1 down, 11 to go for Fitz?

Posted by Darren Urban on July 2, 2013 – 11:04 am

The University of Pittsburgh announced yesterday that it would be retiring the No. 1 jersey in honor of Larry Fitzgerald’s tenure as a Panther, a pretty remarkable achievement when you consider Fitz played just two seasons in college. (Because Fitz went to prep school for a year after high school to improve his grades, he was able to go to the NFL after his true sophomore season.) Fitzgerald was a beast in college. In his final Pitt season in 2003, despite playing for a Pitt team with limited weapons and drawing all the attention of every opponent, Fitz had 92 catches for 1,672 yards (for an 18.2 avg.) and 22 touchdowns. Guess being the No. 3 pick overall was kind of a no-brainer, even if it meant passing on some quarterbacks that turned out to be pretty good themselves.

No word in the announcement, by the way, when the jersey retiring will take place. (And, as a side note, when talking to Larry Fitzgerald Sr. last year for a Fitz story I was working on, he said his son thought about not going to Pitt but Michigan State. “He thought real hard,” Fitzgerald Sr. said, “because his girlfriend was there.”)

Anyway, Fitz’s number being retired usually brings up the secondary question: Would, somewhere down the road, the Cardinals retire No. 11? The answer is probably not. And it doesn’t have anything to do with how great Fitzgerald’s career ends up.

The Cardinals simply don’t retire many numbers. They put players in the Ring of Honor, which doesn’t take their jersey number off the market. Hall of Famers like Dan Dierdorf and Roger Wehrli are in the Ring of Honor yet their Nos. 72 and 22, respectively, have been worn often (of late, Brandon Keith and currently DE Everrette Thompson have had 72 and 22 has been worn by Duane Starks, Emmitt Smith and, today, CB Bryan McCann.)

The Cardinals have retired five jersey numbers since the organization started in 1898. Hall of Fame safety Larry Wilson (8), all-around star back and war hero Marshall Goldberg (99), safety/war hero Pat Tillman (40), and two players who died while on the roster, tight end J.V. Cain (88) and tackle Stan Mauldin (77). There are 13 people in the team’s Ring of Honor, including Wilson, Tillman and Goldberg but not Cain or Mauldin. That RoH number will rise when safety Adrian Wilson goes in, and I’d expect Fitz to be there someday as well. He just might not be able to take 11 with him, at least not permanently.

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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 18, 2013 – 11:08 am

It’s that time of the offseason, when players scatter for some time away from the facility and so too does the author of a certain blog. Before that, however, I try and put on my analysis cap and attempt to project – sans injuries – who will be in the starting lineup come Sept. 8 when the Cardinals open the regular season in St. Louis trying to win their first game for a fourth straight season. This one is a little more difficult to sort out. By last year it was easier to get a sense of what Ken Whisenhunt wanted to do and who he wanted to do it with. No real way to know that with Bruce Arians yet.

For starters, he has said time and again judging players in shorts wasn’t enough to make any solid decisions – he said he knew how they could play soccer, for goodness sake – and so I’d expect training camp to be much more important than the past. The Whiz coaching staff, which generally stayed stable, knew very well what they were getting with holdovers. This staff is new and don’t know many of these players. Being unquestioned at your position is rare right now.

That doesn’t even take into account Arians’ desire to play young players. He clearly is much more willing to go with youth. He has also talked often about how the “starters” are more than just 11, especially on defense, thanks to the many packages a team has.

I suppose that’s all a roundabout way of saying this is my best guesstimate, and that’s all. We have defense today, offense tomorrow. There has been lots of speculation out there that the Cards may end up as a 4-3 team, and we’ll see how things are spread around, but they have been working in a 3-4 base the entire offseason.

Remember, this is only an exhibition and not a competition, so please, please, no wagering.

DE – Darnell Dockett. He will get more chances to get on the stat sheet. He will, probably, be used inside in certain packages and not just as a 3-4 end. He definitely is happier than he has been in regards to how he is being used. The Cards are counting on that showing on the field.

NT – Dan Williams. The team poked around potential free agents earlier in the offseason, and Williams came in to workouts needing to shed pounds. But he has, and Arians praised his condition last week. Like the ends, there is talk of Williams getting upfield and attacking more often. It’s so easy to forget he was a No. 1 pick, but the Cards need him to play that way.

