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Fitzgerald, the 2004 draft and what if

Posted by Darren Urban on April 21, 2017 – 11:02 am

“What if” is a staple of sports. It doesn’t matter if it’s a particular play, game, season or transaction, hindsight is everywhere. ESPN.com played the game recently, posting a “What If” draft moment for each team. For the Cardinals, it was an obvious but solid choice: What if the Cardinals had drafted Adrian Peterson over Levi Brown in 2007. That’s also a game all of us have played over and over, almost since that time.

My “What If” Cardinals draft moment creates a lot more debate, but it’s one that is fascinating to deconstruct. It also gives no clear answer, unlike Peterson/Brown. What if the Cardinals had drafted Ben Roethlisberger instead of Larry Fitzgerald in 2004?

First, the obvious. Fitz is the face of this franchise, and has been for many years. He’s beloved by the fans, and by ownership. He’s been a Hall of Fame football player. There is no angle in which you can say the Cardinals made the wrong decision by selecting Fitzgerald. He helped the Cardinals get to a Super Bowl (and it can be argued he basically carried them there.)

But again, what if?

Dennis Green wanted Fitz. The former coach laid the groundwork for taking the wide receiver anywhere he could, at one point emphasizing how athletic and talented incumbent but inexperienced quarterback Josh McCown was. Remember, this was 2004, a season before the Cardinals brought Kurt Warner in as really the only team in the NFL still willing to give Warner a shot at starting.

When Fitz was taken third overall, Eli Manning was already off the board, but Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers were still on the board. I think the Cards would’ve taken Big Ben had they gone QB (but what if it had been Rivers – would the Giants had taken Big Ben, traded him to the Chargers for Eli, and then Roethlisberger was a Charger?)

If Roethlisberger had been a Cardinal instead of Fitz, Warner never comes to Arizona. The Cardinals did have Anquan Boldin coming off his huge rookie season, and he would have remained the Cards’ No. 1 receiver – and with no Fitz, he probably never has contract issues and sticks around. Would Denny still have stalled out as coach with Big Ben? Even if he did, and was fired, would Ken Whisenhunt – who as OC of the Steelers wouldn’t have had Roethlisberger to lead them to a Super Bowl win in 2005 – still be a hot coaching commodity to be hired by the Cardinals?

Would the Cards have found a way to the Super Bowl in 2008, and if they had, would they have seen the Ben-less Steelers? The Cardinals also wouldn’t have drafted Matt Leinart in 2006, and it’s hard to know exactly where Fitzgerald would have ended up in 2004.

What makes the Fitz draft choice so smart in hindsight is that the Cardinals have been able to bring in two veterans in for little – Warner and Carson Palmer – and have them play very well in Arizona. The Cards haven’t turned into the Browns, constantly searching for a quarterback – making a 2004 miss more of a lament.

Still, what if?


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No waiting for 2018 QB class

Posted by Darren Urban on April 19, 2017 – 2:14 pm

There are lots of question marks about the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft, and lots of enticing names at quarterback that could/should be available in the draft class of 2018. For a team like the Cardinals, who still have Carson Palmer, it’s a question that percolates: Might it be better to spend draft capital in 2017 on immediate non-QB help and plan to go after a quarterback in 2018.

Nope.

“You can look ahead and say there are two or three that we have watched on tape that are fantastic,” General Manager Steve Keim said of the potential 2018 QB class. “But if they are (picked) one, two or three in the draft, and I hope we are not picking anything but (number) 32, how are we going to get up there and get them? Even if we had 11 comp picks, that is not going to get it done.”

Therein lies the biggest problem with any team thinking they can wait. A quality QB is going in the top 5 or top 10. The NFL doesn’t do tanking like the NBA. The sure things in the draft are harder to know than in other sports. So the Cardinals are going to be prepared to draft a QB this year, and actually have a good situation to train one if they do.

Now a) that does not mean the Cardinals will definitely draft a quarterback or b) that they wouldn’t still look at QB next year or even c) that they wouldn’t take a franchise QB talent next year if one were to be there even if they did draft one this year. This is all a year-to-year proposition, folks. Because of that, QB is on the table in 2017, regardless of what better might be there in 2018.

“I just don’t think you can rely on that,” Keim said. “If you have a player you fell in love with, you take them.”


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QB for later or another player now?

Posted by Darren Urban on April 12, 2017 – 12:00 pm

When I was covering the Cardinals for the East Valley Tribune, the team held the 10th overall selection in the draft. There was much talk about whether the team might take a quarterback of the future. Kurt Warner was, after all, getting older and was only OK in 2005. The Cards had signed a big-name running back in Edgerrin James, however, and Kurt — understandably — wanted to see the Cards go in a different direction with an eye on maybe reaching a Super Bowl.

