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Blogs

Considering intriguing camp battles

Posted by Darren Urban on July 18, 2014 – 4:17 pm

This isn’t necessarily about starters, since I have already addressed that directly. But the battles of training camp aren’t always about who plays first or the most. Sometimes it’s about roster battles and depth and who plays more than who. Some competition will come seemingly from nowhere — going into camp last season, no one would have guess Paul Fanaika would have gotten into the mix, but the Daryn Colledge injury helped that come into focus — so there will be other players to watch.

But for now, here is some of the competition I will be watching:

Guards Earl Watford, Paul Fanaika, Ted Larsen and Anthony Steen. Larsen has been backing up Lyle Sendlein at center while Steen, who can also back up both spots, didn’t do anything in the offseason recovering from injuries. Someone will be the starting right guard. The Cardinals would like for Watford to step up. It very well could be Fanaika for a second straight season. Watford should be on the roster regardless, so if he’s not starting, that will be a spot that must be won. The Cards likely will only dress seven on game days, making those swing interior guys valuable.

Tackles Bobby Massie and Bradley Sowell. OK, everyone knows this one. It doesn’t make it any less intriguing. Like Watford, Massie is the guy the Cardinals would like to win the job. But he’s got to win it. Sowell isn’t going away without a fight. Sowell, however, can be a valuable game-day backup since he played left tackle all last season and can play the right. That’s a one-for-two guy on your bench.

Cornerbacks Justin Bethel and Jerraud Powers. With Tyrann Mathieu still hurt, Powers is an important piece in nickle coverage to start the season. But when Mathieu gets back, can Bethel — who got so much love for his potential this offseason — find a way past Powers on the depth chart? Bethel still has much to prove. Powers has his limitations, but his smarts make him a favorite of Todd Bowles and Bruce Arians.

Inside linebackers Ernie Sims and Kenny Demens. Sims has the experience, but he also has the reputation of struggling the past couple of seasons, which is why he finds himself bouncing around the league. The Cardinals have been intrigued with Demens since his (undrafted) rookie year last year, when he spent most of his time on the practice squad. Sims came in late and is trying to catch up. Losing Daryl Washington sent a lot of things into flux at inside linebacker. One of these guys are vying for a depth role probably behind Kevin Minter, Larry Foote and Lorenzo Alexander.

Kickers Jay Feely, Chandler Catanzaro and Danny Hrapmann. This is another obvious one. Still it’s one to watch. It’s definitely a subject that seems to get the fans riled up — and looking around the league, it’s a position that tends to do that with the fan base, for whatever reason.

Running backs Robert Hughes, Jalen Parmele and Zach Bauman. Arians came out praising Hughes. He figures to be the top choice as the fourth running back behind Ellington, Dwyer and Taylor. But Parmele is another big guy who has played in the league and could sneak his way into the spot instead. What will be interesting is if the Cardinals want less of a bruiser as a fourth, like a Bauman, considering Dwyer is a big back and Taylor is more of a between-the-tackles guy too.

Wide receivers Jaron Brown, Walt Powell and Brittan Golden. The top four receiving spots are taken. Fitz is Fitz and Floyd is Floyd. Ted Ginn will have a role, as will third-round pick John Brown. Brown flashed last year but again, he’s got competition. He’s bigger than Powell and definitely Golden — Golden would seem to be in trouble given the arrival of Brown and Ginn — but Powell is a draft pick and that usually ends up playing a role if it’s close.

Quarterbacks Logan Thomas and Ryan Lindley. It’s hard to believe that, barring a meltdown, Thomas doesn’t find a way on to the roster. But you never know, and both players figure to get plenty of playing time in the preseason to let any battle play out in front of us.

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The roster heading into camp

Posted by Darren Urban on July 15, 2014 – 3:55 pm

Next week is the week.

