It became official today that the Cardinals lost veteran free-agent cornerback Tramon Williams, as Williams goes back to the Packers (a team he never really wanted to leave a few years ago.) E.J. Gaines, who visited the Cards recently, signed with the Browns. The Cards are reportedly getting a visit from former Bear and one-time-Cardinal Marcus Cooper, who was solid in his lone season in Arizona in 2016.
Williams, though, turned out to be one of those excellent Keim Time signings when he arrived during training camp last season. He started off on the bench behind Justin Bethel, but when he got into the lineup permanently he made a significant impact even at age 34 (he just turned 35 last week.)
(UPDATE: The Cards signed CB Bené Benwikere Friday.)
It also means the search for stability across from Peterson continues. Since Peterson got into the starting lineup as a rookie, his starting corner across from him has changed yearly:
2011: A.J. Jefferson/Richard Marshall
2012: William Gay
2013: Jerraud Powers
2014: Antonio Cromartie
2015: Jerraud Powers
2016: Brandon Williams/Marcus Cooper
2017: Justin Bethel/Tramon Williams
Tags: Bene Benwikere, Marcus Cooper, Patrick Peterson, Tramon Williams
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It’s the dead time between the end of minicamp and training camp, and again, there is the question: Who will be the cornerback starting across from Patrick Peterson? As it stands, Justin Bethel is the leader in the clubhouse, although he was that at this time last year (despite a foot injury) and he never started a game. As we talked about in the latest Cardinals Underground podcast, Bethel has looked better than he had. Health helps. But until the pads come on and the games count, it’s impossible to know for sure.
But it got me to thinking about the position since Patrick Peterson arrived. Peterson, the fifth overall pick in 2011, had a learning curve himself when he was drafted. He wasn’t a great cornerback as a rookie, but he was solid. And he started all 16 games. His cohort opposite? It has not been the same player two years in a row, and that’s a trend that will continue this season regardless of whether it is Bethel or a veteran who might sign before camp or whoever.
2011 — Richard Marshall 9 starts/A.J. Jefferson 7 starts: Jefferson actually was the starter coming out of camp, but he faded quickly and was replaced by the veteran Marshall. Marshall was OK. He was probably better known as one of the better punt return blockers that got Peterson loose for his spectacular rookie year as a return man.
2012 — William Gay 15/Greg Toler 1: Gay signed as a free agent but was up and down. He immediately went back to Pittsburgh, where he was better suited and still starts. Then again, 2012 wasn’t good for any of the Cardinals. Remember 4-0 that year?
2013 — Jerraud Powers 16: One of the first free agents signed after Steve Keim and Bruce Arians took over. Powers was steady, although he was probably better suited in the slot. The Cardinals had Tyrann Mathieu plans there, so Powers dutifully worked the outside, and he was fine.
2014 — Antonio Cromartie 16: Cro was the ultimate Keim blue light special. Came in, was mostly good (although there were a few high-profile hiccups, especially later in the season when the team struggled) and made the Pro Bowl. But he wasn’t going to re-sign for cheap again, the Jets made him a big offer, and Cromartie started showing his age in New York.
2015 — Powers 13/Justin Bethel 3: Powers was disappointed but a team player when the Cards upgraded to Cromartie, and stepped back in the breech as the only two-time Peterson companion (Bethel’s starts came during Powers’ injuries.) Again, he was solid for a team that made the NFC Championship. But the Cardinals wanted to upgrade, there was belief Bethel could take a step forward, and Powers was allowed to leave in free agency when the sides couldn’t match up on the money it would take to keep him around.
2016 — Marcus Cooper 13/Brandon Williams 3: We know the story by now. Bethel was the pick, but was hurt. Mike Jenkins was the likely starter before blowing out his knee in preseason. The veteran Cooper was the late trade before the season, and got the spot after the rookie Williams showed he was clearly not ready after being the early choice. Cooper left as a free agent, getting a surprisingly nice deal in Chicago. And here we are again.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Antonio Cromartie, Brandon Williams, Greg Toler, Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel, Marcus Cooper, Patrick Peterson, Richard Marshall, William Gay
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A team can have up to four compensatory draft picks — extra picks a team gets when it loses more free agents than it signs — in a year. While the comp picks, maxed out at 32 across the league, are a moving target for now with free agency ongoing, the Cardinals seem to be in line for four extra choices. The actual formula remains a secret, but enough people have been working on it enough that a general idea of where the picks land can be estimated. Overthecap.com credits the Cardinals (as of now) with an extra third-rounder, an extra fourth-rounder, an extra fifth-rounder and an extra sixth-rounder in the 2018 draft.
