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Blogs

Washington sentenced to probation

Posted by Darren Urban on April 23, 2014 – 9:26 am

The court case for linebacker Daryl Washington has finally come to a conclusion, almost a year after his initial arrest. Washington, who entered a plea last month after being charged with assault on the mother of his child, was sentenced Wednesday morning to one year of supervised probation for one aggravated assault charge. That means no jail time, although that is not a surprise given his plea deal. But now comes the second part of this equation. The NFL has been monitoring the case, of course, but it waits until it is fully played out before handing out any of its own punishment. That time has arrived.

How long it takes the NFL to make a decision on whether or not to suspend Washington — who served an unrelated four-game suspension to begin last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy — is up in the air. Anything that would happen would come in the form of a regular-season ban, so there is time. Given the way commissioner Roger Goodell has handled things in the personal conduct area, a suspension would not be a surprise. Washington is officially charged with a felony, but if he performs well during the probation — essentially does everything the court asks — it will be reduced to a misdemeanor. What that means for the NFL is in question; a felony isn’t a good thing, obviously, but does the possible reduction play into the decision?

The Cardinals weathered the Washington-is-missing storm last year (going 2-2 in his absence.) We’ll see later today when the schedule comes out — 5 p.m. Arizona time, be sure to check azcardinals.com then! — what the Cards face in September. Last year, of course, the Cards had Karlos Dansby upon which to fall back without Washington. Dansby is gone. There is Kevin Minter, and Lorenzo Alexander, Kenny Demens and JoJo Dickson, and maybe a draft pick. Washington was already a key to this defense. Any absence will have an impact.

UPDATE: Coach Bruce Arians briefly addressed Washington this morning at the Cardinals’ charity golf tournament. “We’ve known this was coming for a long time,” Arians said. “Daryl’s known it. Whatever the judge decides is right, in this case. And we’ll live with it. We’ll wait and see how it goes.”

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Whither the extra point

Posted by Darren Urban on January 22, 2014 – 10:12 am

There has been a lot of conversation of late about changes to the game (thanks to commissioner Roger Goodell talking about such things). It has included discussion about eliminating the kicked extra point. Now, I get that the extra point is basically automatic. Goodell said the change would just mean touchdowns would just be worth seven points — unless a team chose to go for two, which would make the touchdown worth six. Sure, more than 99 percent of extra points are made these days. But if it is so easy, why not just back the attempt up? Instead of 19 yards, make it, for example, 30 yards? Then it is still in the game and the difficulty is raised. If that’s not hard enough, back it up some more. I’ll also say this: The way most teams make their extra points makes a miss crushing a lot of the time.

So much of this goes back to the way kicking has evolved. Many think the goalposts should be narrowed or shorter field goals should be worth less points because of the high percentage by which kickers can make field goals now. To think, Jay Feely made 30 of 36 field goals this season — and many fans were ready to run him out of town because of it. That isn’t excusing Feely, because his misses ultimately were crucial to the Cards in a couple of games. But making better than 83 percent of your field goals over a season once would have made Feely the best in the NFL.

Back to the extra point. I won’t be surprised if it is taken out of the game, just like I won’t be surprised when/if the kickoff return is removed. There is a safety aspect to this too, and I understand that. If that is the reason you want it out, OK. If the reason it’s abolished is because it is boring, I don’t really understand that. Tweaking it somehow seems more reasonable.

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Center of NFL universe comes to Phoenix

Posted by Darren Urban on March 18, 2013 – 9:22 am

The NFL owners meetings are underway at the Arizona Biltmore for the next few days, with the power brokers of the league coming together to talk about various topics and the league’s media stalking them on sidewalks and lobbies. From a Cardinals’ perspective, the last three owners meetings to come to town have coincided with two coach hires (Arians this year, Whisenhunt in 2007) and the splashy Emmitt Smith signing in 2003.

Comissioner Roger Goodell will have a press conference today, but we’ll see if there is more local news beyond that. I know the question keeps coming up — over and over — about Josh Cribbs, and there is again another report out of Cleveland today that Cribbs and the Cardinals are talking. To have it termed that he will “possibly” sign does leave the door wide open for nothing to go down. I don’t see the Cards taking on Cribbs unless it was totally on their terms. They don’t need a receiver per se, although I am sure they could fit Cribbs in in a role similar to LaRod Stephens-Howling if they wanted. At this point, when it’s done — if it’s done — is when it’s done.

And for those who still wonder, Rey Maualuga re-signed with the Bengals today. His door closed in Arizona once they signed Jasper Brinkley.


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Fitz is Man of the Year finalist

Posted by Darren Urban on January 20, 2013 – 6:12 pm

With the Super Bowl a couple of weeks away, the NFL announced Sunday the finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, including Larry Fitzgerald. The other two finalists are Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas and Cowboys tight end Jason Witten. The NFL Man of the Year award is announced Feb. 2, the night before the Super Bowl, during a nationally televised awards show on CBS. We already knew Fitz was the Cards’ Man of the Year (with that award presented to him by team president Michael Bidwill, pictured below.)