With the Cardinals’ decision-makers trickling back into the building, the end of minicamp has been a moratorium of sorts. Time off is the important thing, and with no football-related things going on, there was no reason to make any roster changes over the last month-plus. But that potentially changes Monday when everyone is back in Tempe and the Cards gear up for the camp that starts at the end of the week.

That’s no guarantee anything will happen. Last season, the Cardinals didn’t do anything to the roster (save for signing a couple of draftees) after May 21 until right as camp was starting. The biggest reasons? It was time to put Ryan Swope on the retired list (bringing in Robby Toma) and the Cardinals needed to clear room for linebacker John Abraham and tackle Eric Winston. That made just a bit of a splash as camp opened.

The Cards last transaction was June 9. Could they have another veteran or two that make sense to sign? If it’s going to happen without someone getting injured, this is the time. Vets on the market know they probably aren’t going to make the kind of money they once thought they might (Tyson Clabo, anyone?). This time around, I’m thinking the Cards have some faith in Bobby Massie, enough of which to see how he develops these next few weeks. I don’t know of any decent pass rushers hanging out either. Don’t forget, last year, Bruce Arians was still trying to get a handle on his players. Now, he knows better what they can do.

This isn’t to say the Cardinals aren’t going to stand pat with the roster. Things can change quickly, with players taking physicals next week and everything. You want to maximize the roster as practices begin. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how it all evolves, heading toward that 53-man lineup the Cards must pare down to prior to the season opener against the Chargers.


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Adding vets waiting game now

Posted by Darren Urban on June 10, 2014 – 7:36 am

The news came out yesterday that the Cardinals worked out veteran right tackle Tyson Clabo, although the two sides couldn’t agree to a contract. Usually, that means the player wants more money than the team is willing to offer (it’s never the other way around, you know?) In a lot of ways, it reminded me of last year’s dance with Eric Winston, the right tackle who didn’t sign until right before training camp and who reportedly spent the offseason with an asking price for significantly more money than the Cardinals ended up paying him.

Such is the dance of this time of year with established veterans who have yet to find a roster spot. Some team might want a player. That player could very well want to play. But there is little urgency in June. The player doesn’t want to have to settle for a lesser salary and doesn’t have any reason to for now. The team isn’t about to overpay, especially with games a couple of months away and the rosters sitting at 90 players already anyway.

Things will change as the end of July — and training camps — draws close. Somebody will blink across the league. Winston reportedly has drawn interest from the Ravens, but again, nothing has happened (I do not expect Winston to return here, but that can always change.) Will Clabo earn a better offer elsewhere? Will the Cardinals, after minicamp that starts today, still think they want him on the roster for training camp? Given that the Cards know what they have at right tackle already, I don’t think they are going to spend much more to throw more options at the position. Same goes for any other spot on the field to which they might want to add. It’ll be about bargain add-ons now — like Winston and Abraham and Karlos Dansby last year — and the Cards will be willing to wait.

 


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Released into the reality of the business

Posted by Darren Urban on May 27, 2014 – 5:42 pm

LeQuan Lewis was in the weight room lifting with teammates, wearing his trademark glasses, when one of the front office men came to get him following Tuesday’s OTA. The Cardinals were signing four players who had been in on a tryout basis from rookie minicamp. Lewis was one of the four who were going to be let go in order to make that happen, since the Cardinals already had maxed out their 90-man roster.

This is the reality.

Lewis was on my radar because my cohort Kyle Odegard had chronicled his nomadic NFL story for an upcoming azcardinals.com piece. That plan obviously has now changed. We probably should have seen it coming, since the reason Lewis’ story was so intriguing is precisely because he continues to be the guy who can’t quite stick. When you have a team willing to churn the roster like the Cardinals, long-term story plans about guys lower on the roster is probably a red flag.

Lewis, in fact, has been with eight teams since 2011 and officially released more times than that, with jumps on and off practice squads. “After the first three times (being released), it’s like, ‘Aww, that contract ain’t sh–,” Lewis told Kyle recently. “I know what the deal is. I know where this is going and what to expect.”

Does that make today any easier?

