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Major NFC West tradewinds, including Jimmy G

Posted by Darren Urban on October 30, 2017 – 6:20 pm

The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday at 1 p.m. Arizona time. Monday night though delivered a pair of NFC West trades — neither involving the Cardinals — that will impact the division for a while. The first was Texans veteran tackle Duane Brown going to the Seahawks for veteran CB Jeremy Lane, a fifth-round pick in 2018 and a second-round pick in 2019. The other was Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo going to the 49ers for a 2018 second-round pick (which, as bad as the Niners have been, would be near a late first-round pick.)

The Brown deal makes sense for a Seattle team going for it. Their offensive line has been bad for a long time. Russell Wilson is so good, if they can get him a modicum of blocking, that offense — which was awesome against the Texans Sunday throwing the ball — will be that much better. But it’s the Jimmy G trade that gets everyone’s attention. So many teams are looking for long-term answers at QB. The Cardinals are one. Now, the Niners could offer a much better second-round pick. Garoppolo is going to be an unrestricted free agent, so he’s going to be due a lot of money. And frankly, he hasn’t played that much. No one is really sure what he will be. It’s not like Bill Belichick has ever flipped backup QBs where people have had high hopes only to have them be, um, less than expected (Ryan Mallett, Matt Cassel.)

So this will be Kyle Shanahan’s QB choice going forward (no QB in the first round for San Francisco, so that helps the Cards a bit.) He likely won’t play against the Cards this season — it’s hard to see him jumping in the lineup Sunday, especially since the Niners are 0-8 and are going nowhere.

The Cardinals made a trade too, don’t forget. They got Adrian Peterson, he just happened to come a couple weeks ago. As for their future QB, there are still options. Kirk Cousins may be a free agent (although the 49ers were believed to be a possible destination, so he may just stay in Washington.) There is the draft. At some point very soon, the Cards will have to address that. I don’t see how it can’t be this spring at the latest.


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Rolling over cap space for 2017

Posted by Darren Urban on January 18, 2017 – 1:57 pm

Each year, teams have the option (and why they wouldn’t use it boggles the mind) to roll over any unused salary cap space from the current season on to next year’s cap. It is helpful, of course, buying a little more space with which to use the following season. The NFL Players Association released the list of each team’s rollover money for 2017 Wednesday. The Cardinals have slightly more than $4.4 million they are carrying over for 2017, which just means they will tack on $4.4M to whatever the salary cap is this season.

That number has yet to be set (although reports have it going from $155M to between $166M and $170M). Until then, it’s tough to know how much cap space the Cards will have going into the offseason. It’s safe to say the Cardinals won’t have a ton to spend, not with their own free agents they are trying to retain and the raises others are due this coming season.

The $4.4M rollover is the second-largest amount in the NFC West. The Rams have only $305,000 or so, and the Seahawks are at $2.07M. But the 49ers rolled over a massive amount — $38.7M — which will give them a ton of room to play with. (Amazingly, that’s not the most rolled over in the NFL. The Jaguars are rolling over $39.3M, and the Browns are rolling over a whopping $50.1M. Of course, you have to have places to spend that cap space to make it mean anything.)

Figuring out exact cap space is always a tricky thing, although the NFLPA does attempt to release the information when the new league year (and free agency) starts. It’s frequently a moving target, especially in the offseason with the top 51.

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Friday before the Rams – and season’s end

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2016 – 3:27 pm

One of the friends and family of Frostee Rucker that will be at the game Sunday in Los Angeles will be his first football coach. Rucker was 6 at the time. He later ended up playing at USC, and so will be back at the Los Angeles Coliseum playing for the first time since college.

“It’s almost like full circle in a sense,” Rucker said.

The season will come to an end as well. Can’t say it’s full circle, since at the beginning expectations were so high and here we are, on the final day of practice and it’s not even January. That certainly wasn’t the plan back in August. The mood was good this week, I’m sure in part because of the win in Seattle. They’d like to finish off with the revenge win against the Rams. “You build your team to win in the division,” coach Bruce Arians said, and, despite all the ups and downs, if the Cardinals win Sunday, they will have gone 4-1-1 in the NFC West.

That’s a record that Arians admitted, had he known before the season, he’d have assumed they would have won the division.

— Here’s another stat (oh, those sometimes misleading stats) that also would’ve made you think they could’ve (would’ve?) won the division: There are only three teams in the NFL ranked in the top 10 in offense and defense. The Cardinals (eighth in offense, third in defense) are one of them. The others? Playoff-bound New England and Pittsburgh.