The Cardinals’ Kurt Warner won it the year the Cardinals played in the Super Bowl. The award recognizes a player’s off-the-field community service as well his playing excellence. Finalists for the award received $5,000 for their charity of choice from NFL Charities. The winner receives a $25,000 donation.

The selection panel for the award is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Walter Payton’s wife Connie, Pro Football Hall of Fame members Frank Gifford and Anthony Munoz, 2011 winner Matt Birk of the Ravens, and Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King.

Fitzgerald has increased his profile in charity work as his NFL career has progressed. The Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund provides funds for positive activities for kids during the summer and throughout the year, with programs in Arizona, Minneapolis (his home city) and Chicago (where his family is from). He works with the Carol Fitzgerald Memorial Fund, established in honor of his late mother, who passed away from breast cancer in 2003. That focuses on issues Fitz’s mother crusaded for, including HIV/AIDS education and the fight against breast cancer. Fitzgerald has also traveled the world extensively and often turned those trips in charity work, such as missions in Africa. In July, he flew to Uganda to assist President Clinton and his daughter Chelsea fit hearing aids for those in need.

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Considering a kickoff change

Posted by Darren Urban on December 7, 2012 – 8:01 am

Born out of the constant discussion to make the NFL safer and prevent some of the dreaded concussions that have obviously become one of the league’s top topics, there has been talk about changing the kickoff rule again — this time, taking kickoffs out of the game altogether.

Certainly, that would be a drastic measure. The idea this time comes from first-year Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano. Schiano, who watched one of his Rutgers players, Eric LeGrand, become paralyzed when he was hurt on a kickoff play, devised this idea: After Team A scores, instead of a kickoff, Team A would then have the ball on its own 30-yard line (just like a kickoff now) but would be handed, essentially, a 4th-and-15 play. The team could either punt from there or go for it (which replaces the possibility of an onside kick). Fail to gain a first down would give Team B the ball wherever it ended up, just as if it had been a normal fourth down situation.

Schiano first floated the idea back in 2011 when he was still at Rutgers. It has come up again, and now NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has taken notice. Rams coach Jeff Fisher, a member of the NFL’s competition committee (as is Ken Whisenhunt), said he thinks the kickoff situation will be addressed the next time the committee meets in the offseason.

There is a lot to consider with this, and changing the kickoff doesn’t necessarily mean going with Schiano’s drastic move. The league has talked often about how the most recent kickoff changes — moving the ball up, in particular, and other tweaks — have changed kickoff returns. Injuries are down, but so are electrifying returns. Touchbacks are way up.

Instituting the “Schiano rule” would impact the rosters. Punters would become more important. Kickers a little less so, now needed to just kick field goals and extra points (although some teams, who have punters kicking off, already have this situation). If you are a return man who can’t handle catching a punt in traffic, your chances of making it to the NFL decrease (you wonder what would have happened to a rookie seventh-round pick named LaRod Stephens-Howling if the current kickoff rules had been in place in 2009.) Patrick Peterson would get more chances to take one back, that’s for sure.

From a pure entertainment standpoint, such a new rule would certainly create an interesting wrinkle, not to mention making every post-scoring play look like a safety just happened. It seems a little too drastic to me. But at this point, given the way the league is trying to get safer, the game is clearly evolving, and that’s not going to stop.


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The refs are coming back

Posted by Darren Urban on September 26, 2012 – 10:02 pm

The NFL and the NFL Referees Association announced Wednesday night the two sides had finally come to an agreement and the regular officials are coming back. It won’t be ratified before Friday and Saturday, but commissioner Roger Goodell lifted the lockout so the game tomorrow night between the Browns and Ravens will be covered by the regular guys.

If nothing else, it takes away a huge distraction from the first few weeks of the season. It was inevitable after the mess Monday night in Seattle The Cardinals had been fortunate in their first three games since there really had been no major issues that affected the outcome (although the extra timeout the refs gave the Seahawks in the opener would have cost the Cards had the Seahawks won late, and imagine if Seattle was 3-0 with two wins it shouldn’t have.)

As it is, the blown call in the Seahawks-Packers game could hurt the Cardinals. The Seahawks are 2-1 and not 1-2 in the NFC West.

“Well it was upsetting, because it does affect us,” Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb said. “In my eyes, it was clearly an interception. Just like anybody else around, it’s something that doesn’t sit well with us, because it directly affects us. That’s unfortunate at this level.”

