For what it’s worth in June, offensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 19, 2013 – 10:58 am

Welcome to the second installment of For What It’s Worth, where I make guesstimates over who will be starting come the opener Sept. 8 in St. Louis – this time, on the offensive side of the ball – and my only fear is someone will dredge this up in a little less than three months to tell me I don’t know what I am talking about. The Cards’ offense is in somewhat of a weird situation. The unit struggled so much last season that the bar has been set pretty low in order to improve. Yet with Carson Palmer coming in at quarterback and Bruce Arians taking over as coach (not to mention Tom Moore as a top offensive assistant) expectations seem pretty high.

That said, and with time off calling me, here is my lineup for that day in the Edward Jones Dome. We’re going with a two-WR, two-TE set, but there will be plenty of three-WR looks I’d guess:

QB – Carson Palmer. Arians named him starter from jump. Made sense. Had some bumpy times in the offseason work, but he’s been very straight-forward about the process and didn’t seem surprised. You have to like the idea he and Fitz are spearheading workouts in San Diego and/or Minnesota before camp. The offense probably needs it.

WR – Larry Fitzgerald. I think I am willing to wager Fitz gets back to his lofty stats this season. Just a guess.

WR – Michael Floyd. In three-receiver sets Andre Roberts will get plenty of work. But Floyd has impressed coaches (and bystanders like myself) with his efforts this offseason. He seems primed for a leap in Year Two. Can he challenge Fitz? If the Cards can grind out more first downs, I can see Floyd having a big year.

TE – Rob Housler. Arians likes his pass-catching ability. We’ll see, in camp, how far his blocking has come.

LT – Levi Brown. Arians has spent so much time talking Brown up this offseason I don’t see any way Levi isn’t starting. He’ll be playing the left side, and we will find out if his strong finish to 2011 was a mirage or not.

LG – Jonathan Cooper. The only question with Cooper isn’t if he starts but when he signs his contract (and with the front office getting in their vacation, Cooper’s deal will probably be much closer to training camp. That said, it’s nothing to worry about. He’ll be done in time.)

C – Lyle Sendlein. The Cardinals haven’t really done much to create competition at the spot. That seems like a good sign for Sendlein, who remains a steadying influence in the locker room and a quality captain.

RG – Daryn Colledge. Colledge had to flip sides, but he’ll figure it out. He’s getting paid big money and that makes every offseason a little more dicey in a league that’s always looking at that stuff. But Colledge is a good fit right now, especially with rookie Earl Watford still raw in his development.

RT – Bobby Massie. Massie was playing backup left tackle the last week of minicamp, and Nate Potter was running as the No. 1 right tackle. But Arians insisted he will continue to move around guys to have them learn many positions, and that was one example. I still think Massie is the starter come Week 1. He played too well down the stretch last year. Plus, Potter – who also might get work at guard – could be getting groomed for the ultimate jack-of-all-trades offensive line spot as a reserve. It’s necessary after Adam Snyder was released.

TE – Jeff King. It’s hard to get a good handle on this one since King was out or limited almost all of the offseason work. Jim Dray got a lot of first-unit reps too. I still think when all is said and done it will be King opening day, but I think it’s no lock. Is there any chance rookie D.C. Jefferson could sneak his way in? That’s a long shot, but maybe hitting in training camp changes some minds. I wouldn’t be stunned to see them add a veteran tight end in camp.

RB – Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall had his best seasons under Arians in Pittsburgh. Ryan Williams remains a wild card. Stepfan Taylor is probably too far behind, at least at first. Mendenhall is still pretty young in running back’s terms, he’s motivated with a one-year deal and he insists he’s totally healthy. A good combination.


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Flip of calendar means more Cards’ cap room

Posted by Darren Urban on May 31, 2013 – 2:57 pm

Over the weekend, the Cardinals will not make any roster moves. And they will pick up $3 million in salary cap room.

That’s because they had designated the release of guard Adam Snyder back in April as a “June 1” cut, meaning that they could take the normal pro-rated hit on the salary cap this season from his remaining signing bonus and push the rest into 2014 instead of absorbing it all this season. Snyder still had $4 million left of dead money. Now, the Cardinals will deal with $1 million of it this season and the other $3 million against their 2014 salary cap.

Because the Cardinals wanted to cut Snyder before the actual June 1 date, they were forced to carry Snyder’s entire hit on the cap until actually June 1. (It didn’t really affect the Cards much, but any team tight against the cap doesn’t have the same kind of leeway.) That’s why the Cards this weekend will see their cap room grow even though they aren’t making any transactions. Teams can use the June 1 designation on up to two players a season. Only 11 cut players were named as such this offseason across the league and only one team, the Dolphins, used up their two-man limit. One of those players was linebacker Karlos Dansby, who of course ended up here. The Dolphins gain $6M of cap space this weekend just on Dansby’s situation alone.

