Once upon a time, before the Cardinals ran their home playoff record all-time to 4-0 with a thrilling 51-45 overtime win over the Packers, before Kurt Warner had more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four), before Karlos Dansby’s fumble return brought Mike McCarthy to his knees, there was a baby on the way.
No, not my kid. (My boys were watching at University of Phoenix Stadium that day, in fact.) But I have a good friend who has covered the Packers for a long time. And he had a daughter due to be born about a week after that Packers-Cardinals tilt. A Green Bay win, and there was going to be some serious juggling to do in his life.
Cardinals cornerback Michael Adams unknowingly had my buddy’s back though, and Money Mike’s strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers, leading to Dansby’s return touchdown allowed no complications with job and family.
A few weeks later, I sent my friend a surprise gift. It was a picture – the one you see below – signed by Adams, addressed to baby Madison:
Madison – I’m glad I could make sure your Dad was there for you. Michael Adams
This is one of the first things I think of when I think of Cardinals-Packers in the playoffs – in addition to Warner, and Money Mike and Dansby and Early Doucet’s helmet flying off and Fitz’s diving touchdown and Rodgers being thisclose to hitting a wide-open Greg Jennings in overtime for what would have been a game-winning TD and made my friend’s life that much harder.
This game Saturday night, will it be as memorable? If it puts the Cardinals in the NFC Championship, I’m going to say yes.
— I think the Cardinals can survive the loss of Alex Okafor. Not sure yet how they make it happen – I will be curious to see if they use DT Josh Mauro on the edge in run-down situations – but I think they’ll be OK. They managed fine in run defense in the games Okafor missed (Steelers, Ravens, Browns) and against the pass, they should be good with Dwight Freeney and Markus Golden.
— Saw this nugget from another Packer writer friend of mine, Wes Hodkiewicz: The Packers are 10-0 this year when hitting the QB at least five times. On the flip side, you have the Cardinals offensive line, which has allowed only 27 sacks this season – tied for fourth-fewest in the NFL.
“Knock on wood,” offensive coordinator/line coach Harold Goodwin said, chiding the reporter for bringing it up. “You can’t do that to me.
“We’ve done a decent job all year of protection. I don’t know where we’re ranked or finished, as far as how many. I really don’t pay attention to that. We’ve just got to make sure we’ve got 11 guys on the same page, which is the biggest thing when it comes down to protection, and win the one-on-one battles up front.”
Goodwin said the Cards lost two such battles early in the last Packers meeting. They know – as they have known all season – protecting Carson Palmer is crucial.
— That said, Palmer has been so fantastic this season with his footwork and moving in the pocket. He’s not Rodgers or Russell Wilson, but he’s better than Palmer 2013 or 2014 in that regard.
— Goodwin on getting Larry Fitzgerald to block so well: “It comes with a lot of choice words, is what you say to him to get him to block. ‘If you want the ball, bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep, you’ve got to block some.’ ”
Goody smiled as he said it. There is little question Fitz has become arguably the best blocking wide receiver in the game. Oh, and he had 109 catches too.
— Hall of Fame cornerback Roger Wehrli will man the Big Red Siren Saturday pre-game.
— GM Steve Keim and team president Michael Bidwill will speak at a pre-game pep rally on the Great Lawn at 4:15 p.m. Saturday. And don’t forget Flo Rida is singing at halftime.
— This feels like a David Johnson game to me.
— Bruce Arians said the 13-3 season has been “fun.” But (and there is always a but) “it doesn’t mean crap if we don’t win it.”
— Which leads me to this: There has been a lot of talk about pressure this week, and undoubtedly, the Cardinals understand that after a 13-3 season, winning at least one playoff game is expected. But as the talk veers into the favorite and the underdog and that pressure I mentioned, it’s better to be the better team. Just in my history covering this team, I’ve seen losing streaks and the Monday Night Meltdown and fumbles in field-goal range and horrific blowout losses. I’ve seen “the worst playoff team in NFL history” – yes, that was a hell of a ride – and injuries overwhelm a playoff team in New Orleans and trying to win a postseason game with a third-string quarterback.
This is the first time the Cardinals were considered better, the first time they’ve earned “better.” And it’s the position where you want to be, pressure or not.
