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A hint of parallel history

Posted by Darren Urban on July 22, 2011 – 4:20 pm

Now that training camp (hopefully) should come soon and the days of the Revisionist History series have come to and end, this thought I had last night felt like the perfect bridge: How Thursday’s events with the is-it-or-isn’t-it end to the labor talks reminded me so much of the first press conference drama I encountered on this beat, back in 2000, with Simeon Rice.

Everyone who follows this sport now knows how Thursday played out. The owners said they were OK with the deal, and said so in a press conference. The players were upset because they had yet to sign off on the deal, and felt blindsided. So I take you back (briefly this time, compared to the other RH posts) to Rice. Long story short, Rice had been franchised by the Cards after the 1999 season. He wasn’t happy. The one-year tender was for $4.25 million, and the Cards didn’t want to talk extension until Rice signed the tender. Rice, as became clear later, really didn’t want to play in Arizona any more.

Finally, after missing the first game of the season, Rice agreed to come in and sign the tender. But before he signed anything, then-general manager Bob Ferguson took Rice out on the balcony overlooking the rest of the team practicing and basically told Rice what he felt — along the lines that Rice had to show he was worth the money and become a leader, and prove himself to some people in the building. Rice didn’t like that. So, even though a press conference had already been called and the media — swarming the big story at the time — waiting, Rice left the team’s complex.

Ferguson ended up giving a press conference himself. In a twist of what happened this week, the emotion resided not with the one not at the presser but the one giving the presser. Ferguson got angry and bellowed many things (including, for those of you following the team for a long time, the classic “If you’ve got a problem, don’t go talk to Mike Jurecki, come talk to me!” following by a pounding of the table in front of him.)

The story had a happy ending (at least in the short term). Rice returned to the complex the next day and signed his tender. And likewise, at some point, the NFL and players will come together. It won’t be the next day, but it still will be surprising if it isn’t soon.


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Off the edge

Posted by Darren Urban on January 31, 2011 – 3:25 pm

By the time I arrived to cover the Cardinals full-time, Simeon Rice’s best Cardinals’ season was behind him, with 16½ sacks in 1999. I was in place just in time for a contract dispute and “Don’t-tell-Mike-Jurecki-come-talk-to-me!” from then-GM Bob Ferguson. Rice had only 7½ sacks in 2000 and then left as a free agent.

Since then, finding a difference-making pass rusher hasn’t been easy for the Cardinals.

They signed one as a free agent in 2004, when they got Bertrand Berry and he collected 14½ that season (including four on Giants quarterback Kurt Warner, if you recall) but then injuries and eventually age shredded Berry’s chances to reach double digits again. That year was the only one where a Cardinal had at least 10 sacks since Rice’s big 1999 season; amazingly, Berry’s five sacks led the Cards in their Super Bowl season. Defensive end Calais Campbell led the Cards this season with six.

The Cards did get pressure-by-committee more in 2009. Campbell and Darnell Dockett tied for the team lead with seven, although the Cards had 43 as a team (sixth in the NFL), the most they had ever posted since moving to Arizona in 1988. That number dropped to 33 this season, and the current problems on offense – last season, the Cards had the lead much more often, providing more chances to rush the passer – certainly had something to do with it. In any case, that one guy the other team has to fear all by himself, he remains absent.

So that brings us to where the Cards stand now. Let’s, for a moment, assume the labor issues are resolved relatively quickly. Can they get that guy now? Could they, perhaps, pry someone like LaMarr Woodley away as a free agent (although reports are that Woodley expects to remain in Pittsburgh)? Then there is the idea of someone like Von Miller of Texas A&M would be a good draft pick, because of the pressure he could provide. (There is also the idea of someone like O’Brien Schofield developing into that dynamic guy, which he was in college). For a moment, forget about specifics. To get such a player, whomever he might be, improves your secondary/pass defense, because the more pressure you can deliver without blitzing means the more defenders you have in pass coverage.

And besides, it’d be one more guy who – as coaches and players alike like to say – “makes plays.” Those are the guys who tilt the game in your favor.


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