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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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Dockett’s disappointment with Dansby departure

Posted by Darren Urban on April 24, 2014 – 3:28 pm

Darnell Dockett was one of the guys who stayed on Karlos Dansby hard last offseason, trying to convince his former teammate — who had been cut by Miami — to return to Arizona. Dansby did, taking a cheap one-year deal, being happy to come back to the Cardinals, and making Dockett happy in the process. Then, after Dansby had by all accounts his best season as a pro, he was paid a lot of money to join the Cleveland Browns. It was significantly more that the Cardinals offered, on a longer contract. His departure was not a surprise, although some were disappointed Dansby didn’t remain with the team that is considered closer to a contender.

Wednesday, Dockett sure sounded like he was one of the disappointed ones. During a media session with a bunch of different questions, Dockett was asked about the changes in the defense and about “one big loss.” The reference was to Dansby, if not by name. Interestingly, Dockett talked about Dansby — but didn’t use Karlos’ name either.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for our guy that left, I love him like a brother but we were one or two pieces away from making a lot of noise,” Dockett said. “But we are going to regroup. Our GM, coaches, owner will get someone to fill that role and we’ve got guys with enthusiasm of getting that opportunity for that role. They know they have big shoes to fill.

“I personally feel he chased the money versus a ring. That’s no knock on Cleveland, I’m not saying Cleveland doesn’t have a chance. Everyone has a chance, but I just felt like it was made for him to be here. The financial part, that’s totally different. I don’t know anything about that. But when you look at everything we have done this year, the sacrifice our defensive line made for that certain individual to make his plays and going to a game not being selfish. Our defensive line doesn’t care about sacks and tackles and stuff, we come to do a job to hold guys off linebackers so we can be the number one run defense. I just think that opportunity was here, to get into the playoffs and make a run for it.

“I’m not going to complain about spilled milk. I wish him well in Cleveland but at the end of the day we’ll see who is where at the end of the season.”

There is little question that this defense is built for linebackers to make plays, and Dansby and Daryl Washington showed that a lot of the season last year. There has already been plenty of discussion of Dansby’s departure and the likely replacement in Kevin Minter. But clearly, Dockett had been hoping Dansby would have returned.

DDKDuse

 


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Washington sentenced to probation

Posted by Darren Urban on April 23, 2014 – 9:26 am

The court case for linebacker Daryl Washington has finally come to a conclusion, almost a year after his initial arrest. Washington, who entered a plea last month after being charged with assault on the mother of his child, was sentenced Wednesday morning to one year of supervised probation for one aggravated assault charge. That means no jail time, although that is not a surprise given his plea deal. But now comes the second part of this equation. The NFL has been monitoring the case, of course, but it waits until it is fully played out before handing out any of its own punishment. That time has arrived.

How long it takes the NFL to make a decision on whether or not to suspend Washington — who served an unrelated four-game suspension to begin last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy — is up in the air. Anything that would happen would come in the form of a regular-season ban, so there is time. Given the way commissioner Roger Goodell has handled things in the personal conduct area, a suspension would not be a surprise. Washington is officially charged with a felony, but if he performs well during the probation — essentially does everything the court asks — it will be reduced to a misdemeanor. What that means for the NFL is in question; a felony isn’t a good thing, obviously, but does the possible reduction play into the decision?

The Cardinals weathered the Washington-is-missing storm last year (going 2-2 in his absence.) We’ll see later today when the schedule comes out — 5 p.m. Arizona time, be sure to check azcardinals.com then! — what the Cards face in September. Last year, of course, the Cards had Karlos Dansby upon which to fall back without Washington. Dansby is gone. There is Kevin Minter, and Lorenzo Alexander, Kenny Demens and JoJo Dickson, and maybe a draft pick. Washington was already a key to this defense. Any absence will have an impact.

UPDATE: Coach Bruce Arians briefly addressed Washington this morning at the Cardinals’ charity golf tournament. “We’ve known this was coming for a long time,” Arians said. “Daryl’s known it. Whatever the judge decides is right, in this case. And we’ll live with it. We’ll wait and see how it goes.”

Dwashsentenceuse

 

 


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Searching for veteran bargains

Posted by Darren Urban on April 9, 2014 – 4:12 pm

The questions are constant, as soon as a veteran player with any kind of reputation is released or becomes available: Would the Cardinals be interested? Well, for one, those questions are asked within seconds of the news happening, so usually, it’s a little soon for a feeling (GM Steve Keim admitted when CB Antonio Cromartie was first released, for instance, the Cards hadn’t anticipated it and had to do some extra legwork to figure out whether to chase him or not.)

It isn’t hard to get a sense of where the Cards land on many such players, however. Keim wants his team to get younger. And at this point, he certainly isn’t paying a lot. That should always be the prism from which any player should be viewed when it comes to this team. There are always exceptions. John Abraham, it was determined by the front office, still could play the game even at his age. Now, the Cards had to wait him out last year until his price was worth it (and never underestimate a veteran willing to wait out the offseason so he can wait to go back to work until training camp), but they got their bargain. Same with Karlos Dansby. Eric Winston was even cheaper, and that should probably provide guidance of where his market was — and where it might be this offseason.

The key element to all this is not just about whether a vet is available and is willing to work for cheap. It’s mostly about if he can still play — or more importantly, play to the level that the Cardinals, in this case, need him to play. Just because a guy is on the market isn’t enough. There is a reason veteran players remain unsigned, especially after the draft. Yes, once in a while it’s about the asking price and circumstances can change if it drops. But there are guys out there who are willing to play for little just to get a job, and it’s been determined they aren’t good enough anymore, whether because of age or cumulative injuries or both.

The Cards likely will sign another veteran or two at some point. It’ll be after the draft, because there is no reason to make any more moves right now until you know what you’ve filled with your picks. But whoever Keim signs, it’ll be for someone that makes sense on a football-level in 2014. Remember, past results don’t necessarily indicate future performance. It’s the slogan by which every GM should live.

— I’ve never been to a Pro Bowl. I’m going to get to one now, although I was really hoping to get a trip to Hawaii when I finally attended. I’ll be curious to know where the teams practice; those workouts have always been fan-friendly events.

— Not a surprise that there is a “Sunday Night Football” telecast in the preseason against the Bengals at University of Phoenix Stadium. NBC is also televising the Super Bowl. Not a bad time to get a lay of the land. What I am curious about is whether “SNF” will pick a Cardinals’ game in the regular season.

SNFuse


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