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Blogs

Edge and the falling value of running backs

Posted by Darren Urban on April 17, 2014 – 11:01 am

It was a rainy Saturday in March 2006 when Edgerrin James visited the Cardinals for the first time. Kurt Warner was gamely trying to hold his annual flag football tournament on the practice fields, and the Cards were in the process of locking up a star running back. The price, in the end, was four years and $30 million. James didn’t collect all of it, but he still got plenty. The Colts felt James was on the downside, not worth the cash, and in the end, they were proven right that they didn’t need him — winning the Super Bowl in 2006 with young Joseph Addai and the serviceable yet forgettable Dominic Rhodes at running back.

The overall trend to run through running backs when they were cheaper and then move on hadn’t enveloped the NFL completely. But that’s about when the Cards’ thought process turned. From there, Tim Hightower was a fifth-round pick who essentially replaced Edge in 2008. Beanie Wells was added in the first round for 2009. Ryan Williams was drafted in 2011. Then came Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor last season. The Cardinals have not spent anything close to significant money on a free agent running back since Edge. They have yet to have a running back drafted play past his rookie contract. The reality of the NFL is that the position has not only be devalued, the bottom dropped out of the market faster than Arizona home sales circa 2009.

Only Williams is scheduled to make at least $1 million this season, and whether he remains on the 53-man roster for 2014 is very much up in the air. Ellington (who only will make $495,000) is the starter, and whether Taylor ($495,000) or Jonathan Dwyer ($795,000) is the other back, there is little (relative) investment. You see the same across the league, with the money being paid to free agent running backs, with the way running backs are sliding down the draft every year. The way things have gone, that No. 3 overall pick spent on Trent Richardson might be the last time a top 10 pick is spent on a back ever.

Of course, “ever” is a long time. Sometimes, a back is special and deserves the big money. Adrian Peterson comes to mind (and no, we won’t go into how he ties into the Cardinals and the Edge signing right now.) But these days, it doesn’t look like many Petersons will emerge. Not the way colleges are using running backs themselves, and not the way the NFL is handling them once they get to the pros.

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Take offense? Or get defensive?

Posted by Darren Urban on January 28, 2014 – 12:47 pm

When the Super Bowl is played Sunday, it will feature the best offense in the NFL — Denver scored 606 points this season, an incredible 37.9 per game — against the best defense in the NFL — Seattle not only allowed the fewest yards, but also the fewest points this season. A tangible example of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. It’s hard not to see it as the answer about that “defense wins championships” cliché that floats out there.

It also got me thinking about the Cardinals, and their better recent teams.

The 2008 Cardinals made the Super Bowl after scoring 427 regular-season points (26.7 points a game) and followed up in the playoffs with 30, 33 and 32 points before scoring 23 in the Super Bowl. Of course, that team allowed 426 points, which is why they eeked out a 9-7 record. It was a potent offense. This season, the Cardinals put together 10 wins in large part because of the defense. The Cards were tops in the league in run defense, sixth overall and seventh in scoring defense. It would be interesting to consider that 2008 offense — Kurt Warner, Fitz in his prime, Anquan Boldin, 1,000-yard Steve Breaston and the Edge/Hightower RB tag-team going against the 2013 Cardinals defense.

Which is the better path to take? It’s hard not to think that defense wins titles. It’d be good to see Peyton Manning win another Super Bowl, but I’m not totally sure why the Seahawks aren’t favored in this game, at least a little. Maybe it’s because of last year’s Super Bowl, when a couple of defensive-dominant teams ended up playing in a scorefest. That was in the climate-controlled Superdome, though, and Manning won’t have that advantage Sunday.

As far as the score-first Cardinals versus the defense-first Cards? There’s a reason why Kurt Warner has said this year’s Cardinals team was better than his 2008 version. Part of that was that this year’s team could score a little bit too — with 379 points (23.7 a game) it wasn’t like the Cardinals couldn’t find their way into the end zone. I’d argue that Andre Ellington gave the offense an explosive element that 2008 offense didn’t really have either. Nevertheless, it’s a great debate to have.

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Flashback with an Edge

Posted by Darren Urban on October 1, 2013 – 4:46 pm

Before we fully move past the trip to Florida and the week away, there was an Edge sighting Saturday night.

It was interesting, since the last time I saw Edgerrin James was in Tampa, in the aftermath of that difficult Super Bowl loss. Edge wasn’t in the locker room the next day when EdgeLamboUSEcleanout happened and he was cut a couple months later, not surprisingly, never to come back to the facility. But there he was Saturday night, coming out on the back patio of the Marriott Waterside to get Darnell Dockett. I happened to be sitting out there watching a college game, and I wasn’t going to say anything — but Edge, wearing a wide smile, coming over to say hello and shake hands.

