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Finding the Cards’ own quality quartet

Posted by Darren Urban on March 19, 2013 – 6:30 am

In honor of everyone’s favorite time of college basketball season, azcardinals.com will have it’s own piece of #cardsbracketology. Check out the bracket right here and vote every day for the play you want to win. As we pare it down from 16 to one, the winner for the best play of the Cardinals’ season will come alive. Maybe you can even get friends and family to have their own #cardsbracketology bracket. I can see the office pools now.

The No. 1 seed is the Rashad Johnson/Sam Acho/Greg Toler combo fumble recovery in Atlanta. Will there be an upset along the way?

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Winning free agency

Posted by Darren Urban on March 12, 2013 – 5:40 pm

The first afternoon of free agency is winding down. Twitter and the constant flow of information around the league is pushed everyone to the edge, it seems. To this I’m just making the point — it’s just March, and it’s just the first few hours.

(Here’s a post that’s sure to get everyone riled up at the end of the day.)

“Winning” March doesn’t mean you will win later. Can it help? Sure. But there’s no way to know now and certainly no reason to grade it out, good or bad, right now. Other than a couple of spots — like say, quarterback — what players will be the main ones talked about at the outset of camp? The ones who will have the heaviest influence on the season? Patrick Peterson. Larry Fitzgerald. Calais Campbell. Daryl Washington. The team’s best players, and the ones who are already here.

Every single player on the market has flaws. That’s why they are on the market. That too often seems to get lost in this discussion. I’m happy for Greg Toler if the reports are true he got $15 million for three years. He went to tiny Saint Paul’s, he worked a JC Penney’s for a while, for goodness sake. Today’s payday is the American dream on HGH. But with all due respect to Greg, a good person and a hard worker, did I see him as a $5M a year cornerback? No. And when Peterson’s deal has to be extended in a year or so, if Toler is making $5M, what would Peterson need to get?

The ebb and flow of emotions about this player and that player seem to happen in a vacuum too often. These are intricate puzzles being put together with talent, personalities, money and age all factored in. Every team must do it. They have to do it in the way they think is best. I have no idea how the team of Steve Keim and Bruce Arians will fare putting together this team. I’m not saying the Cards — like every team — haven’t made mistakes. But goodness, we are, as of this writing, less than five hours into free agency, weeks before the draft, and some insist Keim is a terrible GM. After, what, 63 days on the job? Not sure how you make that leap.

Heck, I’m writing this at 5:30 and by 7, there could be all kinds of news breaking about the Cards agreeing to deals. Who knows. If the Cards win in the fall, no one will remember or care about March. If they lose, no one will talk about March either. There will be other pressing business.


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Toler headed to Indy and FA chatter

Posted by Darren Urban on March 12, 2013 – 2:48 pm

The Cardinals wanted to keep cornerback Greg Toler, but that didn’t happen. Toler agreed to a deal with the Colts Tuesday within 90 minutes of free agency, taking away a possible starter for the Cards and leaving them low at the position after cutting William Gay and with the team not expected to bring Michael Adams back. Only 2012 rookies Jamell Fleming and Justin Bethel joing Patrick Peterson on the roster for now.

The Cards are bringing in former Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers for a visit, according to multiple reports. Powers has started everyone of the 42 games in which he has played in the NFL, but that was over four seasons. He has never played 16 games in a season and finished the last three seasons on IR, although his experience trumps what Toler was bringing to the table.

Multiple other names have been linked to the Cards in these early hours of free agency, with varying reports of interest. Running back Rashard Mendenhall, who played for head coach Bruce Arians in Pittsburgh, has reportedly already scheduled a visit to come to Arizona while Denver also has interest. The Cards are talking to Pro Bowl special teamer/linebacker Lorenzo Alexander of the Redskins and receiver/special teamer Josh Cribbs of the Browns, too. One report had both “leaning” toward coming to Arizona but another report said the Patriots were ahead on the Cribbs front, so again, nothing is done until it’s done.

There is still talk about quarterback Drew Stanton too. I believe that, if Stanton lands in Arizona, that probably signals the end for Kevin Kolb in Arizona. If the team is keeping Brian Hoyer and drafting a quarterback — which they will at some point — signing Stanton and keeping Kolb doesn’t fit.

Finally, Kent Somers said that free agent linebacker Quentin Groves will visit Cleveland (and DC Ray Horton) but that the Cards are still trying to bring Groves back.