“Everyone’s like, ‘What team are you with now?’” Lewis told Kyle. “People are in my ear like, ‘What are you going to do now? Are you going to (get a regular job)?’ It’s like, ‘No. I’m going to keep working out and get back to where I want to go.’ I have that mindset. No one knows what this business is like until they’re in it, and I think I’ve been in every scenario there is.”

I’m guessing LeQuan Lewis surfaces again in the NFL. Heck, he might end up coming back here at some point, although he was cut for an undrafted rookie in Jimmy Legree who stands 6-foot-1 and fits the body type for what Todd Bowles wants on defense. The roster is back to 90 players. This is how it works for so many of these guys in the offseason. Another reality is that of the 53-man roster, it’s probably pretty easy to get a good handle on, say, 40-45 of those spots already. The other guys are just hoping to reach training camp and get a chance, however slim it might be.

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Cardinals add ex-49er, Bear Tupou

Posted by Darren Urban on May 16, 2014 – 2:32 pm

The Cardinals added one more player to the roster Friday after being awarded defensive tackle Christian Tupou off waivers. Tupou was just waived by the 49ers, who had just signed him in January to a futures deal. Last year, he played for the Bears after coming out of USC as an undrafted rookie in 2013. In five games, the 6-foot-2, 300-pounder had three tackles.

That now brings the Cardinals’ roster to the maximum of 90 players, meaning that further signings in the offseason will require a corresponding release. It makes sense with the organized team activities beginning Tuesday to have the full compliment of 90 (although, once again, this work is all voluntary, so guys may not come from time to time.)

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Cardinals sign pair of defenders

Posted by Darren Urban on May 14, 2014 – 9:36 am

The Cardinals inched closer to their roster max of 90 players when they signed a pair of players Tuesday to one-year deals: safety Anthony Walters (pictured below) and linebacker Keenan Clayton. Walters, who plays special teams well, appeared in 13 games for the Bears last season. Clayton has been in the league for three seasons, last playing for the Raiders in 2012. It’ll take the Cardinals’ roster to 89 players.

(I was mistaken last week, by the way, in saying the Cardinals have “extra” roster spots as long as the draft picks aren’t signed. That rule changed with the advent of the 90-man roster in 2011. Now, draft picks count against the 90, signed or not.)

Clayton was originally a 2010 fourth-round draft pick of the Eagles and was cut by Oakland during training camp last season. Walters was an undrafted rookie in 2011 who came into the league with the Bears. The Cardinals probably needed a body at safety after coming out of draft weekend with only No. 1 pick Deone Bucannon, and it never hurts to get a defensive back who can play special teams. Clayton is another inside linebacker.

The roster will likely continue to churn in the offseason, even after adding whomever it is as the 90th body. As coaches get a sense of what these guys can do over OTAs — and if another player they like comes available — there will be moves.

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Kurt, LoZo inside and a fluid roster

Posted by Darren Urban on April 3, 2014 – 10:25 am

A little of this, a little of that …

– Kurt Warner captured by TMZ talking about Arizona vs. St. Louis. “I probably feel more allegiance to Arizona than St. Louis, just because of the fact there are a number of people that are still there, teammates or in the upper levels (of the organization), being the last place I played, I still live there, there is probably a little more allegiance there,” Warner said. “But still a huge fan of St. Louis and I thank them for everything they gave me.”

I’ve been asked before whether Warner, if and when he goes into the Hall of Fame, would go in as a Cardinal or a Ram. Moot point. Players don’t pick a team for their bust, like you do in the baseball Hall. I just like the fact Warner showed up on TMZ.

– As far back as when Lorenzo Alexander signed with the Cards Bruce Arians was talking about how he had “inside and outside capabilities” at linebacker. Last year, the Cards needed him outside. Now, they need him inside, so it’s no surprise to hear that’s where they are going to play him. It’s highly likely the Cards look at outside linebacker/pass rusher again in the draft (you keep taking those guys when you are building a 3-4 and you don’t have a dynamic, young pass rusher) and depth is needed inside. You don’t know if/how long Daryl Washington might be suspended, you don’t know if Kevin Minter will be the answer. Alexander, who has played inside earlier in his career in Washington, provides depth and a guy who can spot start.

