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As free agency opens, names float

Posted by Darren Urban on March 7, 2016 – 5:02 pm

So teams could legally start talking to free agents Monday. No deals can be executed before Wednesday (at 2 p.m. Arizona time). Any of the rumors floating around today and until then are mainly that, especially since it is agents who are getting most of the information that is being reported and agents have a reason to drive up interest in their particular clients.

The biggest name floated by multiple reports Monday was linebacker Bruce Irvin, who has played for the Seahawks. He’s young and rushes the passer, although his production on that front has only been OK. He’s wanted (former Seahawks coordinators are now head coaches in Jacksonville and Atlanta are reportedly interested, and Jacksonville in particular has a LOT of money.) Kent Somers noted that the Cards have interest in Rams defensive lineman William Hayes as well.

Kent also tweeted Drew Stanton’s return might be iffy, after Bruce Arians just said on Arizona Sports 98.7 Monday morning he was hoping Stanton would be back in place as Palmer’s backup. Stanton just said last week he wasn’t sure what was going to happen — which, for a guy who was already able to talk to his own team about returning, does not sound all that optimistic if the guy was actually going to be returning. If Stanton left, it would certainly change up the urgency of looking for quarterbacks behind Carson Palmer.

Finally, Jason Cole suggested that interest in free-agent-to-be tackle Bobby Massie could push his contract to $8 million a year average. That’d be quite the windfall for Massie, who wasn’t expected to return anyway but certainly wouldn’t at $8M a year. That’d be more than Jared Veldheer is getting, and while it is two years later, I never would’ve expected that to be a possibility.


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On Jefferson’s tender and Cooper’s position

Posted by Darren Urban on March 2, 2016 – 4:46 pm

No official announcements coming from the Cardinals today, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a little news — or potential news — floating around. The most concrete were the multiple reports that the Cards tendered restricted free agent safety Tony Jefferson a right-of-first-refusal offer. That’s worth $1.67 million for 2016, and if Jefferson manages to sign an offer sheet for a long-term deal elsewhere, the Cardinals have the right to match.

But it carries ramifications. Jefferson was undrafted as a rookie. This tender offer means if another team signs Jefferson to an offer sheet and the Cardinals choose not to match, the Cards would get no compensation. They could have tendered Jefferson at the second-round pick level ($2.55M) and, if Jefferson signed/left, they would have gotten a second-round pick. This decision is a little surprising, especially given the free-agent status of fellow safety Rashad Johnson and the ACL rehab of safety Tyrann Mathieu, but I’m guessing the Cards believe they have a handle on what they think the market will bear.

Teams must officially tender their restricted free agents by March 9. Wideout Jaron Brown and safety D.J. Swearinger are the remaining RFAs; Punter Drew Butler already re-signed.

Then there was the chatter about the Cardinals considering the use of Jonathan Cooper at center. It isn’t that Cooper is definitely moving, and certainly at this point before free agency and the draft, a lot will have to do with who is brought in during those periods. But it could be an option. It isn’t a shocking thought; Cooper was the one taking third-string snaps through much of the 2014 season during warmup periods. I even asked Cooper in training camp last year if he could play center. He acknowledged he had done it a little in college, but also said the Cardinals had never really broached the subject with him. Certainly it would give the Cardinals flexibility in configuring the offensive line going forward.



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Mario Williams and those one-year deals

Posted by Darren Urban on March 1, 2016 – 2:04 pm

A long, long time ago, when I was still in college, I was driving near campus one night while listening to the 620 Sportsline on the radio (was that Schulte and Roye at the time?) during basketball season. A caller wanted to know why the Suns couldn’t just trade for Hakeem Olajuwon. I mean, he was only the best big man in the game and one of the best of all time. The guy wanted to know why the Suns couldn’t get him for guard Negele Knight, forward Kurt Rambis and someone else (maybe center Andrew Lang? Trust me, it wasn’t a big name.)

I’ve heard similar trade suggestions in my years covering the Cardinals, sure. A certain player, while not needed/underperforming with the Cards can certainly fetch a second- or third-round draft pick, even though the Cards don’t want him. Right? (Uh, no.)

