Back in 2006, when Matt Leinart was just drafted and Denny Green was in charge, the hype around the Cardinals’ freshly-minted quarterback-of-the-future was off the charts. Back then, Kurt Warner was just a guy, a placeholder for Leinart much like Warner had been for Eli Manning and the Giants back in 2004. But Green was having none of the hype. He made it plain — in a perfect scenario for 2006, Warner would play all season, and Leinart would sit and learn the whole year and not even play a single snap.
(Of course, that didn’t happen because Warner fumbled the ball all over the place and Leinart came in and it got me one of my all-time favorite quotes from Denny. I asked him, with the Cards 1-8 and Leinart struggling, what it would have meant for Leinart to have sat the entire season as the original plan, and Denny’s first reaction was, “That’s an awfully philosophical question for a Wednesday.” As opposed to saving the philosophical questions for Friday. But I digress.)
Flash forward to 2013, when the Cardinals could spend their highest pick on a QB since that season. Will it be the first round? If I am guessing, I say no. Never say never I suppose. The second round seems more likely. But unlike Green, both GM Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians would rather drop a first-round rookie in the fire. No reason to wait.
“My philosophy is, if you are taking a player that high, particularly at the quarterback position, I think that guy needs to be on the field and play for you,” Keim said. “To me, a player grows by being on the field and taking snaps, and I don’t think you can replicate that, whether it is the speed of the game, the timing of routes … in practice. He needs to be on the field.”
Said Arians, “I’ve never been one to sit them on the bench. You never learn on the bench. He’s not going to get any reps in practice because that’s for the starter. If you want him to develop, you give him every rep in practice and you throw him out there. Hopefully you can put enough talent around him that he can handle the downside.”
Tags: Bruce Arians, Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart, quarterbacks, Steve Keim
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Ah, Nashville. The last two times we were here, the story was always the quarterback. In 2009, Kurt Warner, last moment, decided his concussion wouldn’t let him play, and Matt Leinart almost had the game he needed – until Vince Young put together a 99-yard drive to finish the game and the Cardinals. The last time here was the beginning of the end for Leinart, the preseason week spent in Tennessee where Leinart was demoted from the first unit in favor of Derek Anderson and we all know how that turned out.
Some things never change. Quarterbacks are still front and center. John Skelton gets the start and ostensibly, the chance to put a stranglehold on the job. Kevin Kolb will play. Coach Ken Whisenhunt hasn’t given any indication this battle is over. This game will mean something. Ron Wolfley made a point the other day both on the podcast and his radio show that Kolb has probably been better in practice where Skelton has been better in games, which is why this is probably closer for coaches than fans (who don’t watch practice daily but watch the games.)
In any case, it looks like this game will only add to the quarterback legacy that Cards’ trips to Nashville have built.
— Watching Beanie Wells in a game for the first time will be fascinating. We’re on the precipice of the regular season. It looks like Ryan Williams is in good shape to be ready as expected. It’s time for Wells to make a similar step. It has been suggested Beanie runs with a limp. Some of that has to do with getting used to his brace and getting back on the field for the first time in a while. But those of us who have observed Beanie have always noticed what to me, at least, seems like an awkward gait when Wells walks quickly or runs half-speed, even when totally healthy. When he turns it up, it disappears.
— Larry Fitzgerald said he knew all along there probably wouldn’t be a choice at quarterback just yet. “You can’t just give guys one game. That’s not much of a competition,” he said. “We knew it would probably come down to the wire.”
— D.J. Young and D’Anthony Batiste get their chance to show what they can do at left tackle. Will one emerge? Maybe. Conventional wisdom seems to be that Batiste has a better shot than Young. There are more options than Batiste at right tackle, which could be Jeremy Bridges or even just sinking or swimming with rookie Bobby Massie (although the Massie move might be easier to deal with if Brown was still in the lineup). A savior isn’t coming, though. The Cardinals might pick someone up in free agency or the waiver wire, but again, anyone on the street is on the street for a reason. Chad Clifton is available, for instance, because he’s been injured and is 36. Anyone cut next week will be cut because there were at least two guys better than him on his previous roster. That’s reality.