As for the Cardinals, who have $7.8M of cap space today according to the NFLPA, that stands to grow to $10.8M when Snyder’s slot kicks in. The $3M dead money for next year is nothing to sneeze at, but the Cardinals took most of their dead money medicine this year and have a bunch of guys who will be free agents after this season, so there is still a lot of room to maneuver with the 2014 cap. Not sure what the salary cap landscape is going to look like yet, but it isn’t expected to jump much again and that will likely mean a similar offseason market as this year.

— Apropos of nothing, other than I think it’s an awesome anecdote, check out this story by Sam Farmer about Vince Lombardi and the first Super Bowl. Priceless.

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Rookies on their way this week

Posted by Darren Urban on May 6, 2013 – 4:28 pm

The majority of rookies (i.e. everyone but No. 1 pick Jonathan Cooper) have yet to come to the Tempe facility yet. That changes later this week. They will show up Thursday for physicals, and then the first rookie minicamp will be held Friday through Sunday (and before you ask, no, it’s not open to the public.)

That begins a couple straight weeks of on-field work, with the first of six organized team activities on May 14-16 and then May 21-23. Strength and conditioning work remains through the on-field time. After a week off after Memorial Day of on the field, the final four voluntary OTAs come June 3-6. Mandatory minicamp is June 11-13.

— A couple of ex-Cardinal notes from today. Ex-tackle Brandon Keith, allowed to walk away as a free agent after the 2011 season and who didn’t hook on with anyone in 2012, signed with the Vikings today.

Meanwhile, offensive lineman Adam Snyder, cut last week by the Cards, signed a new two-year deal with the 49ers Monday. If you remember, Snyder was allowed to leave as a free agent last year by the Niners and he signed a five-year contract with the Cardinals. He was cut and now goes back to his original team, although if he makes it now, it’ll be as a backup.

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Cooper avoided mocks and Day 2 musings

Posted by Darren Urban on April 25, 2013 – 9:57 pm

The Cardinals may have been high on Jonathan Cooper the whole time but his name really didn’t get linked to the Cardinals in a strong sense until the last few days. His name popped up in the mocks more often, and even Cooper admitted he had noticed. Even if he didn’t really want to.

“I really tried not to look at the mock drafts and things of that nature,” Cooper said after the Cards took the guard seventh overall. “When people would say that, I’d be like, ‘It doesn’t mean anything, that’s just the media.’ So I was shocked when they called me.”

Avoiding mocks in this day and age? Not so much. “For the most part I did, but my dad was kind of big on it, so he’d send me the links every now and then.”

It’s probably a good idea, to be honest. Skip the noise and wait to see what happens on draft day.

— Cooper is going to start. Who does he replace? On the left side is Daryn Colledge, who could make the case he was the Cards’ best offensive lineman last year (although in context that may not mean as much given the line’s struggles as a whole.) On the right side is Adam Snyder, who played with injuries last season but had his issues. If I had to guess, Cooper will replace Snyder. And there is a chance someone can still be released, with the cap hit designated as a “June 1” cut and spread over two seasons. We’ll see how it plays out.

— Cooper is familiar with the area, at least. He spent the last three months training at Athletes Performance Institute in Phoenix.

— GM Steve Keim must’ve really loved Cooper. Keim is, after all, an North Carolina State alum and Cooper went to North Carolina. “The hardest part of the selection was taking a Tar Heel,” Keim said. Said Cooper, “He made sure he let me know that on the phone call when he was telling me I was drafted.”

— Where to next? The Cardinals have the seventh pick of the second round, and with their two picks Friday they obviously could go in a lot of different directions. When we look at need, safety and pass rusher remain at the top of the list. Inside linebacker? Yes, I could see that too. The Cards did sign free agents like Alexander and Brinkley, but again, the idea was to avoid being forced into a pick.

— That said, going on Mike Mayock’s positional rankings, here’s what could be there for the Cards in the second round: Florida International safety Jonathan Cyprien (wow, two Jonathans in two picks?), LSU inside linebacker Kevin Minter and Texas A&M DE-who-could-be-OLB Demontre Moore. There are others too, and frankly, most years, it seems like the Cards’ second-round pick comes as a surprise. I have no idea how the grades go, and like Thursday, it’s all going to come down to who goes in those top six five picks.

— Yes, Geno Smith, Mike Glennon and Matt Barkley remain on the board. Well, since E.J. Manuel is the only QB gone the Cards could have a lot of QB options. I do not see the Cards going QB in the second round. The third? Maybe. They won’t waste a pick just to take a QB. If you don’t see some sliver of special in a QB, I don’t know why you’d burn a pick. Especially with Carson Palmer in place.

