The tweet — once again from the data divers at profootballfocus.com — made it simple: In the 100 targets they counted for Larry Fitzgerald in 2014, the Cardinals did not throw one interception. Not from Carson Palmer, or Drew Stanton, or Ryan Lindley or Logan Thomas. That, PFF said, meant Fitz was the safest receiver to throw to in the NFL last season.
(Yes, I know Lindley’s backbreaking playoff red-zone interception in Carolina was supposed to go to Fitz, but all stats usually are regular season only unless noted.)
In itself, an interesting stat. But it got me thinking. In 2013, the Cardinals definitely threw an interception or two throwing to Fitzgerald — or Palmer did, since he took every 2013 snap. It was a big deal at the time, with Bruce Arians trying to teach a) his offense to a new QB and new wide receivers and b) a new position to Fitzgerald. More than once it was mentioned that Palmer was trying too hard to force the ball to Fitzgerald, something Palmer acknowledged he learned from once 2014 came around.
So I asked PFF what the Fitzgerald INT number was for 2013. It turns out Palmer had a whopping seven interceptions when targeting Fitzgerald in 2013. Now, there is no breakdown with that. It’s impossible to know who might have been at fault, whether the defender made a great play or if the pass rush caused a problem. But it does show the evolution of Arians’ offense and how much more comfortable Palmer and Fitz were within it. We have touched on the subject of the improvement of Palmer working with Fitz before. The numbers seem to back it up.
Tags: Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald
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There has been — and probably will continue to be — much debate about Patrick Peterson and where he stands among NFL cornerbacks after his 2014 season. As has been well-documented, he learned he had diabetes and he had much more of an up-and-down season than anyone would have liked. Bruce Arians talked about how Peterson’s weight is in a better place, and Peterson looked sharp during offseason work.
“I didn’t like the way I played last year so I wanted to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Peterson said at the end of minicamp. “I feel like 2011 Patrick. I feel rejuvenated.”
Even with uneven play in 2014, he was still voted to the Pro Bowl, in part because of the respect he has from his peers. Along those lines, Peterson again was voted — through a player tally — into the NFL Network’s Top 1oo players list this year. Peterson was unveiled as the No. 19 player Wednesday night, which was actually a jump of three places from his spot at 22 last season. It puts him ahead of both Seattle safety Earl Thomas (who was No. 21) and Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden (No. 23), which I’m sure in both cases will lead to debate. Darrelle Revis was No. 17. As for Richard Sherman, he was voted at No. 11.
Tags: Calais Campbell, Darrelle Revis, Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman
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It seems counter-intuitive, honestly. You want your highest-paid wide receiver to at least have a chance to receive when you are throwing a pass right? But profootballfocus.com (and more specifically, PFF writer Sam Monson) tweeted that it was Larry Fitzgerald who led all NFL wide receivers in snaps in pass protection last season, with seven. In other words, seven times last season when the Cardinals dropped back to pass, Fitz was used to block and not go out for a pass. (For comparison’s sake, Monson notes that Chargers tight end Antonio Gates was used in pass pro only 13 times, while new Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham, playing for the Saints, was used in pass pro 27 times.)
This all folds into the story of Fitz’s evolving role since Bruce Arians arrived. He plays the slot a lot more often. He’s asked to block more than he ever has (and he’s become a pretty good blocker too, especially in the run game.) It’s not Fitz’s first choice, which I’m sure isn’t a surprise to anyone. But he’s clearly come to terms with where he is in his career and with this team, because otherwise, he wouldn’t have made sure he returned.
Tags: Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, Larry Fitzgerald
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So, before it’s time to take leave for a bit, we come to the second part of the “for what it’s worth” posts. Yesterday, it was the defense. Today, the offense, which starts with a healthy Carson Palmer, always a good thing. This team should be in a better place offensively this season, if for no other reason than the system is set and the offensive line should be better than it’s been overall in a long time. Of course, the Cards have to show it. And Palmer needs to stay on the field.