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Rashad Johnson comes back

Posted by Darren Urban on March 12, 2013 – 10:09 am

The news first spread last night but it became official this morning, with safety Rashad Johnson agreeing to a new three-year contract with the Cardinals. Johnson was already taking playing time from veteran Adrian Wilson last year, and the pieces of this day came together over the past week — Wilson being released, and Johnson coming back to a probable starting job.

At the Scouting combine, general manager Steve Keim made it clear he was happy with Johnson’s progress in the secondary and signaled the Cards’ interest in working out a new deal.

“Rashad was a guy last year who I felt really improved,” Keim said. “His cover skills, his consistency in the alley, coming to balance as a tackler, we felt he really, really improved. Where as in years past I felt like Rashad would fill the alley a little out of control a little bit and he learned to play with a little more patience, which I think served him well.”

Free agency begins at 1 p.m. Arizona time today. The Cardinals figure to keep trying to bring back cornerback Greg Toler, who is letting the market set his worth. It’s sounding less and less likely the team brings back running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (which is a bummer, because I would miss the Hyphen.) Of the Cardinals’ other own free agents, other than perhaps linebacker Quentin Groves — and even on him I am not sure — I could see the Cards moving on in almost every case.

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The speculation of free agency

Posted by Darren Urban on March 10, 2013 – 9:17 am

It doesn’t matter when free agency starts, whether it is a “soft” opening like the NFL has tried this year or the normal start of free agency (deals can be consummated starting at 1 p.m. Tuesday) — there will be rumors and speculation. It’s always tough to know exactly where it’s coming from. Is the agent just trying to drum up a market for the player? Is it serious interest? Sometimes, it feels like the recruiting process in high school for an athlete — a player could have “interest” from Alabama and Michigan and LSU and Oklahoma, but was it a form letter sent out to dozens of players or was it a phone call from Les Miles?

(And yes, obviously an NFL player isn’t getting a direct phone call from a team right now, because of the rules.)

So it’s within this context that the news must be viewed of the Cardinals looking at cornerback Sean Smith, or interest in Reggie Bush, or return man Josh Cribbs. Obviously, the Cardinals are going to have to be active in free agency to a point, because they will need to fill out a roster that has shrunk through recent cuts. This is the new NFL by the way — Rick Gosselin notes 11 players who started 16 games this season have been cut already, along with three others who started 15 games (including Adrian Wilson.) It will be very interesting to see what kind of contracts are reached with many of these players on the market. The Ravens are looking for Anquan Boldin to take a pay cut, which he doesn’t want to do. It’s a tough time to be an older veteran, regardless of performance.

As for what might happen with the Cards, well, they’d like to re-sign cornerback Greg Toler and safety Rashad Johnson. There hasn’t been much talk about free agent LaRod Stephens-Howling and the Bush news — if accurate — would not bode well for the Hyphen’s return. Neither would someone like Cribbs. (It does seem like interest in Bush contradicts Bruce Arians’ concept of a three-down back, but reports are Bush has become better all-around in Miami compared to his Saints years.)

This week will be fun to watch play out.


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With free agency, younger is better

Posted by Darren Urban on March 5, 2013 – 2:55 pm

That sounds obvious, of course, younger is better. But as Pete Prisco formulates his annual top 50 available free agent list, it’s the law. No restricted free agents allowed, no tagged players (neither one of those types of guys are available in reality, although it may be interesting to see what happens with Saints running back Chris Ivory) and no one who is 30 or will be turning 30 this year. Prisco’s idea is that no one that old deserves big money, and I tend to agree. The road of free agency is littered with overpaid older players who switched teams and couldn’t live up to the contract.

(Now, I differ when you are extending one of your own guys, because it’s a different scenario and you know exactly what you are getting. Those on the market are on the market for a reason — because their former team didn’t see them worth the same big money they are about to get.)

I suppose, if you are a team on the verge, an older player can be helpful because he can put you over the top. But you’ll notice that most of the teams at the top don’t do that. They are at the top because they build via the draft and keep the best players from those drafts. Peyton Manning does not count. Unique situation.

The Cardinals have one free-agent-to-be on Prisco’s list. Cornerback Greg Toler is No. 24. “A year removed from a torn ACL, he played well in limited time last season,” Prisco writes. “He is a tough corner who will tackle.”