Calais Campbell nets the third-round pick. Tony Jefferson the fourth-rounder. Marcus Cooper gets a fifth-rounder, and although the loss of D.J. Swearinger is canceled out by the signing of kicker Phil Dawson, Kevin Minter’s departure gets a sixth-rounder. The losses of Earl Watford and Alex Okafor are offset by the signings of Karlos Dansby and Jarvis Jones.
Again, this is an estimation. The league doesn’t release the formula, and other things eventually can be involved, including playing time and postseason honors. But if the Cards end up with four extra picks, that wouldn’t be too bad. There doesn’t seem to be much percolating with any new signings right now, which would mean more extra picks at this time next year.
Tags: Calais Campbell, compensatory picks, D.J. Swearinger, draft, Kevin Minter, Marcus Cooper, Phil Dawson, Tony Jefferson
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Brandon Carr went to the Ravens Thursday and Morris Claiborne to the Jets and the free-agent cornerback pool got a little smaller. But at this point, I’m not sure it makes a big difference to the Cardinals. Yes, with the defection of Marcus Cooper to the Bears, the Cardinals are going to have to find a new starter opposite Patrick Peterson. But it looks like that will be a slowly developing situation rather than an immediate fix.
There remain in-house candidates like Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams. Bethel did just take a paycut as he tries to rehab his cornerback stock (he did play well at the nickel late in the season and Bruce Arians noted that Bethel’s best spot was probably in the slot), while Williams struggled a lot as the raw, young cornerback that he is and he is far from a sure thing as a starter in this league.
But in a draft deep in cornerback talent, choosing one in the early rounds looks like the initial play. There are a few “name” cornerbacks still out there in free agency — Alterraun Verner, Brandon Flowers, and yes, Darrelle Revis, for example — but there is a reason they are still on the market. (No, I don’t see any chance Revis would be a pickup, regardless.)
This seems headed for the same place it was last season, where Bethel and now Williams and a draft pick will get a chance to show what they have, and a veteran will be picked up at some point to be in the mix. Remember, the Cardinals added Mike Jenkins and Alan Ball in camp last year before injuries took them out (Jenkins was your starter before he hurt his knee) and the team traded for Cooper.
Tags: Alan Ball, Alterraun Verner, Brandon Flowers, Brandon Williams, Darrelle Revis, draft, free agency, Justin Bethel, Marcus Cooper, Mike Jenkins, Patrick Peterson
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The Cardinals would’ve liked to keep Calais Campbell. And Tony Jefferson (or D.J. Swearinger), and Marcus Cooper too. But the prices got to be a lot larger than the team wanted to pay, and there was a flip side to those players defecting — and to the way the Cardinals have looked at bringing in free agents themselves over the last few days: Compensatory picks.
Comp picks are the extra selections at the end of each round, starting in the third, that teams get after all the free agent comings and goings are tallied. The NFL keeps the formula for comp picks secret, although a) it’s determined by each team’s free agents losses and gains, along with the size of those players’ new contracts, plus playing time and postseason honors; and b) there are only so many in a draft.
(This was made painfully clear to the Cardinals recently. The Cardinals get an extra fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft next month, and they had qualified for three other extra seventh-round picks — but the NFL caps the total number of comp picks at 32, and since teams across the league qualified for 39 total, the last seven didn’t count. The extra three of the Cards’ picks fell in that last seven “dead zone.”)
There are other things that dictate the comings-and-goings part of the comp pick equation. Players who are in the league 10 years or more don’t matter as much (so the Cards aren’t really hurt by the “coming” of Karlos Dansby, who was basically canceled out by the “going” of Alex Okafor to the Saints). This only applies to free agents who had contracts expire (so Antoine Bethea, cut by San Francisco, does not count in the equation.)
A team would max out with four comp picks in any given draft. Right now, it looks like the Cardinals would be in line for four — four pretty good ones. Those that break this down (the best they can, given the secrecy of the exact formula) estimate the Cardinals gaining potentially two third-round picks in 2018, plus a couple of others. Even if one of the picks isn’t a third but a fourth, plus a couple of other later ones in the fifth- or sixth-round to get to the maximum four, it would give the Cardinals a lot of firepower in the 2018 draft. (If it played out like that, it’d be 10 draft picks, because the Cards traded their 2018 seventh-rounder to Kansas City for Cooper).
Nothing is set in stone, but the money is a big driver in comp picks and at this point, you figure the big money in free agency is already gone. If the Cards were going to lose high-profile free agents, they at least figure to get something out of it.