— The Cardinals have not lost an NFC West road game since 2014. They’ve won five straight heading into this one.

— It’s amazing to think the Cardinals will be starting their fifth different right guard Sunday. It’s gone Evan Mathis to Earl Watford to John Wetzel to Earl Watford to Taylor Boggs and now to Evan Boehm.

— For those wondering, I had a chance to ask Carson Palmer about the late slant pass to J.J. Nelson. It indeed was an audible.

— The crazy stat of the week: Running back David Johnson is averaging 10.7 yards per catch (77 receptions). Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is averaging 9.6 yards per catch (102 receptions). Yes, Fitz has more catches, but you’d never think a running back would be ahead of a receiver.

— Speaking of Fitzgerald, Arians said he would not lobby the veteran wide receiver to return in 2017. “It’s up to Larry,” Arians said of Fitzgerald playing another year. “I’ve got my fingers crossed. Hopefully he will come back but that’s strictly up to him.”

— Arians does have other business with Fitz, though. On Chandler Catanzaro’s game-winning field goal last week, Fitz celebrated with the coach a bit too hard. The jumping bear hug hurt Arians’ right shoulder, and he admitted Friday it still hurts. What did the MRI show? “Haven’t taken one yet,” Arians said with a chuckle. “I don’t even want to know.”

There could still be a price to pay, though.

“If I can’t play golf this year (in the offseason), I’ll be driving one of those real nice cars,” Arians added with a grin.

— The in-flux offensive line, whatever its shortcomings, has allowed only two sacks total the last two games.

“Proud of them,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “That’s what I told them Wednesday. Just proud of them.”

— Palmer doesn’t like sitting out Wednesday practice but he never really fought it either. The Cardinals put a lot of time and effort into the sports science of workload, hits and repetitions — led by assistant strength coach Anthony Piroli — to judge such things. Palmer’s Wednesday work is part of that science.

“There’s reason for it,” Palmer said. “There’s data behind it. It’s amazing the stuff that they keep track of and the information that you get back from that. It makes sense. I see why they do it, and like I said, they’re paid professionals. That’s their job and that’s their role, and you don’t have a choice but to listen.”

— This Rod Tidwell “Football Life” trailer is pretty good, NFL Network. I’m going to stick with my Tidwell effort, however.

— Congrats to Johnson for being named MVP by the Arizona chapter of the PWFA. Same for Kevin Minter for taking the “Good Guy” award for his dealing with the media. Truth be told, there are a bunch of guys that could win the Good Guy award — Calais Campbell, Patrick Peterson, Tony Jefferson, D.J. Humphries, Tyrann Mathieu and A.Q. Shipley immediately come to mind, and that’s not a total list — but the truth is, we have a very good locker room when it comes to this part of the job.

— Another season (almost) done. That’s 17 in the books for me. Where does the time go?

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The pain of the Cardinals-Seahawks rivalry

Posted by Darren Urban on July 6, 2016 – 11:25 am

By now, there is little question about the rivalry between the Seahawks and the Cardinals of the last couple of years (if you need to see the raw emotion, at least from the Cardinals’ side, check out the episodes “The Penthouse” and “Endings and Beginnings” of the “All or Nothing series). When you look at the analytics of it, as Bill Barnwell did in this article, the question arises — is it good to have such a rivalry, or not?

It’s not so much about the rivalry itself but the fact both teams are so good. Barnwell points out, through recent historical data, that to have two powerful teams in one division — the argument can easily be made that the two are among the top four or five in the NFL going into 2016 — can cost both a significant chance at a Super Bowl win.

Again, it’s not so much that the two teams beat up on each other, which can be part of it, but the reality that home-field makes a big difference in the postseason. When two strong teams are in the same division, it’s that much harder to obtain. Still, in 2013, when the 49ers were still strong and the Cardinals had 10 wins and the Rams were still doing well in the division, the Seahawks managed to emerge as a Super Bowl champion. And during the season, these days, there is little like Seattle week for the Cardinals.

