As we maneuver through the dead of the offseason (and I finally get some time off), it’s a chance to survey the landscape of the Cardinals and make predictions about the season opening starters a couple of months from now – like I did with the defense yesterday.
Today, before I disappear for a bit, here is the offensive version, which, given the return of all the skill players, isn’t exactly an exercise in rocket science:
QB – Carson Palmer. As long as he’s healthy and productive, the Cardinals will remain a contender.
RB – David Johnson. The Cards hope that vets Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington stay healthy and contribute to Bruce Arians’ multi-pronged offense. But make no mistake, David Johnson is the running back in this offense.
WR – Larry Fitzgerald. He’s coming of a renaissance season only to be stepping into the will-he-or-won’t-he-retire last year of his contract. Still, he remains the soul of this offense.
WR – Michael Floyd. Also going into a contract year. Had a slightly slow start, but his dominance for a long stretch mid-to-late in the year showed how much of an impact he can really make. Yet another of the weapons that will make this team so hard to defend.
WR—Smokey Brown. Arians said Brown slumped late in the year, so the goal now is for Brown to carry through his talents for 16 games. Avoiding a nagging hamstring injury like the one that bothered him for a chunk of last season would be a good starting point.
TE – Darren Fells. Jermaine Gresham will get plenty of playing time, but Fells quietly had a very solid season last year, and Palmer said he’s shed 20 pounds and looks even better through the spring.
RT – D.J. Humphries. One of the few offensive question marks. All signs point to the 2015 first-round pick starting this season after learning a hard lesson as an inactive player for all 16 games as a rookie. If the Cardinals sign a veteran right tackle as camp opens, all bets are off.
RG – Evan Mathis. The Cardinals signed the Super Bowl champ to a one-year contract hoping he can not only solidify the line but also serve as a mentor – or at least give veteran help — to Humphries.
C – A.Q. Shipley. Eventually, the Cardinals want fourth-round pick Evan Boehm to win this job. But can the rookie learn enough to beat out Shipley by September? I’m guessing it takes a little longer than that.
LG – Mike Iupati. Comes to Cardinals, makes the Pro Bowl, the running game piles up almost 2,000 yards. Probably not a coincidence.
LT – Jared Veldheer. The offensive line overhaul with Steve Keim began with the Veldheer signing back in 2014. The Cards wanted a left tackle anchor. They got one.
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Carson Palmer, D.J. Humphries, Darren Fells, David Johnson, Evan Mathis, Jared Veldheer, John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Mike Iupati
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Sure, there are questions about the future for the Cardinals at wide receiver. Could Larry Fitzgerald retire after this season? Will Michael Floyd, also in the last year of his contract, be back? But those questions aren’t about the 2016 season. After the 2015 season — in which the Cardinals’ wide receivers were the highest graded among all the corps in the NFL last season according to profootballfocus.com — this season should be impressive for the Cards from that standpoint.
Even Fitzgerald noted last week that this is the first time he can remember being on a team where all the skill guys came back intact. That goes beyond just the receivers of course. But the upset of getting back both veteran running back Chris Johnson and veteran tight end Jermaine Gresham despite potentially more lucrative offers out there helped that along. At wideout, there was only one question, and Jaron Brown was tendered an offer. Once he signed that, the Cardinals had their top seven wide receivers returning from a year ago — when again, some considered them the best in the league as a group.
Health helped. Yes, Floyd was banged up in training camp and yes, Smokey Brown fought through an irritating hamstring injury in the middle part of the season (oh, you do remember that, fantasy football players), but for the most part, they were available. Fitzgerald in particular was healthy all the way through the season for the first time since Bruce Arians arrived. The depth also helped tremendously when guys did miss time. Floyd was huge in Cleveland when Smokey was held out. Fitz was huge early in the season when Floyd started slow. J.J. Nelson was a deep threat that could help when Brown couldn’t go full bore.
