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For what it’s worth in June, offensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 23, 2017 – 11:40 am

With about a month left before training camp (already?!?), it’s time to take a look at who I think the offensive starters will be come Sept. 10, when the Cardinals play the Lions in Detroit to begin the regular season. Could a training camp signing change things? Sure. I see more of a chance of that defensively than offensively.

My defensive thoughts are here. And after that, the blog posts will slow. Time off coming.

QB – Carson Palmer. You can’t get anywhere without a quarterback. Palmer finished strong in 2016. He’s a year older, yes, and no one is calling him a top-five QB. But he’s still very good when the offense functions well, and when his receivers don’t let him down.

RB – David Johnson. MVP-type player. Is he going to get 100 scrimmage yards every game? Maybe not, but he’s certainly going to have the opportunity. With his skills, and health, I’m not ruling out a 1,000-1,000 season.

WR – Larry Fitzgerald. After Bruce Arians had said more than once Fitz’s 100-catch days were behind him, Fitz has had two straight 100-catch seasons. Won’t be surprised to see him do it again. The question will be, is this his last season?

WR – Smokey Brown. He says he’s healthy. The Cards need him to be. Rookie Chad Williams may have an intriguing future, but this year, the Cardinals need the I-can-get-1,000-yards John Brown.

TE – Jermaine Gresham. So many have questioned his new large contract. But he’s been the best tight end the Cards have had since he showed up, and he does deliver some intangibles on the field this team can use.

TE – Troy Niklas. It’s a leap, yes, to assume Niklas will stay healthy. But every time, in the brief times, Niklas has been on the field, they like what he has brought. He’s not going to be a big pass-catcher. But he can block and he’ll play an important role – again, if he’s on the field.

LT – D.J. Humphries. He’s better suited for the left side. It’s tough for Jared Veldheer, but given ages and the future, this was all but predetermined when Humphries was drafted.

LG – Mike Iupati. Wasn’t as good in 2016 as he was in 2015, but I expect a rally. It’s important too – given his salary going forward, his age and the drafting of Dorian Johnson, the spotlight will be bright.

C – A.Q. Shipley. Showed the Cardinals he could start in this league. No reason to think he won’t again.

RG – Evan Boehm. I don’t see Johnson jumping into this job. Not yet. This is probably the second-most likely spot Keim could grab a vet, behind only No. 2 cornerback. But as it stands, Boehm is probably going to be out there.

RT – Jared Veldheer. Veldheer didn’t want to move from left to right tackle, but he did for the good of the team. Is there a transition to be made? Yes. Somehow, I don’t have much concern that Veldheer will make it work successfully.


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Comings, goings, kickers and Dansby

Posted by Darren Urban on March 9, 2017 – 5:21 pm

Free agency started Thursday and it was busy. As expected, Calais Campbell left, as did Tony Jefferson. And D.J. Swearinger. The Cardinals kept center A.Q. Shipley, and they found a new safety in Antoine Bethea. Things are moving at a rapid pace all across the league. That’s pretty normal.

— The safety trio of Tyrann Mathieu, Tyvon Branch and Antoine Bethea should be OK if Mathieu and Branch can stay healthy. That’s the hope.

— It’ll be Boehm vs. Shipley for starting center. Nick Mangold isn’t walking through that door. Don’t forget that the Cardinals felt comfortable with the job Shipley did last season. Boehm will get his chance, but I don’t think the Cards are worried if Shipley is the starter again this season.

— Bethea was released, so he does not count in the compensatory pick equation. Campbell, Jefferson and Swearinger will, and with the large deals Campbell and Jefferson got, the Cardinals are well ahead in the 2018 comp pick game. So there’s that.

— It looks like linebacker Karlos Dansby could end up with a third tenure with the Cardinals. That’s huge, man. Huge. Mostly because Kevin Minter — the man who replaced him after the 2013 season — is a free agent and who knows if he will return. Dansby had more than 100 tackles with the Bengals last season, so he’s still plugging along.

— Dansby is older (he’ll be 36 during the season) but not as old as kicker Phil Dawson, the former 49er who looks like he’ll be coming to Arizona as well. If Dawson does, that’s the steady kicker the Cards didn’t have a season ago. The Cards have moved on from Chandler Catanzaro.

