It’s that time of year again — the Scouting combine begins this week, the unofficial beginning of the 2014 season. I and a few of my azcardinals.com cohorts leave for Indianapolis tomorrow, with media access beginning Thursday. Cardinals GM Steve Keim will be at the podium Thursday morning (11:30 Indy time) and coach Bruce Arians will go Friday morning (10:15 Indy time.)
As we did last year, I will host a pair of short video chats with each man while in Indy, asking questions from the fans. If you’d like to submit a question, you can do so in the comments below, you can submit it via Twitter using the hashtag #CardsCombine or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure you specify for whom the question is intended.
Speaking of questions, I will host a pre-combine chat today at 1 p.m. The link is available by clicking here. Feel free to stop by and ask whatever as we are about to head hip-deep into free agency in early March.
As for Indy, it’ll be 57 degrees (allegedly) on Thursday, a somewhat surprising turn of events considering how it usually is this time of year. The interview portion starts Thursday while the on-field (and on NFL Network stuff) starts full bore on Saturday. The draft becomes the focus for a week or so, before backing off for the free agency portion of the offseason. Remember, the draft is later this year — May 8-10 — so there will be plenty of time to think about and dissect the draft. For those wondering, the players officially can return to the voluntary offseason program April 21. It’ll be interesting to see what the roster looks like by then.
Tags: Bruce Arians, draft, Scouting combine, Steve Keim
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If you are an NFL or even a sports follower, you have had to be living under a rock not to know that Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, the co-defensive player of the year in the SEC, came out Sunday publicly as a gay man. It spawned countless articles/talk show conversations/tweets on the subject, what it meant, and how the NFL might accept Sam as he enters the NFL draft.
Sam, at 6-1 1/2 and 260 pounds, would project to an outside linebacker in the Cards’ system. Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, during an appearance on the “Doug and Wolf Show” Friday morning on Arizona Sports 98.7, was asked how the Cardinals would interpret the Sam news when it came to evaluating him.
“Let me say this, and I want to make this clear,” Keim said. “Every player we evaluate for the upcoming draft, we judge them on their physical skill-set, we judge them on their football character, we judge them on their ability to learn the (playbook), and we judge them on their medical history. Race, religion, sexual orientation, those aspects are never even brought into the process. What I am concerned about is, ‘How talented is Michael Sam?’ That’s number one. Is he a good teammate? Is he good in the locker room? Is he smart? Is he competitive? And what does his medical history look like?
“If he is a good teammate, and he’s a good person, he’s going to be fine in your locker room. You teammates are going to accept him because of the person and player he is. Not those other things. We will look at Michael Sam no differently than any other player in this draft.”
Whether the Cardinals go after Sam is to be determined. I don’t know much about Sam the football player, but MMQB.com did a very good and extensive video breakdown of his season and made it sound like, as a player, he would be a project. The Cardinals, don’t forget, already have one of those at outside linebacker, after drafting Alex Okafor last season and then having Okafor lose most of his rookie season after an injury. They also are on the constant lookout for depth at that position. Forget Sam’s big announcement. The Cards need draft picks that can contribute — which goes to the point Keim was making.
Personally, I don’t see why Sam’s orientation would be an issue. It obviously hasn’t held him back up until this point. Why would that change now?
Tags: draft, Michael Sam, Steve Keim
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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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As the Cardinals head toward the draft — a week later, May 8-10 this year — there will be a lot of talk about what positions will be targeted. There will be discussion about offensive tackles, defensive linemen, pass rushers, tight ends and defensive backs. But one thing that can’t be dismissed is the quest for a speed receiver.
The Cardinals can’t overlook the position anyway, given the impending free agent status of Andre Roberts (who likely will want to look what’s available on the open market since he’s destined to stay behind Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd) and the ongoing desire to have someone be able to run down the field and take the top off the defense. It was a constant quest last season. The Cards took a draft risk on Ryan Swope, and that didn’t work. Robert Gill was a track guy who they hoped would work out. Later, it was Brittan Golden and Teddy Williams.