(And a quick side note on the depth behind Brown, and the Cards being caught unprepared – you always want the best depth you can get on the roster, but I’m not sure you build a roster with the idea of a guy possibly going down with a season-ending injury. You’re counting on the starter to be there, especially a guy like Brown, who had played every game for the last four seasons. I think they felt Batiste/Bridges would have been fine as a Brown fill-in for a game or two.)
— Brown had his surgery, by the way. The Cardinals have to trim 15 players off the roster by Monday (although it may come as soon as Friday.) One of those moves, I would think, would be Brown’s move to injured reserve. I just don’t see them saving a roster spot for an end-of-season return. We will see.
— Left guard Daryn Colledge on losing Levi: “If anyone was (indestructible) I thought it would be Levi. Anyone who tears a triceps and just takes a knee (after the play) and talks about it, that’s a pretty studly guy to me. But anyone can go down on any play, that’s the hard part about preseason. We lose him in Week 14, that’s something, but lose him in Minus-Week 3, that’s one of the worst things that can happen.”
— Lots of questions about whether Quan Sturdivant is going to make the team, but it seems like a longshot with the way Reggie Walker has been playing. Your starters are Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon, and I think both Walker and Stewart Bradley have played well in the preseason. Four inside linebackers seems like enough. It’s been suggested that maybe the $3 million for Lenon might put him on the bubble, but the way he has performed and with his durability, I just don’t see him anywhere but the roster.
— Besides the first cuts that I mentioned earlier, final cuts must be made the day after the final preseason game, Friday the 31st.
Tags: Beanie Wells, Bobby Massie, Chad Clifton, D'Anthony Batiste, D.J. Young, Daryl Washington, Daryn Colledge, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Larry Fitzgerald, Levi Brown, Matt Leinart, Paris Lenon, Quan Sturdivant, Reggie Walker, Ron Wolfley, Ryan Williams, Stewart Bradley, Titans
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Not only did the Cards win a game Friday night, but there was an awful lot going on beyond just an outcome. Some very, very good. Some potentially very bad. Whatever you want to say about Levi Brown, but if he is out for an extended period of time, it bodes poorly for the Cards. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has to look at the video, but asked specifically about tackles D’Anthony Batiste and D.J. Young after the game, the first things he thought of about both were plays on which they were beaten. Batiste, who started on the right side, would be a left tackle option. So would Jeremy Bridges. We’ll see.
— The Twitterverse was counting on the quarterback situation to be resolved tonight. Nope. Whiz made it clear he wants to see John Skelton in extended time in Tennessee first. Kevin Kolb started very well, but then it got worse. Some of that was blocking, some was field position, and I know many fans don’t care about that anymore.
— Center Lyle Sendlein was asked about the idea that Skelton seems to get a little better protection. It was awkward – I’m not sure he saw the question coming – but he answered it.
“I think it’s just pure chance,” Sendlein said. “It’s nothing done differently. We don’t block harder for one guy and not try as hard for the other guy. I think situationally we were backed up with Kevin a lot. With John we had some turnovers and short drives. It’s just pure chance.”
— Speaking of Kolb, Raiders defensive end Tommy Kelly took a shot at him after the game, calling Kolb “skittish” and “scared.” “He ain’t even trying to look at the routes no more.” Interesting analysis (although I’m not 100 percent sure how a lineman working hard getting to the QB can necessarily tell that on the field.) It’s a perception Kolb is going to be fighting going forward.
— With everything going on it felt like in my story I gave rookie Justin Bethel the short shrift. All he did was block a punt and return it for a touchdown and then block an extra point, giving him three blocked kicks this preseason already. He’s made the team. That seems a certainty. My cohort Josh Weinfuss will have more on Bethel Sunday in a story he’s working on, but clearly, that kind of special teams production won’t be overlooked.
— Ryan Williams looked very good in his return. He took his hits, he broke off a 15-yard run, and he scored a touchdown – which, as usually happens, ended with Larry Fitzgerald making sure he got the ball. “I totally forgot about the football, because you’re not allowed to do that in college,” Williams said. “Larry grabbed me and hugged me and said, ‘I’m proud of you and I’m glad we got you back.’ ”
A great gesture. I am guessing the football from the first touchdown that counts will mean even more.
