Blogs

Answer on Fitz future won’t be soon

Posted by Darren Urban on May 23, 2017 – 7:44 am

Larry Fitzgerald said last night at Bruce Arians’ charity event that he will only address his NFL future after 2017 one time, in training camp. That’s so he won’t have to keep answering questions. (Although, if he’s hoping no questions will be asked all season, well, good luck with that.) Here’s the thing: It would be a massive upset if, at that point in camp, Fitz says anything besides something along the lines that he’ll make a decision after the season. Just like 2016.

He’s not going to ever proclaim his last season — even if he were to know — as his last season. Fitz doesn’t want that. If you want tangible proof, look at the foreword Fitz wrote for the Kent Somers’ book “100 Things Cardinals Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die.” In Fitz’s own words: “Kent Somers covered my first press conference and he’ll probably be there for my last, unless I just quietly slip into retirement (That’s more my style).” I definitely believe that. I have long thought there is a better chance Fitz just says goodbye in a tweet, with no goodbye presser. We’ll see when that happens. But if that’s his style, then having a goodbye lap around the league by announcing his retirement early doesn’t make sense.

Carson Palmer recently said the same. He talked last week and was asked about 2017 being possibly his last year. Palmer’s response? How would he know in May? He won’t even know in November or December. That’s an after-season thing. He’s another guy I don’t think wants to make a big deal about whether he’s going to be done or not.

Bottom line, I think 2017 will be another vague season for Fitz (and Palmer) in terms of the end. I appreciate Fitzgerald wanting to try and contain such talk. I’m not sure it’s in his hands. That’s what happens when you are the face of the franchise. People want to know.


Tags: ,
Posted in Blog | 21 Comments »

Fitzgerald, the 2004 draft and what if

Posted by Darren Urban on April 21, 2017 – 11:02 am

“What if” is a staple of sports. It doesn’t matter if it’s a particular play, game, season or transaction, hindsight is everywhere. ESPN.com played the game recently, posting a “What If” draft moment for each team. For the Cardinals, it was an obvious but solid choice: What if the Cardinals had drafted Adrian Peterson over Levi Brown in 2007. That’s also a game all of us have played over and over, almost since that time.

My “What If” Cardinals draft moment creates a lot more debate, but it’s one that is fascinating to deconstruct. It also gives no clear answer, unlike Peterson/Brown. What if the Cardinals had drafted Ben Roethlisberger instead of Larry Fitzgerald in 2004?

First, the obvious. Fitz is the face of this franchise, and has been for many years. He’s beloved by the fans, and by ownership. He’s been a Hall of Fame football player. There is no angle in which you can say the Cardinals made the wrong decision by selecting Fitzgerald. He helped the Cardinals get to a Super Bowl (and it can be argued he basically carried them there.)

But again, what if?

Dennis Green wanted Fitz. The former coach laid the groundwork for taking the wide receiver anywhere he could, at one point emphasizing how athletic and talented incumbent but inexperienced quarterback Josh McCown was. Remember, this was 2004, a season before the Cardinals brought Kurt Warner in as really the only team in the NFL still willing to give Warner a shot at starting.

When Fitz was taken third overall, Eli Manning was already off the board, but Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers were still on the board. I think the Cards would’ve taken Big Ben had they gone QB (but what if it had been Rivers – would the Giants had taken Big Ben, traded him to the Chargers for Eli, and then Roethlisberger was a Charger?)

If Roethlisberger had been a Cardinal instead of Fitz, Warner never comes to Arizona. The Cardinals did have Anquan Boldin coming off his huge rookie season, and he would have remained the Cards’ No. 1 receiver – and with no Fitz, he probably never has contract issues and sticks around. Would Denny still have stalled out as coach with Big Ben? Even if he did, and was fired, would Ken Whisenhunt – who as OC of the Steelers wouldn’t have had Roethlisberger to lead them to a Super Bowl win in 2005 – still be a hot coaching commodity to be hired by the Cardinals?

Would the Cards have found a way to the Super Bowl in 2008, and if they had, would they have seen the Ben-less Steelers? The Cardinals also wouldn’t have drafted Matt Leinart in 2006, and it’s hard to know exactly where Fitzgerald would have ended up in 2004.

What makes the Fitz draft choice so smart in hindsight is that the Cardinals have been able to bring in two veterans in for little – Warner and Carson Palmer – and have them play very well in Arizona. The Cards haven’t turned into the Browns, constantly searching for a quarterback – making a 2004 miss more of a lament.

Still, what if?