He still has dreads but they are shorter than they were in 2008, but he still looks the same. Somehow, the Super Bowl week came up in the brief conversation and it wasn’t football. It was about the Lamborghini he bought that week as a gift to himself for making the game. The sporty white car (actual Edge Lambo pictured right) literally was delivered to the team hotel when the Cards arrived for the game and was parked out front all week.

These many years later, Edge said the dealer had wanted to have him take a test drive. Edge turned that down and bought it without having climbed into the seat. The funny thing is, Edge doesn’t have it anymore. He sold it. He said it rained too much in Miami to have it around.

Edge always was one of a kind. He was at the end of his career that season with the Cards, yet the Cards don’t make it to the Super Bowl without him in the postseason.

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Hitting the ground (in St. Louis) running

Posted by Darren Urban on October 2, 2012 – 1:50 pm

The Cardinals aren’t running the ball as well as they would like. That’s not a mystery. “It’s disappointing we’re not running the ball better,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said, “but that’s something that we can work on. Hopefully we can get better at it.”

It’s not as if the Cards haven’t flashes, especially late in the Philadelphia game when Ryan Williams had the majority of his 83 yards on 13 carries for that game even though the Eagles knew he would be toting the ball. But against Miami — a team with arguably the best run defense in the NFL — Williams managed only 26 yards on 13 carries. The Cards only had 15 total attempts for 28 yards (William Powell had the other two carries and two yards) as they played catch up most of the game.

“I think we still have a lot strides to make in the running game,” Williams said. “(Find out) what are our bread and butter plays, things of that sort.”

By coincidence, the Rams are next up, and that might just make an impact.

The Rams are giving up 135 rushing yards a game (the Cards are averaging 68.) And it should be noted, the last time the Cards went into St. Louis last season, Beanie Wells blew up. By the time the Cards finished with a 23-20 win, the running back had piled up a franchise-record 228 yards.  Now, Wells isn’t around this time, having gone to temporary IR last week. This is Williams’ show now. But history provides optimism: Since Whisenhunt arrived in 2007, a Cardinal back has surpassed 100 yards rushing in the five trips to St. Louis four times — Wells, Tim Hightower (twice), and Edgerrin James. A good day from Williams would help the cause.


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Rookies take the field for the first time

Posted by Darren Urban on May 11, 2012 – 12:39 pm

One practice in — and with just rookies — it’s impossible to know what will happen with any of them.

“It was interesting,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “The enthusiasm was great, the effort was great. I didn’t know quite what they were doing all the time.”

But it was clear Whisenhunt was enjoying the idea of being back on the field, in a totally teaching aspect, knowing that games are months away. That part of his job was lost last year with the lockout. “It makes you appreciate being on the field again,” Whisenhunt said.

– There is no way to draw any conclusions after one practice. Some of the passes were misfired or dropped, but it wasn’t a shock. Some guys looked a little nervous at first. Bobby Massie, as I noted, looks the part of a tackle. Then again, all the draft picks look the part. They better. They of course have to play the part, and we are a long way from being able to tell that. I’ll have a few photos up later today and we will have a video too (later though; We have Calais Campbell’s press conference with which to deal first.)

– There are nine “veterans” taking part, guys who were already on the team’s roster before the draft. That, Whisenhunt said, is everyone on the roster who is eligible to do so. There are others that wouldn’t mind getting the extra work, Whisenhunt said (and I’m sure the coaches wouldn’t mind it either), but the collective bargaining agreement won’t allow it.

– The only “injury” wasn’t; undrafted rookie cornerback James Nixon had to come out because of dehydration. The learning curve extends beyond the playbook for some. Center Ryan Bartholomew was also sitting out after he “dinged” his knee during conditioning workouts recently, Whisenhunt said.

– The biggest name among the tryout players: running back Javarris James, who played for the Colts and who is the cousin of former Cardinals running  back Edgerrin James.


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1,000 reasons to watch Beanie, Fitz

Posted by Darren Urban on December 7, 2011 – 9:54 am

With four games left in the regular season, both wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and running back Beanie Wells are near-guarantees to reach 1,000 yards receiving and rushing. There is a chance — perhaps good — they could both do it Sunday against the 49ers.

Fitz only needs 57 more receiving yards to get to 1,000, which would be the sixth such season of his career and set a franchise record. It’s become clear Fitzgerald isn’t going to end up with the 90-to-100 receptions he craves — with 55, he is only on pace for 73 — but his yardage total will be up there (on pace for 1,257) and as has been mentioned many times, his per-catch average will be the highest of his career.