Tags: Alex Okafor, Harold Goodwin, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Adams, Michael Bidwill, Packers, playoffs, Roger Wehrli, Steve Keim
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The Cardinals’ regular-season game in Mexico a decade ago was one of a kind.
But maybe it won’t always be.
The NFL owners approved a resolution Wednesday to extend the league’s ability to play games that count outside the United States through the 2025 season. Games previously have been in the United Kingdom, but there is a good chance the league will also look elsewhere. There was already talk of a Pro Bowl in Brazil, so perhaps a game could go there. And Mexico remains an obvious possibility, although the league will want to make sure whatever stadium teams play in is up to NFL standards. (When I was at Estadio Azteca in 2005, there were some spots that definitely needed upgrades. Not sure how things stand now.)
“We think it’s time to expand our International Series to other countries and respond to the growing interest in our game not only in the UK, but elsewhere around the world,” commissioner Roger Goodell said.
Next year’s international games, plus the other countries who could eventually host games, will be named later this fall.
What does this mean for the Cardinals? I’m sure Michael Bidwill would like to have his team in an international game. The catch, as there are with every team, is that someone has to give up a home game to play away. With 98 straight sellouts, I’m sure the Cardinals would rather make an out-of-country trip, wherever it might be, a road game and keep their home dates. Also to consider is the recent rule that franchises that are awarded Super Bowls eventually have to give up a home game to play internationally. Whenever the Cardinals and Arizona bid for another Super Bowl — and that will happen — the Cards will be on the hook there.
Tags: International Series, Mexico, Michael Bidwill, NFL, Roger Goodell
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This is when you feel the legacy, on the day in which Adrian Wilson officially retires and when he talks about the guys who helped him when he got into the league, Pat Tillman comes up. It’s fitting this time of year, when the anniversary of Tillman’s death draws near. It’s easy to forget how important Tillman was to Wilson that one season they played together, in 2001.
“I didn’t know the first thing about the playbook,” Wilson said of his rookie season. “(Defensive coordinator) Larry Marmie’s playbook was so complicated, I couldn’t understand it. Pat sat me down for hours upon hours just going through the playbook just to go to practice the next day. It was that complicated for me. I owe big dividend to Pat.”
To think, Wilson was there to essentially replace Tillman.
(Wilson thanked other “old-time” Cardinals Corey Chavous, Kwamie Lassiter, Rob Fredrickson and Ron McKinnon for their help when he was starting out too.)
— When Wilson was released back in 2013, I covered a lot of the instant emotions and thoughts I had of his career in this post. But his retirement Monday brought some closure and, perhaps sooner rather than later, maybe bring Wilson back into the building on a consistent basis. He shrugged off his future right now, saying he wanted to “take my time on that.” He’s got four young kids. That’s his focus now, although there is little question GM Steve Keim likes having him in the mix. Team president Michael Bidwill noted that before the press conference, Wilson had his mock draft around, drawing a grin from Wilson.
“He’s made some improvements from his first mock that he showed me,” Keim said. “I think I sent him back to the film room.”
— Not only was Wilson’s family there, but his two buddies from North Carolina from when he was 10 years old, Adrian Mack and Anthony Johnson, were there Monday and it took me back to 2010 when Wilson invited me back to High Point to cover his high school retiring his jersey number and I was able to meet Mack and Johnson and do a big story on who Wilson really was as a person. Looking back on that article, through the prism of today, this quote stands out, about Wilson desperately wanting to leave a legacy.
“Nobody in my family has one and I’ll be the first,” Wilson said. “That’s something I think is more important to me than anything – leaving that right mark. I want to lay a foundation down where it doesn’t matter what generation you come from, you’ve got to respect what I did.”
— Bidwill will have Wilson go in the Ring of Honor, but that date is TBD. The schedule comes out tomorrow, and then the team must figure out what home games have which events, like Breast Cancer Awareness or Salute to Service, for example.
— Wilson admits he thinks about the Hall of Fame. I’ll have a separate post on that tomorrow, but it’s been tough sledding for safeties in Canton.