Tags: , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 28 Comments »

Revisiting Fitz and the 2008 playoffs

Posted by Darren Urban on April 10, 2017 – 3:55 pm

In case you missed it, a project I have been working on since the end of the season came to fruition today with the posting of an oral history of Larry Fitzgerald’s huge 2008 playoff run. (Easy to find at azcardinals.com/fitzfantasticfour, so tell a friend). It was great to talk to a few guys that I hadn’t in a number of years, guys who I worked with a lot back when they were around. Steve Breaston, Jerheme Urban, Todd Haley, among others. It didn’t hurt that there are still some in the building that could help, like Freddie Kitchens, Adrian Wilson and Larry Foote.

(And I’d be remiss without pointing out that Sandy McAfee here in the cubicle next to me did a fantastic job taking my words and turning it into a aesthetically beautiful read.)

Mostly though, it was a chance to look back at those games. I’m fortunate enough to have that playoff run on DVD so I could go back for research and simply enjoy re-watching those games. (I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for watching old games. I wish NFL Network would do more from when I was first getting into the game, the late ’70s and early ’80s.) Anyone can understand that Fitzgerald had great stats from that postseason. But his impact looks greater than that when you are watching them in context.

“There were a lot of games where he had a lot of catches (that season),” quarterback Kurt Warner said. “It was the nature of the catches where he really solidified how great he was, how great that run was. His numbers would have been great stacked up against anyone regardless but I think you think back to just the big play after big play after big play.”

Hope you get a chance to read it.


Tags: ,
Posted in Blog | 20 Comments »

The Cardinals’ historic 2004 draft class

Posted by Darren Urban on April 7, 2017 – 3:44 pm

With my retrospective about Larry Fitzgerald’s memorable 2008 playoff run due to post Monday at azcardinals.com, it’s fitting to have Fitz and his Cardinals’ draft class come up in an ESPN article about each team’s best draft classes ever. It goes back to the first common draft of 1967. The ranking is based on a tool created by profootballreference.com called “approximate value,” which is based on games, starts, awards and some meaningful individual stats. Winning games factors in. Obviously, the longer a player stays with the team that drafted him matters, and so would volume.

That’s why it would matter that the draft shrunk to seven rounds in 1994. It was 17 rounds in 1967, and 12 from 1977-1993. More chances to find players in a class. The Cardinals’ draft class of 2004 made at No. 18. That’s no surprise. It was a fabulous class, with Fitzgerald in the first round, Karlos Dansby in the second round and Darnell Dockett in the third round. Defensive end Antonio Smith, who started for the 2008 Super Bowl team, was a fifth-round pick.

(The other three picks from that class — fourth-round center Alex Stepanovich, sixth-round guard/center Nick Leckey, seventh-round quarterback John Navarre.)

Only one team — the Ravens, with their 1996 class of Hall of Famers Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis — has their draft class ranked higher than the Cardinals when their class in the seven-round era. The extra rounds (and no unrestricted free agency before 1992) helped many other teams have their best drafts long ago.

Fitz is still going strong, and Dansby has returned for a third tour with the team (and will build that draft class value again). Dockett is retired, but Smith hasn’t shut it down yet, playing for the Texans last season.


Tags: , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 19 Comments »

Cards, the Pro Bowl, and how it once was

Posted by Darren Urban on April 6, 2017 – 6:22 am

This is going to sound random — and, truthfully, it is — but there is a reason I am talking about the Cardinals and the 2009 Pro Bowl. I’ve been working on a piece about Larry Fitzgerald and his epic playoff run during the Cardinals’ Super Bowl season. That will be posted Monday. But one thing struck me as I looked back and researched things, especially when it comes to the Pro Bowl.

As everyone knows, the Pro Bowl is now held the week before the Super Bowl. Players chosen from the Super Bowl teams obviously don’t play, and at this point, many, many others find reasons not to play. Injuries, yes. And also, “injuries.” Back for the 2008 season, five Cardinals were picked to play in the Pro Bowl: Fitz, Kurt Warner, Adrian Wilson, Anquan Boldin and Sean Morey. That made sense. They all were excellent that season.

That year, the Pro Bowl was still being played the week after the Super Bowl. Everyone could still make it, but guys would still drop out. If anyone would drop out for a non-injury reason, it could understandably be players from the losing Super Bowl team — especially if it was a heartbreaking loss. But what I had forgotten was that all five Cardinals still showed up in Hawaii a couple of days later and player. In fact, Fitzgerald capped his great regular season and legendary playoff performance with a 5-81-2 line in the Pro Bowl and won MVP. That’s not a surprise, really. What was was the fact the Cards were 5-for-5.


Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 21 Comments »

To WR or not WR? That is question

Posted by Darren Urban on March 6, 2017 – 10:31 am

A year ago, the Cardinals had no better unit that their wide receiver corps. Larry Fitzgerald had an excellent season. Smokey Brown was a 1,000-yard pass catcher. Michael Floyd piled up 100-yard games down the stretch. J.J. Nelson was a big-play rookie, and even Jaron Brown and Brittan Golden had proven to have moments.

It’s different now. Fitz was still excellent in 2016. But Smokey got sick, and Floyd all but disappeared before being released. Nelson came on, but Jaron Brown got hurt. Questions at the position swirl, both for 2017 and the future given Fitz’s vague countdown to retirement sooner rather than later. That’s the backdrop the Cardinals have going into both free agency later this week, and into next month’s draft.

“It’s an interesting deal when you look at your depth chart every year and you think that’s really one of your strengths,” General Manager Steve Keim said of the arc of his wide receivers from season to season. “It always teaches you a lesson that you can never have enough good football players at one position because injuries, different things that can occur during a season (that) depleted the wide receiver corps this year.

“It goes back to show you, you may have a guy who is fourth or fifth on the depth chart, but you have to be comfortable when you head into the season that ‘I may be playing with this guy.’ Not only from a mental aspect but you have to feel he can get the job done physically as well.”

Coach Bruce Arians likes getting the smaller, fast wide receivers in the later rounds. But post-Fitz the Cards figure to need a bigger receiver. Maybe they seek someone in free agency, but if everyone is healthy, the Cards could conceivably roll this season with this corps intact. If someone pops up in the draft, you can think about that move.

ReceievrsBlog


Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 25 Comments »

Canton means more time on 2017 road

Posted by Darren Urban on February 23, 2017 – 2:18 pm

The Cardinals will get a fifth preseason game. That was announced Thursday, with the Cards facing the Cowboys in the Hall of Fame game (the Cardinals also have to play Dallas during the regular season). While the game likely eases the problem of having to be out of University of Phoenix Stadium Aug. 4 for a concert — the game in Aug. 3, and it’s possible the Cards could just take a couple days off and start again Aug. 6 or 7 — it does make camp longer. The official start date of camp won’t be announced for a while, but teams can begin up to 15 days before their first game. Mid-July, anyone? OK, it probably is going to play to mixed reviews.

Another interesting part of this is Bruce Arians’ recent comments about hitting/tackling more in training camp. An extra week of practice plus another game adds to the risk.

But it also plays into a 2017 season that will already feature a trip to London. Those dates and length of the trip still have to be announced, but it seems likely the Cardinals will be across the pond for a week or so. The schedule also includes trips to Washington D.C. and Philadelphia (which could be wrapped into the London trip, possibly), Indianapolis, Houston and Detroit, the two remaining NFC West rivals, and whomever the Cards may play on the road in the preseason. The miles will add up.

patphof


Tags: , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 22 Comments »

Cardinals — on the basketball court?

Posted by Darren Urban on February 19, 2017 – 1:59 pm

Late in the season, the Cardinals’ offensive linemen installed one of those mini-basketball hoops above one of their lockers. Every once in a while, after practice, somebody (or somebodies) would take a few shots. There’s no question that over the years, plenty of players have come through that space thinking they were quite the basketball players.

Anquan Boldin could play. Kurt Warner could really play (and still does, hosting invite-only pickup games at his house in Scottsdale). Josh McCown could really play.

With the NBA all-star game today, it’s a good time to discuss who might make a solid unit for the hardwood. I’ve had the chance to talk to a handful of players about their basketball backgrounds. (I have not talked to everyone, and I am sure I will have inevitably missed some serious baller here. I ask, preemptively, for forgiveness.)

You’ve got to start with Darren Fells. The guy played pro basketball, after all. Larry Fitzgerald still likes to trash-talk Fells, and at one point there was a challenge of a one-on-one game, but I’m guessing Fitz wouldn’t like how that would turn out. Still, I’ve seen Fitz enough times in charity games that he probably could be in the starting lineup.

Our point guard would be Tyrann Mathieu, who might not quite be the same player as he was prior to a pair of ACL injuries, although I’m guessing he’d say different. (That video doesn’t exactly show the Badger against the best defense.) Calais Campbell, who at 6-foot-8 did some damage inside in high school, can be our center. And you don’t want to forget David Johnson (15.7 points, 7.9 rebounds a game as a senior in high school, and second-team all-state), who noted on Twitter he’s got a 41.5-inch vertical.