QB — Carson Palmer. Whatever else the Cardinals might have done on the field this offseason, just having Palmer back and working in 11-on-11 by the end would deem it a success. We’ll see how it plays out in camp — and more importantly, the first preseason game he takes part in — but it’s important that he is on track to be the starter.
RB — Andre Ellington. Rookie David Johnson should end up playing a role and could end up as a key on offense. But right now, all things still figure to go through Ellington to begin with. The entire running back situation is an interesting one. Will the offensive line upgrade trickle down to help this position? How might Kerwynn Williams fit in? The Cards just want Ellington to stay healthy, and see what that means.
WR — Larry Fitzgerald. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact, after another year under 1,000 yards, that Fitz was really clicking with Palmer before Palmer got hurt. If the two vets can play together, I’m curious to see what Fitz’s numbers can be, even in this system when not one receiver figures to dominate the stat sheet.
WR — Michael Floyd. It’s a big year for Floyd. The quarterback situation did not help last season, but there were times even when Palmer played where, for whatever reason, Floyd didn’t produce. Sometimes, that was a lack of targets. The Cards certainly have other options too. But the former No. 1 draft pick needs to make a greater impact.
WR — John Brown. In this setup, the Cards go three wide receivers (I’ll hit the tight ends in a minute.) Brown has added a little muscle and had strong self-awareness of what happened to him last season, including wearing out at the end of the season. Palmer can’t say enough good things about Brown, with whom he developed a strong bond with last summer. Smokey will get his chances.
TE — Darren Fells. Troy Niklas is going to be in this mix and when the Cards go two tight ends on running downs, Niklas will likely join Fells. But right now, with Niklas still trying to get healthy, it is Fells who as emerged out of a very inexperienced tight end room. One caveat: Can’t exclude the possibility of the Cards signing a veteran at the position, which could change this dynamic.
RT — Bobby Massie. D.J. Humphries is making strides, but as of now, it’s hard to see Humphries surpassing Massie. Things could change when the pads go on. Another possibility is if Humphries makes enough strides, maybe Massie is a guy who the Cards would consider trading, especially if another team loses a tackle in injury in camp. But if Massie is around for the first game, I think he starts.
RG — Jonathan Cooper. He’s in great shape. He doesn’t have any of the issues left from a broken leg or turf toe or any of the other problems he might have had. If Cooper is going to become the player the Cardinals hope he can be, this is the season he needs to do it. His confidence clearly has never been higher, and he comes across as a different player than he was at this time last year. A big, big camp awaits.
C — A.Q. Shipley. This is an interesting spot. Shipley and Ted Larsen will battle in camp. OTAs and minicamp are what they are, but Shipley was the one getting more first-unit snaps by the end and he has history with both Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin. This will come down to how Shipley and Larsen perform in games. (And if they both struggle, I wouldn’t completely write off the idea of a Lyle Sendlein return either, as long as he remains a free agent.)
LG — Mike Iupati. For a second straight year, the big free-agent purchase was an offensive lineman. Iupati’s reputation is that of excellent run blocker and a guy who needs to work on his pass blocking. Iupati certainly looks the part, and it will be fun to watch him in pads during camp and see what collisions develop.
LT — Jared Veldheer. The Cardinals wanted a left tackle and after one season, it looks like they have gotten a pretty good one.
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Andre Ellington, Bobby Massie, Carson Palmer, D, Darren Fells, J. Humphries, Jared Veldheer, John Brown, Jonathan Cooper, Larry Fitzgerald, Lyle Sendlein, Michael Floyd, Mike Iupati, Ted Larsen, Troy Niklas
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You can argue that more players should be involved in the polling for the NFL Network’s “Top 100″ players — currently unveiling their list from 2014 — but one thing cannot be argued: Larry Fitzgerald continues to command heavy respect with his peers, and it’s hard to see that changing. Once again, Fitz has made it on to the Top 100 list, this year at 68th. It’s the fifth straight year Fitzgerald has been on the list, and admittedly, his status has moved from 14th to seventh to 22nd to 38th to his current spot.