“What’s the best way to do that?” Warner said at the time. “Not to take a guy who’s going to take over my job. Go get somebody who can help us next year.”

(The Cardinals drafted Matt Leinart. Leinart was inserted for Warner early in 2006 at QB. Then Leinart struggled in 2007, Warner got his job back, and eventually, Warner got his Super Bowl trip regardless.)

It’s not always an easy decision. Heck, it’s hard for a team needing a QB right now sometimes to pull the trigger in the draft — see the Browns, who desperately need a quarterback yet are likely to take defensive lineman Myles Garrett with the first pick instead, because there isn’t an Andrew Luck available. That decision gets that much harder for a team like the Cardinals, who have Carson Palmer in place and will sit any quarterback they might draft in 2017. Meanwhile, if the Cards want to gear up for a potential run this season, with the clock ticking on Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald, finding an immediate impact guy (on defense) makes a lot of sense with the first-round pick.

Still, the glaring long-term need for a quarterback doesn’t go away.

The Cardinals are in a good spot with Palmer. He is willing to mentor a young quarterback. He’s made that clear recently, and said the same back in 2014, when he still knew he was going to play a few more years.

“I know I’m not going to play forever,” Palmer said at the time. “It’s hard for us players to admit that. The older you get the harder it is to admit it. You don’t see it happening. You still feel good, you still feel confident, you still feel healthy. But that’s the reality. That’s the business. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it, whether it irks you or you don’t care. That’s the game.”

The first round, and the 13th pick, await.


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The Cardinals’ historic 2004 draft class

Posted by Darren Urban on April 7, 2017 – 3:44 pm

With my retrospective about Larry Fitzgerald’s memorable 2008 playoff run due to post Monday at azcardinals.com, it’s fitting to have Fitz and his Cardinals’ draft class come up in an ESPN article about each team’s best draft classes ever. It goes back to the first common draft of 1967. The ranking is based on a tool created by profootballreference.com called “approximate value,” which is based on games, starts, awards and some meaningful individual stats. Winning games factors in. Obviously, the longer a player stays with the team that drafted him matters, and so would volume.

That’s why it would matter that the draft shrunk to seven rounds in 1994. It was 17 rounds in 1967, and 12 from 1977-1993. More chances to find players in a class. The Cardinals’ draft class of 2004 made at No. 18. That’s no surprise. It was a fabulous class, with Fitzgerald in the first round, Karlos Dansby in the second round and Darnell Dockett in the third round. Defensive end Antonio Smith, who started for the 2008 Super Bowl team, was a fifth-round pick.

(The other three picks from that class — fourth-round center Alex Stepanovich, sixth-round guard/center Nick Leckey, seventh-round quarterback John Navarre.)

Only one team — the Ravens, with their 1996 class of Hall of Famers Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis — has their draft class ranked higher than the Cardinals when their class in the seven-round era. The extra rounds (and no unrestricted free agency before 1992) helped many other teams have their best drafts long ago.

Fitz is still going strong, and Dansby has returned for a third tour with the team (and will build that draft class value again). Dockett is retired, but Smith hasn’t shut it down yet, playing for the Texans last season.


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Mahomes and Bidwill’s role at draft workouts

Posted by Darren Urban on March 30, 2017 – 8:01 am

Recently the Cardinals went to work out Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes, a session that included team president Michael Bidwill. There was much speculation about what it might mean to have the man at the top of the food chain there when it comes to the Cards’ interest. Bidwill (who is a pilot who sometimes flies football people to these workouts, it should be noted) said it doesn’t necessarily mean much.

“It’s funny, because each year I go to the Scouting combine and I let the personnel people do their thing,” Bidwill said Thursday on Arizona Sports 98.7. “Steve (Keim) and his team, with the input of Bruce (Arians) and his coaching staff. They do a great job. But I attend all of those scouting activities. I (also) attend private workouts. I attend them every year. Some of them, people report on, some of them people never report on them. We really don’t announce which ones I go to and which ones I don’t. I go to them as my schedule allows because I love it, I love being around and learning from our scouts and coaches.

“Patrick Mahomes is one we weren’t able to schedule at the combine, and that was an important one because again, all of the top prospects I meet. Whether it is at the combine, at our training facility or, on occasion, a private workout. I’m going to be attending many more private workouts, I’m not sure all of them will be leaked out to the media, but don’t read anything into that.”

Bidwill added that the Cardinals haven’t even organized their draft board yet (I can attest to the meetings not yet having started, since the parade of coaches and scouts has yet to start in the draft room a few feet from my desk). This doesn’t mean Mahomes wouldn’t be someone that could intrigue the Cardinals. But as I have told some who have asked about it already, Bidwill’s presence alone doesn’t mean the Cards are honing in on a target.


