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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 peices 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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Debating X, O, Jimmy, Joe

Posted by Darren Urban on April 3, 2014 – 4:01 pm

The cliché has been around awhile, some version of “It’s not about the ‘Xs’ and ‘Os’ but the jimmys and joes.” And no, pizza has nothing to do with the conversation. It’s a simple concept really, one that emphasizes the reality that without players, you can draw up the best plays in the world and you still aren’t going to be successful. It came up in the context of profootballfocus.com releasing their full season stats from the NFL and the best defenses in producing unblocked pressure. The Cardinals were the best in the league midway through the season and held on to the top spot by season’s end with 82 unblocked pressures.

In the stats, the Cardinals were led by two players in particular — linebackers John Abraham and Karlos Dansby. Dansby had 13 total unblocked pressures and Abraham 12, and Dansby produced four sacks in those pressures (Abraham two). So it stands to reason with Dansby leaving for Cleveland, the Cards will be hurt in this regard in turning the role over to Kevin Minter — not as athletic as Karlos — or whomever. You lose a ‘joe,’ maybe the ‘O’ doesn’t hold up, right?

Or maybe not?

First of all, at least in this context of rushing the QB unblocked, scheme would seem to have a ton to do with it. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is doing something to confuse the other team, regardless of the players. Even “lesser” players are supposed to be accounted for every play by the offense. Of those 82 pressures, 23 came through an ‘A’ gap (the spots between the center and either guard). No one is supposed to forget the guy standing near the ball, even if he is a step or two off the line of scrimmage. Sometimes it was an overload on one side situation (35 of 82, according to PFF) and sometimes the offense simply didn’t block a guy even if there was someone there to do so (19 times).

Certainly, a talent like Dansby played into the equation, as did Abraham. You’d have to look at every play individually to really know if the result was a combination of factors, a Dansby “win” or a Bowles’ scheme result. You figure there is a mix. You figure Bowles knows what Minter can and can’t do, and while the Cardinals won’t run the same things exactly for him as Dansby, I’d guess if Minter comes free through the ‘A’ gap he’ll probably find a way to create some havoc. The Cards didn’t have the same ‘jimmys’ in the secondary once Tyrann Mathieu got hurt, but Bowles’ ‘Xs’ were good enough to fluster both the Seahawks and 49ers pretty good the final two weeks of the season.

There is a reason Steve Keim is always looking to upgrade the roster where he can. And you take Patrick Peterson and Daryl Washington off the defense, for instance, and the scheme is not going to look as good. But scheme matters too.

TackleUSE

 


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Cards sign three more, plus Shaughnessy

Posted by Darren Urban on March 12, 2014 – 6:35 pm

Here’s how the news trickled out during the day Wednesday as the Cardinals tried to make sure they still had a beefy linebacker to play the role that Matt Shaughnessy did last year. First was the national report that the Cards were still very interested in free agent DE/LB Mike Neal of the Packers, who is built similarly to Shaughnessy. Then came the news Shaughnessy was visiting the Patriots today. Then Neal tweeted out he was staying with the Packers — which could have ended up being bad news for the Cardinals, until Kent Somers broke the news Wednesday afternoon that Shaughnessy will be re-signing with the Cardinals too, also for two years.

It’s very important for the Cards. Shaughnessy worked under the radar (he’s not much of a talker, so you won’t see him a lot in interviews) but he was solid in Todd Bowles defense last season, especially against the run. It’s a big deal they were able to keep him. Nothing is officially announced yet, but it’s coming.

– The Cardinals brought in two more free agents Wednesday night, signing running back Jonathan Dwyer to a one-year contract and guard/center Ted Larsen to a two-year contract. Both are expected to be depth signings. The Cards also re-signed outside linebacker Marcus Benard to a one-year deal.

Arians promised more offensive linemen were coming “shortly.” Here’s one. Larsen started in two of his four seasons in Tampa and the Cards have long been searching for a solid backup center. If he can swing on all the interior line spots, and Bradley Sowell could be the backup right and left tackle, the Cards could be in good shape there. Dwyer (pictured below) comes from Pittsburgh, where he spent two seasons with Bruce Arians. The Cards needed a back with the departure of Rashard Mendenhall. Andre Ellington will start. Dwyer can battle Stepfan Taylor for No. 2.

– The Cardinals were supposed to get a Friday free-agent visit from Steelers defensive lineman Al Woods, who could have provided depth. But he never made it past his Tennessee visit Wednesday, and agreed to a deal with the Titans.