– I’ve been asked a couple of times whether the signings of LeQuan Lewis and Eddie Whitley means the Cards would be less likely to draft a cornerback. No. I thought that when they signed and that’s just underscored with the news yesterday that both two-year deals the players signed did not include a signing bonus. In other words, they can be released without any cap penalty, and in the offseason and a fluid roster, there are often a player or two signed that don’t even get to training camp. I’m not saying that’s Lewis or Whitley, but the bottom line, they are no locks either.

– Virginia Tech tweeted out photos of Arians working out QB Logan Thomas yesterday. What does it mean? It means the Cards are doing due diligence. Beyond that, please don’t get too riled up. I’d want to see what the kid could do too, especially since he’s about as raw as they come even with his considerable physical tools. The annual workout/pre-draft visit caveat: Just because the team meets/works out a guy, it doesn’t mean they are interested. I know of past connections done specifically when they knew they didn’t like the guy just as a smokescreen. And you never know how the meeting/workout went anyway — the Cards may find out they don’t like the kid for one reason or another.


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Jenkins visit and the shrinking roster of March

Posted by Darren Urban on March 18, 2014 – 10:07 am

Running back Alfonso Smith — who had been a restricted free agent to whom the Cards did not tender an offer — tweeted out this morning the Cardinals had told him they would not be bringing him back. It’s the other side of the fluctuating roster of March.

The long anticipated visit of free agent cornerback Mike Jenkins is happening (Kent Somers noted the visit, and Mike Jurecki was the first to report interest in Jenkins before free agency even started). Nothing new has come about with free agent cornerback Antonio Cromartie, and as we all know, GM Steve Keim usually puts an offer out there and if it is rejected, he is prepared to move on to the next option. Cromartie obviously hasn’t been amendable to the deal the Cards offered, so Jenkins is now up. He’s not Cromartie, but he’d provide depth.

Meanwhile, I’d guess Smith isn’t the only ex-Card to be told he’s definitely an ex-Card. Every year at this time there are a handful of players from the previous year’s team that have a chance to return until they don’t. As needs and circumstances change, so do the possibility they could come back. The Jonathan Dwyer signing probably ended any possibility of a Smith return. That’s why some unsigned players remain on the roster, at least for now, and sooner rather than later, that will change.

In the meantime, free agency is an ongoing process. As of this morning, the NFLPA lists the Cardinals with $5.13 million (UPDATE: NFLPA now has the Cards with $8.1 million and one less contract, so I am guessing they mistakenly added in a non-Cardinal, like the other day) in cap space for their top 51 of the offseason. That should include everyone’s contracts that have signed as of now, including cornerback Bryan McCann yesterday. That’s not a ton of room. But there are some points to make when it comes to that.

– The Cardinals do need space to sign the rookie class. But remember, half the draft class — which for the Cards need about $4.2M total cap space to sign — won’t count on the cap until the regular season, because the players who aren’t in the top two or three rounds won’t have a first-year cap hit big enough to qualify for the top 51. The Cards will likely need about half that.

– And that rookie cap money will come available June 1 anyway when half of the released Daryn Colledge’s cap number comes off the books as a June 1 cut.

– Any player can usually be fit under the cap, for those worried about signing more free agents. It’s all about how you structure the deal. So yes, the shrinking cap doesn’t mean Cromartie isn’t coming here. It doesn’t mean he is, either, but the point is, a team can make a lot of things work if they want to enough.