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Estimating the Cardinals’ comp picks

Posted by Darren Urban on March 20, 2017 – 11:41 am

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.


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Wait and see with Cardinals and FA CB

Posted by Darren Urban on March 16, 2017 – 3:22 pm

Brandon Carr went to the Ravens Thursday and Morris Claiborne to the Jets and the free-agent cornerback pool got a little smaller. But at this point, I’m not sure it makes a big difference to the Cardinals. Yes, with the defection of Marcus Cooper to the Bears, the Cardinals are going to have to find a new starter opposite Patrick Peterson. But it looks like that will be a slowly developing situation rather than an immediate fix.

There remain in-house candidates like Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams. Bethel did just take a paycut as he tries to rehab his cornerback stock (he did play well at the nickel late in the season and Bruce Arians noted that Bethel’s best spot was probably in the slot), while Williams struggled a lot as the raw, young cornerback that he is and he is far from a sure thing as a starter in this league.

But in a draft deep in cornerback talent, choosing one in the early rounds looks like the initial play. There are a few “name” cornerbacks still out there in free agency — Alterraun Verner, Brandon Flowers, and yes, Darrelle Revis, for example — but there is a reason they are still on the market. (No, I don’t see any chance Revis would be a pickup, regardless.)

This seems headed for the same place it was last season, where Bethel and now Williams and a draft pick will get a chance to show what they have, and a veteran will be picked up at some point to be in the mix. Remember, the Cardinals added Mike Jenkins and Alan Ball in camp last year before injuries took them out (Jenkins was your starter before he hurt his knee) and the team traded for Cooper.


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With FA losses, comp picks in play for Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on March 14, 2017 – 10:03 am

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.


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QB meetings ≠ drafting that QB

Posted by Darren Urban on March 5, 2017 – 10:21 am

The quarterbacks are coming through Indy, as the top ones stood at their respective podiums for media interviews, they were asked — as always — about some of the teams they had met or would meet with. UNC’s Mitchell Trubisky and Clemson’s DeShaun Watson were specifically asked about meeting with the Cardinals, and both acknowledged it had or would happen. My guess is that had Pat Mahomes or DeShone Kizer or Davis Webb been asked (and Webb was asked about teams before declining to be specific) they too would have a Cards’ visit somewhere in there.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians had said he likes “five or six arms” at quarterback. But that’s on first pass. And it certainly doesn’t mean the Cardinals are ready to jump on five or six quarterbacks in the draft.

“You look at every aspect of the quarterback,” Arians said. “Mental aspect. The heart and head, they’re the hardest things to evaluate. I can see his arm strength, I can see his feet, I can see him jump, but the two things he plays with, his brain and his heart, they’re very hard to evaluate.”

Like every position, quarterback evaluation is a projection. By the time the Cardinals are done, they may find that only one or two of those five or six make sense as an early pick, either in the first or second round. And that one or two may be long gone by pick No. 13. That’s what this due diligence is all about. The Cardinals — who we all know want to find a young quarterback sooner or later — are of course going to talk to all these guys. Whether they draft one (or have a chance to draft one) is TBD.

Deshone Kizer


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Bidwill, potential Cards and second chances

Posted by Darren Urban on March 3, 2017 – 10:52 am

This year more than any other, potential NFL draftees with off-field red flags have been highlighted here at the Scouting combine, in large part because some are not here. The NFL didn’t invite a few players who normally would have been otherwise if it weren’t for off-field trouble. That has generated mixed reviews from NFL people, although Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said he was glad to see it and send the message the NFL is “not messing around with this.”

(My full chat with Bidwill will be posted Monday on azcardinals.com.)

The Cardinals haven’t shied away from drafting players with off-field question marks, however. They’ve shown that with Tyrann Mathieu and Robert Nkemdiche. Bidwill, as owner, has the ultimate say over who will stay available on the Cards’ draft board, and who will not.

“It started with my grandfather and my father, and I am following in their footsteps, that we’re not going to have bad character guys,” Bidwill said. “That doesn’t mean that people don’t make mistakes, in college especially. They are kids. They are 18 when they get to college. We should give people a second chance if they are truly earnest about turning their life around. That’s my role, to make that decision. They push those decisions up to me.

“There are clearly some kids still getting in trouble their junior, senior year that look like they are going to have a chronic problem and I don’t want to waste my time talking to them.”

Still, Bidwill said, there are players that the football side will “bring to me and say, ‘We want to try and convince you.’ ” One was Mathieu, who was aided in Patrick Peterson’s willingness to stand on the table and vouch for Mathieu. Nkemdiche went through a number of interviews with the Cards last year, including a sit-down with Bidwill. Whether any potential Card falls into that category this year, that’s what these next couple of months are for.

pv7_2082

 


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