With the success of the one-year, prove-it-to-me contracts that Steve Keim has had in his tenure as GM, it feels like the one-year deal possibilities are veering into that territory. The Bills released defensive lineman Mario Williams, and certainly, that’s a name that draws interest. Would he fit in Arizona? He’s not exactly a 3-4 defensive end, and he’s already made noises that he’s not a fan of the idea that he’d ever have to drop into coverage as a 3-4 OLB. He only had five sacks last season, and while he could be used like Dwight Freeney in Arizona as a pass rusher, he’s going to want a lot more money and likely will get it somewhere in a NFL free-agent world flush with cap space.

So when I see suggestions — and I have had a few over the many platforms with which to reach me — that the Cardinals could lure Williams to the desert with a one-year contract, my first thought is, why would he do that? It’s early, and yes he underperformed in 2015, but it’s hard to believe someone won’t pony up some money for him this offseason. That could still be the Cards (although I do agree it’d have to be at the right price, which is not what he was getting in Buffalo.)

One-year deal guys don’t necessarily wait all the way until training camp, like Eric Winston or Chris Johnson or Jermaine Gresham. But if they sign earlier than that — Karlos Dansby, Antonio Cromartie — they wait out the market for a while to be absolutely sure they cannot get some significant cash. The Cards do have the ability these days to attract players because of the team and the destination. But money usually talks first, and short-term deals sometimes sound like Knight-for-Olajuwon.

Kevin Kolb, Mario Williams

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Salary cap set at more than $155 million

Posted by Darren Urban on February 29, 2016 – 10:07 am

The NFL Players Association announced today that the 2016 salary cap will be $155.27 million, about a $12 million jump from 2015. It’s a sizable number. With the slightly more than $3 million the Cardinals carried over from their leftover 2015 cap, General Manager Steve Keim will have a salary cap of about $158 million with which to work this season.

With that number, both overthecap.com and spotrac.com estimate the Cards will have between $19M and $20M of cap space going into free agency. The Cardinals have seven players that are scheduled to have cap hits of at least $5 million in 2016:

— QB Carson Palmer $17.88M
— WR Larry Fitzgerald $15.85M
— DT Calais Campbell $15.25M
— CB Patrick Peterson $13.07M
— T Jared Veldheer $9M
— WR Michael Floyd $7.32M
— G Mike Iupati $5.7M

Of those players, it makes the most sense to adjust the numbers of Campbell and Floyd through extensions. Otherwise, Keim and the front office have already figured out their plan for free agency through these numbers. There will be teams with tons of cap room, in order to overpay a player if they chose. The Cards will do what they do — target free agents at a certain price, and if they can’t convince them to sign, then move on. The “legal tampering” part of free agency begins in a week. Actual agreements cannot begin until March 9, a week from Wednesday.

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A line in the sand with free agent money

Posted by Darren Urban on February 22, 2016 – 1:23 pm

The NFL Scouting combine starts this week and free agency begins with the “legal tampering” on March 7 (Players can officially sign March 9). In the meantime, if there are any teams that want to bring back their own players who are free agents-to-be, this is the home stretch to make that happen before the open market.

Given the amount of salary cap space available across the NFL — and there should be a ton of it once the 2016 cap is set — there are plenty of guys who will get contracts that likely will exceed expectations. That’s one reason Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim has noted multiple times that getting extensions done at this point are often difficult because by now, there is little reason not to want to at least test the market.

Because all it takes it one team — and that one team isn’t necessarily the Cardinals, whether it is bringing back a key player or bringing one in via free agency. As the Cards go into free agency (and as they mull what they want to do with their own free-agents-to-be), Keim and the front office build a “free agent board.” It’s similar to the draft “top 100” board, except it also includes the money the Cards are willing to spend on each player. It’s based on the analytics of the situation — the player’s performance, age, position, etc. — and it gives what Keim sees as his line in the sand.

If that works for the player, then the Cardinals might have a deal. If the player wants significantly more, then the Cardinals move on.