The Cardinals have been careful not to say much of anything on the subject (although Darnell Dockett did drop an expletive on Twitter Monday night — not that it mattered, because the NFL decided not to fine any players critical and Dockett wasn’t the only one to use such language.) Coach Ken Whisenhunt made sure the message was that the Cards couldn’t let it bother them, no matter who the officials were. “We just want the right calls to be made,” Kolb said.

The official press release listed these particulars for the new eight-year agreement:

The agreement includes the following key terms:

–  The current defined benefit pension plan will remain in place for current officials through the 2016 season (or until the official earns 20 years of service). The defined benefit plan will then be frozen.

–  Retirement benefits will be provided for new hires, and for all officials beginning in 2017, through a defined contribution arrangement, which will have two elements:  an annual league contribution made on behalf of each game official that will begin with an average of more than $18,000 per official and increase to more than $23,000 per official in 2019, and a partial match on any additional contribution that an official makes to his 401(k) account.

–  Apart from their benefit package, the game officials’ compensation will increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, rising to $205,000 by 2019.

– Beginning with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option of hiring a number of officials on a full-time basis to work year-round, including on the field.

–  The NFL will have the option to retain additional officials for training and development purposes, and may assign those additional officials to work NFL games. The number of additional officials will be determined by the NFL.

Those are details I’m sure most don’t care about. Most just care that the officials are back. And we’ll see how long it is before someone complains about one of the calls they make.


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How Saints’ punishments impact Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on March 21, 2012 – 11:17 am

The punishments for the New Orleans Saints — at least most of them, since the player punishments are still TBD — came down Wednesday and they provided the expected doozy: A year-long suspension without pay for Saints coach Sean Payton, an indefinite suspension for former DC Gregg Williams of at least a year, and an eight-game ban for general manager Mickey Loomis.

Obviously this isn’t about the Cardinals, although there are parts of this that do impact the Cards:

– To begin with, the Cardinals will be the first team to play the Saints, since the teams will match up Aug. 5 in the Hall of Fame game to kick off the preseason. Wonder what the talking points will be during that broadcast? You wonder if the Cards are just going to be in the background, because it’s hard to see the Saints’ storylines not dominating.

– The Saints lose second-round picks this year and next. That’ll move up the Cards’ third-round pick a slot sooner. We’ll see what it means in 2013.

– Once the regular season begins, the Cards know that Williams, who had since been hired as the Rams’ defensive coordinator, won’t be around. Williams may never be around in St. Louis; commissioner Roger Goodell isn’t assuring anyone that Williams will be reinstated. Not that new head coach Jeff Fisher can’t work around it — former Cards head coach Dave McGinnis, on staff with the Rams now as an assistant head coach, could drop into the DC role like he once did for the Cards. UPDATE: Fisher said the duties won’t go to a permanent DC. He, McGinnis and Chuck Cecil will split the work.

– Then there is the Kurt Warner tie-in. The original investigation sprouted from the way the Saints treated Warner, then the Cards’ QB, and Brett Favre, then with the Vikings, during the playoffs after the 2009 season. The Cards’ playoff game, in fact, was mentioned a couple of times in the NFL’s official release about the punishments, including Warner himself. “The investigation showed bounties being placed on four quarterbacks of opposing teams – Brett Favre, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, and Kurt Warner.”

Warner, appearing on NFL Network Wednesday, had this to say about the punishment: “I’m shocked, like a lot of people, but not fully surprised. … But this is what Commissioner Goodell has done from Day One. And I love he is trying to make statements trying to protect our game for the long-term.”

Added Warner, “To a degree, this has gone on through the history of our game, where guys have gone out to hit guys really hard to knock them out of the game or at least knock them off their game so it affects (the hitting team) in a positive manner. Of course, not to the extent to where you are paying guys to hurt other guys, and I think that’s where this takes a different turn.”

– The NFL also made clear that they won’t let this happen again, sending a memo to all teams directing the owner of every team to meet with the head coach to confirm bounty systems aren’t in place in any other organization. Said the NFL release, “Each principal owner and head coach must certify this in writing to the commissioner by March 30.”


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Revisionist History: Once upon a time in Mexico

Posted by Darren Urban on June 10, 2011 – 3:56 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

Now, there is a game in England every year, as much a part of the NFL landscape as Bill Belichick’s dry press conferences or James Harrison’s fines. Once, though, it was a big deal that the Cardinals and the 49ers were going to play the first NFL regular-season game out of the country, in Mexico City.

Back in 2005, we had the NFL’s then-COO, Roger Goodell, talking about wanting to see how a game outside the U.S would work. In a lot of ways, the Cards were a natural fit. A game against the 49ers at Sun Devil Stadium usually would only draw 35,000 or so and it would be half-empty; with the Cards set to move into University of Phoenix Stadium the next year, it made sense they would be the team to surrender a home game for the cause. That didn’t necessarily work for the Cardinals’ players, but in the big picture that usually doesn’t matter.

