The spring owners meetings get underway Monday here in town at the Biltmore, and among the many things that will go on will be the annual reveal of the compensatory picks for April’s draft.
A quick refresher for those who don’t know about comp picks: Each year, there are a bunch of extra draft picks sprinkled in through the draft (starting in the third round) that are awarded to teams with a net loss of free agents from the year before. The exact formula for doling out picks isn’t public, but it’s a mixture of the player, his free agent contract and performance. Basically, if you lose more free agents than you sign, you’ll get an extra pick or two.
(Or more, perhaps. Baltimore often lets players leave as free agents with the idea of stockpiling comp picks to replenish the roster with cheap labor. It’s great if you hit on many draft picks. The Ravens have made it an art form.)
As for the Cardinals, overthecap.com has estimated that the Cards are in line for an extra seventh-round pick. Now, there are caveats to the various qualifying players in this admittedly complicated guesswork. The Cards could conceivably get an extra fifth-rounder instead of a seventh or maybe no comp pick at all. As it stands, the Cardinals have their seven original draft picks, starting with the 24th overall in the first round. Last season, the Cardinals added tackle Jared Veldheer, wide receiver Ted Ginn, guard Ted Larsen and running back Jonathan Dwyer in free agency. They lost linebacker Karlos Dansby, wide receiver Andre Roberts, tight end Jim Dray and cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Javier Arenas. (Players that are cut by their previous team do not factor in the equation, which is why bringing in Antonio Cromartie did not hurt the Cards in this example and why losing Darnell Dockett this year will not help in next year’s comp equation.)
Tags: Andre Roberts, Antoine Cason, Antonio Cromartie, compensatory picks, Darnell Dockett, draft, Jared Veldheer, Javier Arenas, Jim Dray, Jonathan Dwyer, Karlos Dansby, Ravens, Ted Ginn, Ted Larsen
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Part of the collective bargaining agreement is the performance-based pay system every season. Each team has a pool of money — this year it is $3.46 million — to distribute among all the players who played for it the previous season. The money is doled out based on playing time and the amount of money you made in the first place. In other words, think of the lesser paid players (rookies, cheap starters) who played a ton. They get the most cash. There is a caveat. Players don’t actually get the money until April 1, 2016, an agreement made by the players’ union in a trade to have a larger 2013 salary cap.
For the Cardinals, safety Yeremiah Bell made the most. Bell was paid just $905,000 last season (adjusted, with his veteran status, to a $621,000 salary cap hit) but played almost 80 percent of the defensive snaps. That earned him an extra $263,097.
Nine Cardinals total earned an extra six figures through the distribution:
— T Bradley Sowell $247,150 ($480,000 adjusted compensation last season)
— G Paul Fanaika $223,625 ($683,500)
— S Tyrann Mathieu $209,788 ($570,625)
— TE Jim Dray $165,375 ($647,850)
— S Tony Jefferson $131,510 ($408,366)
— WR Jaron Brown $125,954 ($408,000)
— RB Andre Ellington $125,680 ($430,966)
— DL Frostee Rucker $104,261 ($624,200)
Everybody who played in a game got something — even linebacker Vic So’oto, who signed in Week 4 and briefly played against Tampa Bay before suffering an injury that ended his Arizona tenure. Of the nine, Dray, of course, is gone, having signed with the Browns. Bell is unsigned but there is still a chance the Cards could bring him back. The other seven are on the roster and figure to be a part of the 2014 roster.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bradley Sowell, CBA, Frostee Rucker, Jaron Brown, Jim Dray, Paul Fanaika, performance pay, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu, Vic So'oto, Yeremiah Bell
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The Cardinals made their first “big” free-agent signing Friday, getting tight end John Carlson to sign a two-year contract. Given the uncertainty at the position — Jeff King, Jim Dray, Jake Ballard and Kory Sperry all have expiring contracts — someone was going to have to sign to fill the spots.
Tags: Arizona State, free agency, Jake Ballard, Jeff King, Jim Dray, John Carlson, Kory Sperry, Will Sutton
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There was so much good. Carson Palmer, taking – basically – the week off and slicing and dicing the Rams regardless. Larry Fitzgerald being a frequent and effective target. John Abraham coming up with three sacks and making GM Steve Keim look like a genius for signing him. Karlos Dansby having yet another fantastic game and making Keim look like an uber-genius.