— Rookie CB Jamell Fleming had a rough night, with a unnecessary roughness call hitting a receiver (questionable) and a pass interference (questionable). But as questionable as they were, they still count against you.
— Safety Rashad Johnson was out of uniform by the time the game ended. Not sure if he got dinged or what the reason was.
— Raiders quarterback Matt Leinart’s return was cut short after he left needing stiches on a finger. He finished 5-for-8 for 66 yards. “It felt really good to be out there,” Leinart said. “It was kind of weird at first just to be back, but it felt good.”
— The first-team defense was much better. It needs to be. The turnovers were a good start. “We didn’t tackle well or play with any emotion (the first two games),” safety Kerry Rhodes said. “We wanted to come out here and be emotional, just play like a kid and have fun.”
OK, it’s late. Whiz said he hoped to have more info on Levi tomorrow (later today I guess, less than 12 hours).
Tags: D'Anthony Batiste, D.J. Young, Jamell Fleming, Jeremy Bridges, Justin Bethel, Ken Whisenhunt, Kerry Rhodes, Levi Brown, Lyle Sendlein, Matt Leinart, Raiders, Rashad Johnson, Ryan Williams, Tommy Kelly
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So here it is, the day before the game in which Ken Whisenhunt promised to play his starters until they got it right. That was the message at the beginning of the week, and then Whisenhunt and his staff worked the Cards pretty hard over the next few days in Flagstaff.
It seems to me – and really, what do I know? – it worked.
“I don’t quite understand why he was trying to take us out of the preseason earlier anyway,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “I guess it’s (being) cautious, but we’re not out there to protect guys. We’re out there to get better, to make strides. For him to have to come and say that to us is disappointing, and we have to take care of our Coach because he takes care of us. I can guarantee that will not be the same Cardinals’ team (Friday night) that you all saw the last two weeks.”
The stars line up well for the Cards. It’s their first home game. There is desperation by a defense that has been disappointing and a starting quarterback fighting to stay in the hunt to be a starter. There is a clear edge in the air from a coaching staff that wants more, and an opponent who just played Monday night.
We’ll see if the attention to detail Adrian Wilson was searching for shows up.
— Assuming Ryan Williams finally plays, and all indications are that he will, Friday marks 364 days since he ruptured his patella tendon in Green Bay. It will also be his first game at University of Phoenix Stadium, since the Cards began with a pair of road preseason games last year.
— It’s been said many times, but this game will be important to Kevin Kolb. A poor showing doesn’t necessarily eliminate him from being a starter – at least, Whisenhunt hasn’t said that – but it’s hard to think, with time running out, that this is crucial. I’ve already been asked a bunch of times if the Cards will trade for another QB if Kolb doesn’t play well, or if they will cut him. I say the same I have been: I expect whoever isn’t starting to be the backup this season. But never say never.
(I will say that I can’t see trading for the contract of Tavaris Jackson, for instance, at $4M when he’s not necessarily an improvement. Same with Colt McCoy. How do they make you better? Especially when they’ll be coming in cold? Makes no sense to me.)
— Speaking of the QB competition, offensive coordinator Mike Miller said nothing is different even though the Cards haven’t settled on a starter. To the contrary, the changes come after a starter is named.
“I don’t change anything about how we install or operate day-to-day,” Miller said. “Once a decision is made, and as any team does at any position, there are strengths and weaknesses with each guy. So you try to cater your game plan to meet that player’s talent. What does he do best? It’s the old saying: Who are your best 11, and what do they do best?”
— Just because this game feels more important to Kolb, it doesn’t mean that John Skelton, whenever he comes in, should be ignored. He needs to play well too. Everyone is watching.
— While watching quarterbacks, how can you not look forward to seeing how Matt Leinart does for the Raiders? He’s backing up Carson Palmer these days and this will be his first visit back to UoP since being cut by the Cards. Against Dallas, he was 11-for-16 for 98 yards, fairly typical numbers – high completion rate for not a ton of yards.