Tags: Calais Campbell, compensatory picks, D.J. Swearinger, draft, Marcus Cooper, Tony Jefferson
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As we get past the first few days of free agency and the contract numbers begin to trickle in, we got a sense of how pricey the market was for some (like Calais Campbell) and how the Cards have interpreted those who have left and who have arrived. With that, some thoughts on some of the contracts handed out to recently departed and freshly minted Cardinals:
— Campbell got $30 million guaranteed over the first two years of his four-year deal, and gets a $3M bonus in early 2019 if the Jaguars choose to keep him. That’s a lot of money, but it’s why the Cardinals-Campbell marriage was destined to end. The Jags had (have) oodles of cap space, so they front-loaded the contract. The Cards didn’t see fiscally how that would make sense for them.
— The same goes for the $19 million guaranteed for Tony Jefferson and the $8 million guaranteed for Marcus Cooper, who got a three-year deal with the Bears. Bruce Arians said Cooper could get big money, and he did. I have to say I was a little surprised.
— Along those lines, I’ve heard from a handful of fans asking me about doing something like a trade for Patriots RFA CB Malcolm Butler. Not going to happen. To give up a pick and be facing a need for a giant contract extension in a secondary that already has two giant contracts with Pat P and Honey Badger, nope. This draft class is strong at cornerback. I’d guess they will draft one at some point. Will they add a vet? Maybe, but it won’t be for giant money.
— Karlos Dansby gets $2 million if he stays healthy and plays a lot. That’s a reasonable contract for a soon-to-be 36-year-old who figures to start. (Kevin Minter, who was unlikely to return after Dansby signed, was reportedly visiting the Colts Monday.)
— Jarvis Jones, the Steelers’ OLB free agent, was visiting the Cardinals. That would seem tied to Alex Okafor, who was visiting the Saints. If Okafor comes back to the Cardinals, they won’t need Jones. If Okafor departs, there’s a need Jones could fill.
— Have to say I was a little surprised Andre Ellington returned, not because the Cards wouldn’t want him — they need players behind David Johnson and Ellington can produce, especially as a receiver — but because I thought he’d want to find a place where he might get more time. The running backs market is not robust. And Ellington said he wanted to stay. Speaking of prices, I’m sure it was a team-friendly contract. It’d be good to see Ellington break off a couple of those electrifying plays he had his first couple of years.
Tags: Alex Okafor, Calais Campbell, free agency, Jarvis Jones, Karlos Dansby, Malcolm Butler, Marcus Cooper, Tony Jefferson
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By this time tomorrow the Cardinals and the NFL will be well into free agency. The “tampering” period has given everyone plenty of opportunity to get a head start on signing players, although no visits are supposed to have been set up and no players — just agents — are supposed to have talked to teams yet.
What has floated around the Cardinals is all about their own guys so far. Linebacker Chandler Jones, who isn’t going anywhere because he was franchise tagged, is reportedly close to a contract extension with the Cards. That would help cap space, but there is nothing official yet and we’ll see how quickly it can get done. Calais Campbell has been linked to the Jaguars, Bucs and maybe Broncos, but nothing concrete, while Tony Jefferson can apparently break the bank in Cleveland if he wants, while the Ravens and Jets are also showing interest.
Reports also have cornerback Marcus Cooper getting interest from the Jets and safety D.J. Swearinger possible interest from the Bears.
Where does that leave the Cards? Still with a long list of free agents who will hit the market officially at 2 p.m. Arizona time Thursday unless the team re-signs them beforehand. That current list:
— RB Andre Ellington
— RB Chris Johnson
— RB Stepfan Taylor
— TE Darren Fells
— G Taylor Boggs
— C A.Q. Shipley
— OL Earl Watford
— DT Calais Campbell
— DT Frostee Rucker
— LB Kevin Minter
— LB Sio Moore
— LB Alex Okafor
— CB Marcus Cooper
— S Tony Jefferson
— CB Mike Jenkins
— S D.J. Swearinger
— K Chandler Catanzaro
Free agency has arrived.
Tags: Calais Campbell, Chandler Jones, D.J. Swearinger, franchise tag, free agency, Marcus Cooper, Tony Jefferson
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The message wasn’t a surprise. Calais Campbell has been calling every game a playoff game and none of the players in the locker room were confused at exactly what was at stake Sunday. Still, when Bruce Arians brought his team together after the rainy loss in Miami and said out loud that it likely doomed its playoff hopes, “it was terrible to hear,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “I don’t think that’s set in yet.”