— I don’t know if Eddie Lacy will be there in seven picks. Would I take the running back? Yes, but with a caveat. If I have guys graded high at those other positions (safety, pass rusher) I am passing on the running back. If Lacy is standing out on the board, OK. But I’d rather not spend on a back that, by many accounts, isn’t necessarily special. It’s possible you could have run for 700 yards behind that Alabama offensive line. I’m not saying Lacy won’t be good. I’m just saying I would have other priorities.

— Before anyone asks again about Tyrann Mathieu, is he a third-round possibility? I could see it. His relationship with Patrick Peterson helps. The Cards could use a playmaker in the secondary like that. But I don’t know if I’d say it’s likely. Especially with an early third-rounder.


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Cards address offensive line with Cooper

Posted by Darren Urban on April 25, 2013 – 6:10 pm

The Cardinals did indeed use their first-round pick to address the offensive line, grabbing physical and athletic guard Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina. The top three tackles were all off the board by the time the Cards picked, and Cooper — given his athletic nature — is probably a better fit to Bruce Arians’ offense than Chance Warmack (and it might not have helped that Warmack has some concerns with the health of his shoulder.)

It makes sense that Cooper will go right into the starting lineup. I’d guess that would likely be in place of right guard Adam Snyder, who could in theory be an all-everything backup to every position. Or the could move on from Snyder, who is due $4 million in salary this season. We’ll have much more on over the next hour or so, including quotes from Cooper, Arians and GM Steve Keim.


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Flexibility in constructing the offensive line

Posted by Darren Urban on April 10, 2013 – 1:20 pm

The Cardinals finally added an offensive lineman in free agency Wednesday, signing veteran guard Chilo Rachal. What does that mean for the line going forward? Something. And nothing.

Adding parts that can help in some way, shape or form — starter or depth — has been one of the mantras for General Manager Steve Keim. Rachal could end up as either. So obviously, his arrival carries that significance. But it isn’t going to impact the draft. If the Cardinals decide, for instance, Chance Warmack is their guy at No. 7, they’ll take him and figure it out from there. If they want to take a tackle like Eric Fisher or Lane Johnson and move Bobby Massie to guard, they will do that too. If their top pick is a pass rusher, maybe we see a line of LT Brown, LG Colledge, C Sendlein, RT Massie and a battle between Snyder and Rachal. Or there could be an offensive lineman chosen in the second round or third round — or maybe even later — who could be part of the mix.

At this point, there are dozens of ways this can go, and the Cardinals have set it up just so they have that flexibility. I could see them letting a veteran go in a June 1 move if they felt they had enough other pieces for their puzzle. Certainly Keim has shown he isn’t afraid to make such moves. I’m not certain there couldn’t be a veteran offensive lineman added later in the offseason either.

(The Cardinals, prior to the Rachal signing I would guess, had $9.496 million in salary cap space as of Wednesday according to the NFLPA.)

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to the Cardinals and the draft. The braintrust has reiterated a few times how deep in offensive line talent this class is, beyond just the top 10. Will it shock me to see them pick a player that isn’t an offensive lineman? Absolutely not. Stop me if you’ve heard this before — Keim believes in a difference-maker at the top. That doesn’t mean a difference-maker can’t be an offensive lineman if his grades are the right ones, but I truly believe the idea of reaching there for need over a guy graded much better makes Keim’s stomach turn.


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Free agents list and comp picks

Posted by Darren Urban on February 27, 2013 – 6:05 pm

Free agency is still a couple weeks away — March 12 for those who have forgotten — but for those who want to keep track of the Cardinals’ comings and goings, here is the page to do so. On it you can see the Cards’ own unrestricted and exclusive free agents going into the offseason. I ran into free agent safety Rashad Johnson today. He sounded upbeat about his status with the Cards but he wasn’t there to sign a new deal or anything. Those deals, I would think, will be deadline-driven probably. The Cards have talked to many of the agents for free agents, but again, I don’t think anything is about to pop.

The Alex Smith trade — or the reported trade that is going to happen — to the Chiefs will give the 49ers another draft pick this season. That, along with the anticipated compensatory picks the 49ers will get for losing free agents last offseason, will give San Francisco 15 draft picks for April. The day has been littered with speculation over what the Niners will do with all those picks. It’s too many to draft. No way 15 rookies make the team. So the Niners might as well trade some of them for players (Revis? Harvin?) or to move up and get a better pick or two or nab a rookie they really want.

Speaking of comp picks, I don’t expect the Cards to have any. They lost cornerback Richard Marshall to the Dolphins (to a pretty big contract) but signed free agents like William Gay, Adam Snyder and James Sanders. So that means the Cards will likely have only their seven picks — none in the seventh round and two in the sixth round. The official list of compensatory picks usually is released during the March owners’ meetings, which this year happen to be in Arizona.

