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Signings not quite the news they used to be

Posted by Darren Urban on May 13, 2015 – 2:11 pm

The Cardinals now have signed four of their seven draft picks — second-rounder Markus Golden, fourth-rounder Rodney Gunter (pictured below) and fifth-rounders Shaq Riddick and J.J. Nelson. First-rounder D.J. Humphries, third-rounder David Johnson and seventh-round Mr. Irrelevant Gerald Christian all should end up signing sooner rather than later. This is where are now with rookie contracts. Since the new CBA was put into place in 2011, there are no more tension-filled offseasons for teams when it comes to getting their draftees to sign on the dotted line.

It wasn’t always that way. Back in the early 2000s, in my previous life as a newspaper reporter covering the team, signings took the summer. No Cardinal ever seem to sign before July 4th. The days leading into training camp — and often, at least a day or two after training camp started — were spent on contract watch. Sometimes it was just the first-round pick. Sometimes, there were a couple of other contracts that were also pushing the deadline.

Now, all these guys are signed by the time the Cardinals are done with minicamp in mid-June. Everything goes faster. The Bears have made it their mission to get all their picks signed within a day or two of the draft.

(For those asking, players who have not yet signed still can work out. The team and player sign an agreement saying contract negotiations will proceed in good faith even if the unsigned rookie gets hurt. That’s what happened with Dante Fowler and the Jaguars. Fowler blew out his ACL in his first minicamp practice. A few days later, he signed his deal with the Jaguars getting the same money he would have gotten as the No. 3 overall pick had he not been injured.)

There are no more ifs with rookie contracts. It’s when, and there’s not much waiting.


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The rookies arrive in Tempe

Posted by Darren Urban on May 7, 2015 – 2:58 pm

The veterans have been back to work. Now it’s time to fold into the rookies. That started Thursday, as all the draft picks, undrafted signees and tryout players showed up to the team’s Tempe complex to get pictures taken, physicals done and equipment distributed. There is a dinner for the rookies Thursday night, and rookie minicamp begins Friday.

There were also a trio of press conferences for the top three picks who hadn’t yet had a press conference: Outside linebacker Markus Golden (second round), running back David Johnson (third round, pictured below) and defensive end Rodney Gunter (fourth round). All will be chronicled on azcardinals.com in the next few days, starting with Golden in a bit. In the meantime, a couple of quick takeaways from each.

— Golden just became a father. He was in Colorado the day he was drafted waiting for his son to be born — Markus Golden, Jr. — and said he had family all around him for both baby and football reasons. He admitted he had been watching the draft at first and then got anxious, wanting to just have his draft status be determined quickly. “As soon as I went to the back to let some steam off, I got the phone call,” Golden said.

— Gunter admitted he was just as surprised as anyone he ended up as a fourth-round pick, coming from Delaware State. “I didn’t know (anything),” Gunter said. “They gave me a call, fourth round before they called my name, and were like, ‘Rodney, hey, watch the TV.’ I hit my knees, man. I hit my knees and started praying. It was so unreal. I pass out for, like, three minutes.”

— Johnson worked in the summers while in college, and while he did dorm maintenance the last couple of years,the first was working for an asbestos-removal firm. “We didn’t do the real potent stuff, we did the one-to-three-percent asbestos, which was a glue that they used for tiles at old schools,” Johnson said. “We’d go and we had to wear suits with a mask, and it’s about 100 degrees out. we had to go scrape tiles off and remove all the glue.

“It’s definitely not a fun job. It was hot, I was sweating. It was hard for me to keep my weight on.”


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#CardsDraft aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on May 2, 2015 – 7:01 pm

The NFL draft, in reality, was the shortest time-wise as it has ever been. It didn’t seem that way when we were sitting around waiting after the second of the Cardinals’ two fifth-round picks all the way until the Cards’ next pick, which was the last of the whole thing. Now that it’s over, and there is little question Steve Keim had a plan that wasn’t chalk. But I’ll say this as I do after every draft — I have no idea how this will turn out. No one does.

The pick with which I’m most intrigued? Markus Golden. The Cards weren’t the only ones who talked about how he kept showing up on video when watching Missouri play. Is that enough to break through on the NFL level? And will he be the first second-rounder since Daryl Washington to make an immediate impact? But there are plenty of intriguing guys here. I thought it was telling when Keim said today that the tough part is projecting guys who can make the team in the Cards’ current state.

How these guys fit it this season, well, that’s what the offseason and training camp is all about.

A few more wrap-up thoughts:

— There were plenty scratching their heads after the Cards picked Delaware State DE Rodney Gunter in the fourth round, and that was more vigorous when adding in the trade up to do so. But Keim and Bruce Arians both said they had reliable intel that multiple teams were on the Gunter in the fourth round. When that happens, and when it’s a guy you want and you have draft pick ammo to do so, you trade up. Keim knows it was a surprise to most. He plans on it being a pleasant surprise.

