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On CJ and other free agency odds and ends

Posted by Darren Urban on March 16, 2016 – 7:49 pm

On a day when the Cardinals nabbed Evan Mathis for the offensive line — the team’s second outside free agent acquired, exactly one week into free agency — GM Steve Keim wasn’t sure how much more the team will do in signing players. “I think we’re at a point where you let it come to you,” Keim said. The price has to be right in every spot. And there are still some moving parts.

— Running back Chris Johnson was in Miami to visit the Dolphins Wednesday. The Cardinals could still bring Johnson back, but with David Johnson in place, both the money and opportunities for CJ2K in Arizona would be limited. From afar, it looks like the Dolphins — who lost Lamar Miller to free agency — could offer more of both. UPDATE: Johnson is coming back.

— Karlos Dansby was cut by the Browns Wednesday — interestingly, two years after going to Cleveland, after the Cards offered a two-year contract themselves back in 2014. (Although Dansby got more guaranteed money from the Browns, so financially, it made more sense). The Cardinals will look at Dansby, but a third term as a Card seems unlikely. At 34, he’s likely not the same physically he was two or three years ago. Plus, would Los go for a minimum salary-type of deal?

— The visit of guard Geoff Schwartz doesn’t figure to happen now that Mathis was signed. Haven’t heard anything else about tackle Andre Smith. UPDATE: Smith signed with the Vikings.

— Cornerback Leon Hall visited Dallas after Arizona, but Hall still isn’t signed (which likely says something about how Hall has overpriced himself at this point.) It still stands to reason the Cards want to sign a veteran cornerback. Maybe it could still be Hall. It could still be Jerraud Powers.


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Weatherspoon exits as rare one-year miss

Posted by Darren Urban on March 11, 2016 – 10:18 am

Steve Keim has proved excellent at bringing in players on one-year deals and having them make an impact: Eric Winston, Matt Shaughnessy, Karlos Dansby, Antonio Cromartie, Larry Foote, Chris Johnson, Dwight Freeney. They won’t all work out, though, and Sean Weatherspoon — which looked so promising when it happened — did not work out.

Weatherspoon is re-signing with the Falcons after his one year out West. Weatherspoon only had 12 tackles in an extremely limited defensive role (he played just 125 snaps all season) over 14 games. He needed to show he could stay healthy again and he did that, although it was a red flag to his time in Arizona when he was active but didn’t play against the Rams in October and then the next week, was a healthy scratch against the Lions.

It’s hard to believe that Weatherspoon played with the first unit through the entire offseason work, although at that point, Deone Bucannon was working a lot at safety too. But training camp came, Weatherspoon’s hamstring became a problem, and when he missed most of the month, he had dug himself a hole he could never escape — especially after Kevin Minter showed more than expected when he was on the field.

To Spoon’s credit, he never sulked (although he did seem resigned to the fact early on he wasn’t moving up the depth chart). It was clear he wouldn’t be around in 2016. And that’s the upside about seeking one-year deals. Yes, sometimes a guy like a Dansby blows up and leaves for another team. Then you have a “miss” like Weatherspoon who creates no issue because his contract is up and both sides can just move on.

SpoonBlog


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Friday — and Christmas — before the Packers

Posted by Darren Urban on December 25, 2015 – 6:53 pm

The last time the Packers visited University of Phoenix Stadium, it ended up being the end of an era. It was a fantastic game, with Kurt Warner finishing with more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four) in what he knew at the time was his final game at home. And, of course, there was the stunning overtime ending, when reserve defensive back Michael Adams came in on a blitz to strip-sack (with the help of a missed facemask/hands to the face call) Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, with linebacker Karlos Dansby returning it for the touchdown.

“Yeah, I think there might have been something like that,” Rodgers said this week.

The return visit Sunday for the Packers is not a playoff game. Both teams will be in the playoffs regardless of the loser. But it means so much for both sides. For the Cardinals, wrapping up a bye – with an injury list that has grown the last couple of weeks – would be nice.

The players know this. The talk in the locker room has been all about clinching that bye. The focus after clinching the division hasn’t waned, not outwardly (something that didn’t seem to be the case back in 2008 when the Cards clinched.)

— Arians had a big smile Friday afternoon. The Cardinals held practice much later than a normal Friday, in order to allow for Christmas morning home with the family. Arians also allowed for families to attend practice, making for a relatively sizable group watching.

“Largest crowd ever today,” Arians said with a grin.

— Quarterback Carson Palmer was limited all week because of the finger that got dinged in Philly, but he’s fine. Arians said he looked very good in practice Thursday and Friday.

