. He will be coming off major knee surgery. He will be going into the last year of his contract and will be due $6.5 million in salary and will have a $9.8M cap hit. That’s a lot of money for an older lineman. Like Larry Fitzgerald and his $23.6M cap hit in 2015, Dockett’s bulky contract was always going to be an issue after this season. That certainly hasn’t changed, and perhaps, becomes more of an issue because of the injury.

In the moment, though, there is only the gut-punch to the Cardinals. And the long rehab Dockett faces while the Cards try to prepare for the season to come.


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Peterson at 22 in Top 100 list

Posted by Darren Urban on June 26, 2014 – 8:31 am

The Cardinals have their third and (likely) final player in the NFL Network’s Top 100 of 2014 after Wednesday night’s unveiling of cornerback Patrick Peterson at No. 22 on the list. He follows linebacker Daryl Washington at 96 and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald at 38.

Peterson has made a steady climb. He was 55th in 2012 after his rookie season, 33rd last year and now 22. In the constant chatter of who is better, Peterson will end up lower ranked than Seattle’s Richard Sherman, who has yet to be picked (but is certain to fall in the top 20 after his 2014 season.) But he is ahead of Darrelle Revis (37) and Joe Haden (39). Whatever and however people might want to pick at him this offseason, clearly many of his peers feel he’s pretty good. That’s clear in the video.

With everything that’s been said about Peterson this offseason, it will be interesting to watch how he plays this season – and whether Peterson can climb higher on the list next June.


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Fitz still impresses peers for Top 100 spot

Posted by Darren Urban on June 18, 2014 – 10:15 pm

For the same reason Larry Fitzgerald keeps making the Pro Bowl — vast respect from his peers — is the same reason the Cardinals receiver again got into the top 40 of NFL players even though his numbers have been down the last couple of years. The NFL Network is again doing their “Top 100″ countdown over the summer, and Fitzgerald clocked in at No. 38 Wednesday night. He’s the second Cardinal to make this year’s list (we won’t talk about who else has already been named.)

Fitzgerald has been falling over the years. In 2012, he was seventh. Last year. he was 22nd. (He was 14th on the initial list in 2011.) There are some high-profile receivers that are behind Fitzgerald on the list, although despite his “low” yardage total of 954 this past season (still much better than 2012’s 798) he did have 10 touchdowns and as you can see on the video, opponents still worry about him. We’ll see if Fitz can find a way to climb up again after this season, with a second year in Bruce Arians’ offense.

The Top 100 list has now reached the top 30. Patrick Peterson should make it in at some point — I’m not sure he tops Richard Sherman again this year, but it’ll be interesting wherever he ends up.


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Colledge move now frees cap space

Posted by Darren Urban on June 2, 2014 – 7:12 am

This is one way you can maneuver through the salary cap as long as you are patient and have a little flexibility. The news came out March 8 that the Cardinals would be releasing Daryn Colledge a couple of days from then and designating him a June 1 release. Teams are allowed a couple of the pre-June 1 “June 1″ cuts every year if they so choose. What it means is that the team can release a player immediately but still spread the “dead money” cap hit over the next two years. The catch is that the team has to carry the player’s entire 2014 salary cap charge — or at least, what it was going to be — until actually June 1, before the benefit kicks in.

In Colledge’s case, the Cardinals were carrying his 2014 cap charge of $7.275 million all the way through June. (Since June 1 was Sunday, the “June 1″ cut didn’t become official until today.) With the arrival of June, Colledge now costs the Cardinals only $2.275 million on the cap this year, and will cost another $2.275M of dead money in 2015. That means just by time passage the Cardinals pick up another $5 million of cap space today (which Jason at overthecap.com covers nicely here.)

The NFLPA website listed the Cards at around $4.5 million of salary cap room going into the weekend, so the Cardinals should be around $9.5 million of cap space now. They still have to sign No. 1 draft pick Deone Bucannon, but there is a decent amount of wiggle room to make whatever moves necessary — including, you’d figure, the addition of a veteran inside linebacker in light of the Daryl Washington suspension.


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Cutting Washington doesn’t make sense now

Posted by Darren Urban on May 30, 2014 – 4:14 pm

There is a lot to digest with today’s Daryl Washington news and, as I have seen via Twitter and the comments on the blog, many questions. The biggest is what this all means for Washington’s future with the team. Not surprisingly, there are many who have said Washington should just be released.

That seems a little knee-jerk, at least sitting here today. A suspension means the Cards aren’t going to have to pay Washington in 2014. If nothing else, that buys time to survey the situation and see exactly what all the options are. Besides, as bad of a spot as Washington has put the team with his absence, releasing him — at least now — puts the Cardinals in an uglier situation in terms of money and the salary cap.

If the Cardinals cut Washington now, that creates a dead money hit of $7.5 million on the current cap. Absorbing that, even after the money the team will clear on the cap next week as Daryn Colledge’s June 1 designation on his release kicks in, will create a serious cap crunch. (According to the NFLPA site, the Cards have around $4.5 million in cap space currently, and should clear around $5 million or so with the Colledge situation).

More importantly, the collective bargaining agreement includes the ability for teams to get back portions of bonus money paid when a player violates league policies, and the Cardinals are planning on exercising that right. If the Cards cut him now, they no longer can try and get back any money. That’s a crucial piece of information given the huge option bonus the team recently decided to give Washington ($5 million this year and another $5 million is due early next year, when Washington would still be under suspension.)

Any suspended player, per the rules in the Substance Abuse policy, has a contract that is “tolled” during a year-long suspension. In simple terms, Washington’s contract freezes at this point. He doesn’t get money, he doesn’t advance another year toward the end of the contract. It picks up when and if Washington is reinstated (meaning, for instance, his 2014 terms would move to 2015, etc.) Given that reality — and those listed above — there no reason to rush any decision. Again, Washington very well could be released down the road. But it makes little sense for it to be now.


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