Off the bench? Kareem Martin, who played football at North Carolina, had a chance to walk on to the Tar Heels basketball team and maybe be the next Julius Peppers. Martin decided to concentrate on football, but you’ve got to have some game to be considered for UNC hoops. Some Earl Watford (Earl had some good stories about being the muscle on the court for his high school team), and a little A.Q. Shipley (A.Q., while shooting on that mini-hoop, assured me that back in the day, he was quite nimble on the court). Close it out with Tony Jefferson, who plays pretend basketball in the locker room with the trash cans more than any player ever and loves his Suns. (Yes, Jefferson was cut as a sophomore in high school, but noted that he had 16 points and five steals in his final lower-level high school appearance, so there’s that.)

fitzhoopsblog


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 6 Comments »

Warner believes Anquan is a Hall of Famer

Posted by Darren Urban on February 15, 2017 – 10:52 am

Kurt Warner is in the Hall of Fame, and he’s had a chance to play with a lot of receivers that also could get a gold jacket. Larry Fitzgerald will be there someday, and Warner knows that. But in an interview with PFT Live, Warner was asked who he’d bang the table for to try and help get into Canton. He said former Rams teammate Isaac Bruce, in his view, should already be in so he’d probably lobby that way, but he also said he expects Bruce and fellow Ram Torry Holt to eventually get in. So, Warner said, that would turn his attention to former Cardinals teammate Anquan Boldin.

“I might bang the table for Anquan Boldin, because I think of all those guys, he gets the least respect for how great he is,” Warner said. “It amazes me, we want to keep looking at measurables and how fast guys are, as opposed to (being) one of the greatest football players I ever played with, competed more than anybody I ever played (with).

“He wanted the ball in his hands, was a difference-maker. Everybody tries to get rid of him and he just goes and he’s the No. 1 receiver on that next team. So I believe he’s the one who gets the least amount of respect, so I would love to get on the table for him.”

Boldin’s career, like Fitz’s, is winding down. He’s currently set to be a free agent after spending 2016 with the Lions, and said — while at the Super Bowl in Houston — his plans for 2017 were undecided.

“You probably have to ask my wife,” Boldin said with a chuckle. “The decisions I make now don’t just affect me. If it was up to me, I’d say I’d probably be playing in 2017, but I have to sit down with my wife. We have two boys, my decision affects them, so it’ll be a family decision.”

(No, I would not think, if Boldin continues to play, the Cardinals would be an option.)

Boldin’s numbers deserve Hall consideration for sure, as does the fact he played for some good teams — the Cards’ Super Bowl team, the Ravens when they won a Super Bowl, playoff teams in San Francisco and Detroit. With 1,076 receptions for 13,779 yards and 82 touchdowns, his stats were close to Fitzgerald’s up until a couple of seasons ago when Fitz’s production popped. (Fitz is at 1,125-14,389-104 for his career).

As great as Boldin’s career has been there’s no question his best years — and longest tenure — was his time in Arizona. Seven seasons, five 1,000-yard years (of the seven in his career.) When he and Fitz played together at the height of their powers, they deserved to be in the argument for best duo.

Anquan Boldin, Kurt Warner


Tags: , , ,
Posted in Blog | 18 Comments »

Cards on top 101 list, but no Peterson

Posted by Darren Urban on February 8, 2017 – 1:37 pm

Is Patrick Peterson among the top 101 players from this past season?

One list — from Pro Football Focus — does not have the Cardinals cornerback on it. PFF ranks players based on grades they gave out for that season’s work. There are five Cardinals from 2016 on the list. Running back David Johnson (the guy who PFF called the best receiver in the NFL) is No. 23. Defensive lineman Calais Campbell is No. 24. Edge rusher Chandler Jones is No. 62. Safety Tony Jefferson is No. 84, and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is No. 89.

So no Peterson.

It’s not a huge surprise. PFF even talked about Peterson’s absence from an earlier all-pro team. The other five were deserving. Johnson was high on everyone’s list this season, and PFF had multiple times praised the seasons of Campbell and Jefferson. Jones proved to be a valuable acquisition and Fitz was, well, Fitz. In Peterson’s case, it was in part because of a good season by other cornerbacks (and, as my cohort Kyle Odegard points out, PFF grading doesn’t seem to take into account a lack of targets because teams throw away from a certain DB, or for the quality of receiver being covered.)

From PFF: “Peterson has been good this year, but he has allowed as many touchdowns (three) as he has interceptions, and allowed 60.6 percent of the passes thrown his way to be caught, a career high. When targeted he allowed a passer rating of 80.7, which wasn’t bad, but ranks 30th in the league and not in the same ballpark as players like Aqib Talib, who led the NFL at 47.0.”

Peterson had a response. “So does that mean these ‘experts’ will be releasing a Top 100 ‘Not Targeted’ List? Nope.” Peterson wrote in a tweet.

The other thing I see from the five Cards here — three are unrestricted free agents. All those guys are talented, but the contract year is real too.

petersonirritated


Tags: , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 18 Comments »