— Palmer, by the way, turns 36 on Sunday. Wouldn’t be a bad birthday present to himself to get a win.

— If the Cards win and sew up a bye – and the Panthers win, which would seal the No. 2 seed – the finale against the Seahawks will mean nothing. So might Arians rest players? “Hopefully, we can have that conversation,” he said.

But Arians did chuckle at the idea of “resting starters,” noting the Cardinals can only dress 46 players total and injuries can play a factor on who is available. “We’re talking maybe three to five possible guys (to rest),” Arians said.

— With two games left, the Cardinals have already surpassed their rushing yards total by more than 400 yards this season. The Cards, sixth in the NFL in rushing, have gained 1,769 yards on the ground. And now Andre Ellington should be back to supplement David Johnson.

— The Cardinals have 52 touchdowns this season and only 51 punts. That’s a crazy stat. The franchise record for TDs in a season is 53, set in 1948. That should be broken Sunday.

— Hope everyone had a good Christmas. On to Sunday – which just happens to be the Cardinals’ first afternoon home game since they lost to the Rams way back on Oct. 4. Lots of road games and primetime games since then.

PackersBeforeBLOG


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The race at running back

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2015 – 9:30 am

So now Chris Johnson joins the Cardinals and the team did not get rid of a running back as he walked in the door. It’s a crowded backfield. For the record, the Cards now have Andre Ellington, two Johnsons — David and Chris — Kerwynn Williams, Stepfan Taylor, Marion Grice, Robert Hughes and Paul Lasike.

Johnson — the new one — only signed a one-year contract. He becomes the latest in a line of vets who were wooed by GM Steve Keim for the chance at getting a shot on a good team to revive their contract worth. Frostee Rucker. Matt Shaughnessy. Karlos Dansby. Eric Winston. Antonio Cromartie. LaMarr Woodley. Jermaine Gresham. Even Lyle Sendlein. Johnson reportedly will only make the minimum salary too, unless he rushes for at least 1,300 yards (which a back has never reached since the team moved to Arizona.)

What does all that mean? Well, for starters, if Johnson doesn’t work out the way the Cardinals want through the rest of the preseason, he can be released without much impact on the salary cap ($400,000 is guaranteed.) More likely he’ll simply be part of the rotation. If I had to guess right now, the Cardinals will keep five running backs. Ellington will be the starter. The two Johnsons will be there. After that? I’d think there would be one between Hughes and Lasike as the “big” back — Hughes has the inside track there — and one among Taylor, Williams and Grice. Taylor is good on special teams, and Williams’ game is similar to Ellington’s and Chris Johnson’s (plus, he could go on the practice squad if necessary.)

As for the desire to pick up a veteran and supplanting a recent draft pick, this too is something Keim has already done. The Cardinals drafted inside linebacker Kevin Minter in 2013 in the second round and turned around and signed Dansby just couple weeks later, and Dansby’s play left Minter on the bench all season. Now, David Johnson may have the same thing with Chris Johnson. For Keim, it’s about what the Cardinals can do this year.

RunningBacksShot

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Dansby mentions Cards in Patriots debate

Posted by Darren Urban on May 14, 2015 – 2:44 pm

There has been a ton of things written and said about the Patriots, Tom Brady and deflategate of late. That all can stand on its own — no need to rehash it here. But because of the Patriots-deserved it-Patriots-didn’t-deserve-it portion of the conversation has tentacles everywhere, in a long and winding way the Cardinals have popped up in the debate. Current Browns linebacker Karlos Dansby spoke to PFT Live, and Dansby had a moment he recalled when he and the Cardinals went back to New England in 2008 in Week 16.

You remember that game, of course (unless you’ve tried to block it from your memory.) There was no Tom Brady in that game, because Brady had been injured the first game of the season. But Matt Cassell shredded the Cards that day in the nasty snow, the Cardinals were beat up, 47-7, and people were calling the already-clinched NFC West champions the worst playoff team ever.

(Then the Cardinals nearly won the Super Bowl.)

Dansby, as a linebacker the defender who got to wear the headset in his helmet for playcalls, said his headset had never had any problems all season — until that game in New England.

“We get in Foxboro, they couldn’t get my headset fixed, for nothing in the world,” Dansby said.

Cassell had 345 yards and three touchdowns passing, and in reality, it’s hard to think the headset issue can explain away a 40-point loss, just like a football’s air didn’t impact the Pats-Colts playoff game much at all. But for Dansby, it was about the Patriots in general, which is an outlook a few players have publicly expressed.

