The players have been gone for a couple of weeks. The coaches are on vacation. Now is the time for them to not think about football, since football will dominate lives when the end of July arrives.
In the meantime, it is the perfect time to speculate and predict.
As I have done for a number of years, here are my picks, in late June, of who will be the starters for the Cardinals when they begin the regular season Sept. 11 against the Patriots on “Sunday Night Football.” They are the best guesses for a team that has yet to take part in training camp, yet to absorb any of the inevitable camp injuries, yet to sign anyone late as a Steve Keim blue light special.
While the Cardinals often are in some sort of sub-package, for this post we are going with the base defense. I’ll post my thoughts on the offense tomorrow (and here they are):
DT – Calais Campbell. Going into the last year of his contract, Campbell’s future with the Cardinals is fuzzy. But the Pro Bowler has played well, and the addition of Chandler Jones figures to make him better, and in a year where the Cards are going to push for a Super Bowl, he’ll be a key piece.
NT – Corey Peters. The Cards like Rodney Gunter, who was solid as a rookie. But Peters was impressing coaches before his Achilles injury last season, and I expect him to make a similar push to get back into the starting lineup by the time the season starts. Other than Campbell, the defensive line starter positions are a) up for grabs and b) part of a rotation, anyway. One caveat: This is assuming Peters is indeed all the way healthy, but coach Bruce Arians said Peters would be ready to go come camp.
DT – Frostee Rucker. Rucker missed offseason work with a foot injury, and he may not be ready right when camp opens. But assuming he doesn’t miss too much time, he figures to find his way into the lineup again. He’s been solid the last couple of seasons, and while there is youth available (Gunter, Nkemdiche, Stinson) Rucker still leads the way.
OLB – Chandler Jones. He was penciled into the lineup the day he arrived in a trade. He’ll be a three-down player.
ILB – Deone Bucannon. Last year at this time I picked Bucannon to be the starting strong safety. It was, after all, where he spent the entire 2015 offseason working. Then, when camp began, Buc was back at dollar linebacker. The Cards don’t even pretend he is anything but anymore.
ILB – Kevin Minter. He got his chance to show he could be a starter last year, and he made it work. He’ll be back in place again as he goes into the last year of his contract.
OLB – Markus Golden. When it comes to outside linebackers, Jones is the star, Alex Okafor is the former starter on the comeback trail after his dicey exit to 2015, and Dwight Freeney is the still-available free agent. Meanwhile, Golden, who was solid as a rookie, will slide into the starting spot opposite Jones. He’ll have the chance to be a nice bookend.
CB – Patrick Peterson. Yes, 2014 was mostly forgettable. Peterson couldn’t have made 2015 more memorable. That was the stud cornerback he could be, and the one the Cards are counting on going forward.
CB – Justin Bethel. There is competition, not from someone unsigned, but from the rookies. If Bethel is going to grab this job, he has to hold off raw rookie Brandon Williams. He should be able to do that.
FS – Tyrann Mathieu. In the end, I think Mathieu finds a way to be ready by “Sunday Night Football” to open the season. If not, Tyvon Branch – who will get a lot of playing time anyway – is around. The Cards need a healthy and productive Mathieu.
SS – Tony Jefferson. Branch will be in the mix too, and D.J. Swearinger will make a push, but in the end I think Jefferson finds his way on to the field first, as the Cards once again mix-and-match often their secondary. (Would I be surprised if Branch starts? Not at all.)
Tags: Calais Campbell, Chandler Jones, Corey Peters, Deone Bucannon, Frostee Rucker, Justin Bethel, Kevin Minter, Markus Golden, Patrick Peterson, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu
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Patrick Peterson was in Los Angeles Tuesday, making the round for a couple of reasons — doing the Colin Cowherd show on FS1 and an interview with Adam Schein of Sirius XM NFL radio and NFL.com to promote the upcoming “All or Nothing” series, which will be released July 1, and also to shoot the intro video for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” (Tyrann Mathieu was also in L.A. to take part in the video, as was Carrie Underwood, of course.)
During his interview with Schein, Peterson talked about “All or Nothing” (“It will definitely shine a different light on athletes”) and the infamous quarterback bucket toss (“It’s not all about winning, it’s all about not coming in last place.”)
Then, Schein asked Peterson if he thought the Cardinals got enough respect nationally.
“We have built into that reputation,” Peterson said. “We still have a couple of years to go of some consistency, of being in the playoffs year in and year out, getting those double (digit)-win seasons. I think we can definitely get there. But the pedigree is growing into that for sure.”
Tags: Carrie Underwood, Patrick Peterson, Sunday Night Football, Tyrann Mathieu
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While the NFL Network top 100 list continues to be counted down, profootballfocus.com has their own list of the top 101 players in the league. The site usually has a top 101 list after the season based on the season just completed. But now, they have a top 101 list of players right now based on overall body of work and with all positions being equal — meaning a good quarterback could still be behind a lineman if the lineman is exceptional.