The Cardinals, as Keim sees it, have created a lot of reasons for a player to want to come to Arizona. The facilities are top notch. The weather is good. Oh, and the team is winning. Oftentimes, overpaying a player in free agency doesn’t work out anyway — so the Cards, for the most part, avoid it. Something to keep in mind this time of year.

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Jefferson gets his wish – a better Madden rating

Posted by Darren Urban on February 17, 2016 – 11:05 am

Tony Jefferson likes his video games, and he likes his Madden. He has long paid attention to the rating the EA product has given Jefferson in its game — his Twitter bio actually reads, in full, “Just trying to raise my Overall rating on Madden”.

So after his solid 2015 season, the folks at Madden did just that, jumping Jefferson nine points in his overall rating to an 86 (Tyrann Mathieu jumped 11 points to a 94 and Rashad Johnson went up six, to an 83.) “It’s all I’ve ever wanted,” Jefferson tweeted — although he did note he still wants to get into the 90s on the 100-point scale. (He also tweeted how he was a 67 when he originally came into the league. As I’ve said, he has paid attention.)

Now, is it really all Jefferson has ever wanted? The man is a restricted free agent-to-be. He’ll be back with the Cardinals in 2016 almost certainly. The question will be if the Cardinals just tender him an offer (it would have to be at least at a second-round level, since Jefferson was originally undrafted, meaning in theory Jefferson could be tendered, sign elsewhere, and that team would owe the Cardinals a second-round pick) or if they sign him to a longer deal. With Johnson an unrestricted free agent, the Cards may buy time with the one-year tender and go from there.

In the meantime, Jefferson will undoubtedly be working on a big 2016, both because he could be an unrestricted free agent after the season and, of course, because he wants to be in the 90s.



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Keim: Mathieu extension is “our goal”

Posted by Darren Urban on February 11, 2016 – 6:50 pm

Tyrann Mathieu wants to remain a Cardinal, and he has said as much. General Manager Steve Keim agrees, and with the safety due to become a free agent after the 2016 season, Keim said Thursday night on the Big Red Rage the team wants to get an extension done. When that might be is still a question, Keim acknowledged, but “I don’t think there is any doubt that’s our goal.”

Keim has been mostly holed up in his office this week watching as much college video as he can in advance of the upcoming Scouting combine. But he took some time to be a guest on the Rage, hitting on a variety of topics, including the fact he remains disappointed with the way the season ended, with the Cardinals “embarrassed” in the NFC Championship game against the Panthers.

“Our expectations as an organization, our expectations as a fan base, are to hang banners every year,” Keim said. “Not just the West (division) championship, but the big one.”

Among the other topics Keim addressed:

— Yes, an edge rusher is an important target, but it’s not the only spot. Keim said there are “a lot of areas we need to improve,” and he said that includes depth positions and not just looking at starters.

— Keim said the Cardinals will be as active in free agency as they usually are. But he reiterated that when looking at players who are seeking longer contracts with big guarantees, there must be a certain amount of caution with that aggressive mindset. There are usually reasons these players couldn’t get such deals with their original teams.

— While he would not get into specifics about the Cards’ own free agents — saying there are, as usual, some the team would very much like back — he knows the market could dictate how many return. As for both free agency and the draft, “you can’t force signings and you can’t force picks,” Keim said. “I’ve said that for a long time. When you get into a habit of forcing need, you are leaving better players on the board.”

— Keim wouldn’t be specific with how much cap space the Cardinals will have but added he feels “very good” with where the Cards are right now. Since arriving in 2013 to his current job, “the thing we’ve done the best job of is eliminating the dead money,” Keim said.

— There is always planning for the future, but even with the possibility of guys like QB Carson Palmer or wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald retiring in the next few years, that doesn’t change the expectation of the franchise.

“The NFL doesn’t allow you not to be in a win-now mode,” Keim said.

— Speaking of Palmer, Keim didn’t hesitate in saying he thinks his quarterback will be fine in 2016 even after the rough NFC Championship and has no concerns there is a mental hurdle for Palmer to overcome.