According to profootballfocus.com, quarterback Carson Palmer threw 74 passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air last season. He completed only 23 of them, and while longer passes will inevitably have a lower completion percentage, coach Bruce Arians does want to get more production out of those six deep shots a game he’d like to take. The Cards didn’t take as many as that as the season went along, in part because there was an understanding the protection wasn’t always good enough for such long plays and in part because the was a search for the right target. Floyd and Fitz can do the jump ball thing, but to be able to just tell a guy to go long and watch him speed by in one-on-one coverage would be ideal.
Where that guy will come from isn’t set in stone. Will the Cardinals draft one? I wouldn’t be surprised. But Steve Keim will comb other options too. Williams and Golden are still around and in the mix (although they have to stay healthy.) It’s an Arians want, and an Arians need, and that isn’t going to change until the Cards find their answer.
Tags: Andre Roberts, Brittan Golden, Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, draft, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Robert Gill, Ryan Swope, Steve Keim, Teddy Williams
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Now that the season has ended, the Cardinals’ opponents for 2014 are set, which you can see below. The Cardinals will also hold the 20th pick in the draft, holding the best record of the 20 non-playoff teams:
Kansas City Chiefs
San Diego Chargers
San Francisco 49ers
St. Louis Rams
New York Giants
San Francisco 49ers
St. Louis Rams
Tags: draft, opponents
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A little of this, a little of that at the beginning of a short week in a quiet building — the Cardinals’ coaches and veterans are all off until OTAs resume next week, although rookies are around for strength and conditioning along with daily excursions into the community for various events. Next week is the last week of OTAs — four spanning Monday through Thursday — with mandatory minicamp the following week June 11-13. Don’t forget Fan Fest at University of Phoenix Stadium June 11. Details TBA.
– The NFL officially moved the 2014 NFL draft later as expected, putting it on May 8-10 instead of the last weekend of April as usual. The rest of the NFL calendar remains status quo, however.
The Scouting combine still in later February (18-25) and the new league year/free agency still early March (11). The league is saying the draft plans beyond 2014 are still undecided. Most importantly was this section of the news:
“The change in the date of the 2014 Draft will have no effect on when rookies may begin to report to their clubs, the dates of off-season programs, or the length of off-season programs. Clubs will have available to them the same number of practice days that they currently have and no changes in the off-season calendar are being considered that would reduce the number of practice days or the overall length of the off-season program. At this time, changes are not anticipated in the off-season calendar for 2015 and beyond that would reduce the number of practice days or otherwise limit the off-season program.”
That’s a benefit for the rookies. What does it all mean? Not a ton — unless you are a veteran free agent who doesn’t get swept up early and was going to have to wait until after the draft to find a place. That just got delayed. After what has transpired this offseason, I will be very interested to see if more players are willing to drop their price tag early next year to make sure they have a place — assuming free agency plays out again next spring as it has this year.
– This full analysis of Tyrann Mathieu’s contract suggests the Cardinals have protected themselves pretty well if Mathieu slips up. That said, Mathieu will get paid as he should if he stays the straight and narrow, and at this point, Michael Bidwill was already suggesting to Mathieu the possibility of multiple contracts down the road.
– If you missed a chance yesterday on Memorial Day, be sure to check out Pat Tillman’s words the day after 9/11. Stirring, to say the least.
Tags: draft, Pat Tillman, Tyrann Mathieu
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Back in February at the Scouting combine the idea was first floated of the NFL changing up its offseason schedule. Today it sounds like that’s a lot closer to happening. Adam Shefter first reported a 2014 draft that would take place in May. That really isn’t a shock. To move the TV-ratings-rich draft into the sweeps month of May makes sense. The report is that, come 2015, the new league year (i.e. free agency) would then start before the combine (with the combine getting moved into March). It makes sense — the NFLPA could gain by getting free agency sooner. Veteran movement would be going on for a couple of weeks before the rookies even have their workout-day-in-the-sun.