But again, Fitzgerald, in an era of prolific receiving numbers, hasn’t had a 1,000-yard season since 2011 and yet still grabs the attention of the other players that he would be on this list (and undoubtedly, by the time the list is complete, other receivers with better stats will be left off.) Bruce Arians has said a number of times Fitz’s stats won’t return to gaudy numbers, but the franchise still wants to make sure Fitz is around. It was also clear that right before Carson Palmer got hurt last season, he and Fitz were finally clicking at a nice rate of return.
He’s the team’s emotional leader these days, which often can impact as much as a big catch. And even if his numbers have shrunk a bit, he’s still good for plenty of those too.
Tags: Larry Fitzgerald
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The NFL Network’s annual top 100 players list began to be revealed tonight, and the first 10 players included a Cardinal: Defensive end Calais Campbell.
It’s the first time Campbell has made the list (last year, Daryl Washington was named, as was Larry Fitzgerald and finally, Patrick Peterson.) There is little question the last year or two Campbell had a serious argument that he should have been in when he wasn’t. As for this year, Campbell clearly has mixed feelings.
“It’s a cool list to be on but I don’t feel they really get enough people to vote on it so I don’t know how accurate it is,” Campbell said. “But it is cool interacting with the fans and putting it on NFL Network and everyone likes to watch it. I just wish they did a better job getting more votes. Still it’s cool to be on the list and even if you are not it’s cool to watch it and see the other guys and see what people think of other players.”
It’s hard to argue the point about accuracy — as good as Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri is, can he really be considered better than Campbell? (Campbell was 99th on the list, Vinatieri is 98th.)
Tags: Calais Campbell, Daryl Washington, Larry Fitzgerald, NFL Network, Patrick Peterson
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Special teams work is usually all-encompassing. This time of year, there are few on the roster who aren’t taking part in the early stages of coverage work because you never know when you might be needed as part of the 53-man roster. There are exceptions, of course. Most of the defensive linemen aren’t involved, or offensive linemen. The quarterbacks. And, given their stature and status, wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd aren’t in there either.
So while the bulk of the team was specializing for the first part of today’s Phase 2 work, Carson Palmer was down on one end of a field with Fitz and Floyd, discussing in-tight red zone routes and then practicing them — how Palmer wanted the receivers to run the routes, discussing the timing and what the defensive back might do, and those sorts of things.
It was a little thing. But it’s one of those things where, when you see it, you understand why it was so important for Palmer to get back on the field this time of year after his knee injury. These are the little things that add up.
Tags: Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd
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Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald will be holding his fourth annual ProCamp in about a month — May 9-10, to be exact — for boys and girls in grades 1-8. Both days will run from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Tempe’s McClintock High School. Led by prep and college coaches from the area, Fitz — who recently stopped by the Cardinals’ facility to get a workout in in between jumping off ridiculously high places — will help teach fundamental football skills while interacting with the kids.
Each camper gets a Fitz autograph and a team photo with Larry. Cost is $199, although when you sign up if you use the code “askdarren” you’ll get 15 percent off. Just go to www.procamps.com/larryfitzgerald.
Tags: Larry Fitzgerald
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It was quite the weekend, with free agency around the league slowing down and some tidbits floated here and there about the Cardinals and Adrian Peterson. No, I don’t think anything is imminent and I continue to hold to my original thought — that the Vikings will find a way to keep him. Keeping him, even at his salary, to help with young QB Teddy Bridgewater, is in my opinion the best football decision for the Vikings. Maybe Peterson is unhappy and doesn’t want to stay. But I don’t see them just cutting him, and the reality is, Peterson only has so much leverage. What’s he going to do — sit out a second straight season in his prime? That doesn’t make sense to me.
As for some of the other stuff that’s been said:
— Peter King is saying the Cardinals haven’t even had any discussions with the Vikings.