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Draft (i.e. QB) trade changes NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on April 14, 2016 – 8:06 am

The draft was changed significantly Thursday morning, and with it, so was the NFC West. The Rams, now in Los Angeles, completed a huge trade with the Tennessee Titans to acquire the No. 1 overall pick. It will be a quarterback, either Carson Wentz or Jared Goff (the conventional wisdom seems to be Wentz.) The Rams were picking 15th overall, so the price to move up 14 spots was hefty: The Titans get back not only L.A.’s first-round pick but also two second-round picks and a third-rounder this season, as well as the Rams’ 2017 first-round pick (which if the rookie QB struggles, could be pretty high.)

The Titans did add in a fourth- and sixth-rounder in the 2016 draft back to the Rams.

It’s a reverse of what the Rams did in 2012 when they shipped the No. 2 pick to the Redskins so Washington could take QB Robert Griffin III. RGIII flamed out after an excellent rookie year, but the Rams didn’t really benefit much from the trade either — they have yet to make the playoffs since then. Now coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead have come to the point where they need to make a push or get pushed out of their jobs, so they pushed all their chips in for a QB. Neither Wentz or Goff have the same kind of buzz around them like a Cam Newton or Andrew Luck or Jameis Winston. Its a risk.

Meanwhile, you figure a No. 1 overall pick would play right away, meaning the Cardinals will be seeing a rookie QB twice this season. The Rams have two very good part in place to help a rookie QB — a running back who looks like he will be great in Todd Gurley, and a very good defense. If the QB pans out, the Rams will be in good shape over the next few years. If not, their roster will take a hit from giving up so many high picks. But like Cardinals GM Steve Keim says often, most of the time the QBs that become the “QB of the future” can only be found at the top of the draft. The Rams made sure they made it to that mountaintop, regardless of the price.

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Chip Kelly comes to the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on January 14, 2016 – 12:14 pm

It certainly hasn’t been quiet in the Cardinals’ division, even with the regular season over. The Cardinals and Seahawks are among the final eight teams in the playoffs. The Rams moved to Los Angeles. And now the 49ers, wanting to make sure no one forgot about them, went out and hired Chip Kelly as their new coach.

It’s an interesting pick. Whether Kelly was their first choice or — as some reports have said — they turned to Kelly after they couldn’t get Hue Jackson (who went to the Browns), it’s a drastic change from Jim Tomsula, that’s for sure. The immediate reaction? That assumed divorce between rehabbing QB Colin Kaepernick and the team might not happen — Kaepernick would seem to be the perfect type of QB for Kelly’s system, to the point many wondered this season if Kap was cut would the then-Eagles coach Kelly snap him up — and also how the relationship will work between Kelly and GM Trent Baalke. But we’ll see how quickly Kelly can get that team changed up after a very rough 2015.

The Cardinals have done fine against Kelly’s Eagles, winning two of three, including the division-clinching rout in Philly this season.

I’ll say this, the NFC West certainly isn’t boring.

Bruce Arians, Chip Kelly

 


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Now, Cardinals will visit L.A.

Posted by Darren Urban on January 13, 2016 – 8:10 am

At least for now, the NFL has settled — finally — what will happen with teams possibly moving to Los Angeles. It was a lot of talk and speculation, especially over the last year or so, but in the end, what went down seemed the most likely scenario from the start. The Rams are leaving St. Louis and going back to Los Angeles, where they once left (in 1994, when Aeneas Williams broke up that pass, pictured below, to Flipper Anderson) to move to St. Louis.

The Rams moved, of course, after the Cardinals left St. Louis to move to Arizona. But that isn’t why this matters now to the Cardinals. This move matters now because it means the Cards now have a different trip every year within the NFC West. Now, instead of a flight to St. Louis, it’s a quick hop to L.A. for one division game a season (if there is a road night game now against the Rams, no more getting home in the really wee hours. So there’s that.)

The other reason it’s important is because the speculation can now stop about whether a team might have to switch conferences (and whether that team might have to be the Cards, which I never really thought anyway.) There was talk that if the two AFC West teams were L.A.-bound (Chargers and Raiders) then one would have to switch to the NFC West and an NFC West team would have to go to the AFC. Now, never mind.

The Chargers and Raiders are in limbo. The Chargers have a year (and maybe two, if you look at the details) to decide if they want to leave San Diego for Los Angeles. The Raiders have to figure out some things. And the Rams are going to have a JerryWorld-type stadium in a few years, which the Cards will get to visit every fall.

It also figures to increase the stakes in the NFC West. Not that Rams ownership didn’t have money to spend before, but with a stadium/complex that will likely cost near $2 billion when it’s all said and done, the Rams are going to push hard to win in a division that has been difficult anyway.

