The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
The accomplishments certainly weren’t lost as the Cardinals went on their most exciting month-long journey ever back in the first few weeks of 2009, but I’m not totally sure what Larry Fitzgerald was doing in the playoffs that year could have been completely appreciated given the circumstances.
As the wins came and the Super Bowl got closer, talking just about one player didn’t make sense (let’s not get it twisted – Fitz still got plenty of attention over those five weeks of the postseason, and I just thumbed through his clip file if I hadn’t remembered). When you go back and think, however, it almost started innocently against the Falcons.
At that point, the Cards just wanted to win a playoff game, after the 2-5 slide on which they entered the postseason. Fitz had 101 yards on six receptions that day, including an acrobatic catch in double-coverage for a 42-yard touchdown. But that was early, and the moments burned more harsh in the brain were things like Anquan Boldin’s 71-yard catch-and-run TD on which he came up hurt, the Dockett/Rolle combo that created a fumble for a touchdown, and tight end Stephen Spach’s game-clinching catch.
Fitz had nice numbers, but that was supposed to happen.
The next game, though, that’s when the momentum began to build. And when Fitz truly exploded.
Boldin was injured. The Cards were on the road in Carolina. And yet Fitzgerald ran roughshod, finishing with 166 yards on eight catches, with 122 of those yards coming when there was still five minutes left in the first half and the Cards were in complete control. He caught another bomb in double-coverage. He did whatever he wanted against the Panthers (who shouldn’t have been surprised; he had seven receptions for 115 yards when the teams met earlier in the season in Carolina and instead they looked like they had no idea how to deal with him). When Fitz scored his TD – an amazing effort on a crossing route in which he dove for the pylon and scored – it was still the first half and yet it felt like an exclamation point had already been stamped on the game.
His numbers were incredible. The Eagles knew this. They insisted during the week they would not let Fitzgerald go off. A noble pursuit. Yet at that point, impossible to back up with actions. Fitzgerald had three touchdown catches in the first half (he finished with nine receptions for 152 yards). The Eagles slowed him down in the second half, but he had done enough damage. It had reached the expectation that Fitzgerald was certain to get 125 yards in a game, that every jump ball would be his, that he could do no wrong and would carry the team all the way to a title. I mean, Boldin was back for the Eagles, but at that moment, Fitz was alone in the receiving stratosphere, not only on his own team but the entire league. There was no question.
(Well, I guess there was some question. But what is the two weeks leading up the Super Bowl about if not hyperbole.)
In the Super Bowl, Fitz had just one catch in the first three quarters. He had finally been tamed by the famed Steel Curtain. Except he wasn’t, suddenly going off in the final 15 minutes during the Cards’ furious rally, coming up with six receptions and capping it all with that magical 64-yard catch-and-run that seemed destined to be the highlight to signify the Cards’ improbable championship. Then it wasn’t, instead a reminder of what could have been.
The loss didn’t take away from what Fitzgerald did, however. He had seven more catches for 127 yards in the game and he had played so well for so long some were even marveling about the plays he almost made. He set playoff records for catches (30), yards (546) and TDs (7). It was a performance for the ages. “A lot of those playoff catches, he had guys draped over him and he was just making plays,” fellow wideout Steve Breaston said at the time. “You did kind of wonder: When was anyone going to stop him?”
That postseason, the answer was never.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Eagles, Falcons, Larry Fitzgerald, Panthers, Steelers, Stephen Spach, Steve Breaston, Super Bowl
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Kent Somers has some comments from safety Adrian Wilson this morning about Cards vets — notably Wilson and Larry Fitzgerald, but including guys like Levi Brown and Jeremy Bridges — trying to organize a three-day “minicamp” for the players as they wait out what is hopefully the final stretch of the labor impasse.
“We’re trying to get three days in, or three practices in, depending on what guys have to do,” Wilson told Somers. “We’re not trying to take up guys’ time but we are trying to get better as a team, get better as individual units.”
There is only so much the Cards can do, assuming Wilson and Fitz can gather the troops. There are only so many troops to gather (do potential free agents like Steve Breaston and Deuce Lutui, for example, take part?) and with the knowledge the probable starting quarterback isn’t even on the roster yet makes for an interesting dynamic. Then again, it doesn’t surprise me that Wilson, etc., don’t want to sit idly by.