I believe the Cards still want Toler back, but the market will likely dictate that. What will Toler be worth, and is it in line with what the Cards think he is worth?

Interestingly, there are a pair of former Cardinals slightly higher than Toler on the list. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is 19th, and defensive tackle Alan Branch is 21st. I don’t want to start another round of “Will DRC come back?” I don’t think so. Prisco’s analysis is a reason why. “He wasn’t great last season, but he has a ton of athletic ability. It’s almost as if people are waiting for it to show.” DRC has been in the league four years. Consistency should have shown up by now.

I don’t know how active the Cards will actually be in free agency, so I’m not sure how much this would even apply. But as I mentioned yesterday, younger is probably going to be better around this team now.


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Big week for Cards and any contract talks

Posted by Darren Urban on March 4, 2013 – 11:32 am

On Saturday, NFL teams will be allowed to start officially talking to free agents for other teams. They can’t officially sign anyone until next Tuesday afternoon, but the window opens Saturday. That means if a team is going to make a strong run at their own guys, this is the week to do so. So for the Cards, who I think would like to bring back cornerback Greg Toler and safety Rashad Johnson, talks would step up now, I’d think. Same with quarterback Kevin Kolb, assuming there will be talks.

(Although unlike Toler and Johnson and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, Kolb can’t suddenly start talking to other teams Saturday. He is under contract unless the Cardinals cut him, and thus cannot shop himself around.)

Again, and I go back to what general manager Steve Keim said a couple of weeks ago. This close to free agency, some players just want to test the market, unless their own team will overpay for the honor of not doing so. The market will set the price. Does that mean you could lose a player? Of course. Once he is free, any control of the situation is over.

One final point: Sitting with a little more than $5 million of cap space even before anything is done with Kolb or anything else buys the Cardinals some time. Kolb, who has a $2 million roster bonus due in another week or so, will have to be dealt will soon. The Cardinals haven’t said anything to safety Adrian Wilson about his future (via Kent Somers) but again, because the team is under the cap and functioning with Wilson’s current contract, it’s hard to know if that means that Wilson is simply safe or that the Cards will talk to him later about a restructure or something else. I wouldn’t be surprised at an influx of youth this season (more on that later today in a post) and so transactions might start following that path.


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Waiting game for Cards’ own free agents

Posted by Darren Urban on February 18, 2013 – 3:49 pm

The Scouting combine is usually when the talk of free agency begins to start to pick up. Free agency doesn’t start until March 12, although teams can start negotiating (although not sign) potential UFAs from other teams on March 9. Until then, each team has the exclusive chance to talk with and re-sign their own impending free agents.

The Cardinals have a handful of their own free agents and there are some you’d think the Cards might want to bring back. Given the position and circumstances, I’d peg cornerback Greg Toler and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling would be at the top of the list. Toler began to play better in the second half of last season after missing all of 2011 with a torn ACL and would be a nice piece to keep around. Stephens-Howling has been a steady contributor over the years and the old regime wanted him back. It’s hard to know exactly where Toler, Stephens-Howling or any of the free agents fit in the new scheme of things.

Could the Cardinals get a deal or two done before free agency? Maybe. But general manager Steve Keim didn’t sound like anyone should be holding their breath, either.

“It’s always the plan,” Keim said. “We want to be pro-active and aggressive in our decisions but at the same time, you’ve got to understand a lot of the time, these guys are trying to see what the market is going to bring and their representatives have the mindset of, ‘Let’s see what is out there and then we will come back and talk.’ Not that they want to leave the Cardinals because I know a lot of our player’s agents have made overtures to me or Bruce (Arians) that they want to be here. At the same time they want to get market value as well.”

Other possible returnees among the UFAs would include quarterback Brian Hoyer, linebackers Paris Lenon and Quentin Groves and safety Rashad Johnson. (Although during a conference call Monday NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said this was a deep draft for safeties, so that could change some potential decisions.)

Unless a player is going to get a good chunk of money from his old team, it is understandable they test free agency by now. There is a reason extensions often come down in-season, because by the time we get to the end of the season — and the potential free agents can’t get hurt playing anymore — why wouldn’t you wait for free agency to arrive and shop your talents.

(Then again, if agents start poking around and find out their guys aren’t going to have big deals waiting for them when free agency starts, the player may be motivated to get something done sooner.)