— There was a good group of former teammates on hand for Wilson today: Fitz, Patrick Peterson, Justin Bethel, Rashad Johnson, Calais Campbell, Bertrand Berry, Quentin Harris, Damien Anderson, Rolando Cantu. Peterson even took the mic during the press conference to deliver a statement in front of everyone. Wilson was an important part of this franchise. He still should be.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Bertrand Berry, Calais Campbell, Damien Anderson, Hall of Fame, Justin Bethel, Michael Bidwill, Pat Tillman, Patrick Peterson, Quentin Harris, Rashad Johnson, Rolando Cantu
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Carson Palmer didn’t even get to play a full game after signing his contract extension late last season. Now, before the first season of that extension kicks in, Palmer reportedly could be restructuring it to ease his salary cap number of $14.5 million. Mike Jurecki first reported Palmer the possibility.
Palmer is due a roster bonus of $9.5 million (in addition to a $1M salary) this season. Add in his current $4M of bonus proration of $4M, and that’s his $14.5M cap hit. If the Cardinals were to turn the roster bonus into a signing bonus — which would then be distributed evenly over the remaining four years of the contract in terms of the cap — it’d take his cap number all the way down to about $7.4M for 2015. Of course, that also pushes more dead money on to future caps as well.
These are the choices a team makes, however, especially when it feels it can compete — as long as everyone stays healthy. Like Palmer. We’ll see if his contract gets an update. With more and more players getting released around the NFL and the market already flooded with players, there will be opportunities to sign contributors for reasonable prices. That’s why the Cardinals are trying to loosen more cap room. Neither General Manager Steve Keim or president Michael Bidwill has been shy of sharing the concept of the Cardinals being aggressive in free agency.
Tags: Carson Palmer, contract, Michael Bidwill, salary cap, Steve Keim
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Back in 2008, Bertrand Berry was asked to take a pay cut to remain with the Cardinals. He decided to do so. In 2012, Adrian Wilson was asked to take a pay cut to remain with the Cardinals. He did so (and that didn’t save him from being released after the season.) The only leverage either player had was to say, “I’ll leave” if they didn’t like the offer. It’s not ideal, but it was reality.
That’s where we are with Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals. This is not a surprise, not with a $23.6 million salary cap number, an actual payout of a scheduled $8M salary and another $8M roster bonus due in about a month. Not with the Cardinals, even with a carryover of $4.2M from last year’s cap to tag on to a projected $140M salary cap for 2015, around $11M over the cap at this point (according to ESPN) and needing to get to at least even by March 10. Regardless of specific numbers, the Cards need to slice some cap money.
Again, none of this is new.
I’ll be honest – I listened to Michael Bidwill’s interview Wednesday morning on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 and nothing stood out. When he talked about bringing Fitzgerald back and working out a contract, it was the things you’d expect to hear.
At one point, Bidwill did say “it takes two” to reach a deal. That raised eyebrows. But should it? At some point, the Cardinals and General Manager Steve Keim were going to want to harness the salary cap, and that was going to start with Fitz’s current deal. I thought for a while that might come last offseason, but instead, the Cards — and Fitz — kicked the can down the road a season with a simple restructure to buy cap space. We have come to the rip-the-band-aid-clean-off stage of this thing.
There are 10 wide receivers right now averaging at least $9M on their contracts. Only three — Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson and maybe Vincent Jackson, given all the Buccaneers’ cap space — aren’t serious candidates to renegotiate/restructure/get released this offseason (and Johnson, as good as he is, is headed that way in the next year or two himself, given his cap numbers.) Fitzgerald’s situation, especially at his position, is not unique.
Like Berry, like Wilson, the ball will be in Fitz’s court, basically. Yes, there are salary numbers to figure out — as always — but the Cards aren’t going to change their thought process. Carson Palmer was asked to do something similar in Oakland; he declined and was traded to Arizona. Maybe that’s what Fitz will want to do. Maybe a new deal will work for him, and maybe the other benefits of being in Arizona on a personal level make it worth an agreement. Maybe a different opportunity is more intriguing, or maybe the numbers just won’t be good enough, and Fitz uses what leverage he has. But there are really no new angles that can come out on this thing. It’s not hard to analyze.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Bertrand Berry, Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Bidwill, Steve Keim
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One of the many things the Cardinals must sort through this offseason is what to do with suspended linebacker Daryl Washington if and when he returns — and how to plan for the season with his status in limbo for the next few months. Washington’s suspension, which is for a year before he can request NFL reinstatement, lasts until late May. That’s after free agency, and it’s after the draft. Until this suspension ends, it seems unlikely the NFL will hand down whatever suspension Washington might get for his assault conviction from last year.