— We don’t know exactly how Michael Floyd’s year will go yet, but at least he’s not tossing his cookies because of nerves. Then again, that’s been normal for him. “I’m surprised because usually I get sick and feel a little nauseated,” Floyd said. “But no. I feel comfortable and as long as I keep practicing and getting these plays down, I can have that comfort and be faster.”
— A tip of the cap to the long and good life of my grandfather, Raymond Urban, who passed away Wednesday afternoon. He had just turned 101 July 30.
— Interesting that DC Ray Horton mentioned to Kent Somers no cornerback has really challenged William Gay for the starting spot opposite Patrick Peterson. I didn’t get the impression that was because Gay has been flawless either. It’s one of the reasons this game means a lot to the defense too – where is that unit with the 2011 closing kick?
— Well, maybe they were around in practice this week. “There’s been no b.s.ing around,” Dockett said. “It’s been about business.”
Yeah, that’s what this Oakland game feels like. It definitely doesn’t feel like an exhibition. Not from this side.
Tags: Colt McCoy, Darnell Dockett, Kevin Kolb, Matt Leinart, Michael Floyd, Mike Miller, Raiders, Ray Horton, Raymond Urban, Ryan Williams, Tavaris Jackson, William Gay
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Ken Whisenhunt has been through this before, back in 2008, when Matt Leinart was coming off a broken collarbone and Kurt Warner was coming off 27 surprising touchdown passes and training camp was about figuring out which guy was going to be the starter that season. (It was Kurt, and while hindsight made it look kind of obvious, it wasn’t as much at the time.)
Some of that experience will translate to this year’s Kevin Kolb/John Skelton competition, although Whisenhunt noted it isn’t the same thing, because Kolb is not Warner is not Skelton is not Leinart.
“I think we have at least knowledge as far as breaking the reps up,” Whisenhunt said. “Handling players, it’s always different because every player has to be handled differently.”
“As for having a blueprint, I hope it works out the same way it did the last time because we had a guy who distinguished himself and he played well and that’s ultimately what you want. But there is no blueprint for success with this. We are just trying to find the guy who give us the best chance to win. We’re doing this because both guys have the opportunity to compete for that spot. That’s it.”
These are different situations, so drawing a straight parallel isn’t fair and it doesn’t make sense. This is only the first of what I am sure will be many, many, many times I write on this subject. But you know that this, barring injury, isn’t going to be decided after two weeks of Flagstaff. This is going to be about at least the first four preseason games if not all five. Back in 2008, one of the turning points was Leinart’s three-interception disaster in Oakland in the third of four preseason games. Often these things work themselves out. (This time doesn’t correlate with 2010 either, really, since Leinart was the clear No. 1 going into camp before things got so sideways in camp and Derek Anderson eventually surpassed him on the depth chart.)
This won’t happen in a vacuum. It’s impossible to ignore what happened last year — Kolb has admitted it’s not as if he’s trying to pretend his struggles didn’t happen — but at the same time, there does need to be a fresh-start aspect to this. In the end, neither player played well enough to say they have already earned the job. So we go from here.
Tags: Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Ken Whisenhunt, Kevin Kolb, Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart
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Once, the end of offseason work for the Cardinals wasn’t just a beginning but a much bigger deal, specifically when coach Dennis Green used it in his first season as a time to announce his starting lineup for the season. (That was a crazy time. It really was.)
Now, coach Ken Whisenhunt emphasizes competition and ongoing competition. Nothing up for grabs was going to be settled in a month’s worth of work in May and June. But there was one thing settled that is a significant step for the Cardinals — every draft pick was signed before the work ended. Michael Floyd and Jamell Fleming (below) signed on the dotted line, and just like that, a headache that had shrunk in recent years (yet still existed) was gone.