— Like Catanzaro, tight end Darren Fells was a restricted free agent whom the team did not tender. Fells is going to visit the Lions.

— Should hear something soon on the official front with the Chandler Jones extension, but judging by reports it’s going to look a lot like Olivier Vernon money ($80+M in potential value, $50+M in guarantees.) Which makes sense, because Vernon’s deal always was the likely benchmark for an extension.

— On the first day of the new league year, the NFLPA had the Cardinals with $21.3 million of salary cap space. That’d be prior to Bethea and Shipley signing (and tight end Jermaine Gresham, who officially signed his contract Thursday as well.)

Day one is done. Hopefully.


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Keim on the future of the Cards’ receivers

Posted by Darren Urban on December 26, 2016 – 8:22 am

One of the big things Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim is going to have to deal with this offseason is the receivers room. It could be in major flux. Michael Floyd is already gone, Larry Fitzgerald could retire, and Smoke Brown is still trying to fully handle his sickle-cell issues. Monday, during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, Keim spoke on many of those players.

When it comes it Fitz, “he still loves the game and still plays at a high level,” Keim said. “There’s no doubt in my mind he should play next year.” Of course, Keim added, that will be up to Fitz. J.J. Nelson was fantastic in Seattle with 132 yards on three catches, including two giant plays that boosted the win. As far as him as a potential No. 2 receiver, “I’m not sure what his ceiling is, I just know he is a big-play guy.” He did say he thinks receivers coach Darryl Drake has helped Nelson become more physical. (But I’d agree, I think Nelson is developing into a nice and needed piece in the offense, but I don’t see him as a potential big-volume guy week-to-week.)

As for Brown, Keim acknowledged it is “always a concern when you can’t put a finger on exactly what is happening” when it comes to Brown’s health. But he said Brown will see specialists as soon as the offseason ends so that he and the Cardinals can find the proper way for both Brown to be healthy and for him to find again what was making him special on the field. “He’s a guy we are counting on,” Keim added.

— Keim has been very impressed — other than his foolish taunting penalty — with tight end Jermaine Gresham. The Cardinals have needed some emotional fire on offense, and Gresham definitely helps with that. “His physicality, mindset and passion for the game is something that has really excited me this year,” Keim said, noting Gresham’s effort in blocking more than anything. It’ll be interesting to see what Gresham does as a free agent, after signing here for little last season when he could’ve gotten a lot more money elsewhere. (And he needs to avoid the terrible penalties because of his emotions too.)

— Not surprisingly, he had praise for the offensive line, given the circumstances. “If you told me in August we’d beat Seattle in Seattle with John Wetzel and Earl Watford at tackle and Evan Boehm at guard, it’d certainly make me wonder,” Keim said. “For the most part those guys did the job.”

Carson Palmer was under pressure more than once but he was sacked only once and physically, the offensive line stayed toe-to-toe with a much-more celebrated opponent.

— There were a couple of throws he thought Palmer would’ve wanted back, but other than that, Palmer was sharp, Keim said. “He’s a competitor and true pro,” Keim said. “He’s been very, very good the last several weeks.”

— Another young player who held up was cornerback-turned-safety Harlan Miller, who played every snap at free safety when Tony Jefferson got hurt on the punt team before he even played a defensive play. Miller, by the way, hadn’t played safety before. “It was interesting,” Keim said. “On Friday, when B.A. came into my office and I let him know we were going to put Tyrann on IR, he told me that if Tony or D.J. Swearinger went down, we’d be in trouble just from a depth standpoint. Sure enough, first play of the game, Tony Jefferson is out.

“Harlan trots on to the field, and to his credit, the guy has never played safety before, coach Nick Rapone and James Bettcher put him in a position where he made a few plays and didn’t hurt the team. He’s another young guy who stepped up.”

— Finally, a good day for special teams. “That’s a group that’s been maligned and rightfully so,” Keim said. “But they stepped up to the plate.”


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Fitz: Retirement? Figure out dinner first

Posted by Darren Urban on July 31, 2016 – 12:06 pm

Larry Fitzgerald met with the media today, and while there wasn’t much news out of it — OK, really no news — the Pro Bowl wide receiver was asked about retirement in the form of whether this would be his last training camp.