But it’s hard here on Sunday night to get past the Tyrann Mathieu knee injury. It’s probably a torn ACL. That’s the mood in the locker room and what Bruce Arians said, although the coach put in the caveat that Monday’s further tests are needed to cement such a diagnosis. Usually, if the team is willing to come out and say that’s probably what it is, that’s what it is. The Cardinals are fortunate to have a ton of defensive back depth, and assuming Mathieu is down Rashad Johnson goes back to starting and the Cards have Antoine Cason and/or Javier Arenas to fill in. It’s not ideal. There is a reason Mathieu was starting and playing so much and his versatility really helped this team. But we’ll hear all about next man up, because what else can you do?
— Abraham has 11 sacks. This was a guy unwanted – for his price, I’m sure – by the rest of the league before the Cards picked him up. He went sackless the first six games. Now he’s a menace. And he’s playing all the time. Abraham was thanking the Cards on Twitter for picking him up when no one else believed in him. The Cards need to be thanking him. He’s the first Card with double-digit sacks since Bertrand Berry had 14½ in 2004. Berry made the Pro Bowl. I don’t know if Abraham makes the Pro Bowl, but he deserves some thought.
— Speaking of Pro Bowl, Dansby anyone?
— I mean, what a season. It’s driving him batty he dropped all those picks early in the season, which cost him gaudier stats and probably a touchdown or two. As it is, Dansby now has six sacks, three interceptions and more than 100 tackles. Re-signing him is not going to be an easy process – which, because it’s because Dansby is playing so well, is not a horrible thing for Keim.
— The Cardinals went 8 for 14 on third downs. That was impressive. Easily the best percentage (57) of the season.
— I am probably the only one who cares, but I loved that Abraham was rocking the Vancouver Grizzlies Mike Bibby jersey as his post-game dress today. Not sure he knows Bibby is a Valley product, but Mike Bibby Griz? Priceless.
— Michael Floyd did not look like himself on his gimpy ankle. They got him a couple of late catches, but they need him to be healthy down the stretch.
— Jay Feely misses a 50-yard field goal, barely. OK. But then he missed a 25-yarder and we all know that does not sit well with Bruce Arians.
— They gave left tackle Bradley Sowell help and Palmer was smart about things, but the offensive line deserves credit for holding up the way they did in pass protection. And Arians deserves credit for making sure the coaching staff adjusted from Week One.
— Tight end problems? What tight end problems? Jared Cooks sliced up the Cards last time. Today? Three catches (in six targets) for 49 yards. And 31 of those yards were meaningless on the final play of the first half with the Cards playing prevent.
— The Cardinals got unlucky that tight end Jim Dray fumbled right before the goal line on what should have been Palmer’s second TD pass. They got lucky it was called a TD so a long return was negated – although the Cardinals clearly didn’t chase Janoris Jenkins on the runback having seen a touchdown signaled.
— You can’t say enough about Palmer. That first drive? Impressive. That TD drive right before halftime? More impressive.
— It was good the Cards snapped the NFC West losing streak. But as solid as the Rams can be, they aren’t the Seahawks or 49ers. Those tests still await.
Tags: Bradley Sowell, Carson Palmer, Jay Feely, Jim Dray, John Abraham, Karlos Dansby, Rams, Tyrann Mathieu
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The last four times the Cardinals have gone to San Francisco, it didn’t go particularly well. Even the oldest of those visits, the 2009 Monday night game in a season when the Cards would win 10 and make the playoffs and Kurt Warner was the quarterback, the Cards melted into a mess of turnovers in a disappointing loss.
Yet that game was also the last time weren’t just playing out the string by the time they got to Candlestick. The Cards were in the middle of a division chase back then, and – even though we’re just five games into the season – the same holds for Sunday.
So begins the toughest two-game stretch of the season for the Cardinals, this weekend’s visit to San Fran, with the Seahawks awaiting a Thursday game in Arizona a few days after. Well, I suppose the back-to-back might not be the toughest alone, since the Cards have to play in Seattle and then home against the 49ers the final two games of the season.