— The personality of first-round pick D.J. Humphries is real. He drew laughs when he called himself an “awesome person” during his conference call, but during his press conference, he simply wins the room with his smile and demeanor. Easy guy to root for, especially when you read the story about him and his father, who was 15 when D.J. was born.

“My dad always told me when I was a kid, if you be yourself then people are going to love you,” Humphries said.

— Humphries has never been to an NFL game, interestingly.

— Gunter is cousins with the Cardinals’ seventh-round selection, TE D.C. Jefferson. Jefferson had a quick and bumpy tenure with the team, getting a tattoo during the preseason of a birdhead on his torso even though his place on the team was no sure thing. He made it, but was released a few weeks later after a DUI. Gunter said he and Jefferson are “very close but we lost contact for over a year because he has some personal issues going on. I wish him the best.”

— Fifth-round wide receiver J.J. Nelson is one of the last players to be drafted from the University of Alabama-Birmingham now that UAB has shuttered its football program. The school provided an in for Nelson during his visit to the Cardinals; the son of coach Bruce Arians, Jake Arians, played football at UAB.

“When I came to visit, I ran into Coach Arians,” Nelson said. “He said, ‘J.J., I already know you. You’re a Blazer. We love UAB.’ … I just felt like everything fell in my hands in the right direction.”

— It wasn’t all draft at the Tempe facility Saturday. Yes, it was the weekend, but there was quarterback Carson Palmer, working out in his quest to come back from a torn ACL. Significant nose to the grindstone.

— Time for football. The Cardinals are on the field Monday for the first time as Phase 2 of the offseason work begins. Rookie minicamp starts Friday.


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Cards go with pass rusher, return man in fifth

Posted by Darren Urban on May 2, 2015 – 12:04 pm

The Cardinals had two fifth-round picks — back-to-back — and went with a couple of needs. The first was West Virginia defensive end Shaq Riddick, who at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds will be an outside linebacker with the Cards. The second went to super-fast wide receiver J.J. Nelson of Alabama-Birmingham, who ran a blazing 4.28 40 at the Scouting combine but at 5-10 and 156 pounds is going to have to weigh a little more to make an impact at receiver.

Riddick had seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss last season, his lone year at West Virginia after transferring from Gardner-Webb. He needs to put on weight but could be an effective project for down the line. UPDATE: Riddick said he’s up to 260, which still leaves him in good shape at 6-6.

Nelson averaged 38.3 yards a kick return last season with four touchdowns and averaged 10.7 yards per punt return. He’ll be the early candidate to be the return man in both areas, I’d think. He was Conference USA’s special teams player of the year.

J J Nelson

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Friday draft aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on May 1, 2015 – 9:26 pm

Day Two is in the books. Some quick notes and thoughts before I call it a night:

— After the trade Friday with the Ravens, the Cardinals have six picks on Saturday. There is a chance they won’t still have six by the time they draft Mr. Irrelevant to end the whole thing. GM Steve Keim said the trades might not be done. He mentioned a trade up possibility twice, so it’s on his mind.

“There are still a lot of guys (left) that Coach and I like,” Keim said. “We’ve had some conversations about going up (in a trade.) We will be active and aggressive. If there is someone we think that can help us, we will certainly make a jump at them.”

— As I noted in my story, Keim had Markus Golden on the brain Friday morning, long before the Cards were on the clock. That doesn’t mean they would’ve taken him no matter what, but they definitely feel good about the pick. Can he turn into James Harrison, as Bruce Arians suggested in who Golden reminded him of, well, we will see.

— The addition of RB David Johnson from Northern Iowa will help, but he’s got a long way to go to battle for the title of best Cardinal to come from Northern Iowa. That happens to be a quarterback who directed the team to the Super Bowl.

— Johnson will be in the mix for kickoff returns. “Yes indeed,” Arians said. “He and anybody else who can catch it,”

— Keim acknowledged the Cards were headed toward taking another offensive lineman Friday because of how their board fell. He made the point that another pass rusher or offensive lineman could end up another pick on Saturday.

— Nice job by Adrian Wilson making the announcement of the Golden pick. “Go Birdgang.” He’s a natural.

Adrian Wilson

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RB time: David Johnson in the third

Posted by Darren Urban on May 1, 2015 – 7:49 pm

The Cardinals get their running back.

It wasn’t Adrian Peterson (it never was going to be him) and it wasn’t an early pick either. The Cards grabbed Northern Iowa’s David Johnson with their third-round pick, The guy is 6-1 and 224 pounds — there is your size guy in the backfield — and can run and make big plays. He immediately jumps into the mix with Andre Ellington as the Cards. He can catch the ball (38 receptions last season) as well as rush it (1,553 yards, with 17 touchdowns.) There are questions about his ability to break tackles and run in traffic, but he produced and at his size looks like a good pairing with Ellington.