I have no idea,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t even know what I’m having for dinner. Let’s start with the basics.”

That was the extent of the conversation, which figures to be a season-long topic that can’t be answered, because I think Fitz is exactly right — he doesn’t have any idea how his future is going to play out. Not yet.

Fitz did make clear how he feels about training camp though. He’s never been a fan, and that doesn’t change.

“Training camp stinks when you are bad (as a team), training camp stinks when you’re good,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s training camp.”

A reporter asked him about the grind of camp. That was a non-starter.

“Coach doesn’t allow us to call training camp a grind,” Fitzgerald said. “He says we stay in a five-star hotel, practice indoors. So it’s not a grind.”

— Bruce Arians said there was no new injury news. DT Red Bryant (Achilles) will miss one more day, while TE Jermaine Gresham (hamstring) is probably out another couple of days.

— Arians is looking forward to the players finally having pads in practice, which starts today. “A lot of the mental work is done, now it’s time to get the physical part of it started,” Arians said. “Making sure we get our pad level down and start playing football.”

FitzRetireDinner


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Broken hand for Jenkins and B.A. update

Posted by Darren Urban on July 30, 2016 – 12:49 pm

The injury bug didn’t take long to find the Cardinals in camp. Veteran cornerback Mike Jenkins, signed in part because Justin Bethel was going to miss time with a linger foot injury and who is on the PUP list, broke a bone in his hand Friday and is out indefinitely for now.

Arians also revealed that the ankle sprain of rookie defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche is of the high variety, meaning Nkemdiche will be out at least a couple of weeks.

— DT Red Bryant (Achilles soreness) and TE Jermaine Gresham (hamstring tightness) also aren’t expected to practice today.

— Arians said cornerback Brandon Williams “had a hell of a day” in his first practice. “He got beat by Smoke (Brown for a TD) but he was there, just turned the wrong way and got off balance. But he broke up some good balls. Nice thing was after the touchdown he came back and competed his ass off. Some guys would go in the tank.”

— Quarterback Matt Barkley has made steady improvement, Arians said, but there are things like seeing hots and sights that aren’t good enough. “As much as he’s grown, he’s still not making the progress I’d like to see him make,” Arians said. (An aside: It wouldn’t be a shock to see the Cards carry two QBs on the active roster either.)

— At one point in the first practice, QB Carson Palmer got partially rolled from behind by offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Arians admitted he held his breath after that play, and a couple others. “There was a lot of ‘phew’ yesterday,” Arians said.


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Mathieu and the Cards’ contract cliff

Posted by Darren Urban on May 16, 2016 – 10:25 am

Tyrann Mathieu is going to get a contract extension. When, exactly, remains an unknown, although Ian Rapoport reported Monday the team and Mathieu are “deep in negotiations” toward a deal. I’ve long felt this was a matter of when and not if with the all-pro safety. For a multitude of reasons for both sides, it behooves both to get a new contract done.

But from the Cardinals’ end, a big reason to want to lock up Mathieu is because of the laundry list of players who, as of right now, are free agents after this upcoming season. It’s a subject we’ve talked about before, and the reality is not everyone will be with the Cardinals after this year. Still, if you have hope to having some guys around, you’d think the Cards would want to pare down the work facing them before this year ends. Here is the list — and it doesn’t include every single FA-to-be — of guys who are contract-less after 2016, as it stands right now:

— S Tyrann Mathieu
— WR Larry Fitzgerald
— OLB Chandler Jones
— DT Calais Campbell
— WR Michael Floyd
— G Evan Mathis
— DT Frostee Rucker
— RB Chris Johnson
— RB Andre Ellington
— S Tony Jefferson
— TE Jermaine Gresham
— OLB Alex Okafor
— ILB Kevin Minter
— WR Jaron Brown
— S D.J. Swearinger
— RB Stepfan Taylor

That isn’t the entire list, but those are the bigger names. Obviously, each are taken individually to an extent. Some guys the team will just move on from in the normal course of roster change in a salary-capped world. But big picture, it’s a puzzle GM Steve Keim and his department are working on as this season approaches.