(Yikes, oh ye schedule gods.)
But this week will determine the Cards’ spot in the pecking order. A split, and the Cards can still talk NFC West. Two losses, and it’s a lot tougher. (We won’t talk about sweeps yet. Let’s see what happens in Frisco first.) The NFC isn’t top-heavy this year so far. The Cards could be a third-place team and still make the playoffs. But if they can get into Candlestick and topple the opponent for the first time since 2008 – the Super Bowl-bound Cards opened the season with a 23-13 win in SF – well then, it’ll quickly get interesting.
— Andre Roberts said the offense has been simplified heading into the 49ers game, and that seems to fit what is expected to be mostly rock-em-sock-em. Bruce Arians said the Cardinals aren’t changing their offensive goals – “You find reasons why and why not and try to fix them,” Arians said of his offense – but it did sound from QB Carson Palmer that he’s going to do what it takes not to put the Cards in bad positions this weekend.
— Still, the Cards are going to need to score points. This lack of execution the Cards have had, the bugaboo that Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts and Rob Housler all mentioned in some way, shape or form this week, has to change. Quickly. That’s the only way you are beating a team like the Niners.
“We know what to do (offensively) but not why we are doing it and sometimes that lack of continuity shows up,” Arians said.
— Speaking of offense, Candlestick was the site of Michael Floyd’s best NFL game, grabbing a bunch of passes from Brian Hoyer in last year’s finale en route to eight catches for 166 yards and a score. Floyd hasn’t had more than five catches in a game yet this season, but he does have 301 yards and has played well.
— In three wins, the Cardinals’ defense has not allowed a point. The only second-half score against the Cards in those three games was a pick-6 Palmer threw against Detroit.
“I think it’s just about playing hard and guys settling down in the game,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “We just need to start faster than we have been starting.”
— Cardinals tight end Jim Dray knows 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Dray was at Stanford when Harbaugh came in and resuscitated a struggling football program. “It’s just a culture shock when he came to Stanford,” Dray said. “He completely changed the culture and the attitude. It really brings the team together. That’s the biggest thing, he brings the winning culture.”
— In Anquan Boldin’s first game in the NFL, he had 10 catches for 217 yards and exploded on to the NFL scene. A decade later, in his first game for the 49ers to open this season, Boldin had 13 catches for 208 yards, making a pair of impressive NFC West debuts.
“The biggest difference was we got the win this time,” said Boldin, whose muffed punt return helped Detroit beat the Cardinals way back when during Boldin’s first NFL game. “For me that’s all that matters. I’ve been through the whole putting-up-stats, breaking this record, doing this and that. My only goal right now is just to win and win championships.”
— Said Fitzgerald of his friend Boldin, “It’ll be weird to see him over there. This is probably only the second time in my career I’ve rooted against him … but we need this game more than they need it.”
Fitz has only played against Boldin one other time, a 2011 game when the Cards lost in Baltimore. Boldin had seven catches for 145 yards.
— And no, I don’t particularly believe Boldin when he says this is just another game. I don’t think the fire burns in him for this organization the way it once did, not now that he’s won his Super Bowl, but I’d be stunned if this didn’t mean something extra to him.
— Earlier this week, Arians said he’d talk to Colts coach Chuck Pagano, after the Colts handled the 49ers in San Francisco this season. Then again, the Niners shifted their game after that one and started running more. The Cards will have to stop the run, and we’ll see where it goes from there.
— I know Fitz said he loves Candlestick for the history — Jerry Rice played there, and Fitz has a fondest for the greatest receiver of all time, because he’d like to get there some day — but really, I’m not sure how many people are really going to miss it. I know I won’t. One more trip there.
Tags: 49ers, Andre Roberts, Anquan Boldin, Bruce Arians, Chuck Pagano, Jim Dray, Jim Harbaugh, Michael Floyd, NFC West, Seahawks, Todd Bowles
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GM Steve Keim has said many times he will continue to churn the roster at the bottom if necessary, and I have no doubt that will happen. But there are also financial restraints in the form of the salary cap that have to be accounted for too when it comes to player moves.