What does this mean, football-wise? Besides the shift in when fans will be consuming this stuff, it definitely will make it harder on rookies — or better for veterans, depending on how you look at it. Vets will in theory know their teams sooner, and more importantly, rookies will be drafted perhaps three weeks later than they are now and getting started with their teams late much later. Certainly, it can be overcome (and if you are a Stanford product, it actually can help.) It should be noted that NFL spokesman Greg Aiello cautioned that nothing has been done yet. I won’t be surprised if (when?) it does though, and the NFL will be spread out even further into the offseason.
– Linebacker Daryl Washington pleaded not guilty today on the two counts of aggravated assault stemming from a May 1 incident. His next court date is scheduled for July 3. Before you ask, nothing has been decided yet and nothing has changed for Washington in terms of football.
– If you missed the offseason TV special Flight Plan this weekend, you are in luck: All four parts can be seen right here.
Tags: Daryl Washington, draft, free agency, Greg Aiello
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Some quick wrap-up notes after the draft, before I take my neglected sons to dinner:
– The Cardinals, obviously, did not take a quarterback. Keim admitted he had talked long about about subscribing to the theory he wanted to draft a QB every year. “I really still believe in that,” Keim said. So what happened?
“The difference is that our two draft choices came through free agency with Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton,” Keim said. “So we didn’t feel like that was a necessary move that we needed to make. Quite frankly, the way the board shook out, the quarterback at no point was the top player on our board. So it made the decision quite easy.”
That means Brian Hoyer and his potential $2 million salary is safe for now. I’d think a trade might still be possible for the Cards, but post-draft, it’d be tough. Of course, if the Cards were to sign an interesting undrafted rookie QB, that could change.
– Speaking of the undrafted rookies, that list will grow into the evening and names will leak. (I won’t be keeping constant watch; the official list will likely be released Monday.) Already, Oklahoma safeties Javon Harris and Tony Jefferson have tweeted out they are coming to the Cardinals. San Jose State cornerback Ronnie Yell tweeted the same as did Florida A&M defensive lineman Padric Scott. Tony Pauline reports the Cards also got Arizona receiver Dan Buckner. Keim said he expected to sign 15 undrafted rookies.
– The Cardinals want to get another nose tackle/defensive tackle. That didn’t present itself in the draft, so Keim said the Cards will not only look at it among the undrafted rookies but also with veteran free agents and possible cap casualties as we head toward training camp.
– The weekend gave the Cards some options at return men. They have Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Andre Ellington and maybe Stepfan Taylor.
– As for the overall haul Saturday? It’s always wait-and-see for me. I can’t get very emotional because it’s impossible to know. On the surface, I like getting the speed receiver Ryan Swope assuming he can stay healthy. I like adding fresh bodies to the running back room. I definitely like the possibilities of interviewing tight end D.C. Jefferson, assuming he can prove he can play. I hope Okafor can do some things as a pass rusher because that’s still a segment of the Cards’ defense that leaves some question marks. But that’s enough for now. We have a whole offseason to analyze.
Tags: Brian Hoyer, D.C. Jefferson, Dan Buckner, draft, Javon Harris, Padric Scott, quarterbacks, Ronnie Yell, Ryan Swope, Steve Keim, Tony Jefferson
Posted in Blog | 92 Comments »
Well OK then.
So I was thinking it would have been interesting — very — had the Cardinals taken Manti Te’o in the second round. Instead, they traded out of the pick because they were looking at another inside linebacker in Kevin Minter, could get him later and get an extra pick, and it turned out they weren’t as close to seeking Te’o as I might’ve thought. But hey, the Cardinals made up for it by going with the NFL Draft’s other co-winner of the “huge story leading into the draft” player — Tyrann Mathieu.