There were other reasons why the Cards were a match. On the practice squad was offensive lineman Rolando Cantu, the first Mexican citizen (non-kicker) ever to play in the NFL (Rolando is now a co-worker, his desk just a few cubicles down from me) wasn’t playing in the game but he was already a virtual rock star in Mexico because of his spot with the Cards. (Cantu officially played in the NFL the final game of the 2005 season in Indianapolis, cementing his legacy.)

The Cards tried to approach the journey to Mexico as just another road trip. Don’t forget, it was mixed in with the Cards’ poor 0-3 start, including an groin strain the week before in Seattle for first-year quarterback Kurt Warner. Josh McCown was back at QB, facing future Card Tim Rattay as the 49ers QB, since rookie Alex Smith had yet to win the job. Ideally, the Cards wouldn’t have given up a home game, especially since most of the 100,000-plus fans (final attendance was officially 103,467) who had a rooting interest would be rooting for the 49ers.

That changed quickly, when veteran safety Robert Griffith came charging out during introductions waving a huge Mexican flag. Suddenly, many fans who hadn’t cared about who won and who lost now took a liking to the Cards. The game started horribly, with the Cards fumbling on each of their first two possessions, both of which were returned for touchdowns. It was a 14-0 hole and San Francisco hadn’t even been on offense. But the Cards rallied, and rallied big.

McCown ended up with arguably his best day as a Cardinal (32-for-46, 385 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) and kicker Neil Rackers had his best day of his best season, making all six of his field-goal attempts (Rackers set an NFL record with 40 field goals, in 42 attempts, that season.) The game, by all accounts, was a success (OK, maybe the 49ers wouldn’t agree) and paved the way for the future games outside the U.S.

My lingering memory, aside from Griffith’s run? My paper at the time was still backward in its technology and I may have been the only one without a wireless capability on my laptop. I was worried about getting a landline at the stadium (The NFL did a great job of hooking me up despite those nasty long-distance rates) and it paid off – stadium workers breaking down after the game kept shutting off the wireless connections, leaving only backwards-me uninterrupted access to the internet on deadline.


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If you invite, players will come

Posted by Darren Urban on April 25, 2011 – 9:58 am

So last month there was a flash of hype about the high-ranking draftees possibly not attending the draft in New York and not shaking commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand, all because of the labor situation and the whole players-versus-league concept. That seemed to fade, but it was impossible to know how much.

Today, we know. It turns out a record 25 players will attend the draft, crushing last year’s mark of 17 attendees. The NFL just announced it via e-mailed press release. The names to attend:

Prince Amukamara CB Nebraska Corey Liuget DT Illinois
Akeem Ayers LB UCLA Von Miller LB Texas A&M
Adrian Clayborn DE Iowa Rahim Moore S UCLA
Randall Cobb WR Kentucky Cam Newton QB Auburn
Marcell Dareus DT Alabama Patrick Peterson CB Louisiana State
Nick Fairley DT Auburn Mike Pouncey G/C Florida
Blaine Gabbert QB Missouri Aldon Smith DE Missouri
AJ Green WR Georgia Tyron Smith T Southern California
Mark Herzlich LB Boston College Phil Taylor DT Baylor
Mark Ingram RB Alabama Danny Watkins G Baylor
Cameron Jordan DE California JJ Watt DE Wisconsin
Julio Jones WR Alabama Ryan Williams RB Virginia Tech
Ryan Kerrigan DE Purdue

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Wondering about a blackout — UPDATED

Posted by Darren Urban on September 10, 2009 – 9:10 am

By mid-afternoon, we will know if the Cardinals will have sold out the home opener Sunday against the 49ers, preventing a local TV blackout. There are an estimated 2,000 tickets left (probably less than that by now), and there is always a chance, if the team gets close, the NFL will extend the blackout deadline 24 hours to give the team the chance at that sellout. UPDATE: The blackout deadline has been extended to Friday.

Blackouts, given the economy, will be an issue in the NFL this season. Jacksonville has already said they expect every one of their games to be blacked out locally and the Chargers are another team that has been up front in talking about probably blackouts. The NFL has steadfastly maintained it will not change its blackout rules, although it did announce today the ability to see the game on a delayed basis — for free  — on NFL.com.

From the league’s release: The league’s new NFL Game Rewind package on NFL.com will make all games available on an on-demand, subscription basis throughout the 2009 regular and postseason. However, games blacked out locally for failing to sell out 72 hours in advance will be available on NFL.com at no cost in the affected home markets. These free “re-broadcasts” locally of blacked-out games will be available at NFL.com beginning at midnight on the day of the game and remain available for 72 hours (except during ESPN Monday Night Football telecasts). “We understand that the economy is limiting some families and corporations from buying as many game tickets as they had previously,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “These free re-broadcasts on NFL.com will allow our fans that can’t get to a blacked-out game an opportunity to see the entire game.”


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