And the Cardinals will have them all again in 2016.
Tags: Brittan Golden, J.J. Nelson, Jaron Brown, Jaxon Shipley, John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd
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Tyrann Mathieu is going to get a contract extension. When, exactly, remains an unknown, although Ian Rapoport reported Monday the team and Mathieu are “deep in negotiations” toward a deal. I’ve long felt this was a matter of when and not if with the all-pro safety. For a multitude of reasons for both sides, it behooves both to get a new contract done.
But from the Cardinals’ end, a big reason to want to lock up Mathieu is because of the laundry list of players who, as of right now, are free agents after this upcoming season. It’s a subject we’ve talked about before, and the reality is not everyone will be with the Cardinals after this year. Still, if you have hope to having some guys around, you’d think the Cards would want to pare down the work facing them before this year ends. Here is the list — and it doesn’t include every single FA-to-be — of guys who are contract-less after 2016, as it stands right now:
— S Tyrann Mathieu
— WR Larry Fitzgerald
— OLB Chandler Jones
— DT Calais Campbell
— WR Michael Floyd
— G Evan Mathis
— DT Frostee Rucker
— RB Chris Johnson
— RB Andre Ellington
— S Tony Jefferson
— TE Jermaine Gresham
— OLB Alex Okafor
— ILB Kevin Minter
— WR Jaron Brown
— S D.J. Swearinger
— RB Stepfan Taylor
That isn’t the entire list, but those are the bigger names. Obviously, each are taken individually to an extent. Some guys the team will just move on from in the normal course of roster change in a salary-capped world. But big picture, it’s a puzzle GM Steve Keim and his department are working on as this season approaches.
Tags: Alex Okafor, Andre Ellington, Calais Campbell, Chandler Jones, Chris Johnson, D.J. Swearinger, Evan Mathis, Frostee Rucker, Jaron Brown, Jermaine Gresham, Kevin Minter, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Stepfan Taylor, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu
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It’s not hard to remember, not if you have been following the Cardinals for any length of time, but signing draft picks used to be much, much more difficult. Yes, the ease in which picks are signed these days is rules-related — once the new collective bargaining agreement essentially slotted each pick’s money and took the hardest part (money) out of the negotiating equation, things were going to speed up.
But to think the Cardinals already have all of their draft picks under contract on May 9 is impressive. The time frame to finish up since 2011, when the new CBA went into effect, has gotten earlier and earlier:
2011: Amid the chaos of so many signings as the CBA was ratified post-lockout just as training camp was starting, first-rounder Patrick Peterson and second-rounder Ryan Williams signed July 31.
2012: First-rounder Michael Floyd and third-rounder Jamell Fleming signed June 11.
2013: First-rounder Jonathan Cooper signed July 29.
2014: First-rounder Deone Bucannon signed June 5.
2015: First-rounder D.J. Humphries signed June 1.
2016: Sixth-rounder Harlan Miller, third-rounder Brandon Williams and fourth-rounder Evan Boehm sign May 9.
The Cardinals aren’t unique — the Bears have been signing their entire draft class within a couple days of the draft the last couple of seasons, for instance — but to have all those deals done not only before the players break prior to camp but before OTAs have even begun is a good thing. The days of the Cards having their first-round pick sit out at least a few days of training camp — or more, Wendell Bryant — are long over.
Tags: Brandon Williams, CBA, contract, D.J. Humphries, Deone Bucannon, draft, Evan Boehm, Harlan Miller, Jamell Fleming, Jonathan Cooper, Michael Floyd, Patrick Peterson, Ryan Williams
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It was about this time last year when rumors cropped up about the Cardinals and potentially trading wide receiver Michael Floyd, something that obviously didn’t happen. Similar rumblings have come up this week, that Floyd– heading into the final year of his contract — could be dealt draft weekend for a pick. Floyd shrugged it off last year, and he does the same now.