“It’s not a secret,” Dansby said. “They gotta do what they gotta do to win, man. They gonna do what they gotta do to win. It’s just how they operate.”

SnowLosBLOG

 

 


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Bucannon as safety, not (as much) linebacker

Posted by Darren Urban on March 30, 2015 – 9:31 am

Deone Bucannon was drafted as a safety, and then basically played linebacker all season. It was necessary because the Cardinals lost Daryl Washington and never quite found a linebacker replacement — so then-defensive coordinator Todd Bowles dropped the rookie into the mix in the nickel package as the new Washington.

Bucannon did pretty well in the role. But he sees himself as a safety and so do the Cardinals, and Bucannon will be a safety in 2015 — unless he isn’t.

“He’s going to play safety,” coach Bruce Arians said. “We know he can play dime linebacker. He’ll play safety until we find out we don’t have the other guy.”

What does that mean, exactly? Well, newcomer Sean Weatherspoon, if healthy, is a three-down linebacker. And there is still a chance the Cardinals will bring back Washington. If Washington does not return — or even if he does — the Cardinals could still draft another (speedy) inside linebacker. I don’t know if there is anyone out there left on the free agent market the Cardinals could sign for that role but it wouldn’t be unheard of for the position later in the offseason (Karlos Dansby, Larry Foote). Another factor: The Cards are flush at safety, with Tyrann Mathieu, Tony Jefferson and Rashad Johnson along with Bucannon.

“We know we have the flexibility because we have so many good, quality safeties,” Arians said. “He’ll still play (some linebacker) because we will still have that package. We like to have that much speed on the field.”

BucAsSafetyuse


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A chance at a comp pick

Posted by Darren Urban on March 18, 2015 – 12:26 pm

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.)


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A rough time for 49ers in the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on March 17, 2015 – 1:42 pm

In a division where keeping up with the Joneses is important just to have a chance at the playoffs — and goodness knows the Seahawks have been the Joneses for a couple of seasons now — the Cardinals feel like they have made strides to compete with Seattle. Their free agent class filled holes in the front seven of the defense and on the interior of the offensive line. More importantly, their quarterback is doing well in rehab. The Seahawks, meanwhile, added arguably the most dangerous tight end in the NFL. The Rams bolstered their defensive line with Nick Fairley and think they have upgraded at quarterback with Nick Foles (at least, he should be healthy enough to play.)

Then there are the 49ers, who have gone through one rough offseason, which started when they moved on from successful coach Jim Harbaugh.

The Niners got the shocking news young linebacker Chris Borland decided to leave the game instead of risking his long-term health to play. Borland was supposed to be the guy who filled in for Pro Bowler Patrick Willis, who retired because his oft-injured feet ended his hopes for a comeback. Defensive lineman Justin Smith likely will retire. Then they allowed multiple free agents to leave, like running back Frank Gore, guard Mike Iupati (who came to Arizona), linebacker Dan Skuta and cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox. They probably won’t bring back Michael Crabtree either.

Now, the Niners have added some pieces. Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. Darnell Dockett. Lions running back Reggie Bush (although he may be beyond his productive years.) But the way things have gone, it’ll be tough for the 49ers to right the decline they went through in 2014. That comes with the QB caveat all teams have — if Colin Kaepernick emerges as a star, that covers most issues.

While it could be considered the “offseason from hell,” the Cardinals did have one of recent vintage that they could put up in any argument. It’s tough to forget the offseason after 2009. In case you have forgotten, a refresher: quarterback Kurt Warner retired, safety Antrel Rolle was released for cap reasons (and subsequently signed with the Giants), linebacker Karlos Dansby left as a free agent and Anquan Boldin was traded. All were still playing at high/Pro Bowl levels. Those were a gut punch of transactions that eventually took out a coaching staff and brought the Cardinals to the Bruce Arians/Steve Keim era.

John Brown, Leon McFadden

 


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A decade of Dockett

Posted by Darren Urban on March 5, 2015 – 9:15 am

I guess March 5th is a day that will live in Cardinals’ infamy, huh? At least when it comes to two of the bigger names on the Super Bowl team. It was on March 5 that Anquan Boldin was traded to the Ravens in 2010. And it was on March 5 — today — that Darnell Dockett chose to sign with the 49ers (and coincidentally, current 49ers Boldin) and not return to the Cards.