– Ex-Card Karlos Dansby was on the Burns and Gambo Show on Arizona Sports 98.7 Wednesday. He said he was “definitely surprised” and “I didn’t expect” at how large contract was that the Browns offered. He said the reports of a two-year, $10M to $12M offer from the Cards was incorrect (he did not clarify what it was) but he said he was not disrespected by whatever it was the Cards offered.

– Speaking of Dansby, Arians wasn’t fazed by his leaving, which wasn’t surprising. “We’ll have young players, and we have enough leadership on defense,” Arians said. “Kevin Minter, we drafted for a reason. We love him. He should assume that role. We’ll still look through free agency who is available.”

Lorenzo Alexander can play inside as well, Arians added. “We wish Karlos all the best. He gave us a fantastic year last year. At his age, to get that contract, God bless him. We wish him all the well. He did a great job. We’re moving on.”

DwyerShotUSEBLOG


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Dansby departure probably inevitable

Posted by Darren Urban on March 11, 2014 – 1:00 pm

The thing is, Karlos Dansby wasn’t even supposed to be a Cardinal last season.

The veteran linebacker signed late. His price tag was too rich for the Cardinals when he was first released by the Dolphins. They were interested, but not in breaking the bank. That’s what you think of today, with free agency officially starting, Dansby hitting the open market after his one-year Arizona return and a mega-deal apparently already waiting for him in Cleveland. The Cardinals had offered a two-year contract to Dansby reportedly for no more than $12 million. The Browns are signing Dansby — who will be 33 in November, which is why the Cards weren’t going beyond a two-year deal –to a four-year contract. Kent Somers reported the deal would be worth $24 million with an astonishing $14 million guaranteed. In other words, more guaranteed money than the Cards’ deal would have been worth total.

Will Dansby be performing at a high level when he is 36? The statistics say probably not, which is why the Cards didn’t want to go beyond two years. If anyone is paying attention to GM Steve Keim, he’s made it clear he wants to work with a clean salary cap as much as possible. That’s the only way to have sustained success, Keim believes, and so dead money needs to be kept low.

You absolutely cannot blame Dansby. He thought he played at a level worth a big contract last year, so he got one. That’s why many guys were willing to sign one-year contracts last year — to parlay a good season into a bigger, longer contract. Dansby is the poster child for that.

But again, he wasn’t going to be here. The Cards signed Jasper Brinkley and drafted Kevin Minter and went into the offseason thinking that would be the options next to Daryl Washington. Dansby didn’t show up until the market had humbled him and he figured out the money wasn’t there. He admitted as such. And he gave the Cardinals a great season for a NFL-bargain of $2.25 million. The Cards were prepared not to have him until they had him. Now, Minter gets his chance. The Cardinals set a free-agent board not only with players from other teams but their own, ranking such. Dansby I would guess was near the top of their list but they have a backup plan (no, I don’t know what right now.)

Regardless, for a second time, Karlos Dansby leaves the Cardinals as a free agent, again after an AFC team showered him with money he couldn’t get in Arizona. Like last time, there is disappointment there wasn’t a way for him to stay. Like last time (with Daryl Washington) there is a young player just drafted precisely because this could happen. It’s the business.

DansabydepartsUSE


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As free agency draws near

Posted by Darren Urban on March 10, 2014 – 10:27 pm

Free agency arrives soon — 1 p.m. Arizona time Tuesday. So here area few thoughts on Monday night:

– It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens with Karlos Dansby. Kent Somers reported there is a two-year deal on the table worth between $10 million and $12 million — which is right around the APY that D’Qwell Jackson got from the Colts. I’m sure Dansby would like a longer deal. I’m sure the Cardinals, looking at a player who will turn 33 this season, aren’t going to go longer. Is there another team willing to pony up more? And is that enough to sway Dansby? No matter what happens, I expect Dansby’s decision to come quickly this week.

UPDATE: NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport is reporting Dansby likely going to Cleveland. They would money-whip him. It wasn’t going to happen in Arizona.

– There wasn’t much new percolating Monday about tackle Jared Veldheer, whom the Cards are expected to make a pitch to when free agency starts. Whoever the Cards chase at left tackle, that too figures to come together quickly. GM Steve Keim said that even with the early free-agent talks, the Cards want to talk to a potential signee (and check him out medically). So I’d guess this year’s free agency has a good chance to be like last year’s — quickly moving, but still nothing official until Wednesday at the earliest. Will the Cards add five players in the first two days, like last year? Probably not that many. But I’m thinking there will be some additions.

