It was a rainy Saturday in March 2006 when Edgerrin James visited the Cardinals for the first time. Kurt Warner was gamely trying to hold his annual flag football tournament on the practice fields, and the Cards were in the process of locking up a star running back. The price, in the end, was four years and $30 million. James didn’t collect all of it, but he still got plenty. The Colts felt James was on the downside, not worth the cash, and in the end, they were proven right that they didn’t need him — winning the Super Bowl in 2006 with young Joseph Addai and the serviceable yet forgettable Dominic Rhodes at running back.
The overall trend to run through running backs when they were cheaper and then move on hadn’t enveloped the NFL completely. But that’s about when the Cards’ thought process turned. From there, Tim Hightower was a fifth-round pick who essentially replaced Edge in 2008. Beanie Wells was added in the first round for 2009. Ryan Williams was drafted in 2011. Then came Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor last season. The Cardinals have not spent anything close to significant money on a free agent running back since Edge. They have yet to have a running back drafted play past his rookie contract. The reality of the NFL is that the position has not only be devalued, the bottom dropped out of the market faster than Arizona home sales circa 2009.
Only Williams is scheduled to make at least $1 million this season, and whether he remains on the 53-man roster for 2014 is very much up in the air. Ellington (who only will make $495,000) is the starter, and whether Taylor ($495,000) or Jonathan Dwyer ($795,000) is the other back, there is little (relative) investment. You see the same across the league, with the money being paid to free agent running backs, with the way running backs are sliding down the draft every year. The way things have gone, that No. 3 overall pick spent on Trent Richardson might be the last time a top 10 pick is spent on a back ever.
Of course, “ever” is a long time. Sometimes, a back is special and deserves the big money. Adrian Peterson comes to mind (and no, we won’t go into how he ties into the Cardinals and the Edge signing right now.) But these days, it doesn’t look like many Petersons will emerge. Not the way colleges are using running backs themselves, and not the way the NFL is handling them once they get to the pros.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Beanie Wells, Edgerrin James, Jonathan Dwyer, Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor, Tim Hightower
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It felt apparent a couple of weeks ago, when running back Rashard Mendenhall cryptically wrote on his Huffington Post blog about wading through dark waters, closing out by saying, “as I write this, today is the day that the journey is over and I am fully at peace. Eagerly looking to a new way, which lies ahead.” It sounded a lot like a guy who was about to retire. Saturday night, Adam Schefter reported that NFL teams have indeed been informed Mendenhall — a free-agent-to-be come Tuesday — is retiring.
UPDATE: Agent Mike McCartney has confirmed via Twitter that yes, Mendenhall is indeed retiring.
Mendenhall served his purpose in Arizona. He battled knee and toe injuries and wasn’t as effective all of the time that the Cards (and the fans) would have liked. But he served as a good bridge to rookies Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor. He did score eight touchdowns. And he came cheaply, one of those bargain one-year deals GM Steve Keim came up with this time last year.
There have been a lot of questions to me about signing a running back, whether it is Ben Tate or Maurice Jones-Drew or Darren Sproles. Sproles makes no sense because you already have that guy in Ellington. Regardless, if the Cards are going to bring in another back — and they still have Ryan Williams in addition to Ellington and Taylor — it might be in the draft. If it is a free agent, it would be a cheap one. This team isn’t going to spend a chunk of money on a back. That’s not the Cards’ philosophy and it’s not one many subscribe to around the league anymore.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Ben Tate, Darren Sproles, Maurice Jones-Drew, Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor
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With “official” talks with free agents allowed March 8 and actually agreements allowed March 11, the time when teams will actually be able to start finalizing such things is still more than a week away. Players are dropping off the “He’s going to be a free agent” list daily, like with the litany of Philadelphia Eagles who have signed extensions the past couple of days. That can still happen to any of these potential free agents being talked about.
It hasn’t cooled the speculation, however. Greg Bedard of SI.com’s MMQB ranked the top 100 free-agents-to-be and also listed what he thought would be the best fits. The Cardinals find themselves mentioned a few times.
– The only current Cardinal scheduled to be a free agent that made the list was linebacker Karlos Dansby. He was at No. 34. Not surprisingly, Bedard’s call for Dansby’s best fit was remaining with the Cardinals. I agree with that. Not only does the system best fit Karlos, but so does his working relationship next to Daryl Washington.