Perhaps it was its downfall, but this team never really gave serious thought to the idea it wouldn’t make the playoffs. There are many reasons for that, one being that under Arians, this team has never been in this predicament. In his first season, the Cardinals won seven of eight down the stretch and went into the last weekend still with a slim chance to make the playoffs. The past two years, they had clinched playoff spots right around now.
No reason to belabor the point right now. The Cardinals do have three games left to play, and those last two – road trips to Seattle and Los Angeles – aren’t just any games. Those remain personal. Motivation is there.
But everyone knew the expectations of this season. Falling short of even making the playoffs wasn’t supposed to be part of the equation.
— We will see what the week brings, but left tackle D.J. Humphries left with a concussion and right tackle Ulrick John was injured on the Cards’ last offensive play. Not sure who might be left to play if both are too banged up to go. Earl Watford indeed was reinstalled as right guard in place of John Wetzel, but Wetzel ended up having to play anyway. Injuries have just torn up the offensive line.
Defensively, the Cardinals already were iffy on the return of Tyrann Mathieu and now Tyvon Branch may be down, and perhaps cornerback Marcus Cooper.
— The rain is not why the Cardinals lost, but it came down at times incredibly hard and it was weird how it did seem to kick up when the Cards had the ball.
“I swear to God it felt like every time we touched the ball it started raining,” wide receiver Brittan Golden said.
— Speaking of Golden, he got his first career TD reception, but he actually went in to the game for a play before that – at deep safety. Cooper and Branch were out and safety Tony Jefferson got banged up on a play and had to leave the field for a snap. Golden has practiced at times with the secondary, but this was the first time he actually went out there playing deep centerfield on a run play. And what went through his mind?
“Please don’t break that tackle,” Golden said with a grin.
— It was probably fitting that the loss that basically ended their hopes came in large part because of special teams woes. This week it was the kicker Chandler Catanzaro and long snapper Aaron Brewer. Couple of high snaps doomed two extra points, one of which was returned for two points. Add in the missed field goal of 41 yards, and that’s a seven-point swing in a three-point game. Killer.
Yet Cat Man mixed in a 56-yard field goal that I will admit I was shocked Arians called for, a boot that was the third-longest in franchise history – behind the 60-yarder he had in Buffalo earlier this season and the 61-yarder Jay Feely had against the Bills in Arizona in 2012.
— Sunday may be the first time in NFL history both teams faced a third-and-at-least-33.
— Larry Fitzgerald was targeted nine times Sunday but had only three catches for a scant 12 yards. He has 91 receptions this season but so many of late have been for so few yards that his per-catch average has sunk to less than 10 yards a reception – 9.8 to be exact.
— The rain made the downfield passing game terrible. Michael Floyd had 18 yards on two catches – and those were the most by any wide receiver. Fitz had his 12, Golden nine and J.J. Nelson eight. Smoke Brown played but wasn’t targeted.
— Kerwynn Williams did well in the wildcat. He took three snaps as a “quarterback,” running each time, gaining 34 yards. The Cardinals had 175 yards rushing as a team and averaged 6.5 yards a carry. But with the turnovers and the sideways special teams, it wasn’t enough.
— Three games left. We’ll see how the Cardinals play it out.
Tags: Aaron Brewer, Brittan Golden, Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Chandler Catanzaro, D.J. Humphries, Dolphins, Kerwynn Williams, Larry Fitzgerald, Marcus Cooper, Michael Floyd, Tony Jefferson, Tyvon Branch, Ulrick John
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All week, the talk was Carson Palmer, Carson Palmer, Carson Palmer. Then comes the Friday curveball: Palmer should be OK to play Sunday, but Smokey Brown isn’t OK. Brown has the sickle-cell trait that is causing leg pain, coach Bruce Arians said. I’m not a doctor and there is precious little information (Brown was not in the locker room to answer questions Friday), but it doesn’t sound great. But it does sound like it can be helped now that the Cardinals and Brown know about it — plenty of NFL players have the trait. One, former Cardinals cornerback Jerraud Powers, tweeted he has it (and that he recently talked about it for an article.)
No, I don’t know what this means long-term or even short-term for Brown, although Arians wouldn’t rule him out for Sunday’s game. Still, it’s a jarring finish to a week that I’m sure the Cardinals would have liked to be a lot more stable heading into such a game with the Seahawks.
— At least Palmer is playing. Is he 100 percent? Clearly not. But there never seemed to be any doubt about his availability. One way to read the tea leaves when it comes to the starting QB — given that Drew Stanton is the only other QB on the roster, as long as they don’t activate Zac Dysert from the practice squad, you have to feel that they are confident in Palmer. Otherwise, they’d want Dysert available just in case.