The franchise tag isn’t going to come into play, either. Last year it made a ton of sense to do it for defensive end Calais Campbell. You aren’t going to do it for a Hyphen or a Toler. So when free agency begins in early March, the Cardinals will likely be working on contracts for their own guys as well as anyone else on the market they will try to bring in.

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Breaking down the roster

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2013 – 3:24 pm

The combination of a 5-11 record and change with both the general manager and head coach usually leads to one thing: Roster turnover. Of course, none of that happens until the new GM and head coach are in place, and that isn’t happening tomorrow.

(Reiterating from Michael Bidwill on Monday: “It’s not going to move at lightning speed. You don’t want it to, because you learn a lot during your due diligence period.” Remember that concept.)

In the meantime, there are things to speculate upon. With that, here is my annual overview of the roster and where players stand contract-wise heading into the offseason. Free agency begins at 2 p.m. Arizona time on March 12. Until then, the Cardinals have the ability to re-sign any of their own players set to hit the market. With the shift in giving all draft picks at least four-year contracts, the shrinking of the restricted free agent market continues; the only RFA the Cards have is linebacker Brandon Williams, who was so far off the radar after being waived-injured back after training camp that he didn’t appear on the roster.

There are some key decisions to make:

– In terms of unrestricted free agents, it seems probable that all of them would choose to at least reach the market. At this point, there is probably nothing to lose, and would want to see their market value. The Cardinals need to figure out whether they want to lock down these guys. Of the 13 unrestricted guys on the market, the most intriguing include safety Rashad Johnson (given the looming decision on Adrian Wilson), linebacker Quentin Groves, running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, linebacker Paris Lenon and cornerback Greg Toler. I would not be shocked, especially with roster change, to see any of them leave. Lenon’s age works against him. Johnson’s future may be tied to whomever is coach.

– Of the players under contract, money may dictate change. We’ve covered QB Kevin Kolb’s situation plenty, but that will have to be figured out. I think the Cardinals would like to extend safety Kerry Rhodes, who has one more season, but he’s also due a $4.5 million salary and a $1 million reporting bonus next year and that might be too pricey for the team. I’d think they’d want to extend Rhodes and restructure the deal. He may end up in a Wilson situation from camp. Speaking of Wilson, does the team bring him back for a 13th season? That too may depend on the new decision-makers. Wilson is due a roster bonus in March so we may know soon. Curious to know what the Cards do with running back Beanie Wells, if anything.

Lots of questions like that. Obviously I’ve barely touched on most of them. It’s difficult to get too much of a read on them until those making the choices are in place. I think there are going to be plenty of comings and goings, and it won’t just be relegated to the coaching and GM searches.

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Cardinals living in Pick City

Posted by Darren Urban on December 17, 2012 – 2:58 pm

We’ve covered this before, but seriously, the interceptions keep piling up for the Cardinals. They now lead the NFL with 22 interceptions, one more than the team that comes in to visit University of Phoenix Stadium this weekend, the Chicago Bears. (The Cards, with 32 total takeaways, are fourth in the league in that department, with Chicago’s 37 topping the list.) Remember this team had only 10 interceptions all of last season.

And in all honesty, the Cardinals could have more this year. There was the one Adrian Wilson couldn’t quite hold on to against the Dolphins this year (although that would have been a spectacular effort and it certainly wouldn’t be considered a drop), and I can think of at least three that I remember in the hands of William Gay that he couldn’t quite snare. That’s just off the top of my head. Patrick Peterson gets the headlines with his seven, and deservedly so. But Kerry Rhodes has four, Gay, Rashad Johnson and Greg Toler two each.

“I wish we could lead the league in a number of different categories,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said Monday. “Maybe that would help us be a little bit better record-wise.”

They even punctuated this weekend’s trio with 186 return yards, the fifth-most interception return yards for an NFL team since 1970 and 66 more yards than the Cards had totaled on their first 19 picks of the season. The interceptions are a big reason the Cardinals are tops in the NFL when it comes to passer rating-against (68.0) and third in the NFL in completion percentage-against with 54.5.

“When you have 22, obviously it’s not going to be one guy or otherwise he’d be defensive MVP,” Whisenhunt said. “You’ve got a number of different guys that are making those kinds of plays.

“You think about the interceptions Patrick has had, some of those acrobatic ones down the field and even (Sunday’s) was another one like that. Our guys believe in what they are doing and they’re playing hard, and it’s nice to see them making some plays.”


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