Steve Keim was blunt when bringing up his number one priority of the offseason: “Create a pass rush.” It’s nothing new. This is something the Cardinals have been talking about every offseason for a decade pretty much. Yes, John Abraham had a nice 2013 but he wasn’t brought in until training camp and it was always known he’d be a short-term solution.
It’s not like the Cardinals didn’t look at it last offseason. They tried to trade up in the draft to get one of the “name” pass rushers in the first round. They still took Markus Golden and Shaq Riddick among their seven picks. Golden was solid as a rookie. Is he ever going to be the dynamic edge guy every team wants/needs? Maybe not, but he’ll be an important cog. We’ll see on Riddick, who never got on the field as a rookie, but they love his size and speed if he can learn the game.
Going forward, the Cards still need much more. Dwight Freeney helped, but he isn’t the answer at this point even if he comes back. I thought it was interesting that Bruce Arians, talking on Arizona Sports 98.7 said of the edge rusher sought “I doubt it would be a free agent.” Now, if Von Miller were to actually hit the open market and not get the inevitable franchise tag from the Broncos, that might change but still — it says something about the potential available pass rushers (or those who could be available but likely won’t by March.)
The next three months leading into the draft will be interesting in that regard. But it was clear there were too many times when the Cardinals didn’t pressure the quarterback enough, even when they blitzed. That’s a tough way to live in the rarified air of the upper echelon teams in the NFL.
Tags: Bruce Arians, draft, Dwight Freeney, free agency, Markus Golden, Shaq Riddick, Steve Keim, Von Miller
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Larry Fitzgerald fought back tears.
The wide receiver has now played 12 NFL seasons. He doesn’t know exactly how many he has left – he has one year remaining on his contract – and at age 32, the end is much closer than the beginning. He also knows the NFL reality that coming as close as the Cardinals did to the Super Bowl, with the best team he’s ever been on, doesn’t necessarily happen more than once.
That’s why the pain was apparent on his face after Sunday night’s blowout loss in Carolina, a game that, frankly, the Cardinals never really were in. If the Cards had lost in a shootout, or a close game, Fitzgerald said, perhaps he could have dealt with it better, knowing the Cardinals at least made it a battle.
Instead, “we just didn’t have it today,” Fitzgerald said quietly. “And that really stings.”
Things will change. They always do in the offseason. Free agents will leave. New players will be signed and drafted. You hope that comes together. You hope that you can stay relatively injury-free, which the Cards – for the most part – were able to do this season. You hope that as a team you can build again, as the Cardinals have in each Arians’ season. Win totals have gone up and the postseason ladder has been climbed one rung at a time.
You hope. But as Fitz’s emotions explained, nothing is promised.
“The emotions are still so raw for me. So raw,” Fitzgerald said, when asked to assess 2015 as a whole. “In a couple days I might be able to have a little bit better answer for you. It really hurts.”
“Obviously,” Fitzgerald added, “I didn’t want it to end this way.”
— Carson Palmer stood up and answered the painful questions after the game. He took responsibility. He said “I” often and while there was plenty of things weren’t great on the rest of the team – the defense did not have its best game either – Palmer had to play well for the Cardinals to make the Super Bowl. He did not play well. He did not come close.
— While the Cardinals and Keim will continue to look for their quarterback of the future, Palmer is going to be the quarterback in 2016. He should be. He did not play well in the postseason but he was a deserving MVP candidate this year.
— Running back David Johnson was excellent, but it’s too bad the Cards got so far behind. He has definitely shown his future as the lead running back.
— The secondary as a whole was not good. Some of that was because of a lack of pressure on Cam Newton, but there were other mistakes. Justin Bethel was not the only player to get caught, but even Bruce Arians noted Bethel by name as someone who had a tough night. Arians added Bethel will get better. The Cardinals need him to.
— Among the free-agents-to-be are cornerback Jerraud Powers and safety Rashad Johnson. Both emphasized how much they want to return. But we will see how that plays out. I expect the Cardinals to try and get a Tyrann Mathieu extension done at some point, and I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a cornerback taken in the draft.
— The Cardinals will pick 29th in the NFL draft. There will be only 31 first-round selections after the Patriots surrendered theirs during Deflategate.
— There are a lot of other things to talk about heading into the offseason. But with the Cardinals done, there is time to get to all of that.
Tags: Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, draft, Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel, Larry Fitzgerald, NFC Championship, Panthers, Rashad Johnson, Steve Keim, Tyrann Mathieu
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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.
Tags: D.J. Humphries, Dante Fowler, David Johnson, draft, Gerald Christian, J.J. Nelson, Markus Golden, Rodney Gunter, rookies, Shaq Riddick
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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.”
Tags: David Johnson, draft, Markus Golden, Rodney Gunter, rookies
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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.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, D.C. Jefferson, D.J. Humphries, draft, J.J. Nelson, Markus Golden, Rodney Gunter, Steve Keim
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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.
Tags: draft, J.J. Nelson, Shaq Riddick
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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.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Bruce Arians, David Johnson, draft, Markus Golden, Ravens, trade
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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.
Tags: Andre Ellington, David Johnson, draft
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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.
Tags: draft, Markus Golden, trade
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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.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Bud Dupree, D.J. Humphries, draft, Shane Ray, Steve Keim
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