The emotions are pouring out as I write this, my Twitter feed blowing up with fans angry at the team for letting Dockett get away (not as many) or at Dockett for signing with an NFC West rival (the vast majority). They are mad he seemed to make a decision based on money after chiding Karlos Dansby for doing the same last offseason.

(Later Thursday, Dockett said the two situations between he and Dansby were “night and day.”)

I’ll say this on the latter — Darnell said many, many things in his decade-plus with the Cards. Heck, he tweeted in 2010 (from his old Twitter account) that he’d play for less money to go to the Seahawks than play for the 49ers should the Cardinals let him go. Obviously, things have changed. From my perspective, you cannot blame Dockett. He wanted the most money with his career coming to an end and him turning 34 in May. That’s the direction he decided to go. Perhaps getting cut stung Dockett enough, but in the end, this just feels like it was about cold, hard cash, and when you are still young in life terms, it’s hard to blame a guy for that. It’s why the Dansby criticism didn’t make much sense — I remember at the time thinking it could come back to haunt Dockett this offseason, because of exactly this. Jim Trotter of ESPN, who texted with Dockett, also said it was about “disrespect” of the Cards’ contract offer. Knowing how Dockett reacts to many things, that kind of blowback isn’t surprising either.

But we can parse this forever. Bottom line, Dockett is not coming back to the Cardinals. The Cardinals knew this could happen. Multiple reports say Dockett gave the Cards a chance to match the offer, but it doesn’t surprise me the Cards didn’t. They had the number at which they valued Dockett for 2015 given his age and knee injury.

None of this, however, should impact how Dockett’s career in Arizona is viewed. By any measure Dockett was an excellent draft pick and when you point out he was a third-round pick, it makes it an even better selection. So many guys talk about making teams regret passing them in the draft when they go in later rounds. Dockett said that, and he backed it up.

He was an emotional tornado. Sure, that got him into hot water at times on the field, and when mixed with social media and Twitter, it caused a headache or two within the Cardinals’ facility. In his heyday, he could be dominant. His performance in the Super Bowl was MVP-worthy, getting after Ben Roethlisberger as few have. There was little measured about him in the heat of battle, but he was the passion bellwether for the defense. And he was always there. He missed just two games before last season and, more impressively, just 13 practices in 10 years. Dockett was always there, an anchor.

But this is what happens with older players in this league. The happy ending is the outlier, like what the Cards are trying to have with Larry Fitzgerald. In this case, Dockett gets his money, and gets his chance to play the Cardinals twice a season. That’ll be interesting, right?

DockettGoneBlogUSE


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Actually, 120 is enough for the draft

Posted by Darren Urban on May 7, 2014 – 10:21 am

The numbers went like this: First, there were 13,000 possible draftees between seniors and potential juniors. That was cut, pretty easily, to 2,000. That group is whittled to 591 decent draft prospects. The Cardinals, led by General Manager Steve Keim, then apply what Keim calls a “Cardinal filter,” which screens out some players based on character concerns or medical concerns or players that don’t fit the Cardinals schematically.

From there, the team builds their now famous “120” board, which ranks the players from 1 to 120 in order of how the Cardinals believe they are the best. In theory, if their pick comes up at No. 20 overall, they are taking the top guy left on that list (which won’t be the 20th guy regardless of what happens, because all teams see things differently.) When their second round pick comes up at 52, again, who is the top guy left on the list?

The best example of this came in the Cards’ impressive 2004 draft, the one that netted Larry Fitzgerald, Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett in the first three rounds.

“The first three picks were all within the top 17 players on our board,” Keim said. “That’s unheard of, to get guys through 60-plus picks that are in the top 17 on your board. Some of it is the ability to identify as a staff who can play who can’t play, who is a good fit. Sometimes taking a chance on a guy who may have had some issues, whether it is Darnell coming out, Tyrann (Mathieu) coming out, whatever was attached to them off the field we were convinced we knew who they were as football people. Passionate, love the game. I’ve said it many times, if they love it enough, you feel you have a chance to steer them down the right path.”

Here’s the kicker: Those 120 names? They get the Cardinals all the way through the draft. It doesn’t seem like it should. With 254 draft picks, math says 120 names shouldn’t cover a team. But it does every year, sometimes to the first-time amazement of front-office folks who have come on board and gone through the process. It speaks to the differences teams have in how they see players and how needs and scheme fit into the draft process. As the draft goes on, needs might impact the choice between two closely regarded players, but as the Cards proved last year with Andre Ellington — noting his grade stuck out like a sore thumb in the sixth round even though the Cards had just drafted Stepfan Taylor — staying true to the board matters.

 

 


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