DE – Calais Campbell. Had another very good year last season. He too sounds excited about his opportunities in Todd Bowles’ system, although he tends to be a little more muted than Dockett (who isn’t?) Has become one of the best in the league, period. At some point, it’d be nice to see him get a Pro Bowl nod.

ROLB – Lorenzo Alexander. This has been the spot for O’Brien Schofield, who recently told me camp was the place where jobs are won and lost. Could OB still make a starting run? Sure. But Alexander, wooed as a free agent partially on the strength of starting potential, is going to get his shot. I think, given his ability as a leader, he’ll end up there at least at first.

SILB – Jasper Brinkley. Brinkley was an early free-agent sign, but then the Cards drafted Kevin Minter. Minter is the kind of player who needs camp to show what he’s got. Arians thought he was getting too physical in the offseason. But I think Brinkley still holds him off at first, even if Minter pushes for playing time later this season.

WILB – Karlos Dansby. This is kind of cheating, because I don’t even have to factor Daryl Washington into this – Washington is suspended the first four games. When Washington returns, however, it will be very interesting to see how it plays out with him, Dansby, Brinkley and Minter. It’s been suggested Washington could end up outside in some scenario, but at no point in the offseason did Washington do any work there.

LOLB – Sam Acho. A very smart player and great in the locker room. He should start at the outset, but he needs to up his sacks to stay there. Otherwise they are going to start looking to upgrade.

CB – Patrick Peterson. Easiest position to peg.

CB – Jerraud Powers. The Cardinals did a good job building up depth at cornerback. Antoine Cason is slightly more established given Powers’ injury history, but Powers has an Arians connection from Indy and I think that will make a difference. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Cason start, though. Another thing to chew on: With so many corners, is one traded before the season starts? You still have Javier Arenas, Justin Bethel, Jamell Fleming, Bryan McCann.

FS – Rashad Johnson. Tyrann Mathieu is going to play in some way, shape or form, including nickel corner sometimes. You just don’t see it any other way. But I don’t see Mathieu starting. Johnson is helped because he played strong safety last season. I can see Johnson moving to strong safety if Mathieu bullies his way into the lineup.

SS – Yeremiah Bell. Bell brings experience and he knows Bowles well from their days in Miami. He is a short-term solution, though.

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For now, you can’t have too many corners

Posted by Darren Urban on May 3, 2013 – 11:20 am

The trade earlier this week for cornerback Javier Arenas provided the Cardinals their 10th cornerback on the roster. That isn’t a surprise, but when seven of them have NFL experience already, the numbers alone will make for a very interesting battle heading into training camp. It doesn’t matter who the coaches have been that I have covered over the years, every single one — when asked about a situation like this — likes to say, “You can never have too many cornerbacks.” True, but you can’t keep too many cornerbacks either.

The quick lineup, aside from Arenas: Patrick Peterson, Jerraud Powers, Antoine Cason, Jamell Fleming, Justin Bethel, Bryan McCann and three UDFAs in Josh Hill, Prentiss Waggner and Ronnie Yell.

(And as a quick aside: I think the Cards didn’t mind adding another corner, but realize that they were going to get rid of fullback Anthony Sherman regardless, and if the only option coming back was a corner like Arenas, it’s better than just cutting Sherman loose.)

Here are the facts thus far when it comes to this cornerback situation:

— In minicamp, Powers was with the first unit opposite Peterson. Now, Cason seemed to be nursing some kind of leg injury that may have limited him, but again, it was Powers who signed the three-year contract. He might be getting the first shot there.

— Bethel was told he’d be playing corner rather than safety when the coaches first got a chance to talk to him. But who knows, given the cornerback/safety situation (the Cards have seven safeties and much less experience there) maybe Bethel ends up a swing guy again.

— This math of course counts Tyrann Mathieu as a safety because that’s what Bruce Arians said he’d be at first, but Mathieu also could be a nickel corner.

— Arenas’ size (5-9) seems to dictate he’d be a slot cover guy only.

— The numbers and influx of guys will make the second offseason for Fleming very, very interesting and very important. Third-round picks usually are locks to stay a second season. But with a new staff, you never know.

— Usually, teams keep nine or 10 defensive backs. With nine, you could see four cornerbacks and five safeties or, given this roster, probably five and four.

— It does open up trade possibilities, like when the Cards dealt A.J. Jefferson at the end of the preseason last year given their glut at the position.