— The news came down yesterday that because Qwest is being merged into CenturyLink, the Seahawks’ home field is no longer Qwest Field but CenturyLink Field. I re-tweeted this info yesterday, leading follower @ethanpoulsen to say “False Start Field was it’s name before…and always will be it’s name.”
As I noted on Twitter, however, the Cards have done a good job with that. The Cards have only been nailed for five false starts total in the last three visits to Seattle, and none last year (despite a bad, bad game offensively). Two other ones came from tight ends, both in 2008, by Stephen Spach and Leonard Pope. The other three were in 2009 — two by RT Levi Brown and one from LT Mike Gandy.
— Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. breaks down the Cards’ receivers. He has interesting takes on both Breaston and Andre Roberts.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Andre Roberts, Deuce Lutui, Jeremy Bridges, Larry Fitzgerald, Leonard Pope, Levi Brown, Mike Gandy, offseason, Seahawks, Stephen Spach, Steve Breaston
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The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
For this installment, we check out what was being said on the day some current Cards were drafted …
— Back in 2001, Adrian Wilson was kind of an afterthought on the first day of the draft. Back then, there were two days of the draft, with rounds one through three on Saturday. The Cardinals had the second pick overall, so offensive lineman Leonard Davis was the BIG story. The Cards also took defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch – who turned out to be a pretty good player, but after two blown-out knees and a coaching change sent him packing from Arizona – and cornerback Michael Stone. I wonder how A-Dub feels when he thinks how the great Michael Stone has a better draft pedigree than him.
Wilson was a surprise pick in some ways, because the Cards needed defensive line help more. He was raw. The Cards even briefly considered using him at cornerback at the time, believe it or not. I love the jump headline – “Could be a keeper for the Cardinals.” Uh, yeah.
— There was no question that first day of the 2004 draft turned out awesome – Larry Fitzgerald, Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett – but that was what was thought at the time, too. While Fitz was celebrated, looking at Dockett’s quotes from the day resonate. “I’m going to be the next Anquan Boldin,” Dockett said, referencing Boldin’s outplaying of his draft status. And he was “disgusted” that teams passed on him before he went as the first pick of the third round. Turns out Darnell was right.
— The Cards traded up in 2007 to get Alan Branch, although it seems that it took until the end of 2009 and 2010 for Branch to really hit his stride. Of course, the big story of 2007 was the decision to take Levi Brown fifth overall (part one and part two here), but at the time, it didn’t seem as big of a deal as hindsight has portrayed. Of course, that draft was also highlighted by the late pick of Steve Breaston. It’s funny to see I thought Breaston’s big competition to make the team was LeRon McCoy.
— Then there was 2008, when the Cards got DRC and Calais Campbell on the first day. Apparently, one kidney and a small school wasn’t going to scare off the Cards from Rodgers-Cromartie, and his speed didn’t hurt. All things considered, that’s been a good pick – although we all understand DRC’s need for a big 2011.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Alan Branch, Anquan Boldin, Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, draft, DRC, Karlos Dansby, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Larry Fitzgerald, Leonard Davis, Levi Brown, Michael Stone, Revisionist history, Steve Breaston
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Figures on a day where I escaped up to Flagstaff with family to visit a life-long friend, there have been a smattering of news and notes from the Cards that I feel the need to string together in a post:
— The biggest news of the day? Adrian Wilson is on Twitter (@adrian_wilson24, and his avatar is priceless as he tries to get the point across that it is indeed his account and not a fake). When I talked to Adrian last offseason about the Twitter back-and-forth between Darnell Dockett and Vernon Davis, it was an arena he swore he’d never be a part of. Things change.
— OK, maybe that wasn’t the biggest news. It was the newest news. But Wilson also did an interview with XTRA 910’s Mike Jurecki, talking about that abductor injury he suffered last season and its affect on his 2010 season. The Pro Bowl safety said he suffered the injury “probably at the middle to the end of October” but, as expected, refused to blame the injury for any troubles he might have had on the field. That said, he noted a couple of times, “I’m a pretty good player” as an answer to the notion he was losing a step.