Right now, the Cardinals are confirmed to have slightly more than $4 million in salary cap space. Most players (if not all) signed from this point forward will be for minimum contracts, and will have minimum impact on the salary cap (and if they are signed and another guy cut, it may end up a virtual cap wash.) With that small amount of space too, it limits contract extensions in season.
(In fact, as overthecap.com noted, it may be a slow year for in-season extensions across the league because of tight cap space.)
Who would be in line for an in-season extension? There are plenty of guys under one-year deals, but judging both by value and a potential future, of the players due to be unrestricted free agents after the season, I could see guard Paul Fanaika, tight end Jim Dray, tackle Eric Winston or defensive end/linebacker Matt Shaughnessy. That doesn’t mean they all will (or any of them, for that matter) or even that we are talking about giant contracts. But I wouldn’t be shocked. It’ll depend on how they play too.
Of course, the big extension everyone is expecting/waiting on is one for cornerback Patrick Peterson. The Cards can’t start those talks until the day after the regular season based on the CBA and Peterson’s need to be three years into his career (the 49ers have the same thing going on with Colin Kaepernick right now.) But he’ll be extended, probably to a pretty rich deal, and he’ll be the defensive cornerstone guy like Larry Fitzgerald has been the guy on the offensive side.
Tags: Eric Winston, Jim Dray, Matt Shaughnessy, Patrick Peterson, Paul Fanaika, Roster, salary cap
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The first depth chart of the regular season — officially unofficial that it is — is out. Yes, the team puts one out but let’s face it, there is nothing making the coaches stay true to it, so as usual, there is a grain of salt aspect that must come with it. That said, Ryan Williams, after everything he went through in training camp, is still listed as the No. 2 running back behind Rashard Mendenhall. Stepfan Taylor is three, Alfonso Smith four, Andre Ellington fifth.
The rest of the chart doesn’t change much. Jim Dray is listed as a starter now with Rob Housler in the two-tight end sets. That’s no surprise. Dray has been the steadiest tight end the Cards have had. New tackle Bradley Sowell is listed as a right tackle, third on the depth chart behind Eric Winston and Bobby Massie. As always, you can view the whole chart here: http://www.azcardinals.com/team/depth-chart.html
— The Cardinals had a handful of jersey number changes too, the most significant being veteran linebacker John Abraham’s ability to go back to wearing No. 55. That comes compliments of fellow veteran LB Karlos Dansby, who will take the No. 56 of the departed Reggie Walker. Also changing were Winston, who takes No. 73 from No. 65, linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who takes No. 52 from No. 54, and safety Tony Jefferson, who goes to No. 22 from No. 36.
— UPDATE: The Cards filled out the final three spots on the practice squad with LB Kenny Demens (cut earlier this week), DT Anthony McCloud (cut by Minnesota) and WR Sam McGuffie (cut by Oakland).
— Don’t forget the first of weekly Tuesday chats today at 2 p.m. The link is right here.
— In case you missed it, here is a photo gallery from Larry Fitzgerald’s trip to Pitt last night to get his No. 1 jersey retired.
Tags: Anthony McCloud, depth chart, Eric Winston, Jasper Brinkley, jersey numbers, Jim Dray, John Abraham, Karlos Dansby, Kenny Demens, Larry Fitzgerald, practice squad, Rob Housler, Roster, Ryan Williams, Sam McGuffie, Tony Jefferson
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When Bruce Arians walked in the door, one of the first things he emphasized was that he was a two-tight end man.
The tight end was a key in his offense. Fullbacks were unnecessary (and in this case, a surprising bargaining chip of the offseason, after Anthony Sherman was traded for the impressive cornerback Javier Arenas.) The roster was shaped, a (seventh-round) draft pick was spent on a tight end and Arians went about building his offense. As training camp comes to a close, tight end remains important to the Cardinals. But questions swirl around the position, especially since they are so important.