That’s a lot of uncertainty, and why team president Michael Bidwill said Thursday the Cardinals are going to go through the offseason ready to not have Washington available — and if he is around, the Cards will be that much better off.
“He’ll be facing the issue with the domestic violence and there has been no determination of what happens there,” Bidwill said. “He was only suspended for the drug issue, so we want to make sure we understand what that (other punishment) is. Last year, we learned about his suspension after free agency. This year we are going to plan to make sure we address all the issues not knowing whether Daryl will be back for part of next season or all of next season. ‘Next man up’ is real but we have to make sure we’ve gone into free agency and addressed that situation.”
— Bidwill reiterated once again he is optimistic the Cardinals and Larry Fitzgerald will come to an agreement on a new contract.
“Larry and I have met about it, just he and I talking about it, and I know he’s interested in getting something resolved,” Bidwill said. “After the playoff game, he got away, left the country. He’s back now, it’s a busy week this week and we’ll start working on this next week. I think we’ll get this all worked out.
“He’s such a great person and a great player, he’s got many years left and I want to see him retire as an Arizona Cardinal. I want to see us move past getting this contract resolved and move forward.”
— The other Cardinal facing legal issues, running back Jonathan Dwyer, had his case play out Thursday. The running back, who had been arrested in September, pled guilty to a misdemeanor of disorderly conduct. He was sentenced him to 18 months probation and community service. Dwyer is scheduled to become a free agent in March.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Daryl Washington, Jonathan Dwyer, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Bidwill, Steve Keim, Super Bowl
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Ken Whisenhunt’s final coaching staff with the Cardinals numbered 17 members. With Bruce Arians, the number has ballooned to 24. It’s gone up just since Arians arrived, when he showed up in Tempe preaching how he wanted to teach and how he wanted his staff to be teachers as well. Arians’ theory is simple, and perhaps a given since Arians once thought he was going to get into middle school teaching and coaching: Smaller class sizes work. That goes in the NFL too, so why wouldn’t the offensive line benefit with three coaches (Harold Goodwin, Larry Zeirlein and David Diaz-Infante) instead of one. Why wouldn’t the defensive line need two coaches (Brentson Buckner, Tom Pratt), or there be a separate coach for inside (Mike Caldwell) and outside (James Bettcher) linebackers?
The Cardinals and president Michael Bidwill had to give the OK, of course, but Arians’ called it a “very easy sell.”
“Guys who have big position groups need more teachers,” Arians said. “I wish our school systems would take that approach.”
(I know my wife, who teaches high school down the street, agrees, as do many of her colleagues. But that’s something for another day, and probably another blog.)
“Michael has been great about it,” Arians added. “Rather than having one (coach) make this much money, give me three and let them make this much money. I’m not going to spend any more money, just give me more guys and we don’t care who’s sitting on whose desk in the office space.”
It has made for much more crowded football side of the team’s Tempe facility, but it’s worked. It’s not the only place things have changed with the organization. The personnel department has also grown in size, as has scouting. Heck, the building itself is growing, with new construction ongoing to enlarge the weight room, the cafeteria, the training/medical area and eventually, the locker room.
It’s hard to think anything other than that focused teaching has helped the Cardinals for the past year-and-a-half, that it’s helped a team overcome the kind of personnel losses this team has suffered, and keep playing at a high level.
Tags: Bruce Arians, coaching staff, Michael Bidwill
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Cardinals president Michael Bidwill attended the NFL’s London game over the weekend between the Raiders and Dolphins. The idea was to see first-hand what the league is doing in England as they export a few games there each year. Interestingly, he told fans there as he sat on a panel discussion (reported by MMQB.com) he would like the Cardinals to play in London again — they played a preseason game there in 1983, opening the exhibition schedule against the Vikings — but “as the visiting team.” No doubt the Cardinals would be loathe to surrender a home game now that a) University of Phoenix Stadium sells out every game and b) the Cardinals now have a noticeable home-field advantage.