“I don’t worry about it at all,” Floyd said prior to throwing out the first pitch at Tuesday night’s Diamondbacks game. “It’s kind of what I saw last year too, but I don’t worry about it at all. I go into work, put my work in, watch film with my teammates and go about my day.”
Floyd would seem to be more likely than not to stay a Cardinal, but the speculation about his future isn’t going to fade. He’s due a little more than $7 million this year and then the Cards will have to determine if they want to get a long-term deal done and Floyd will have to decide if it makes sense to stay. The 2012 first-round pick has been good the last couple of years but hasn’t reached the level that the Cards had hoped by now. As a free agent, Floyd figures to be primed to make a lot on the open market — perhaps more than the Cards will be willing to spend. There’s also the puzzle piece that is Larry Fitzgerald and Fitz’s impending free agency as well.
Tags: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd
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NFL.com and the NFL Network compiled a ranking of the top 20 games of the 2015 season, and the Cardinals were part of the game picked as the best.
It probably shouldn’t be surprising that the Divisional playoff game between the Cards and Packers earned the top spot, although it took the Cards allowing an emotionally crushing Hail Mary to get there. It was played less than three months ago, so it’s not hard to remember the highlights, like Michael Floyd’s rebound TD catch, the Aaron Rodgers miracle and, of course, Larry being Larry. (I have to admit thought I had forgotten about Patrick Peterson’s 100-yard interception return that would have been legendary itself had it not been called back because of a hands-to-the-face penalty). A truly classic game with many twists and a heckuva ending.
The Cardinals actually appear on the top 20 list two other times. Their 24-22 home loss to the Rams, when Todd Gurley broke out for the first time, was No. 20. The Cards’ big win in Seattle, capped by Andre Ellington’s TD run, was picked as No. 12.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, NFL Network, Packers, Patrick Peterson, Rams, Seahawks, Todd Gurley
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The NFL Players Association announced today that the 2016 salary cap will be $155.27 million, about a $12 million jump from 2015. It’s a sizable number. With the slightly more than $3 million the Cardinals carried over from their leftover 2015 cap, General Manager Steve Keim will have a salary cap of about $158 million with which to work this season.
With that number, both overthecap.com and spotrac.com estimate the Cards will have between $19M and $20M of cap space going into free agency. The Cardinals have seven players that are scheduled to have cap hits of at least $5 million in 2016:
— QB Carson Palmer $17.88M
— WR Larry Fitzgerald $15.85M
— DT Calais Campbell $15.25M
— CB Patrick Peterson $13.07M
— T Jared Veldheer $9M
— WR Michael Floyd $7.32M
— G Mike Iupati $5.7M
Of those players, it makes the most sense to adjust the numbers of Campbell and Floyd through extensions. Otherwise, Keim and the front office have already figured out their plan for free agency through these numbers. There will be teams with tons of cap room, in order to overpay a player if they chose. The Cards will do what they do — target free agents at a certain price, and if they can’t convince them to sign, then move on. The “legal tampering” part of free agency begins in a week. Actual agreements cannot begin until March 9, a week from Wednesday.
Tags: Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, free agency, Jared Veldheer, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Mike Iupati, Patrick Peterson, salary cap
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The inactive list looks like it has the last few weeks, so it certainly seems like Bruce Arians will follow through with his comment that the Cardinals are playing this straight today. S Rashad Johnson and WR Michael Floyd are indeed active. In fact, every player who was questionable for the Cards Friday is active today.
The full inactive list:
— QB Matt Barkley
— CB Corey White
— LB Markus Golden (knee)
— LB Shaq Riddick
— T D.J. Humphries
— NT Xavier Williams
— DT Josh Mauro (calf)
The Seahawks are without starters T Russell Okung, G J.R. Sweezy, RB Marshawn Lynch, TE Luke Willson and S Kam Chancellor.