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Cardinals, the roster, and target areas

Posted by Darren Urban on January 27, 2014 – 11:33 am

Every time General Manager Steve Keim talks about his roster, he talks about looking to improve everywhere. That’s always the default. While the Cardinals probably need, say, offensive linemen or tight ends more than, running backs, you don’t turn down chances to upgrade your team at any position. (As for the latest talk-radio conversation about quarterback, I feel confident that a) Carson Palmer is going to be the starter in 2014 and b) if Keim has a QB sitting on the board in the draft that he really, really likes — whenever that is — the Cardinals will likely take him.)

All that said, there are spots that need addressing just for the sheer numbers. I’ve already posted this once, but below is a link to a roster breakdown done right after the season. It has changed a bit — punter Dave Zastudil has re-signed by now — but the rest of the contract situations remain the same. Keim has a little more than six weeks before contracts officially expire. In terms of strictly numbers, here are how impending free agency impacts the positions (not including all the futures deals/low-end free agents that have signed):

– QB: Cards are fine with all three guys under contract. You’d expect a fourth camp arm to sign if one isn’t drafted.

– RB: Rashard Mendenhall is unrestricted and plays a big role, although if the Cards rode Andre Ellington/Stepfan Taylor in 2014, no one would be surprised.

– WR: Assuming the Cards can get comfortable (if they aren’t already) with Fitz’s contract, the position is probably OK. They need to add someone if Andre Roberts leaves as a free agent, but they can ride with Floyd/Fitz as a top two.

– TE: A major question. Only Rob Housler is under contract for next season. This has got to be a spot where the Cards draft, right?

– OL: Upgrades are necessary and will happen, but as of now, only Eric Winston is a free agent of guys who played at all.

– DL: Need depth here. Do you bring Frostee Rucker back? And that rehab needed for Alameda Ta’amu’s ACL tear hurts the team as much as Ta’amu.

– LB: It’s hard not to notice two starters in Karlos Dansby and Matt Shaughnessy who could potentially walk away.

– DB: The Cards could probably use another young safety, although they may be in good shape if Tony Jefferson can step forward. But what about cornerback, with Tyrann Mathieu coming back from injury and Javier Arenas/Antoine Cason/Bryan McCann scheduled to be free agents. Depth is needed there. It’ll be interesting to see if Justin Bethel ends up playing a bigger defensive role.

– Specialists: Zastudil is back. We’ll see what the Cardinals do at kicker and impending FA Jay Feely.

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Rehab updates, a pass rusher and P2

Posted by Darren Urban on January 9, 2014 – 2:46 pm

This is the time of year when not a lot of news happens. There was a little today, starting with the signing of another player to a “futures” contract: Pass rusher Adrian Tracy, who played 16 games at defensive end for the New York Giants in 2012 and was cut at the end of the preseason this past season. Tracy will be an outside linebacker for the Cardinals, who are looking for players like that.

(Again, futures deals are to lock down a player with a contract that doesn’t officially kick in until March 11, the start of the new league year. It doesn’t mean a player is absolutely going to have a shot at making it — don’t forget, teams need to get to 90 players for their offseason rosters. That’s a lot of extra bodies that won’t be around come September. We’ll see how these guys pan out.)

– Defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu had surgery Wednesday for his torn ACL. He said the procedure went well (when doesn’t it?). Too early to know what kind of timeline Ta’amu might follow to return to the field. He said he wasn’t rolled up on but instead was jumping to try and avoid stepping on a prone teammate. When he came down, the knee popped. Ta’amu is keeping his humor about the situation. “I should’ve just stepped on him,” he said.

– Safety Tyrann Mathieu is at the very beginning stages of the rehab process himself after his torn ACL/LCL. He was in this morning actually doing some exercises.

– Finally, if you didn’t get a chance to read it, here’s a story about Patrick Peterson, and some analysis through metrics about his performance. Those who chart such things back up the other accolades Peterson has received, that he is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. The tough thing to measure is the times teams don’t throw his way because of his play. As I said in the story, Peterson hasn’t been perfect. But it has been amazing to me, as I have said before, the amount of backlash Peterson has suddenly seen. The people I talked to had the same reaction I have had. I don’t get it.


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