Tight end starts with Rob Housler. He’s had a quiet preseason, but Arians said that is because he wanted to look at other players. “It’s more blocking and I think he’s improved tremendously,” Arians said. “He’s had some he could have finished better, but I think he’s improved in his all-around. We know he can run and catch. We’ve got a bunch of packages where we can feature him. He’s a given to me. I don’t need to see that part.”
Housler will be a given as receiver (and in my opinion, he has improved as a blocker.) Beyond him? Right now, factoring in practice reps, health, production, the under-the-radar Jim Dray is No. 2. Dray is fascinating in some regards. The one-time seventh-rounder keeps sticking around, an excellent special teams player under Ken Whisenhunt and now the kind of guy drawn up perfectly for Arians — with the ability to drop into the backfield as an H-back/fullback if needed. Veteran Jeff King was supposed to be in the mix, but continuing knee troubles have kept him sidelined a ton, and you have to wonder about his future. Kory Sperry was impressing Arians early and he’ll need to be around.
D.C. Jefferson, the seventh-round rookie, looks the part and seems like he has promise. But he is so raw he may be better suited to the practice squad, if he can clear waivers. I’m not sure Mickey Shuler has made enough in-roads to stick around.
You figure the Cards need at least four tight ends on the active roster. Tight end remains, in my mind, the number one position Steve Keim will watch as cuts are made across the league. While it’s no lock the Cards claim/sign another tight end, it wouldn’t be surprising at all. It’s too important to Arians not to keep searching.
Tags: Anthony Sherman, Bruce Arians, D.C. Jefferson, Javier Arenas, Jeff King, Jim Dray, Kory Sperry, Mickey Shuler, Rob Housler
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The Cardinals got Rashard Mendenhall on the field for the first time Saturday and got a little taste of what their starting running back would look like. It turned out OK. Mendenhall gained 32 yards on seven carries, and for a guy who has a reputation for getting better as his carries move along, that 4.6-yard average was encouraging.
A look at Mendenhall’s seven carries (and a couple of other plays in which Mendenhall was meaningful):
1st and 10, AZ 20 – With three tight ends in the game for the first offensive play of the day, left guard Jonathan Cooper pulls right and tight end Jim Dray also pulls from the same side. There is no real running room as Mendenhall gets to the right tackle area, and Mendenhall loses a yard.
1st and 10, DAL 22 – Two wide receivers, two tight ends. The Cards come off the ball straight ahead. Tight end Rob Housler manages a decent block to pinch a Dallas defender into the line as Mendenhall goes behind the block and hit apparent daylight – except linebacker Sean Lee, diving, gets enough of Mendenhall’s foot and leg to trip him up so he gains just five yards.
1st and 15, AZ 6 – One tight end and three wide receivers. After a holding penalty, With Mendenhall the lone guy deep in the backfield (actually in the end zone), he gets a delayed handoff. He’s nearly tackled at the goal line by charging Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Ware but Mendenhall escapes. Unfortunately, it slows him down enough that the Cowboys collapse, and Cooper is unable to hold off defensive end George Selvie as Selvie tackles Mendenhall after a one-yard gain.
1st and 10, AZ 26 – Two tight ends, although Housler is playing fullback. He and wide receiver Michael Floyd are the key blocks as Mendenhall heads over the Cooper/Levi Brown area on the left side for seven yards.
1st and 10, DAL 26 – Two tight ends lined up on the left. Floyd comes in motion from the left wide to come in tight on the left end of the line. Mendenhall grinds out three yards up the middle with the Cowboys not really giving any room.
2nd and 7 DAL 23 – Three wide receivers. Cards block hat-on-hat. Housler at tight end does OK on his block on the right side. WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts do a nice job on the right side too, and Mendenhall goes over right tackle for six yards.
3rd and 1 DAL 17 – On a short play, rookie running back Stepfan Taylor lines up as a fullback in the offset I with Mendenhall. Taylor gets the handoff as the up back for a two-yard gain.
4th and 2, DAL 7 – The Cardinals call a perfect play-action pass on fourth down. Mendenhall slips into the flat wide-open for what should be an easy first down. Quarterback Carson Palmer is pressured, but the underthrown ball at Mendenhall’s feet is a disappointing end to the play. Incomplete.