— Charles Robinson, who certainly seems to be talking someone in Peterson’s camp, keeps saying Peterson wants $25 million guaranteed over three years. OK. If you are just doing the guaranteed money, that’s a little more than $8M a year, but it’d be all guaranteed. Most deals have money beyond guaranteed too. Do you do that for a guy who will be 30 next week? Yes, it’s less than what he’s making, but …
— Robinson says Peterson is willing to restructure. What Carson Palmer did was restructure. Is Peterson willing to take a pay cut? If so, how much?
— The draft is full of prospects. Cheap prospects. If you still like Andre Ellington — and there is no reason to think the Cardinals do not — the Cards could pick up a good between-the-tackles guy in the first or second round and pair him with Ellington and still be left with cap room.
— Everyone assumed the Palmer restructure was a harbinger of something. It still could be. But the Cards might have just been getting low on cap space — they have, according to the NFLPA, about $9.9 million in space, and Palmer’s move created about $7M — and if they were going to do something with Palmer’s deal they had to when they did because his bonus was due last week. It might’ve been as simple as that. The Cards need around $4 million in cap space to bring in their top draft picks. Without Palmer’s move, they had about $3 million.
— Fitz isn’t being traded. Period. Forget the logistics or cap hit or anything. Ownership wanted Larry Fitzgerald in a Cardinals uniform. He is an important face of the franchise, and that’s why this new deal was done. The Cardinals aren’t going to let him go.
Again, I’m not saying a Peterson trade could not happen. But there are so many moving parts, between what his contract would be, what the Vikings might want in trade, whether the Vikings would even want to part with him, and what other teams around the league might offer (just because Peterson says he wants to go to this team or that doesn’t mean the Vikings have to accommodate him) it’s tough to get a true handle where this will go.
As far as “going for it,” I just keep coming back to this thought from GM Steve Keim, who has said a version of this to me many times: “You always have to think about the long-term health of the organization.” He’s talking in terms of the salary cap. Keim often mentions “sustained success.” That doesn’t mean you can’t add a veteran who costs some money. But any undertaking will have some deep thought, and deep research, behind it.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Andre Ellington, Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Keim, Vikings
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Larry Fitzgerald may be taking less money than was on his original contract, but many have noticed that the $22 million he’s getting guaranteed over the next two seasons is a great deal. That was Andrew Brandt’s theme as he analyzed the situation in a MMQB.com piece. Brandt’s thoughts — “With NFL finances clearly tilted towards management, there are few outliers who have ‘won’ on the business side like Fitzgerald” — took me back to something Fitz said during training camp.
It was the day Patrick Peterson had his press conference for his new lucrative contract, and Fitzgerald — as a veteran around the team — was asked his opinion of where the Cardinals were in terms of spending money.
“I for one can tell you the Cardinals are not a cheap organization,” Fitzgerald said. “I will stand on a table and say all day long they are not. We can put that to bed.”
Indeed, Fitz has made around $120 million already from the Cardinals on his various contracts since 2004. That doesn’t include a dime he’s made in endorsements, just the cash he’s gotten from the team. Now he gets another $22M guaranteed. It also dovetails nicely with the first part of Brandt’s column, which explains how the salary cap — in the end — doesn’t have to kill a team in terms of getting players.
You want cap space, but in the end, when asking about a marriage between a player and a team, just know that if the team wants the player bad enough, it can happen — regardless of the cap space or how expensive the player might be. Now, there is a give and take. You might be causing cap complications down the road, or the player you want may want more than you are willing to give him. But it’s rare that a player simply can’t be fit under whatever cap you might have.
Bringing it back to Fitz, it would have been interesting to see what Fitzgerald might have been able to get on the open market. Conventional wisdom says it wouldn’t have been as much as the Cardinals gave him, but it was important on many levels to keep Fitzgerald around. The two sides made it work. The Cards are trying to do the same with Darnell Dockett — and GM Steve Keim said those talks are ongoing.
Tags: Larry Fitzgerald, salary cap, Steve Keim
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