– There are three left tackles on the list from other teams: Kansas City’s Branden Albert (No. 7), Baltimore’s Eugene Monroe (No. 8) and Cincinnati’s Anthony Collins (No. 60). For both Albert and Collins, the Cardinals are listed as the best fit and the Cards are also noted for Monroe along with Miami. Obviously the Cardinals would sign more than one, but it’s obvious to the NFL world this team should be a landing spot for at least one. It will definitely be one of the more intriguing storylines of that first week (or less) of free agency.
– Packers DE/OLB Mike Neal was 95th on the list and the Cards were called his best fit. Neal’s name has already been floated as a potential Arizona target. It makes all the sense in the world if Matt Shaughnessy leaves as a free agent.
– In the most surprising post, for Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, 57th on the list, the Cards are called the best fit. I get it with the possibility free agent Rashard Mendenhall might not return. But the way Bruce Arians and Steve Keim think about running backs, and with Ryan Williams and Stepfan Taylor still around along with Andre Ellington (and we aren’t even talking about someone popping up draft-wise) I don’t see the Cards even thinking about a guy like MJD. Or more specifically, his price tag.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Anthony Collins, Branden Albert, Daryl Washington, Eugene Monroe, free agency, Karlos Dansby, Maurice Jones-Drew, Mike Neal, offensive line, Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor
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In much different ways, the immediate football future of both running back Ryan Williams and linebacker Daryl Washington remains in a bit of limbo. Williams, the 2011 second-round pick whose first two seasons were all but a wash because of injuries, barely made the roster this season but ended up inactive for all 16 games. Washington, who was suspended for the first four games of the season after violating the league’s substance abuse policy, came back to play well and help anchor the league’s sixth-ranked defense. But Washington was arrested for assault of an ex-girlfriend last offseason, and the case is still winding its way through the court system. Washington’s next court date is scheduled for April and he could face a league suspension again depending on the result — but he also has a big bonus due him next month.
With each of those situations in context, General Manager Steve Keim talked about each with azcardinals.com:
– On Ryan Williams: “Ryan is a tremendous talent,” Keim said. “He’s a guy who still, on the practice field, shows us the movement skills, the run ability, the change of direction is fantastic. Obviously he has had to battle injuries, which has probably been his biggest issue. And last year, bringing in Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington and the impact both of those players made instantly put Ryan on the backburner.
“He’s a guy we still have hopes for. He’s still got the ability and I think Bruce (Arians) just wants him to put it all together.”
Williams is due a salary just north of $1 million this season, with a cap hit of $1.5M. Releasing him would save $1 million. Keim talked up Taylor Thursday, and it seems at this point an Ellington/Taylor duo is more probable than Ellington/Williams, but Keim made it sound like Williams isn’t going anywhere for now.
– As for Washington, “Nothing new,” Keim said. “We monitor everything when it comes to his off-field stuff. Rick Knight, our (vice president) of security, handles a lot of that. Daryl was a guy who made mistakes in the past and he’s (owned) up to those. He’s done a fantastic job in terms of his work ethic and being accountable. We hope to get everything resolved shortly and look forward to a huge year out of Daryl in 2014.”
That the Cardinals would have no doubt of keeping around one of their best players is not a surprise. Washington said after the season he was hoping it would get cleared up soon, but he always talked like he planned on being a long-term Cardinal and that shouldn’t change.
Tags: Daryl Washington, Ryan Williams, Steve Keim
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It was inevitable, probably, that Steve Keim was asked about the future of running back Andre Ellington and whether he would be the “featured” running back. This has been covered many times, and Keim answered it no different today.
“When you say featured back, I don’t know that there are many featured backs in the NFL,” Keim said. “Adrian Peterson, those types of guys. Most teams use a platoon of backs and that would probably be no different than us. Andre, the way he’s built, is body type, is more in line with Chris Johnson, Jamaal Charles. His speed and acceleration, his movement skills, that’s his strength.
“To say you’re going to play him 25 to 35 snaps, pounding the ball between the tackles, you’re probably leaving yourself open to injuries. So any time, we can take a young man like him, add some weight without losing his speed and movement skills, I think you’re doing yourself a favor.”
I do think Keim (below talking to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio) misspoke. I would think Ellington will definitely get 25-to-35 snaps. He will probably get the majority of the offensive snaps at running back. He won’t get 25 to 35 carries, however. He’s going to split time with someone, though. It’ll probably be Stepfan Taylor. It still in theory could be Ryan Williams (more on that later.) Maybe Rashad Mendenhall comes back. But Ellington, even if he as expected builds on his 199-pound frame and gets stronger, is going to share time. That’s Keim’s philosophy and it’s Bruce Arians’ philosophy.