1st and 10, AZ 4 – Three wideouts and a tight end. Mendehall is four yards deep in the end zone. Cooper pulls again (see a trend?) and seals linebacker Brandon Magee to create a hole near right tackle. Fitzgerald has a nice second-level block on the defensive back. Mendenhall breaks a tackle and has good power on the finish, driving for a first down.
Tags: Andre Roberts, Cowboys, Jim Dray, Jonathan Cooper, Larry Fitzgerald, Levi Brown, Michael Floyd, Rashard Mendenhall, Rob Housler
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Here’s one way to look at it, and a good one, from coach Bruce Arians when talking about gaining team chemistry in training camp: “This is not a time for chemistry. My philosophy is, we’re not the Cardinals yet. Now we are 90 guys trying to get a job. We’ll become the Cardinals when 53 of them are picked. Then we will be a team.”
Along those lines, since we are talking about guys winning jobs, here are some observations a few days into camp that could play into that:
— One cornerback who has made a lot of plays is Javier Arenas. It could turn into a nice pickup given the price to get Arenas — FB Anthony Sherman — was going to be released anyway. Arenas broke up a bomb to Patrick Peterson yesterday and fought Larry Fitzgerald into one incompletion today. He’s not perfect, of course, but given all the other cornerbacks, he’s just going to make cutdown harder. The fact he could be the kickoff return man also plays into his favor.
— I think CB Jerraud Powers has made some plays too.
— Michael Floyd has looked good. Not that it’s a surprise. It’s a continuation of what he did this summer.
— Bruce Arians noted that Paul Fanaika, the Arizona State product who signed as a tackle, has done well in transition to guard. Lo and behold, he’s second-string right guard, which means he’s starting while Daryn Colledge is sidelined with his leg injury.
— That also means fourth-round pick Earl Watford is pretty far down the depth chart right now. Watford looks the part but he’s raw. He’s got work to do and it will be interesting to see how he does in preseason games.
— Didn’t see tight end Jeff King, who sat out Sunday’s practice, at Monday’s afternoon practice. Not sure what it is. Maybe it is related to the knee issue he was rehabbing from this offseason. Alex Gottlieb is already nursing a sore hamstring. And then Kory Sperry left the field early in Monday’s work. Newly acquired Mickey Shuler was there but he had arrived so close to practice he wasn’t even wearing Cardinals gear yet, much less practicing. The Cards are thin at the spot right now. Rookie D.C. Jefferson got a ton of reps (along with Rob Housler and Jim Dray.)
— The defensive coaches continue to mix-n-match a lot of the lineups. One nickel package had four linemen, although John Abraham was on the right side standing up, with Calais Campbell at RDE/RDT (depending on if you’re counting Abraham as a linebacker or end), Frostee Rucker as DT/NT and Matt Shaughnessy as LDE. Reggie Walker and Karlos Dansby were the linebackers (although Walker was in for Jasper Brinkley, sidelined with a sore knee).
— The first-string base defense continues to include Campbell, Dan Williams, Dockett up front; Alexander, Dansby, Brinkley, Acho at linebacker; Powers and Peterson at cornerback and Johnson and Bell at safety. Tyrann Mathieu continues to get lots of reps, not only at safety but nickel cover corner too.
— Running back talk is always going to start with Mendenhall and Ryan Williams while Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington have impressed Arians too. But to me, Alfonso Smith is going to make it very hard to cut him loose. The guy competes and he’s looked good when he’s gotten chances. He may again run into a numbers game, but Smith has made an impression.
— Speaking of making an impression, the defensive linemen tend to do that when they hit the sled:
Tags: Alex Gottlieb, Alfonso Smith, Andre Ellington, Bruce Arians, Calais Campbell, D.C. Jefferson, Dan Williams, Earl Watford, Frostee Rucker, Jasper Brinkley, Jeff King, Jerraud Powers, Jim Dray, John Abraham, Karlos Dansby, Kory Sperry, Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Shaughnessy, Michael Floyd, Mickey Shuler, Paul Fanaika, Rashard Mendenhall, Reggie Walker, Rob Housler, Ryan Williams, Sam Acho, Stepfan Taylor, Tyrann Mathieu
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