Contacrtcliffblog


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A return for Gresham

Posted by Darren Urban on March 13, 2016 – 2:07 pm

Tight end Jermaine Gresham, a free agent, had been looking around. He talked to the Bears, he talked to the Jets. But multiple reports have Gresham choosing to stick with the Cardinals, at least for another season. More interestingly, Adam Schefter reported that Gresham passed up a four-year deal with $12 million in guaranteed money to return the the Cards for less.

Gresham’s return would seem to solidify the tight end position if the Cardinals decide not to draft one. Already back after signing their tender offers were Darren Fells and Ifeanyi Momah, while Gerald Christian is coming off a knee injury and former second-round pick Troy Niklas heads into his third season. Gresham did have a career-low of 18 catches last season, although a career-best 12.4 yards per reception. The Cardinals liked the job he did blocking as well.

Schefter is also reporting that the Cardinals are getting a visit from Panthers free-agent guard Amini Silatolu. Silatolu played in only nine games, starting three, in 2015. He is coming off an ACL tear in his left knee suffered in November, and would be depth potential on an offensive line that is likely to lose Ted Larsen in free agency.

Jermaine Gresham


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Gresham out, but Jefferson to play vs. Vikings

Posted by Darren Urban on December 10, 2015 – 4:59 pm

The Cardinals will not have tight end Jermaine Gresham tonight because of his knee, but that wasn’t unexpected after he was listed as doubtful. More work for Troy Niklas alongside Darren Fells, and I’d think A.Q. Shipley or Jonathan Cooper could get tight end work in jumbo packages.

Injuries actually made the inactive list for tonight’s game fairly simple. With the short week, those extra couple of days might have helped a couple of guys. Safety Tony Jefferson (hamstring) is active, although the Cards have new safety D.J. Swearinger if needed.

The full list of inactives:

— QB Matt Barkley

— CB Jerraud Powers (calf)

— RB Andre Ellington (toe)

— LB Shaq Riddick

— T D.J. Humphries

— TE Jermaine Gresham (knee)

— DT Frostee Rucker (ankle)

 


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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.

UNRESTRICTED-TO-BE

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

RESTRICTED-TO-BE
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.

Freeagentgresham


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Keim: Trade talks, but “no reason to panic”

Posted by Darren Urban on November 2, 2015 – 8:16 am

The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday. Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said there are always talks going on, but there is “nothing imminent.”

“It’s always tough to pull off a deal,” Keim said Monday during his appearance on “Doug and Wolf” on Arizona Sports 98.7. Teams often want more than other teams are willing to give up. “We’re in a position where we feel pretty good about our roster,” Keim said. “There is no reason to panic.”

He was asked specifically about finding a pass rusher. Keim noted teams aren’t trading pass rushers (they’re not) unless a) they make too much money for what they are or b) there is another issue off-the-field. That’s what happens. Teams need pass rushers too much to ever want to trade a decent one.

Keim was also asked about possible contract extensions. It was reported Sunday Keim has been talking extension with running back Chris Johnson, which isn’t a surprise (and I’d guess CJ isn’t the only one that the team has talked with about a deal.) But talks don’t mean a deal is close. Sometimes, it just means the team and the agent trade ideas of what they are looking for. There are a lot of variables that go into this.

“To get a deal done, it needs to be beneficial to both team and player,” Keim said. “Sometimes that’s difficult to do.”

When a player is eight games away (plus playoffs?) from unrestricted free agency and the open market, there are reasons to want to wait. And the Cardinals want to make sure their deals fit the budget and the future plan and all the puzzle pieces that come together for the 2016 roster, and the 2017 roster, etc.

As for the rest of Keim’s thoughts …

— Keim said he is not satisfied with the season given what the Cardinals still have to work on, but “but I feel good about the record. We’re in a pretty good position.” The Cardinals are 6-2, after all.

— Keim praised the “attitude and toughness” of tight end Jermaine Gresham, noting that Gresham is coming into his own. Gresham did make a couple of nice third-down catches Sunday.

— Michael Floyd also had his best game of the year. “With Mike, we were never down on him,” Keim said. Floyd just had to wait for his opportunities with all the weapons the Cardinals have. A quick aside: Floyd was big Sunday with John Brown not playing. We’ll see how they mesh when Brown gets back on the field.

— Keim was happy with the play of rookie wideout J.J. Nelson. The speed is obvious. Keim liked his stop-and-start ability and his precise route-running.


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