“It wasn’t as bad as it first happened as it was as the season went on. I’m not making excuses for the type of season I had because it was definitely unacceptable from my standards, coach (Ken) Whisenhunt’s standards and definitely the fans’ standards. I understand the fans’ frustrations … I’m not out to really to prove anyone wrong. I am a star in this league, period, so there is no question about what I can do. I am just staying focus and trying not to listen to what everyone is saying. The injury had nothing to do with the type of season I had, to be honest with you. I decided to play on it and that was my decision. At the end of the day I had to go out and produce and I didn’t produce.”
He added he will use it as motivation. “One bad season isn’t going to erase all the good things I’ve done,” Wilson said.
— By the way, USA Today rated A-Dub the fifth-best safety in the NFL, behind Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Nick Collins and Eric Berry.
— Wide receiver Steve Breaston, hitting it big last week with his poem about the lockout (the man is flat-talented as a writer and he can deliver a poem too), went on ESPN’s “First Take” to talk about “A League Deferred.” “Stevie Phantom” said he was frustrated with the labor situation and wanted “to get some emotions out.” About his poetry, Breaston said he’s been writing since seventh grade and performed some spoken word in New York recently. “It helps me express my feelings and is a stress reliever.”
— Former Cards tight end Leonard Pope, now with the Chiefs, saved a child from drowning.
— Former Cards defensive tackle Mao Tosi — now we are going way, way back — was featured on the “Today Show” for founding “Alaska Pride,” which raises money to help kids in need reach their potential. Tosi is from Alaska. It’s great Mao has gotten to this point in his life. I remember him as the big defensive tackle in the “crazy name” draft of 2000 (Jabari Issa? Sekou Sanyika?) and the fact he broke his tooth on Thanksgiving one year while having dinner at teammate Russell Davis’ house, and Davis made sure everyone knew it was coincidence and not his wife’s cooking that caused the dental damage.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett, Ed Reed, Eric Berry, Jabari Issa, Leonard Pope, Mao Tosi, Nick Collins, Russell Davis, Sekou Sanyika, Steve Breaston, Troy Polamalu, Vernon Davis
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Earlier this year, comic book/toy tycoon Todd McFarlane — whose offices are just down the street from the Cardinals’ Tempe complex — hosted Cardinals wide receiver Steve Breaston for a visit. It was a natural, because Breaston is such a huge comic book fan.
What is also natural is McFarlane’s SportsPicks line of figurines delving back into the market of another Cardinals’ wideout. So here on azcardinals.com, we unveil for the first time publicly a photo of the McFarlane’s latest Larry Fitzgerald figure, one of Fitz running downfield and moving the ball from his right to his left hand (don’t want to get stripped by a defender, after all).
The first SportsPicks Fitz came out early in 2008, with Fitz diving for the pylon. About a year later, Fitz ended up making McFarlane a fortune-teller when he did practically the same move against Carolina in the playoffs:
Later, SportsPicks also re-issued the Fitz dive with Fitz in his college uniform of the Pittsburgh Panthers. Now comes the new Cardinals version, which will be on sale in September as part of the NFL 27 series from McFarlane Toys and, I’m sure, be in plentiful supply at the McFarlane store in the Westgate Center right next to University of Phoenix Stadium (or at the online store at McFarlane.com, with feedback through his Facebook or Twitter pages).
Obviously, I haven’t had a chance to talk to Fitz about this, but my experience in the past is that guys usually don’t mind having a mini-me of them out there. It says a lot about Fitzgerald’s reputation that McFarlane has gone back to him a couple of times too — these are marketed well beyond the boundaries of Arizona. Fitz truly has star power.
Tags: Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, Todd McFarlane
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Took part in a mock draft (it’ll be on Patriots.com sooner rather than later) today and got another version of the top four. I wasn’t told who took who, but by the time my “pick” came up, these were the four gone — Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus and Blaine Gabbert.
(That was the order listed too; it’d be interesting to see if that matches the teams. Miller to Denver? Dareus to Buffalo? Gabbert to Cincy?)
I stayed chalk with my thought process in that regard. I stuck with defense and went with cornerback Patrick Peterson. But … obviously, wide receiver A.J. Green remains on the board in that scenario. Anyone reading my stuff knows I think receiver here is highly unlikely. Highly unlikely. The Cards already have a top receiver in Larry Fitzgerald and they clearly want/expect him to be here long-term. Bringing in a second such playmaker at that position — especially when you very well should be able to find a playmaker at another position (like Peterson, for instance) — makes little sense to me. You aren’t even sure you have a QB who can get it to Fitz yet, much less to two such guys.