The bigger pre-game news was that the Cardinals watched former teammate Ryan Lindley throw a TD for the Colts:
— Darren Urban (@Cardschatter) January 3, 2016
Tags: inactives, Michael Floyd, Rashad Johnson, Seahawks
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Sunday night was a good night for the Cardinals. They dominated. They won the NFC West. They had a rookie running back rush for 187 yards and look tremendous doing it. They were happy to win the division, but know they haven’t yet accomplished what they want, which is the right mindset to have.
“We want to put banners up,” defensive tackle Frostee Rucker said. “We want to keep this thing rolling, and we’re on the right track.”
But it was hard not to see the stoic faces of both Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer after Tyrann Mathieu went down on a non-contact play late in the game, his knee buckling. Non-contact plays like that are a scary thing in this league, and when Palmer said he had already been praying for Mathieu, it shows where his head was at.
No, the Cardinals have not yet reached their goals. There are a lot of boxes left that need to be checked before/if the Cards can start thinking about a Super Bowl. It would really help if Mathieu is there to help. That answer isn’t out there yet as the Cards fly home from Philly in the middle of the night.
— David Johnson was tremendous. He provided an injury scare himself late in the first half – after he had already surpassed 100 yards for the first time in his career – but came back. He said he knew he was fine, and he was. Johnson had 187 yards rushing and 229 total yards and is firmly entrenched as this team’s No. 1 running back.
— This nugget from longtime Eagles beat writer Reuben Frank: Two players have ever rushed for at least 185 yards and three touchdowns in a game against the Eagles. David Johnson Sunday night … and Jim Brown.
— What was it with the drops? From jump, when Smokey Brown dropped what should have been a 78-yard touchdown on the game’s first play, it was something that receiving group never does. Brown ended up with three drops – including one in the end zone – and Michael Floyd had a couple himself. Bruce Arians said it should’ve been a big game for Brown. (There were about three other deep shots to Brown that just didn’t connect.)
— The Cardinals wanted to get better in short yardage and self-scouted to do so. Sunday night, the Cardinals had third down/goal to go and either one or two yards to make nine times. They passed it four times and ran it five – and they converted all nine attempts.
— A.Q. Shipley did a nice job in replacing the gimpy Lyle Sendlein at center.
— Two hardest hits of the night: New safety D.J. Swearinger hammering tight end Zack Ertz to prevent a completion in the first quarter to force a field goal, and tight end Troy Niklas, who accidentally belted punt returner Patrick Peterson hard enough that Peterson fumbled. Niklas jumped on the ball to save the play.
— Well, it’s very late. The attention is starting to wane, so I’m going to cut this off. The Cardinals may be 12-2, but they haven’t wrapped up a bye yet, and the team chasing them comes to town this week. Packers-Cardinals is a pretty good game, no?
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, D.J. Swearinger, David Johnson, Eagles, Frostee Rucker, Jim Brown, John Brown, Michael Floyd, Patrick Peterson, Troy Niklas, Tyrann Mathieu
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Larry Fitzgerald has made it clear he doesn’t necessarily like to block. But he likes to tackle.
Sometimes, it’s a subtle attempt at a takedown, like when he was giving Michael Floyd grief near the end of the win in St. Louis when Floyd didn’t come down with a diving TD catch and slowly moved into position before the lighting quick lower-leg takedown on the sideline. (I have been on the receiving end of that move a couple of times over the years.) Sometimes, it’s full speed, like when he took down Smokey Brown after his TD against the Eagles last year (spooking Brown enough that he rushed his TD dance against the Rams later in the season for fear of a Fitz hit). Or, for instance, last week.
Dwight Freeney had just sacked Teddy Bridgewater to seal the Cardinals win. And Fitz sacked Freeney.
“Listen, we’re the two oldest guys out there and you’re running full speed and I’m sitting there wondering what he’s going to do,” Freeney said. “And then I’m like, ‘Oh God, he’s jumping.’ The whole game I’m healthy until that damn play.”