— Michael Floyd had fallen behind Brown on the depth chart. Now, it looks like Brown might not play. And Floyd frequently does well against the Seahawks. This is his time. Will he take it?
— With Palmer dealing with his hamstring and Brown hurting, it would seem to point even stronger in the direction of heavy David Johnson Sunday. Easier said than done against a very good Seattle run defense. If you look back to the lousy games the Cards have played against the Seahawks, the terrible imbalance in rushing yards (547 for Seattle, only 86 for the Cardinals) is a big reason why. Johnson himself was held to 23 yards on 11 carries last year.
— The Cardinals (who, yes, have trailed big most of the time in those games, costing them chances to run) haven’t rushed for more than 30 yards in any of those three games. In contrast, Andre Ellington’s game-clinching touchdown scamper in Seattle last season covered 48 yards.
— Tracking down Russell Wilson will be a key, as usual. Wilson isn’t running nearly as much (only 35 yards rushing thus far, after hurting his knee early in the season) but it’d be naïve to think losing track of him won’t kill the Cardinals’ defense. The Cardinals have done a great job with their four-man rush. Maybe that will help allow the Cardinals to use a robber/spy in the middle of the field to watch Wilson.
— You know the Cardinals are looking closely at the Seattle offensive line, and in particular, left tackle Bradley Sowell — the former backup here. “Bradley looks like he’s the same guy that he was here,” Arians said. “Tough, plays hard. Has had some problems, but he’ll play extremely hard against us.”
— Curious to see if the Cardinals feel there is a place to use the seven defensive backs-approach at all. The first time they used it against the Jets, it was three guys up front, money linebacker Deone Bucannon (who some might still see as a safety and therefore an eighth DB) and then a bunch of defensive backs.
It not only worked ex-Seahawk Tharold Simon into the mix but Justin Bethel saw his first defensive action of the season. If not for his foot problems, Bethel would’ve gotten a shot at that No. 2 CB job that has become Marcus Cooper’s.
“I like the fact that they came up with a package to start giving me something on defense,” Bethel said, who admitted it might not mean a lot more work. “We brought in a lot of good guys. Coop’s been playing great. Tharold has been playing great in ‘penny’ situations. As long as they’re playing the way they are, there’s no point in taking them out. I think they’ll find ways to get me out there, and I’ll do whatever I can do to help us get these wins.”
— A reminder that the parking lots will open at 1:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
— Another reminder: One week from today the NFL Network will premiere its “A Football Life” episode about Pat Tillman.
— One more thing to reflect upon with the Seahawks coming to town: Last year, the Cardinals actually were only down 10-6 in the second quarter (they missed an extra point) before it got sideways. In 2014, the incredibly short-handed Cards were leading 3-0 midway through the second quarter. It’s not just about matching the Seahawks’ intensity to start but matching it through the whole game. We’ll see if the Cardinals can make that happen.
See you Sunday.
Tags: Carson Palmer, David Johnson, Deone Bucannon, Jerraud Powers, John Brown, Justin Bethel, Marcus Cooper, Michael Floyd, Russell Wilson, Seahawks, Tharold Simon
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Chris Johnson’s move to injured reserve will attract more eyeballs — and certainly, CJ2K’s loss means something, even if the running game was always going to be powered by David Johnson — but the loss of Tyvon Branch may end up with greater impact. Here was a guy signed to improve speed in the secondary and to be used like Tyrann Mathieu, able to play the slot when Mathieu couldn’t, and perhaps allow some sneaky flip-flopping from time to time.
Now Branch is done, at least for a couple of months. The Cardinals are fortunate that Mathieu says he wants to be Mathieu again. The Cardinals could use a dose of Honey Badger. Bruce Arians said Mathieu isn’t the only player primed to play in that spot — the coach mentioned Marcus Cooper in particular — but “no one plays it like Ty when he thinks he’s ready.”
Does Arians think he’s ready? “If he feels he’s ready, he’s ready,” Arians said.
Not that this necessarily is the panacea for all the Cardinals’ ills. The Cards still need to make sure receivers do go running free every so often. And Mathieu has nothing to do with the slow offensive starts. But if there is anything to be drawn positive from an injury-filled week — we still await Carson Palmer’s status, but it still seems like Drew Stanton will end up starting at QB Thursday night — it’s the fact Mathieu is moving toward Honey Badgerness.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Chris Johnson, Marcus Cooper, Tyrann Mathieu
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