That being said, there are those who’d like to see it (I’m looking at you, Georgiebird) and there are arguments that can be made, as long as you operate under the assumption the Cardinals see Green as an exceptional, off-the-charts talent. (I’m not saying they do, and there are those who don’t even think Green is better than fellow draftee-to-be Julio Jones). For the moment, let’s make that assumption.
The Cardinals aren’t sure if they can keep Fitzgerald, whose contract runs out after the 2011 season, long-term. He needs to sign an extension, and while both he and the team have said many times they want it to happen, Fitz has also made plain his desire to win, and that involves the fluid situation of finding a QB. Even if Fitz is a lifetime Card, the rest of the receiving corps is still in question. Steve Breaston doesn’t have a contract. Early Doucet hasn’t proven he can stay healthy. Andre Roberts, as well as he finished the season, hasn’t proven he will succeed.
Then there is the idea — again, depending on the grades we won’t know — that Green would be the best player available, too good to pass up. We’ve played this game before, back in 2007, when it was Levi over Peterson when Edge was around. Need was above “best player,” and maybe this year the need — other than QB — lies on the defense.
(But even then it’s not always cut-and-dried even when it works. Cards went BPA in 2004, because Fitz was the BPA. Would the Cards, who already had star-in-the-making Anquan Boldin, been better off with a top three class of Roethlisberger, Dansby and Dockett instead? Sure, Kurt Warner came along a year later, but it’s interesting food for thought).
I reiterate, I think the Cards go defense. I think Peterson would be the pick over Green. But there’s always room to speculate.
Tags: A.J. Green, Andre Roberts, Anquan Boldin, Ben Roethlisberger, Bengals, Bills, Blaine Gabbert, Broncos, Cam Newton, Darnell Dockett, draft, Early Doucet, Julio Jones, Karlos Dansby, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Marcell Dareus, Patrick Peterson, Steve Breaston, Von Miller
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One faithful reader e-mailed me this weekend, asking for details on restricted free-agency rules and what it would mean to have tendered more of the possible restricted guys. His concern was the amount of turnover there could be on the roster.
A quick recap: Seven players were tendered RFA offers. Of those, four have already played four NFL seasons, meaning if the new collective bargaining agreement reverts back to its pre-2010 form as it regards to free agency, the tender offers will not matter and those players (Breaston, Lutui, Sendlein, Branch) will be unrestricted. Bringing them all back in that scenario is not a lock by any stretch.
There’s also the analysis of the rest of the list and those RFAs who weren’t tendered, which will make them UFAs when a new CBA is reached — guys like Ben Patrick (a four-year guy) and Stephen Spach at tight end, Kenny Iwebema at defensive end and cornerback/special teamer Michael Adams. I’d expect some of them to come back, although not all. It’s impossible to know what the salary comparisons were to tender or not to tender because that is all TBD with the new CBA.
Regardless, there is potential for major roster change. That probably shouldn’t be a shock after a 5-11 season. Churning the bottom of the roster always is possible after every season, and with so many free-agents-to-be NFL-wide, it may be even more likely this offseason (once the CBA is determined). What that will mean specifically for the Cards is impossible to know. They’ve already plotted out free agency — they, like every team, needed to be ready by last weekend when free agency was originally supposed to start — and have players targeted. Does that mean current players would be on the backburner in case replacements are signed? Sure it could. It will also be interesting to see the demand on certain lower-tier players in a flooded market.
UPDATE: Bob in the comments has asked me to explain tender offers. In a nutshell, a tender offer to a restricted free agent gives teams the right of first refusal or at least compensation for a player if he leaves. For instance, take tendered Tim Hightower. We don’t know exactly what level he was tendered, but for the sake of argument, let’s say he was tendered at a second-round level. That means, for a set salary (last year it was in the ballpark of $2 million, if I recall correctly) the Cards hold his rights. If Hightower signs as a free agent elsewhere, the Cards have two options: Match the contract he signed, or let Hightower go and receive a second-round pick in return. If he didn’t sign anywhere else, he can sign the tender offer for the scheduled salary (or, in theory, sign a long-term deal).