Ellington is going to remain the main guy for now. Bruce Arians has said that repeatedly. But Johnson should find his way on the field.

David Johnson

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After trade, Cards get OLB Golden in second round

Posted by Darren Urban on May 1, 2015 – 6:09 pm

The Cards got who they wanted plus an extra pick, selecting Missouri outside linebacker Markus Golden in the second round after a deal with the Ravens. Golden had 16.5 sacks the past two seasons with the Tigers, and will be put into the pass rushing mix quickly. The Cards obviously didn’t think as much of Eli Harold, the pass rusher still on the board who many thought would be a Cardinals’ target, but Golden was a guy who GM Steve Keim was talking about in the building first thing Friday morning, so he was clearly a target.

The Cardinals traded down to get an extra pick, sending pick No. 55 to Baltimore for the Ravens’ No. 58 pick plus a fifth-rounder. The Cards now have back-to-back picks in the fifth round and nine total picks in the draft. They still have their third-round pick later tonight.

Markus Golden

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First round/Humphries aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on April 30, 2015 – 11:17 pm

First things first. Steve Keim and Bruce Arians weren’t committing to any position for their second- and third-round targets by the time the first round was over Thursday night. It won’t be an offensive linemen, but Arians reiterated the Cards will stick to their board when pick No. 55 comes up Friday afternoon, and unless there are a handful of closely graded guys sitting there (which is when need could come into play) the Cards will stay with the rankings.

That means we could see a running back, or a cornerback, a pass rusher or inside linebacker. I could possibly see a receiver with return skills as well. Among players at those positions left (while acknowledging the Cards have to wait until pick 23 Friday): Pass rusher Randy Gregory, cornerback Jalen Collins, pass rusher Eli Harold, cornerback Ronald Darby, linebacker Eric Kendricks and almost all the running backs, like Tevin Coleman, Duke Johnson, T.J. Yeldon and Ameer Abdullah.

— As for the choice of D.J. Humphries, it seemed like there was some surprise from the feedback I got, although offensive line was something I mentioned as a possibility on various outlets. Humphries sounds like an outgoing guy and while he is young, the Cardinals are convinced his upside will turn into something good on the field. He’ll battle Bobby Massie at right tackle, but when you are a first-round pick, usually, you’re going to be expected to play right away.

— Keim said the Cards could have traded up. No way to know if they might have tried to draft pass rushers Bud Dupree or Shane Ray. But obviously it wasn’t so important that the Cards wanted to shred their remaining picks.

— The last three tackles taken in the first round by the Cardinals: Levi Brown in 2007, Leonard Davis in 2001 and L.J. Shelton in 1999. None worked out the way the Cards hoped they would, but Keim clearly has higher hopes this time around. The upgrades to the offensive line in Keim’s short tenure have been drastic and should be effective.

NFL Draft Football

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Cardinals take OT Humphries in the first round

Posted by Darren Urban on April 30, 2015 – 7:42 pm

The Cardinals did not trade out of the 24th pick, and if they were looking at pass rushers, they watched two good ones go off the board in the two picks before them as the Steelers took Bud Dupree and the Broncos traded with the Lions to move up at take Shane Ray at No. 23. So the Cardinals go offensive line with their pick, taking Florida tackle D.J. Humphries. Humphries should have the ability to move to left tackle at some point, but in the short-term figures to battle Bobby Massie for the right tackle job. Massie is scheduled to be a free agent after the 2015 season.

It’s not sexy, but GM Steve Keim has said many times he has wanted to upgrade and solidify the offensive line. This fits. The offensive line continues to be a priority and that no longer should be a surprise.

 D.J. Humphries

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Todd Gurley comes to the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on April 30, 2015 – 6:26 pm

The Rams pulled a mild surprise with the 10th pick of the draft tonight, taking Georgia running back Todd Gurley — considered by most the top back in the draft and a potential star. If Gurley, who isn’t even 21 years old yet, pans out it’s going to be a tough matchup twice a year for the Cardinals. Then again, the Rams still don’t have much of an offensive line. In the short-term, Gurley is coming off an ACL injury and while he said he is hoping to be ready for training camp, the chances he is at full speed Oct. 4 when the Cardinals host the Rams in Week 4 seems unlikely. Their second 2015 matchup, in St. Louis Dec. 6, could be a different story. The draft hasn’t been chaotic as expected thus far through 12 picks. No trades, Marcus Mariota goes to Ken Whisenhunt’s Titans.

It seems unlikely RB Melvin Gordon lasts until the Cards at 24 now that Gurley is gone. Not with as many teams figuring to consider backs. Not that it matters — I thought all along it was unlikely the Cards went running back in round one anyway. (UPDATE: Gordon to the Chargers at No. 15, who traded up with the 49ers.)

Todd Gurley, Brison Williams

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