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The pieces of the offensive line

Posted by Darren Urban on February 5, 2013 – 10:31 am

The day Steve Keim was named general manager, the one-time offensive lineman spoke about his offensive line — the much-maligned line in 2012, for a variety of reasons.

“I think we have some pieces in place,” Keim said. “The level of physicality, the ability to run the ball consistently, that is a huge issue and that needs to be fixed.”

Last week before the Super Bowl, new head coach Bruce Arians said the offensive line situations is “not as dire as some might make it out to be.”

So what does that all mean? Certainly, injuries took their toll on the unit last season. Reading between the lines — and that’s all it is right now — it seems to me there is a good chance Levi Brown will be part of the unit in some way, shape or form. I don’t know if that means at guard or tackle. It would seem to be Bobby Massie has a chance to be a tackle going forward after he finished well in his rookie year after a difficult start. Where does Nate Potter fit in? And how do the current interior starters — guards Daryn Colledge and Adam Snyder, with center Lyle Sendlein — fit?

It’s still early. First, the new staff, which will have multiple coaches that will teach the offensive line, need to go through the video and analyze what players are already in place. Free agency gives the Cards some options, especially at tackle, although the cap implications of a big-dollar signing will have to be carefully considered. (Among the tackles currently slated for free agency — knowing a couple could get the franchise tag — include Denver’s Ryan Clady, Kansas City’s Branden Albert, New Orleans’ Jerrod Bushrod and the Giants’ Will Beatty.)

As for the guys already on the roster, the 2013 salary cap numbers for the four vets are as follows: Brown $7.65M, Colledge $7.3M, Snyder $4M, Sendlein $3.1M. (And before you ask, the “dead” money if those players were released would be $5.6M, $4.5M, $4M and $2.1M, respectively.) The draft seems like a more likely spot to add a piece, but whether that would be a tackle (like Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher) or guard (like Alabama’s Chance Warmack) or even after the first round, well, it’s way to early to have a good sense of that. The Cards have to have their meetings and again, the coaches need to evaluate what they have.

There has been a lot of talk about the quarterback and what the Cards will do about it, and that’s clearly the top topic. But what happens with the offensive line — and how that unit is addressed by Keim and Arians — will play into the quarterback story as well.


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Losing Lyle

Posted by Darren Urban on November 26, 2012 – 4:50 pm

First, a disclaimer: I think Lyle Sendlein is a good guy.

Sure, the center and I hail from the same high school — the local football powerhouse Scottsdale Chaparral. (Although Lyle, being much younger, was actually a part of building the program to where it is today. When I went to school there, a .500 season was tremendous and often the team would get kicked around by the likes of Mesa Mountain View, but my graduating class did have Darrell Bevell as quarterback, and he was good enough in the sport to eventually reach his current post as the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator.)

Yet I digress.

The high school gave us an immediate connection, but Sendlein was also a great story, son of a former NFL player who was undrafted in 2007 (and not happy about it) yet worked to eventually become a key starter for a Super Bowl team and a man who not only has been the team’s starting center for a few years but has earned the respect of his teammates to the point he has been named one of the captains for a few years now. He’s a stand-up guy who is always willing to answer questions, win or lose, knowing that people want answers either way. You know he’s tough, after playing almost the entire 2008 season with a torn labrum. Is he a Pro Bowl center? Maybe not. But he has been steady, and he has been an important cog to the Cards’ offense.

The news that he is done for the season hurts the Cards. Yes, some of you will point out the offensive line has not played well, and to that I cannot argue. But much like the loss of Levi Brown, the benefit of Sendlein, I believe, will be felt much more with his absence than anyone could tell with him in the game. Now, I don’t know if the “wheels just might come off” now that Sendlein (No. 63, pictured below) is out, but it will make an impact and it’s arguable it will make the greatest impact of all the offensive line injuries this season, including Brown’s triceps and Adam Snyder’s quad.

(It’d be a good argument, because Brown’s absence has certainly been felt.)

If nothing else, it’s losing a veteran player who means something as a presence both on the field and in the locker room. On a team that needs that steadying influence during a losing skid, that can’t be good.

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Heap, Toler remain out, Nelson playing for Packers

Posted by Darren Urban on November 4, 2012 – 9:36 am

The Cardinals’ inactive list is out for today’s game, with tight end Todd Heap still out with his bad knee. On the flip side, Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, who didn’t practice all week because of a bad hamstring, is active today and listed as a starter. The Cardinals are also still without cornerback Greg Toler (hamstring).

Guard Adam Snyder (quad) remains out, no surprise, so Rich Ohrnberger will start at right guard. The rest of the Cardinals’ inactives:

— QB Kevin Kolb (ribs)

— LB Jamaal Westerman

— G Senio Kelemete

— WR LaRon Byrd

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