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With Sherman swap, the shuffling continues

Posted by Darren Urban on May 1, 2013 – 11:39 am

So Anthony Sherman is gone, a victim of a regime change more than anything else, with his trade to K.C. today in exchange for cornerback Javier Arenas. This is what happens when new coaches come in (and obviously, both the Chiefs and Cards have new coaches) and existing players are deemed expendable. In Sherman’s case, he plays a position that isn’t used in Bruce Arians’ offense. In Arenas’ case, the Chiefs had brought on a bunch of cornerbacks and he was looking to be moved, although he comes to a team with a ton of potential cornerbacks as well — in addition to a safety (Tyrann Mathieu) who could end up playing slot receivers like Arenas is best suited for. Arenas came into the league in the 2010 draft.

ESPN scout Matt Williamson tweeted this about Arenas: “Pure slot CB-Size hurts him, but fiesty & big time asset on special teams.” It’s a crowded secondary now. Patrick Peterson, Jerraud Powers, Antoine Cason, Justin Bethel, Jamell Fleming and Bryan McCann all have experience in the league and now Arenas comes aboard. Someone isn’t making it to September (unless the Cards end up sliding Bethel back to safety to ease the logjam.)

More importantly, it’s yet another move as General Manager Steve Keim continues to overhaul the roster with Arians’ vision of what he needs. The Cardinals currently have 88 players on the roster and 45 of them are new. Now, 25 of them are rookies so they were going to be new regardless. But the number of veterans — veterans that played large roles on the team last year — that have been cut or traded continues to move up. The transactions list has a ton of action, and May just started.  I count 31 moves where the Cards either made a trade, signed a veteran from outside the team or released a player.

(And to think, when Arenas lined up against Larry Fitzgerald during the Cards-Chiefs joint practice last August, you think either one contemplated being teammates?)

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Palmer contract helps Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on April 4, 2013 – 1:51 pm

The Cardinals didn’t have to pay much in trade compensation to acquire quarterback Carson Palmer. The new contract he agreed to doesn’t exactly hurt the Cards either.

Both Brian McIntyre and Aaron Wilson broke out the details of Palmer’s new Cards’ deal, the most important detail being that Palmer’s salary cap number is only $4 million in 2013, lower than originally expected but one that fits into Wednesday night’s news of the Cards having about $8.2 million in cap space remaining even after the Palmer trade. (Since the top 51 offseason rules apply to the cap, I’d guess the signings of Curtis Taylor and Bryan McCann didn’t impact the cap at all.)

Turns out Palmer’s two-year deal is technically a three-year contract, helping the cap distribution. It might as well be a two-year deal though, because the third year voids automatically if Palmer is still on the team five days after the Super Bowl next year and if the team wants to cut him, the third year wouldn’t matter anyway. The magic of contract structures.

Anyway, Palmer’s salary of $2 million is guaranteed this season, and he got a $6 million signing bonus. He has an $8 million salary in 2014, with $2 million guaranteed fully, and a cap number of $10 million in 2014.

And here’s a picture of Palmer and Daryl Washington from this morning’s sprints.

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Cards add two DBs (and Fitz talking to Palmer)

Posted by Darren Urban on April 4, 2013 – 10:41 am

The Cardinals have signed a pair of defensive backs: safety Curtis Taylor (who we mentioned was coming last night) and cornerback Bryan McCann. Taylor has played in 12 NFL games since he was a seventh-round pick of the 49ers back in 2009. He hasn’t played in an NFL regular-season game since 2010. He was on the 49ers’ practice squad throughout the 2012 postseason after the Raiders cut him following the 2012 preseason.

McCann played eight games for the Dolphins last season (10 tackles and a sack) after the Raiders cut him following the preseason. He was an undrafted rookie with the Cowboys in 2010, and even scored a pair of touchdowns as a rookie (on a 101-yard interception return and a 97-yard punt return). In 2011, he played in 12 games with the Cowboys, Ravens and Raiders. He can return both punts and kickoffs.

The Cards also announced running back Alfonso Smith signed his one-year exclusive rights free agent tender.

Oh, and here’s a grainy iPhone shot of Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer talking shop this morning during the Cardinals’ workouts. I assume they are talking shop. Maybe Palmer is asking Fitz where to live. Or about the latest episode of “The Walking Dead.” But you get the picture.

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