It’ll be league-wide, and it’s thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement. No longer will players be holding out. I’ve never thought, if a player missed a day or two of camp, it was a huge deal, but looking at the last 10 years and the number of picks that have missed at least some time in camp, this is a welcome change:
— 2011 Patrick Peterson, missed 1 day
— 2010 Dan Williams, 3 days
— 2009 Beanie Wells, 3 days
— 2008 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, 2 days
— 2007 Levi Brown, 6 days
— 2006 Matt Leinart, 15 days
— 2005 Antrel Rolle, 8 days
— 2004 Larry Fitzgerald, 1 day
— 2003 Calvin Pace, 3 days; Bryant Johnson 4 days
— 2002 Wendell Bryant, all of training camp and two weeks of the regular season
“Knowing the first day of training camp you will have everyone there is a big deal,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “When they miss those first couple of days, it seems like they are always playing catch-up. It’s good we had all our guys here. It’ll be good to have everyone there from Day One. It’s great that our organization, (president) Michael (Bidwill) and (general manager) Rod (Graves), have been so proactive.”
Tags: Antrel Rolle, Beanie Wells, Bryant Johnson, Calvin Pace, contracts, Dan Williams, DRC, Jamell Fleming, Ken Whisenhunt, Larry Fitzgerald, Levi Brown, Matt Leinart, Michael Bidwill, Michael Floyd, Patrick Peterson, Rod Graves, Wendell Bryant
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Wrapping up the night with some quick thoughts that I meant to get to earlier:
–I’ve written this quite a few times, but so many are asking (and continue to ask) I’ll just throw some of my personal thoughts on the QB situation. (That way, next time someone asks, I can just post this link.) I think John Skelton has played some good football. I think he is the first to admit he hasn’t played good football. He did a series of interviews today and said, over and over, he believes Kevin Kolb is still the starter and certainly, coach Ken Whisenhunt hasn’t said any different.
Kolb hasn’t even practiced. He could this week, but I want to see it first. Even if he does, here is what I would do (DISCLAIMER: My opinion here): Skelton would start in San Francisco. All due respect to the Rams and Eagles, dealing with the 49ers’ defense would be a major test. One of the great hypotheticals out there right now in this whole debate, in my head, is how Kolb would have done against St. Louis and Philly, and on the flip, how Skelton would have done against the highly ranked defenses of Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
Former Cards QB Kurt Warner went on the radio today — XTRA 910 — and reiterated yet again that, in Whiz’s offense, it takes at least a year in which to become comfy. Skelton had that year (although he is still learning). Kolb obviously has not. Again, my opinion, I want to give Kolb that year. Skelton isn’t going anywhere. It’s not like you can’t afford to keep both around, regardless of who is starting. You can’t afford not to.
— Whisenhunt said he was “disappointed” that kicker Jay Feely missed two field goals Sunday. In case you weren’t sure, just watch the video — after the second one, Whiz clearly let Feely know of his disappointment. But Monday, Whisenhunt said “I’m not worried about Jay.” The game would have been less stressful with the makes, Whiz added, but “I’m not down on Jay.”
— That same knee that right tackle Brandon Keith had repaired last season is continually giving him trouble. Whisenhunt said Keith will get checked out, but that’s a few times Keith has had to leave the game with that knee issue. He’s struggled and it’d be interesting to know how much could be attributed to the injury.
— Texans QB Matt Schaub has a lis franc injury, possibly ending his season. What does that mean? Matt Leinart will take over the reins of a 7-3 team that is in control of its division. The Texans have a favorable schedule, a great run game and a good defense. I was surprised Leinart passed up a chance to sign with Seattle this offseason and possibly become the starter. It worked out for him. It will be interesting to see how life in Houston plays out with Leinart as QB.
Tags: Brandon Keith, Jay Feely, John Skelton, Ken Whisenhunt, Kevin Kolb, Matt Leinart
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Let’s start with this disclaimer: The Cardinals need to play better defense. Everyone knows that, acknowledged that. “We let them get some first downs, move the ball on us,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “Cam Newton played a great game. He’s a lot better quarterback than a lot of people thought, I’m sure. But we found a way to get it done at the end.”
But — and there is always a but, right? — a bit of perspective on Cam Newton’s 422 yards passing, best pointed out by Campbell again. “We still got the ‘W’ and that’s what it is about,” he said.