Tags: Alan Branch, Ben Patrick, Deuce Lutui, free agency, Kenny Iwebema, Lyle Sendlein, Michael Adams, Stephen Spach, Steve Breaston
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I know there are many wondering exactly which players were tendered restricted free agent contracts for the Cardinals, so here is that list:
- RB Tim Hightower
- WR Early Doucet
- G Deuce Lutui
- WR Steve Breaston
- DL Alan Branch
- C Lyle Sendlein
- T Brandon Keith
Some quick thoughts on these. These were clearly done — not surprisingly — based on the 2010 rules that it takes six accrued seasons to reach unrestricted free-agent status. Conventional wisdom is that the new CBA will again call for four years to reach UFA status, which in the Cards’ case would mean the tenders wouldn’t matter to Lutui, Breaston, Branch or Sendlein — all would be unrestricted.
It’s also notable (although not a shock, given how much he was inactive) that the Cards declined to tender NT Gabe Watson, who would be in the same boat as Lutui, for example, after playing five seasons. TE Ben Patrick also could have been in that vein, although again, that doesn’t absolutely rule out a return. It just means the Cards weren’t willing to lock them into a high salary. Same goes for TE Stephen Spach and DE Kenny Iwebema, among others.
The level of each tender offer was not available.
Tags: Alan Branch, Ben Patrick, Brandon Keith, Deuce Lutui, Early Doucet, Gabe Watson, Lyle Sendlein, Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower
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Regardless of the status of the CBA, the Cardinals have a chunk of players whose contracts will expire whenever the league year ends. What that means for free agency is uncertain because the CBA will address those rules. But as an FYI, here is a list of the current Cardinals who will have their contract run out this offseason. If a player has an asterisk, he has at least four accrued seasons in the NFL:
- FB Nehemiah Broughton
- RB Tim Hightower
- FB Reagan Maui’a
- RB Jason Wright*
- WR Max Komar
- WR Steve Breaston*
- WR Early Doucet
- TE Ben Patrick
- TE Stephen Spach
- T D’Anthony Batiste
- C Ben Claxton
- G Alan Faneca*
- T Brandon Keith
- G Deuce Lutui*
- C Lyle Sendlein*
- DL Alan Branch*
- DL Keilen Dykes
- DE Kenny Iwebema
- DL Bryan Robinson*
- DT Gabe Watson*
- LB Curtis Gatewood
- LB Cyril Obiozor
- LB Reggie Walker
- S Hamza Abdullah
- CB Michael Adams
- CB Trumaine McBride
- S Matt Ware*
- P Ben Graham*
Tags: Alan Branch, Alan Faneca, Ben Claxton, Ben Graham, Ben Patrick, Brandon Keith, Bryan Robinson, Curtis Gatewood, Cyril Obiozor, D'Anthony Batiste, Deuce Lutui, Early Doucet, free agency, Gabe Watson, Hamza Abdullah, Jason Wright, Keilen Dykes, Kenny Iwebema, Lyle Sendlein, Matt Ware, Max Komar, Michael Adams, Nehemiah Broughton, Reagan Maui'a, Reggie Walker, Stephen Spach, Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower, Trumaine McBride
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Both general manager Rod Graves and coach Ken Whisenhunt have said more than a few times they are going through this offseason as if there will not be a work stoppage, so they will be ready by the end of this week when the league year officially ends late Thursday night. That’s why the Cardinals — and every other team — were considering use of the franchise tags even though with labor uncertainty no one knows if they will matter on the other side (The Cardinals, as expected, didn’t use the franchise tag).
The same goes for restricted free-agent tender offers, which teams are using — as usual — at this time with free agency still schedule to arrive. The Cardinals are no different, apparently. Wide receiver Steve Breaston confirmed an ESPN report he has been extended a tender offer, and I would assume the Cards are doing that for a handful of guys who potentially could qualify as restricted free agents. Again, it’s housekeeping in a way, since everyone is in limbo until a new CBA is reached.
— XTRA’s Mike Jurecki is reporting safety Adrian Wilson has had surgery for a torn abductor muscle (in the hip area) with which he had been playing. No word yet on the length of rehab, but I’d assume he’d be ready for the season.
— If you’re looking for an aggregate site of stories on the labor talks, nfllabor.com has a bunch of info as we head deeper into the offseason of unknowns.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, CBA, free agency, labor talks, Steve Breaston
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