Five Cardinals made the list: DB Tyrann Mathieu at No. 18 (PFF is one of the strongest outlets in referring to Mathieu more as a cornerback instead of a safety, since he plays so many snaps there), CB Patrick Peterson at No. 32, QB Carson Palmer at No. 40, DT Calais Campbell at No. 89 and G Evan Mathis at No. 98. Here’s a sampling of what PFF said on each:
— Mathieu: “Whether you want to call him a safety or a cornerback, Tyrann Mathieu is one of the league’s best defensive backs. He is a true playmaker on defense and has the ability to move around and cause matchup problems for offenses, putting them on the back foot for once in a league that usually forces defenses to react, not the other way around.”
— Peterson: “At his best, Patrick Peterson is one of the league’s top shutdown corners, or as close as anybody can get to that term in today’s NFL of pass-happy rules.”
— Palmer: “Palmer had the league’s highest average depth of target, and his expected inaccuracy rate given the passes he was attempting should have been the highest in the league. As it turned out, he was the best on intermediate and deep throws, and if I knew I was getting that guy in 2016, he would by vying for a place inside the top-five on this list.”
— Campbell: “While his ceiling may be some way short of J.J. Watt or Aaron Donald, he is still a major impact player on defense and capable of screwing up an offense’s plans almost single-handedly.”
— Mathis: “PFF’s affinity for Evan Mathis has been no secret over the years. He is a player that has consistently graded well when he has been on the field, and even this past season when carrying injuries and splitting time in Denver, he was one of the best-graded guards in the league, and the highest-graded run blocker.”
Tags: Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Evan Mathis, Patrick Peterson, Pro Football Focus, Tyrann Mathieu
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Ever since Bruce Arians arrived in Arizona, he has made use of the second field during OTAs and minicamp. The concept is simple. With 90 players on the roster, and the veterans needing their time to learn, the third- and fourth-string players and others needing work head over to run the same script that the first two units run on the main field.
After the opening OTA, Arians said that meant 42 reps for each field, and significant work for the inexperienced.
“Most teams’ rookies got five or six reps if they were lucky,” Arians said. “Ours got 42. That’s one of the ways we try to bring young players along.”
Nowhere are those reps more important than at defensive back, with Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Justin Bethel all sidelined with injuries. The Cards are short enough that draft picks Brandon Williams and Harlan Miller, both cornerbacks, are getting their work on the main field thus far. Williams, not surprisingly, has a way to go given his inexperience at the position — Peterson has been working with him closely in practice. But reps against receivers like Larry Fitzgerald or Michael Floyd or Smokey Brown and even guys like J.J. Nelson will quickly show what needs to be learned.
There has been much speculation about whether the Cardinals will sign another cornerback. With the versatility on hand (safeties like Tyvon Branch and Marqui Christian will likely get some work there in practice) and the second field, the Cardinals will get a good sense of just what they have at cornerback on the roster — and whether they need to find someone else later.
Tags: Brandon Williams, Bruce Arians, Harlan Miller, Justin Bethel, Marqui Christian, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Tyvon Branch
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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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The NFL Players Association often puts out a list of the top 50 players who sell the most merchandise; Larry Fitzgerald has been on that list multiple times. But the NFLPA also annually puts out a “Rising 50” ranking, which rates players based on last season’s performance, fantasy popularity, demand from sponsors, and new faces in strong markets that would bode well for the future for those players.
The Cardinals have three players on the latest list, with a slight surprise as the highest ranked (No. 11 overall): Running back David Johnson.
It’s not that Johnson shouldn’t be that high. But safety Tyrann Mathieu is 14th and cornerback Patrick Peterson is 29th, which is the surprising part. Both those guys already have a high national profile, but it’s Johnson that gets the nod over both.
The list is interesting to peruse. Rams running back Todd Gurley is top ranked; Washington QB Kirk Cousins and Seahawks RB Thomas Rawls round out the top three. There are plenty of rookies drafted last weekend on the list, and interestingly, 49ers QB Blaine Gabbert is actually on the list.
It is safe to say this: Johnson is poised for a big year in 2016, in how the Cardinals use him, in the numbers Johnson could potentially pile up after his excellent stretch as a starter late in his rookie season, and how his profile should grow in front of what should be one of the NFL’s better teams. I am curious to see how Johnson might embrace such a rise. He’s a pretty quiet guy and is about the last person that will be looking for the spotlight. Then again, the spotlight might come looking for him.
Tags: David Johnson, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu
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Robert Nkemdiche did his whirlwind introduction at the Cardinals’ facility today. The No. 1 pick came in just for the press conference, flying back home to Los Angeles in the afternoon. He’ll return later next week with the rest of the rookies for rookie minicamp. Until then, here are some thoughts and quotes about the defensive tackle:
— Last year’s No. 1 pick D.J. Humphries came in and was almost immediately believed to be a guy who would sit and watch as a rookie. The same is definitely not the case with Nkemdiche.
“I expect Robert to come in here and be the best D-lineman we got,” defensive line coach Brentson Buckner said. “I don’t want him to come here and think he’s being redshirted.”