On my drive home last night I started mulling the 400-yard passing games I have seen over the years. It’s a fantastic number. And frankly, it usually means a loss. Ask Drew Brees, who was great last Thursday night and piled up 419 yards passing with no interceptions and still lost to Green Bay. The rookie record for passing yards in a game, prior to Matthew Stafford’s 422 in 2009 (tied yesterday by Newton) was the Cardinals’ own Matt Leinart, who threw for 405 in Minnesota in 2006. The Cards lost that game, 31-26 (Stafford did win his game, however, 38-37 over Cleveland, with five TD passes).
Kurt Warner had a pair of monster passing yardage days as a Card. He threw for 484 yards at home against the 49ers in 2007, and for 472 in New York against the Jets in 2007. The Cards lost the former in overtime, 37-31, and the latter was also a loss, 56-35. In fact, while Boomer Esiason’s team record 522-yard passing day in Washington in 1996 was an overtime win, the next five top passing games in franchise history (Warner’s two games, Neil Lomax at 468 yards, Jake Plummer at 465 yards and Lomax again at 457) were all losses.
Steve Beuerlein, who threw for 431 yards in Seattle in 1993, did win in overtime.
Newton’s certainly didn’t pile up numbers chasing a big deficit, which is impressive. But the Cards didn’t allow the Panthers to run well — 74 yards, a 2.7-yard average — which is the flip side of the big passing day. The point, again, is that gaudy numbers are always nice. But they are hollow without the right outcome. And in the Cards’ case, they don’t sting nearly as much with the right outcome.
Tags: Calais Campbell, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Jake Plummer, Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart, Neil Lomax, Panthers, Steve Beuerlein
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The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
What I remember most is that it seemed to come out of nowhere.
Before the tirade that let everyone remember Denny Green was who we thought he was, we had already gone through five or six minutes of his postgame press conference on that fateful Monday night. It had been an ugly ending, but Denny – who usually was grumpy with an edge after losses – seemed calm, almost shell shocked as the questions came.
Then came the query that set him off, a question that should have led Denny to a good place – one about what the Cards saw in the Bears’ offense that allowed the defense to dominate and forced QB Rex Grossman into six turnovers. Like a boulder rolling downhill, Green started slow and as the anger built, the response grew into its epic ending, when Green bellowed how the Cards “let ‘em off the hook!”
Quick side story – Denny had a similar moment in training camp that year. The day rookie holdout Matt Leinart finally signed, two weeks into camp, tension was building on when he would do so. I was told Green was going to go off on Leinart in his lunchtime presser, and lo and behold, that’s what happened. Denny was asked about how linebacker Karlos Dansby’s injury was doing. A five-minute monologue later, Green was talking about what a shame it was that Leinart wouldn’t play in New England that weekend for the preseason game, when Kurt Warner would and when Tom Brady would, and Green clearly was irritated Leinart wasn’t there. Wonder if Denny knew Leinart was about to sign? Regardless, I don’t see the Bears’ rant as that calculated.
But back to the crowning moment in Denny’s Arizona tenure. The roots of the speech came back in August – a week after that New England trip – when the Cards beat the Bears in the third preseason game in Chicago and both Warner and Leinart played well. Grossman was terrible against the Cards, so much so that the Chicago fans booed him relentlessly. That was what was rattling around Green’s mind less than two months later.
The Cards were already ornery because of how things were going. After winning the first regular-season game at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Cards had lost four straight. Warner had been benched for Leinart. The Bears were coming to town with a 5-0 record. The big story during the week was actually Darnell Dockett signing a contract extension (although Leinart’s first start the previous week against the Chiefs caught everyone’s attention.)
Bears coach Lovie Smith was asked about Leinart’s good game in the preseason and talked about that game meaning nothing, as a “glorified practice.” Green, hearing this, clearly didn’t agree and said as much, although it wasn’t exactly “who takes the third game of the preseason like it’s bull.” At least, not yet.
Then came the game. The Cards dominated, and they lost. Green calmly answered most of the questions and then the one hit him the wrong way, especially with the leftover irritation with Smith’s comments percolating all week and the frustration of the season building (for instance, kicker Neil Rackers missing what should have been a game-winning field goal that night).
While the world watched – over and over – Denny’s rant and it was repeated everywhere, the fallout was quick. Offensive coordinator Keith Rowen was demoted the next day. The Cards’ season ran off the rails, and by the time the Bears made it to the Super Bowl, Green was out and Ken Whisenhunt was the coach. Super week, Denny’s words continued to echo, as everyone kept saying, in some way shape or form, the Bears were who we thought they were.