Fitzgerald – who complained he was whacked on the head by guard Ted Larsen’s helmet when Larsen, helmet in hand, went to hug Freeney – said he just got excited.
“I’ve known Dwight for a very long time, a long time,” Fitz said. “To be able to see him do that at that moment, for that number, a $200,000 sack, that was big.”
Ahh, the cash. Freeney hit the $200,000 incentive in his contract for his fourth sack, and he gets incentive money for each sack going forward. Fitz doesn’t miss stuff like that.
“I appreciate that,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m going to appreciate every single one for him here on out, too.”
Maybe there will be a sack-tackle in Philly too.
— Every Friday, both the offense and defense leave for a players-only meeting after practice ends. It’s usually just a wrap-up reminder from unit leaders about the game plan, imploring focus. Most of the time, the defense is gone for 15 or 20 minutes. They met for much longer Friday. After the mistakes made against the Vikings – and what can happen with similar mistakes against the high-tempo Eagles – there has been a drive to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
— The Cardinals haven’t turned the ball over in three straight games, which has helped considering two of them were close (weird to think in the three games before those, the Cardinals lost the turnover battle yet still won, which feels statistically impossible in today’s NFL.) It feels like turnovers will be the deciding factor Sunday night. If the Cards stay clean, I don’t see the Eagles beating them.
— If Rashad Johnson can’t play, I’ll be very interested to see how the defense reacts and what it means. Patrick Peterson said this week he can’t imagine life without Rashad behind the defense. Will they have to find out? (And given that Johnson is a free agent-to-be, could it be a trial run for 2016?)
— If you haven’t seen “Bruce Arians: A Football Life” you might not know that the Cardinals last year adopted the song “I’m About To Whip Somebody’s Ass” for pre-game. Safety Tyrann Mathieu said he is the locker room DJ before games and is the “only one with that song” on the team. Arians sent it to Mathieu during a text conversation last year, Mathieu liked it, and it became part of the team’s pre-game ritual.
“Every game, home or away, it doesn’t matter,” Mathieu said.
It doesn’t hurt that the Cardinals have won many of those games.
— Michael Floyd grinned, admitting again how he probably stole the pass for Fitzgerald last week that ended up being a 42-yard TD for Floyd, with Fitz blocking. Fitzgerald was asked if Floyd was going to buy him dinner in exchange.
“Mike is the cheapest dude on the team,” said Fitzgerald, who never seems to pass up a chance to needle his fellow Minnesota native. “Mike don’t even pay attention. That’s how cheap he is.”
— Yes, the Cardinals are on the road, but in anticipation of what is expected to be an influx of Packers fans next week after a noticeable amount of Vikings fans at University of Phoenix Stadium last week, Fitzgerald isn’t thrilled.
“Nothing that irks me more than seeing that,” Fitzgerald said. “We want to create that same tradition here. I know we have only been here since 1988. … Hopefully we can change that tide.”
— Freeney signed so late in the season he got a locker not with the linebackers but where there was an open stall. It happened to be between quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton.
“It was kind of funny,” Freeney said, who added with a smile, “but I like being near quarterbacks.”
— Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford, on the possibility of throwing at Peterson, who has been as much of a shutdown cornerback as anyone in the league this season.
“Well, I would probably prefer not to,” Bradford said. “Obviously, Patrick’s a great player. He’s proved that in his time in the league. But, if we have the opportunity and it’s there, you’ve got to throw it. You can’t let one guy take away a whole half of the field.”
— Kyle Odegard did a great job writing about running back David Johnson’s journey to the NFL. Check it out if you haven’t already.
— I think Johnson, who has 99 and 92 yards rushing in his two starts, cracks 100 yards this week.
— Next stop, Philadelphia.
Tags: David Johnson, Dwight Freeney, Eagles, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Sam Bradford, Tyrann Mathieu
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