Besides, the Cardinals have already done the give-up-a-home-game-to-export-a-game-that counts thing. That came in 2005, when the Cardinals figured it was worth being part of the first NFL regular-season game outside of the United States and moved their home game against the 49ers that year to Mexico City. Made sense. The Cardinals got to have a game in which they would set the NFL record at the time for attendance at more than 100,000 and get ESPN exposure on a Sunday night game in exchange for losing a date at Sun Devil Stadium that figured at best to draw 35,000 or so.
It also makes sense that it’s the Raiders and Jaguars that play these London games, with bad stadium situations and a willingness to give up home games. The Cards could have been on the slate for a London game the past couple of years. We’ll see if it comes true anytime soon — as a visitor, of course.
Tags: London, Michael Bidwill
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Forbes came out with another list ranking the (estimated) value of sports teams, in this case, the world’s 50 most valuable franchises. The Cardinals make the list at No. 40, with an estimated worth of $961 million. Only the Raiders and Jaguars don’t make the top 50 list among NFL teams, meaning that even though it is top-heavy with soccer clubs (the top three are soccer, a major nod to the global fan base the sport produces) the list still provides context of how powerful the NFL — which dominates the United States — remains.
The top team is the soccer club Real Madrid, valued at $3.44 billion. The top non-soccer franchise is the New York Yankees, worth $2.5 billion, at No. 4. The top NFL team is at No. 5, with the Dallas Cowboys coming in at $2.3 billion. The Patriots, Redskins and Giants are also in the top 10.
Among NFC West teams, the San Francisco 49ers ($1.224 billion) are 20th, the Seattle Seahawks ($1.081 billion) are 28th, and the St. Louis Rams ($875 million and hoping for a new stadium, which would boost their value) are 45th.
Tags: 49ers, Bill Bidwill, Cowboys, Forbes, Giants, Michael Bidwill, Patriots, Rams, Redskins, Seahawks
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The timing made all kinds of sense for the Cardinals to put Kurt Warner in the Ring of Honor this season. There is a high-profile “Monday Night Football” game in which to do the ceremony (if you have forgotten, Aeneas Williams also went in at halftime of an MNF game) and this is the first year Warner is eligible to be voted into the Hall of Fame — which would happen in downtown Phoenix the day before the Super Bowl here in Arizona, if it were to happen. In a lot of ways Warner was a supernova in Arizona considering he played just five seasons (and barely played in one of those, 2006, when Matt Leinart was trying to make his way in the league.) It was an incredible run though (as this timeline and this top 10 list of his best games says more tangibly.)
So who is next?
We already know Adrian Wilson will get there. Michael Bidwill has already said as much. First, though, Wilson has to retire, and he’s not ready to do that quite yet as he hopes to find a job somewhere in 2014. At some point, you figure Larry Fitzgerald is a lock, regardless of what happens in the future. Obviously the hope is that Fitzgerald plays out his career in Arizona, but the NFL is a business and Fitz staying is anything but a guarantee. Certainly, he’s done enough on and even off the field that he’ll be Ring-bound some day.
Beyond that, though, I don’t see any sure bets. It’s way too early to think about Patrick Peterson. Does Darnell Dockett warrant a discussion? Could Calais Campbell some day be worth it? I think Anquan Boldin was headed in that direction, but the way his tenure (and his last two seasons) ended in Arizona I’d call that a very long shot, which is too bad. He was a part of the renaissance of this franchise. I don’t know if some of the other guys from the 1998 team — a Larry Centers, a Jake Plummer — would fit.
Again, with Bidwill noting that 11 of the 13 previous Ring members before Warner are in the Hall of Fame, that means something. They are, Bidwill said, “the best of the best” and that’s a lofty ideal. The franchise has been around since 1898, and only 14 guys have gone in. It’s not an easy honor to obtain. It is a fun subject to debate.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Aeneas Williams, Darnell Dockett, Jake Plummer, Kurt Warner, Larry Centers, Matt Leinart, Michael Bidwill, Ring of Honor
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