— That doesn’t mean he will be the best lineman, only that Buckner is expecting an effort to get there. And he’s expecting the other defensive linemen to respond in kind to fight for that playing time. “There’s no sleeping on your laurels, now,” Buckner said.
— Asked about Nkemdiche’s reputation of taking some plays off, Buckner said he didn’t see it as an obvious issue. “You show me any player in the country, especially d-linemen, that plays every snap full speed, I’ll give you a million dollars,” Buckner said, noting that the best college d-linemen are usually playing the whole game. “It depends on what your eyes see. … In the NFL you’re not going to play 90 plays. With our (roster), he’ll play 30 plays. You take that energy and condense it to 30 plays, you tell me who wouldn’t want that type of player?”
— Nkemdiche was asked when he might start shopping for that pet panther he has said he wanted to get.“I haven’t had any time to think through it yet,” he said, although that was cut off by both Bruce Arians (“Game 8”) and Michael Bidwill (“In Charlotte”) chiming in from the side of the room.
— The Cardinals understand Nkemdiche’s December incident raises questions. They aren’t shy of saying they all believe it was a one-time mistake, nor are they afraid to inject a little humor.
“I made a kind of joke about it, you get a guy who falls out of a second-story building and walks away from it, that’s my kind of guy,” Buckner said. “Because he’s not afraid of a double-team anymore, know what I mean?”
Buckner added he’s watched Nkemdiche since high school and has never heard any coaches speak poorly of him.
— When Nkemdiche first arrived at the facility Friday, after an early morning flight from Chicago, he got in, said hello to a handful of players in the building (Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu included) and then, out of nowhere, asked if it was OK if he got a workout in before his press conference. That wasn’t a good idea, he was told, since, you know, he hasn’t signed any contract or waiver or anything yet. He seemed a tad disappointed.
— He looks like he will fit in well in the locker room. He greeted everyone — from Peterson to Chris Johnson to former practice squad tackle Rob Crisp — like he had long been teammates with them already.
— He’s been compared a bit to Darnell Dockett and he will wear Dockett’s former No. 90 (which spent last season with Cory Redding). And if you look at Nkemdiche, he looks a little like Dockett, especially with his profile.
Tags: Brentson Buckner, Patrick Peterson, Robert Nkemdiche
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As if the Eagles-Browns trade wasn’t big enough news for the NFL Wednesday, this afternoon the Panthers in a stunning move rescinded the franchise tag from all-pro cornerback Josh Norman. Norman is now free to sign anywhere, and while in theory that includes back with the Panthers, it’s hard to see a scenario where that happens.
Norman had not signed his tender offer — worth nearly $14 million — and was in a position where he and Carolina had until July 15 to sign a long-term deal. Reportedly, Norman, 28, was looking for around $16M a year. Panthers GM Dave Gettleman said today it had become clear to him the team and Norman would never reach a long-term contract. Still, it’s odd the team would just let him go. Norman might have threatened to sit out (without signing the tender, he wasn’t obligated to show up, even to training camp) but he wouldn’t be the first, and he just said last month he was willing to play under the tag this season.
How does this impact the Cardinals? Not directly. Norman is a free agent, but the Cards a) only have about $6.5 million of cap space, b) are already paying a cornerback a ton of money (Patrick Peterson)and c) are on deck to pay another secondary member (Tyrann Mathieu) a lot of money. Norman isn’t coming here. But the Cardinals do visit the Panthers in 2016, so no Norman figures to help the Cards’ deep receiving corps.
That doesn’t mean the Cardinals won’t see Norman. Both the 49ers and Rams had been trying to sign premier cornerbacks in free agency, and the 49ers especially ($52 million in cap space) would seem to have the resources to give Norman what he wants.
Tags: 49ers, free agency, Josh Norman, Panthers, Patrick Peterson, Rams, Tyrann Mathieu
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Earlier this month, Justin Bethel was at his former high school in South Carolina, giving them a $100,000 check as a way to give back. He did so while on crutches, telling reporters it was a foot injury but that he would be back for training camp. So it wasn’t a surprise when Bethel was one of the few who has yet to be at the voluntary work that began this week. Another guy who is sidelined, according to Kent Somers, is Patrick Peterson, who also had surgery (ankle) and is hopeful to be back for some of the organized team activities later in the offseason. (Peterson later tweeted out the news.)
Neither situation is expected to sideline them for training camp. But it does emphasize the need for cornerbacks, at least in the short term. Right now, if you include Tyrann Mathieu’s slot work, the Cardinals won’t have their top four cornerbacks from last season for at least some of the offseason on-field work: Peterson, Bethel, Mathieu and free agent Jerraud Powers. (Powers, unsigned, still could return, although at this point nothing is expected to happen before the draft.)
The other cornerbacks on the roster: Cariel Brooks (whom the coaches like), Carrington Byndom, Asa Jackson, Shaun Prater, Kevin White and former Australian Rules Football player Joel Wilkinson.
Tags: Asa Jackson, Cariel Brooks, Carrington Byndom, Jerraud Powers, Joel Wilkinson, Justin Bethel, Kevin White, Patrick Peterson, Shaun Prater, Tyrann Mathieu
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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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