Beanie is in a different spot. He’s never had 1,000 yards before. After his 793-yard showing as a rookie, playing part-time with Tim Hightower, you figured he’d eventually get there. But then knee issues and general struggles last season put that into question. Guess it shouldn’t have. Even with new knee problems this season — and missing a game in Seattle because of a bad hamstring — Wells already has 916 yards (and has career highs, already, in attempts with 201, yards and touchdowns, with nine.) Edgerrin James is the last Card to rush for 1,000 when he had 1,222 in 2007. Edge averaged 3.8 yards a carry that season. Beanie is averaging 4.6 yards a carry and is on pace for 1,249 yards even after missing the one game.

“It’s always been one of my goals, that plateau,” Wells said. “Being a running back in the league, a thousand yards is the mark. I definitely want to hit it.”

Beanie needs 84, which will make for an interesting game Sunday. The 49ers are allowing just 71.8 rushing yards total per game, well short of what Beanie needs by himself. The most yards any individual has gained rushing against San Francisco in 12 games actually was a quarterback — the Eagles’ Michael Vick had 75 on eight carries. The Bengals’ Cedric Benson had 64 on 17 carries. No player has come close to 84.

Beanie only had 33 yards in the first game against the 49ers (Chester Taylor actually was the leading rusher thanks to his one attempt for 34 yards) but he had only eight carries and averaged 4.1 yards a rush.

“It was something I thought about at the beginning of the year, but as the season has gone on, I haven’t thought about it,” Wells said, downplaying the possibility of doing it against the Niners. “Whoever I get it against, I just want to get it.”


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The free agency effect

Posted by Darren Urban on June 9, 2011 – 4:13 pm

So I was looking over this ESPN.com article by Football Outsiders about the top 10 most disappointing NFL free agents of the past 25 years and it got me thinking about the Cardinals (although no, there are no Cards on the list). My first full free-agent offseason came in 2001, when the Cards — up against the salary cap — chose to sign Seattle guard Pete Kendall as their one big purchase, to team with center Mike Gruttadauria from the year before and first-rounder Leonard Davis to build the “Big Red Line.” Kendall, as always, was blunt; when he came in for his press conference and was asked, why the Cardinals, he said, “Because they paid me the most money.”

That’s usually how it goes.

The bottom line is that, occasionally, help comes via free agency. More often than not, you acquire the best players through the draft because, aside from a player here or there, there is a reason a team lets a player go. Usually it’s because they don’t see him being worth the money he commands on the open market. (Karlos Dansby? Maybe he was. Antrel Rolle? Probably not.) I would argue that, if you charted all the “bigger-name” free-agent signings in the NFL over the years, there would be more that underperformed to expectations rather than met them.

Anyway, you look back through the years and think about the “key” free agents the Cards signed. How many provided the impact that people thought they would provide the day they signed?

  • 2002 – CB Duane Starks, TE Freddie Jones
  • 2003 – QB Jeff Blake, RB Emmitt Smith, S Dexter Jackson
  • 2004 – DE Bertrand Berry (now this one was a real winner, even with Bertrand’s later injuries)
  • 2005 – DE Chike Okeafor, QB Kurt Warner (OK, that one turned out pretty well)
  • 2006 – RB Edgerrin James (Edge was actually pretty effective, but certainly not the star his contract said he should be)
  • 2007 – T Mike Gandy, C Al Johnson, CB Rod Hood (The Cards decide not to get FA “stars” under Whiz, just pieces to the puzzle).
  • 2008 – DE Travis LaBoy, NT Bryan Robinson
  • 2009 – CB Bryant McFadden
  • 2010 – QB Derek Anderson, LB Joey Porter, LB Paris Lenon, K Jay Feely

Certainly a mixed bag over the years. The biggest disappointment? No, I’m not going with Anderson — remember, he was signed to be Matt Leinart’s backup, so how much disappointment can there be? (Careful now …) I think I’d probably go with Duane Starks, who parlayed his spot in that great Ravens defense into the idea he could be a shutdown corner, which he wasn’t, especially on a team that sometimes used Fred Wakefield as the right defensive end (Fred was a great guy but didn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of quarterbacks). Realistically, Emmitt probably provided what everyone expected and so did Edgerrin, especially since he never seemed to fit Whisenhunt’s style (and was clearly at the end, which was proven out after the Cards let him go).