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An NFC West title without a win or Seattle loss

Posted by Darren Urban on December 15, 2015 – 10:03 am

The Cardinals’ magic number to clinch the NFC West is one — as in, one win for the Cards, or one loss by the second-place Seahawks. That will make it impossible for the Seahawks to at least tie the Cardinals at the top of the division, since the Cards are 11-2 with three games left and the Seahawks are 8-5.

But what if that tie happened?

The tiebreakers within the division are carefully laid out. If the Cardinals were to lose out (a rap on the wrist for even suggesting such a thing!) and the Seahawks were to win out to create the tie, the teams would also tie in the first four tiebreakers: head-to-head, win-loss percentage in the division, win-loss percentage in common games, and win-loss percentage in conference games.

That brings the tiebreaker to strength of victory: The winning percentage of opponents each team has defeated during the season. And it is within that strength of victory tiebreaker that could have the Cardinals clinch Sunday even if they lose in Philadelphia and the Seahawks win.

(Something to keep in mind here: The Cardinals already are ahead by three games in strength of victory, so chances are, even with three games left and all the variables involved, they will own this tiebreaker at the end if needed. But the following is the opportunity for the clinch to happen this weekend.)

So, assuming the NFC West isn’t clinched by a Cards’ win or Seattle loss, the Cards clinch if the Bengals win in San Francisco and the Saints win at home against Detroit and the Steelers lose at home against Denver and the Cowboys lose at home against the Jets. It’s not a far-fetched scenario. Something to keep in mind.

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Palmer and battling the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on June 12, 2015 – 10:40 am

The health of Carson Palmer is the linchpin to the Cardinals’ 2015 season. No one is disputing that, which is why it’s been so important for Palmer to get back on the field and why his full return in minicamp generated the headlines it did. It also (obviously) would make an impact on the NFC West race. Right after the season, Bruce Arians was asked about battling Seattle going forward.

“I’d like to play them with a first-string quarterback,” Arians said. “We beat them with our first-string quarterback. We didn’t get the chance to play them this year with our first-string quarterback.”

The fact is, the Cardinals hardly got any play from Palmer against their division rivals. Because of the schedule and thanks to the shoulder injury that cut down Palmer’s season early before the knee got him late, Palmer played a little more than three of a possible 24 quarters against the Rams, 49ers and Seahawks. That’s a tough way to maneuver through a difficult division. (The Cardinals ended up going 3-3 in six division games, rallying behind a Drew Stanton TD pass to beat the Rams in the one game Palmer did get to play.)

Palmer plans to change that in 2015, of course. While he only got six starts last season, Palmer was healthy in 2013, not only starting every game but taking every snap. If he can manage that again — or at least come close to it, since taking every single snap doesn’t necessarily have to happen — it’ll give the Cards even footing in the NFC West.

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The offensive line best in the West?

Posted by Darren Urban on May 27, 2015 – 3:03 pm

The tweet came from SiriusXM NFL Radio over the weekend, with host and former NFL QB Jim Miller saying that it is the Cardinals with the best offensive line in the NFC West. (His partner, Pat Kirwan, has the Cardinals second behind Seattle.) My first reaction, which I tweeted, was that I couldn’t remember the last time someone held the Cardinals’ offensive line in such high regard. It makes sense, with the Cardinals’ big free-agent purchase the past two offseasons being offensive linemen (Jared Veldheer and Mike Iupati) in addition to a No. 1 draft pick (Jonathan Cooper.)

Veldheer was asked about being compared — on both the offensive and defensive line — to the Seahawks, and the tackle was pretty blunt.

“I think they’re both solid lines, but I’d take our guys any day over those guys,” Veldheer said. “That’s part of the fun part, too, getting that rivalry going, wanting to puff your chest out more than the guy across the line from you.”

In terms of the division’s offensive lines, the reality is the bar has dropped some. The Seahawks traded their center Max Unger to get tight end Jimmy Graham, who may help in catching the ball but won’t much as a blocker. The Rams have added defensive linemen aplenty of late but seem to have ignored the need on the offensive line. The 49ers lost one of their better lineman when Iupati came to Arizona. As for the Cardinals, they have upgraded. You can see why someone would consider them the best unit in the division. But as always, it’s difficult to tell much of anything on the offensive line in the offseason. What is done in the offseason isn’t enough of football to be sure the line will translate once the games actually start.

Then again, it’s better to be thought of as the best this time of year than the alternative.

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