– Keim, who long ago dismissed the Larry Fitzgerald-to-the-Patriots trade rumors, seemed to have a one-liner ready when asked about it today:
“I was trying to find someone to fire,” Keim said. “Because they never called me.”
Tags: Andre Ellington, Larry Fitzgerald, Rashad Mendenhall, Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor, Steve Keim
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The final inactive list of the season contains no surprises. Linebacker John Abraham is active despite groin issues, as is safety Rashad Johnson. Running back Ryan Williams completes a season where he was healthy and inactive for every game — the only Card to not dress at least once. What the Cardinals do with Williams this offseason is one of the more intriguing storylines, even if it might not mean a lot the way the team has been built/run.
The Cardinals full inactive list:
– QB Ryan Lindley
– RB Ryan Williams
– LB Dontay Moch
– S Curtis Taylor
– T Nate Potter (G Earl Watford active with Daryn Colledge starting but battling sore back)
– TE Kory Sperry
– DE Ronald Talley
Tags: 49ers, inactives, John Abraham, Rashad Johnson, Ryan Williams
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The Cardinals will be without running back Andre Ellington against the Eagles today, not a surprise after he hurt his left knee in practice Thursday, sat out Friday and coach Bruce Arians said then they would be careful with Ellington. That means the Cards have to live without their dynamic rookie today. Fellow running back Ryan Williams is still inactive, however, meaning the running back rotation will be Rashard Mendenhall and Stepfan Taylor with some Alfonso Smith sprinkled in. Wide receiver Brittan Golden is active for the first time since getting hurt against San Francisco.
The inactives aside from Ellington and Williams are familiar faces:
– QB Ryan Lindley
– LB Dontay Moch
– G Earl Watford
– TE Kory Sperry
– DE Ronald Talley
Tags: Andre Ellington, inactives, Ryan Williams
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Running back Andre Ellington will be a game-day decision after hurting his left knee late in Thursday’s practice. Ellington said it happened on a pass route and that it was already better than how it was feeling Thursday. Coach Bruce Arians said Ellington’s status will be determined on game day. Ellington didn’t practice Friday.
“Nothing real serious but we are going to be real careful with it,” Arians said.
As for the impact it would have without the dynamic playmaker, Arians was not surprisingly forward-thinking on the matter. “It would be just one guy out,” Arians said. “There are still a bunch of guys capable of taking his place, and we will make our adjustments.”
Ellington said he is hopeful to play. The game isn’t until Sunday, he said, and “that’s a lot of rest.” Of course, depending on what he did to tweak the knee, Ellington is facing a long plane flight to Philadelphia and sometimes, injuries can swell some in those instances. That’s why it’s tougher to tell a status before a road game. As for the Cards’ offense, Arians said, if Ellington couldn’t go it may cost the Cards “five or six plays” in the game plan.
I know the next question would be, if Ellington doesn’t play, would the Cardinals make Ryan Williams active. The last time a running back was down, and that was Rashad Mendenhall, Williams remained inactive. Would it change if the missing body was Ellington, since Mendenhall and Stepfan Taylor are essentially the same type of back? I’m not sure. At this point, it may take something more catastrophic for Williams to be used. And again, Ellington is hoping to be on the field. We won’t know until Sunday.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bruce Arians, Eagles, Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor
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Running back Rashard Mendenhall is sitting out today’s game against the Falcons with his bad toe. That was expected. Andre Ellington will start in his place. That too was expected. And Ryan Williams is inactive again, which, in the end, probably should have been expected too. If Williams isn’t playing special teams — which he isn’t, no matter what the reason — it’s tough to have him up. Newcomer WR Teddy Williams, who will play tandem speed guys on special teams with Justin Bethel, is active.
Besides Mendenhall and Ryan Williams, the rest of the inactive list:
– WR Brittan Golden
– QB Ryan Lindley
– G Earl Watford
– TE Kory Sperry
– DE Ronald Talley
Tags: Andre Ellington, inactives, Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams, Teddy Williams
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What is it about Ryan Williams and his story that is so intriguing? The Cardinals go into an important game against the Falcons Sunday, and even if Williams – because of the toe injury of Rashard Mendenhall – is active, he might not even play much. Yet many are waiting to see if Williams is active and what he would do if he played, and I am one of them.