Berry, by far, was the best signing, based on his 2004 season alone. I would have loved to see what sack numbers he would have had if he hadn’t gotten hurt every year after that. UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Some of you want to know how I could ever pick Berry over Warner. The simple fact is that Berry, as a free-agent signee, impacted imemdiately. Warner’s time in Arizona didn’t come across that well until after a change in coaches. That was Warner’s third season as a Card by then. Am I splitting hairs? Maybe. But in the context of this discussion, it’s difficult to argue that, as a free agent coming in, Berry didn’t produce better than Warner.


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Seeing Edge again

Posted by Darren Urban on October 15, 2009 – 8:58 am

The end for Edgerrin James’ time in Arizona was long expected before it actually happened, a drawn-out process in which the running  back became a prime contributor to the Cards’ Super Bowl run before he was eventually released right after the Cards drafted Beanie Wells in April’s draft. After that, it came out that his significant other and mother to his children had passed away after a long battle with leukemia — something Edge dealt with all last season with many (including most of his teammates) in the dark about the situation.

The Cards will see Edge again Sunday, since James signed with the Seahawks as a reserve running back. It’s odd in some ways, since Edge always insisted he wasn’t a backup, but maybe reality — both in the form of his personal tragedy and the business of the NFL when it comes to an older running back — put that better into focus. He has 105 yards on 37 carries playing behind Julius Jones, apparently adding something other than yards to the team.

“He is great in the locker room,” Seahawks coach Jim Mora said. “Great attitude. He has accepted his role. That doesn’t mean he necessarily likes it. He obviously wants to carry the football. But he has not been a distraction at all.”

Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner admitted “it’ll be weird seeing him on the other side of the field.” Defensive lineman Darnell Dockett said he was looking forward to seeing Edge, but he downplayed that there would be a heightened sense of trash-talking.

“I talk to everybody,” Dockett said. “I’ve got my way of speaking, my own language that I use to guys, it don’t matter who I’m playing against.”

As for Edge, he not surprisingly is playing down the reunion. The Seahawks played James’ other former team, the Colts, two weeks ago, and Edge acknowledged that carried more weight with him.

“Indianapolis was a little different (because) I had so many years there,” James said. “But it’s football. You go out and play football and you do what you’ve got to do. It’s not that big a deal. It’s a football game.”

Edge never struck me as the grudge-holding type — hey, life’s too short, and Edge always seemed to get that — and so it also wasn’t surprising that he said there is no extra motivation (and besides, in his role, it’s not like he will even have a chance to, say, try and hang a 150-yard rushing day on his ex-mates). He did say the way it ended in Arizona gave him zero regrets because “it worked out perfect for me.”

“I had personal things I needed to deal with,” James said. “That was my main focus. So I was able to deal with those things. Football was secondary.”

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Signing inside information

Posted by Darren Urban on August 26, 2009 – 9:01 am

So Edge is a Seahawk, and in the division. Naturally, coach Ken Whisenhunt commented on the topic. “I really haven’t had a whole lot of thought about that. I’ve said that Edge did a great job for us in the playoffs last year and a big part of the reason for our success was our ability to have a more balanced offense. I wish Edgerrin well. I hope he doesn’t give them any information about us, but I understand he probably will.”

It’s funny (not ha-ha funny but interesting funny). Do the Seahawks turn to Edge, as opposed to say, Warrick Dunn, if Edge hadn’t played in Arizona? Do the 49ers, even with injuries in the secondary, turn to CB Eric Green after he was cut by the Dolphins had Green not been a Card? Does the information those players have about the Cards really help? It probably isn’t a tipping point between wins and losses, but knowing coaches the way I do, I would think they would hoard any and all chances to get any kind of advantage.

Playing-wise, we’ll see. Green is in a different situation than Edge. But I guarantee you Fitz and Q would be, let’s just say, excited to be able to go against Green in a game if such a matchup would happen. I still find it odd Edge ended up in Seattle, where he looks like he will be No. 2 and behind the kind of jerry-rigged offensive line that he always hated to deal with in Arizona early on. Maybe $2 million was what he could max out and it was worth the money. Maybe he wants to show the Cards they blew it. But I would guess the Cards’ defense wants a chance to slow their buddy down as well.

Until then, I suppose we wait for the Rams to sign Travis LaBoy.

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Edge to Seattle

Posted by Darren Urban on August 24, 2009 – 2:38 pm

I just was told Edgerrin James has signed with the Seahawks, an interesting choice to be sure. We all know how Edge is and what kind of game he brings; I will be intrigued to see how he fits and how his guys here on the defense take him on.After former CB Eric Green signed with the 49ers following his release from Miami, it’s like the NFC West is just collecting ex-Cards.

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