– Kicker Jay Feely re-upped with the Cards Monday (nothing officially announced yet.) There’s a possibility the Cardinals can re-sign a couple of other guys before they hit the market. The move to release Daryn Colledge is coming Tuesday too.

– Aside from a left tackle, linebacker and defensive back are other potential positional free agent targets. Mike Jurecki tweeted Monday night the Cards could look at veteran CB Mike Jenkins. Again, the Cards should move quickly this week. The idea in free agency isn’t to collect a bunch of starters necessarily as much as round out the roster so the Cardinals have a lot of flexibility come draft day.


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“Very difficult equation” with Dansby

Posted by Darren Urban on March 5, 2014 – 12:20 pm

Karlos Dansby will be 33 this year. He is coming off a tremendous season. He is a free agent. And these are the treacherous waters Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim must now maneuver through in his efforts to bring the linebacker back to the Cardinals.

Former Bills and Colts GM Bill Polian, now an ESPN analyst, said today the tough part with a Dansby deal is the dead money it will almost certainly create at some point. Dansby believes he still has a few good years left, but there is always the possibility — again, because of his age — he could be released with years left on whatever deal he would sign.

“People make a big deal out of dead money when they count it up at the end of the year,” Polian said. “Free agency equals dead money. That’s part of the overpayment (in free agency) and it comes with the territory. You are going to have some, always. As a general rule, you want to avoid as much of it as you can, knowing you will have it.

“The issue becomes how do you structure a contract that pays the player commensurately that is cap-friendly and at the same time, avoids dead money. That’s a very, very difficult equation to try and solve. And I feel sorry for Steve trying to get that done. It’s difficult.”

It also makes Dansby’s re-signing before testing the market tough to envision. Dansby won’t truly know what’s out there for him — even with talks allowed as soon as March 8 — until he can really go on a visit or two. Then again, deadlines tend to spur action, and the real deadline here won’t come until next Monday night and Tuesday morning. It’s a fascinating situation moving forward.

LosDifficultBloguse


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Cards clearly not waiting in free agency

Posted by Darren Urban on March 3, 2014 – 11:33 am

Once, Bertrand Berry left, but he came back.

Having covered the Cardinals either for the East Valley Tribune or here at azcardinals.com for years, I’ve been through a lot of free-agent signing periods and watched the team have a lot of interest in various players. Sometimes they signed. Sometimes they didn’t. And those times pop into my head with the new philosophy of the front office. It isn’t necessarily take it or leave it, but it is close. The Cardinals these days have a number in mind to spend on each particular free agent and definitely a ranking system where they want a certain player first over others. But if there is hesitation, the Cards are ready to move on. They won’t be used as leverage, and that’s a good thing.

The Cards were frequently the team used for leverage once upon a time (the brief Joe Montana courtship is one I remember, but that was before my time on the beat.) There have been others, and that’s one reason why it’s good to see GM Steve Keim get past that. More importantly, it’s good to see the confidence the team has in its plan. The Cards want, for instance, Karlos Dansby to come back. But the possibility of him leaving breeds no panic. As Bruce Arians likes to say, next man up, and that’s an incredibly liberating stance to take this time of year. The Cards will reach out to a left tackle in free agency, I’d guess, and if whoever it is doesn’t like the offer or hedges, the Cards will move on to the next choice. I have no doubt of that. The Cardinals aren’t going to be cheap, but they are going to structure deal on their terms.

(This doesn’t mean the Cards won’t bargain shop later, like they did with Dansby/Winston/Abraham last year. Float a number, wait a guy out and if he’s willing to come in for a bargain, you put him on the roster.)

That brings me back to Berry, who the Cardinals really wanted as a pass rusher in 2004. The offer was on the table and the Cardinals really wanted him to agree to it that day when he visited the team. Berry told them he probably would agree, but he wanted to sleep on it. Fair, although it could have been a leverage ploy. It wasn’t. Berry came back the next day to sign, and proved to be one of the best free-agent signings the team has made, with 14.5 sacks and a Pro Bowl that year before injuries derailed his Arizona tenure.

I don’t see the current Cards letting that happen much at all. A free agent who won’t agree right away is risking that deal being yanked off the table quickly. Keim is going to be in control of this process.

BerrySackUse


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