Tags: Bears, Darnell Dockett, Dennis Green, Karlos Dansby, Ken Whisenhunt, Kurt Warner, Lovie Smith, Matt Leinart, Neil Rackers, Revisionist history, Rex Grossman, Tom Brady
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So I was looking over this ESPN.com article by Football Outsiders about the top 10 most disappointing NFL free agents of the past 25 years and it got me thinking about the Cardinals (although no, there are no Cards on the list). My first full free-agent offseason came in 2001, when the Cards — up against the salary cap — chose to sign Seattle guard Pete Kendall as their one big purchase, to team with center Mike Gruttadauria from the year before and first-rounder Leonard Davis to build the “Big Red Line.” Kendall, as always, was blunt; when he came in for his press conference and was asked, why the Cardinals, he said, “Because they paid me the most money.”
That’s usually how it goes.
The bottom line is that, occasionally, help comes via free agency. More often than not, you acquire the best players through the draft because, aside from a player here or there, there is a reason a team lets a player go. Usually it’s because they don’t see him being worth the money he commands on the open market. (Karlos Dansby? Maybe he was. Antrel Rolle? Probably not.) I would argue that, if you charted all the “bigger-name” free-agent signings in the NFL over the years, there would be more that underperformed to expectations rather than met them.
Anyway, you look back through the years and think about the “key” free agents the Cards signed. How many provided the impact that people thought they would provide the day they signed?
- 2002 – CB Duane Starks, TE Freddie Jones
- 2003 – QB Jeff Blake, RB Emmitt Smith, S Dexter Jackson
- 2004 – DE Bertrand Berry (now this one was a real winner, even with Bertrand’s later injuries)
- 2005 – DE Chike Okeafor, QB Kurt Warner (OK, that one turned out pretty well)
- 2006 – RB Edgerrin James (Edge was actually pretty effective, but certainly not the star his contract said he should be)
- 2007 – T Mike Gandy, C Al Johnson, CB Rod Hood (The Cards decide not to get FA “stars” under Whiz, just pieces to the puzzle).
- 2008 – DE Travis LaBoy, NT Bryan Robinson
- 2009 – CB Bryant McFadden
- 2010 – QB Derek Anderson, LB Joey Porter, LB Paris Lenon, K Jay Feely
Certainly a mixed bag over the years. The biggest disappointment? No, I’m not going with Anderson — remember, he was signed to be Matt Leinart’s backup, so how much disappointment can there be? (Careful now …) I think I’d probably go with Duane Starks, who parlayed his spot in that great Ravens defense into the idea he could be a shutdown corner, which he wasn’t, especially on a team that sometimes used Fred Wakefield as the right defensive end (Fred was a great guy but didn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of quarterbacks). Realistically, Emmitt probably provided what everyone expected and so did Edgerrin, especially since he never seemed to fit Whisenhunt’s style (and was clearly at the end, which was proven out after the Cards let him go).
Berry, by far, was the best signing, based on his 2004 season alone. I would have loved to see what sack numbers he would have had if he hadn’t gotten hurt every year after that. UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Some of you want to know how I could ever pick Berry over Warner. The simple fact is that Berry, as a free-agent signee, impacted imemdiately. Warner’s time in Arizona didn’t come across that well until after a change in coaches. That was Warner’s third season as a Card by then. Am I splitting hairs? Maybe. But in the context of this discussion, it’s difficult to argue that, as a free agent coming in, Berry didn’t produce better than Warner.
Tags: Al Johnson, Bertrand Berry, Bryan Robinson, Bryant McFadden, Chike Okeafor, Derek Anderson, Dexter Jackson, Duane Starks, Edgerrin James, Emmitt Smith, Fred Wakefield, Freddie Jones, free agency, Jay Feely, Jeff Blake, Joey Porter, Kurt Warner, Leonard Davis, Matt Leinart, Mike Gandy, Mike Gruttadauria, Paris Lenon, Pete Kendall, Rod Hood, Travis LaBoy
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