“When we made the trade for Carson three years ago, there was a perception, because you’re talking about a guy who sat out a year in Cincinnati, that maybe he was a quitter or whatever the thought was across the country,” Keim said. “After getting to know him for three years, I haven’t been around many people who are as tough mentally or as competitive as he is. I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Carson Palmer in every aspect of the game.”

“I think Carson Palmer has good football left in him,” Keim added, noting that there are 12-to-15 teams looking for a quarterback. The Cardinals are not one of them. “I’m proud to have Carson Palmer as our quarterback.”



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Search for a pass rusher

Posted by Darren Urban on January 28, 2016 – 9:54 am

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.


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Potential extensions aren’t a given

Posted by Darren Urban on November 12, 2015 – 9:46 am

Last week, we delved into the number of Cardinals headed for free agency at the end of the season. General Manager Steve Keim has had discussions here and there with agents about particular players (no, he hasn’t been specific) in an attempt to get an extension or two done. But not surprisingly, it’s not a simple process.

Keim said the Cardinals would like to lock up a player or two before March but “any deal we do this early has to be beneficial to both team and player.”

“A lot of time, and it’s just the realistic way of business, sometimes these players want to see what is out there on the market,” Keim said. “Which is why our philosophy has been, go at them strong, be aggressive and let them know if they test the market, there might not be a home back here for them. That’s just the business, because you can’t be caught flat-footed.

“There are several key core players we’d love to have back but at the same time when you have a good football team, there’s only so much to go around with the salary cap and you have to be smart how you divvy up that money. The great thing is, in my opinion, with what has changed here, is the allure of playing here, of wanting to be part of something special.”

Half the Cardinals’ secondary are headed for free agency. There has been a lot of talk about running back Chris Johnson as well, although that’s a situation that will likely have to play out on the market. Johnson said he hasn’t even thought about a contract extension.


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An early look at the free-agents-to-be

Posted by Darren Urban on November 5, 2015 – 11:31 am

With the season halfway over and talk here and there about possible contract extensions, it felt like a good time to note who is scheduled to have their contract run out after the season ends. We’ve talked for a while about the secondary decisions that are coming, but in terms of players that are making an impact, it’s a lengthy list. This is only the players set to be free agents; There have been some of you wondering if, for instance, Tyrann Mathieu could get an extension. He is under contract through 2016, so I don’t expect anything soon. The Cardinals, according to the NFLPA, have about $5.3 million of cap space right now.


CB Justin Bethel
LB Dwight Freeney
TE Jermaine Gresham
RB Chris Johnson
S Rashad Johnson
G Ted Larsen
LS Mike Leach
T Bobby Massie
CB Jerraud Powers
C Lyle Sendlein
T Bradley Sowell
QB Drew Stanton
LB Sean Weatherspoon
LB LaMarr Woodley

WR Jaron Brown
P Drew Butler
LB Kenny Demens
S Tony Jefferson

(Tight ends Darren Fells and Ifeanyi Momah and defensive tackle Josh Mauro are all exclusive rights free agents, meaning they can be tendered and not go anywhere.)

Again, a long list. The restricted free agents, if you want to prevent them from hitting the market unfettered, can be tendered with one of three designations: A first-round tender (a one-year contract of about $3.3M), a second-round tender (about $2.3M) or the original draft spot ($1.5M). That means, if tendered, if another team signs them away, that team owes the Cardinals the tendered pick. Given that all those guys were undrafted, the Cards would get nothing for the low tender. It makes for hard decisions on a Tony Jefferson, and even to Jaron Brown.

As for the unrestricted guys …

It seems likely that the older one-year guys — Chris Johnson, Gresham, Freeney — would want to see what they might get on the open market. The secondary is the most intriguing area. It wouldn’t be a surprise that some team might want to swoop in and Greg Toler-contract a guy like Bethel, especially if they’d want him to start right away at CB. The Cardinals like Powers. They like Rashad Johnson too, but with all the safeties around, what will be the offer? What does the future hold (or rather, where is the future) for Deone Bucannon? Is he a linebacker or safety? That’ll come into play.


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