There is little question Mathieu is a risk. And that’s probably an understatement. But the Cardinals know that. They have Mathieu’s mentor, Patrick Peterson, in the same locker room (and I would bet their lockers will be adjoining when all is said and done). Certainly, Mathieu can help. Bruce Arians talked about the ability for Mathieu to essentially be a secondary swingman, a free safety/nickel corner/cornerback that could stay on the field in all situations. It just feels like an all-or-nothing choice: He’s either going to be a dynamic star, or he’ll wash out because of his personal problems.
– It was fitting, I suppose, on the day LaRod Stephens-Howling officially found a new home with the Steelers, that his famous emotional conference call after he was drafted was surpassed by the tears flowing in Mathieu’s call. I mean, the Hyphen only got choked up for an answer or two. Mathieu was so emotional I wasn’t sure at first we were going to be able to understand him. I can’t blame him.
– The addition of Mathieu, with his skill set, may seal the end of the Josh Cribbs possibility. Arians at the owners meetings even talked about adding Cribbs and how great it would be to put him and Peterson back together on punt returns to mess with the opposition. Friday, Arians talked about Mathieu and Peterson doing it. I asked GM Steve Keim if Cribbs was now off the radar. “That’s something we have already explored,” Keim said. “At this point, I really can’t get any further into it, so I will leave it at that.” Watching Keim say it, it sure didn’t sound like Cribbs was coming.
– Kind of feel bad for Minter. His arrival got overshadowed quickly.
– Oh, we still have another day of the draft? Yes we do. And the Cards still have five players to take. Those first two picks in the fourth round are interesting. Now with two choices, I could see the Cards taking a flyer on one of the quarterbacks. Could they pull the trigger on Matt Barkley? I could see it. That extra pick is gravy; They were going to take Minter in the second anyway. So maybe Barkley or Ryan Nassib or Tyler Bray are in play. People loved matching Barkley and the Cardinals at No. 7 way back at the Scouting combine (which was foolish) but a fourth-round pick — one of two — could be palatable.
– The Cards likely will take a running back at some point. Johnathan Franklin is available. I know people bring up Marcus Lattimore and it is a great and inspirational story. But I know I wouldn’t touch a guy who already has blown out two ACLs, especially a running back.
– I still expect the Cards to at least think about adding a pass rusher project tomorrow, and a pure speed deep threat receiver.
Tags: draft, Josh Cribbs, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Manti Te'o, Steve Keim, Tyrann Mathieu
Posted in Blog | 64 Comments »
The Cardinals spent their second-round pick on LSU inside linebacker Kevin Minter, after trading down seven spots (38 to 45) with San Diego in exchange for the Chargers’ fourth-round pick, 110th overall. The Chargers took Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, and that easily could have been the Cards’ pick if they had chosen to stay put. That definitely would have been interesting. But Minter was a guy the Cards were already eying, and to pick up an extra fourth-rounder and still get the guy they wanted makes a lot of sense. Now, Minter and Te’o will be linked — along with whomever the Cards take with that second fourth-rounder — in the minds of Cards’ fans. We’ll see how it develops.
Minter’s reputation is of a two-down thumper inside guy. He’s not real big — 6-foot — but he can hit, and frankly, in nickel situations, it will be Daryl Washington as the linebacker staying on the field inside and not a guy like Minter or Jasper Brinkley, the guy who is currently penciled in to start now that Paris Lenon is gone. Minter was an first team All-American this season, getting 130 tackles and four sacks for the Tigers.
“(The Cardinals) said I could be a great fit for the team,” Minter said. “They asked me if was ready to come down to Arizona and bust some heads. I said ‘Yeah.’ “
– A side note: free agent running back LaRod Stephens-Howling agreed to a one-year contract with the Steelers Friday. Good for Hyphen. He’ll be missed, but he wasn’t going to return, and now he’s headed back to the city where he played in college.
Tags: draft, Kevin Minter, Manti Te'o
Posted in Blog | 41 Comments »