Williams (smartly) hasn’t said much about his situation, but you can tell he’s frustrated. “I’m probably the freshest guy on the team right now,” Williams said. “I’m ready to play. I’m just waiting.” Practices are closed so it’s impossible to know exactly what Williams has done, and since he is so far down the depth chart, he’s likely getting what work he is getting on scout team and not the regular offense. But Bruce Arians has said a couple of times he has been happy with the work Williams has done. Now Sunday, if the Cards, for instance, are going to have newcomer Teddy Williams active to play special teams, who sits instead? Would that be Ryan Williams’ potential spot?
In a lot of ways, Williams might be in a type of limbo. Clearly he isn’t ahead of the others on the depth chart. But Mendenhall’s injury potential is high enough that the Cards might not want to let him go. If Mendenhall goes down with a major injury, do the Cards really want to lean just on two rookies in Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor? (There is still a chance I suppose he could be dealt before Tuesday’s deadline, but I don’t expect it.)
I guess I’m looking forward to seeing that inactive list at 11:55 a.m. Sunday.
– Lot of talk about Ellington, and people keep trying to send me comparative measurements between the 5-foot-9, 199-pound Ellington and other backs, like Jamaal Charles, etc. Look, I can’t speak to those guys. And I don’t know if Ellington could absorb more. But I think what Bruce Arians is thinking about limited reps is the idea that a lot of punishment would take away the best thing about Ellington — his explosion and ability to get outside. I’m sure he’ll touch the ball plenty Sunday.
– The Falcons were a Super Bowl favorite coming into the season. Now, the defense is much more leaky, the offense doesn’t have Julio Jones and Roddy White has been hurt so much he’s a non-factor. Steven Jackson has barely played. Now, it’s not like Atlanta hasn’t been close – their four losses have been by a total of 19 points – but they aren’t as daunting of an opponent as they once might have been.
– Matt Ryan was miserable in last year’s meeting. Ray Horton’s defense made him look terrible. Horton isn’t here anymore, obviously, but Todd Bowles is, and the Cards got after Russell Wilson pretty good. I wouldn’t expect five interceptions again, but the Cards are going to pressure him. “We got in his face early, rattled him up a little bit,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “This is a new team. With them not necessarily having their top guys … we can’t fall into that they aren’t 100 percent. They still have guys who can get the ball in the end zone. But I believe if we do the same recipe as last year, we will have good success.”
– Profootballfocus.com noted that there have been two receivers targeted a league-high six times when an interception has been thrown. One was Giants wideout Reuben Randle. The other? Larry Fitzgerald. Something to consider when Carson Palmer talks about being leery when forcing the ball to Fitz.
– Speaking of Fitz, he hammered Walter Thurmond on a blind-side block last week against Seattle and did it again later to Richard Sherman. They were blows – but they could have been much harder and destructive. Fitz downplayed them, but Seattle coach Pete Carroll came out and praised Fitzgerald for playing football the “new” way – those Seahawks still got hit pretty good, but it didn’t go over the top. You can say what you want about what that means for football, but I have to admit I agree with Carroll. You can walk that line.
– Be sure to welcome our new writer at azcardinals.com when he starts next week: Kyle Odegard. I think you’ll find him a quality addition.
– Arians talks about starting fast and you wonder about the coin flip. Arians has said he will always take the ball if he is given the choice, so the Cards end up with the ball first almost every time. That makes getting off to a quick start even more important in my eyes.
– Arians reiterated what offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said yesterday, that the Cardinals are “hoping” to play Bobby Massie some at right tackle. It will depend on how the game plays out, Arians said, but it would be for a series or two.
– Defensive end Calais Campbell took left tackle Bradley Sowell aside earlier this week to try and give him some advice. “I felt like the offensive linemen, the younger ones, they need to learn what we are trying to do to beat them,” Campbell said on the Big Red Rage radio show. “We just went over how I play the game and what I’m looking for. I gave him my advice. I think he has potential and we need him to win.”
– The Cards do need better play from Sowell at left tackle. And from the offense in general.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Bruce Arians, Calais Campbell, Falcons, Kyle Odegard, Larry Fitzgerald, Matt Ryan, Patrick Peterson, Pete Carroll, Pro Football Focus, Rashard Mendenhall, Richard Sherman, Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor, Walter Thurmond
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