Lasting thoughts from the first

Posted by Darren Urban on April 30, 2014 – 10:54 am

The first Cardinals draft I covered as a beat guy was back in 2001, which just so happened to be the highest pick the Cards have had since I have been around the team — second overall. That’s 13 drafts overall and 14 first-round picks. As the Cards get closer to this year’s draft (jeez, is it ever going to get here?) I thought I’d hit the first-round picks I’ve seen, with both my initial thoughts at the time and what hindsight has brought.

2001: T Leonard Davis. It was a no-brainer. Davis was a sure thing, taken right after Michael Vick. He’d be the 10-year left tackle the Cardinals sought since Lomas Brown had left. Bigg (he went by the nickname “Big” and at some point, started adding an extra “g”) was just that, a mammoth man. Sure, the Cards decided to play him at guard his first season, but that was so he could get used to the game. Dave McGinnis even brought myself and Kent Somers to his office one day to show us Davis manhandling a couple of defenders. I remember him totally rag-dolling Bears safety Mike Brown on one play. Problem was, he never really panned out as a left tackle, even though Denny Green insisted on shoe-horning him there. He was a better guard, and the Cards weren’t going to break the bank on a guard, so he later got big money from the Cowboys. And made the Pro Bowl. As a guard.

2002: DT Wendell Bryant. What I really remember is hearing how then-defensive line coach Joe Greene had been so impressed with Bryant the player and the person during a workout up in Wisconsin. Uh, yeah, not so much. Bryant was a holdout until the regular season started of his rookie year, and he never climbed out of that hole. A total bust.

2003: DE Calvin Pace and WR Bryant Johnson. Ahh, the everyone-assumed-Terrell-Suggs-was-coming-to-the-Cards draft. This was the most surprising first round. The Cards traded down from No. 6 overall, thinking in part they could get DE Jerome McDougle. The Eagles jumped to No. 15 to get McDougle, and the Cards reached for Pace at 17 and then took Johnson at 18. Pace ended up a decent player, although he didn’t really hit his stride until Ken Whisenhunt showed up. This was a thank-goodness-for-Anquan-Boldin-in-the-second-round class.

2004: WR Larry Fitzgerald. And to think, if Josh McCown’s pass falls incomplete, would it have been Eli Manning? Or would Denny Green have made sure Fitz was No. 1 overall?

2005: CB Antrel Rolle. This was pretty straight-forward. Rolle was considered a top-10 talent, the Cards needed a corner. The problem was Rolle came into the league with most assuming he’d be better at safety. He was.

2006: QB Matt Leinart. Green said when the pick was made that Leinart falling to the Cards at 10 was really a “gift from heaven.” Seems really silly now. But it wasn’t at the time. (The Cards likely would have taken Jay Cutler, who went No. 11, if Leinart had been off the board.) Truth be told I thought it was a good pick, and I was convinced he would be that QB the Cards needed after his first two starts, come-from-ahead losses — but not his fault — to Kansas City and Chicago (“We let ’em off the hook!”) Time proved I was way wrong. But it allowed Kurt Warner’s rebirth, so there’s that.

2007: T Levi Brown. The Cards wanted a left tackle. Joe Thomas was already taken. The Cards already had Edgerrin James, so Adrian Peterson didn’t make enough sense. And I’ll move on.

— 2008: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. DRC was odd. He was raw. He was good. He frustrated sometimes, going from Pro Bowl talent to a guy who wouldn’t pay attention in stretches. But it was the right call. If only he hadn’t been the price for Kevin Kolb …

— 2009: RB Beanie Wells: Beanie was never really healthy. A prime example of why teams don’t look to running backs early anymore.

— 2010: NT Dan Williams. Williams has been a starter and has improved. He forms a nice tandem with Alameda Ta’amu. Funny, the biggest thing I remember of when the Cards took him was that Tim Tebow was picked right before him — virtually eliminating any chance he was going to get mentioned on national TV broadcasts.

— 2011: CB Patrick Peterson. Yeah, a good pick. Obvious, but good.

— 2012: WR Michael Floyd. He’s turned into a good player in a short time. He wasn’t the left tackle everyone said they wanted, but he was better than the tackles on the board.

— 2013: G Jonathan Cooper. Coop should turn out to be a wise choice. If any of the big three tackles had been left at No. 7, the Cards probably would have nabbed one, but GM Steve Keim was about best players, and he believes Cooper was that.



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Levi’s legacy

Posted by Darren Urban on October 2, 2013 – 5:53 pm

A lot happened over six years since Levi Brown first showed up, not the least of which being the Cardinals actually released Brown — which felt like the end of Brown’s time in Arizona — only to have the two sides decide to continue their marriage. That made some sense at the time, because then-offensive line coach Russ Grimm was a Levi fan and the Cards still needed a left tackle. But Grimm is gone now and a new staff, a new regime, finally decided to cut ties with Brown.

Yet it’s hard to escape the fact that Brown was always going to be linked to Adrian Peterson, the running back who is headed to the Hall of Fame and who was a consideration for the Cards. Brown was picked fifth, Peterson seventh. That part of the Brown narrative, while noteworthy, seems ancient and irrelevant to me at this point — the man was released once already, so I think the point was already made — but obviously, he will always be that guy for this fan base.

(Looking back at the newspaper/internet clips from that draft, Peterson was mentioned, but there was no outrage, locally or nationally, that the Cards picked Brown over Peterson. The Cards also had Edgerrin James at the time. In hindsight, the choice looks terrible. But in the moment, not so much.)

“When you look back at some of these high-round draft picks, they are under the microscope and the bulls-eye is on their chest from Day One,” Cards GM Steve Keim said. “When you don’t live up to expectations from Day One, that’s tough pill to carry. Not only Adrian Peterson, (but linebacker) Patrick Willis was No. 11 that year.”

Those are the examples Keim gives to young scouts these days, mistakes to learn from and grow from. But it was never going to help Brown, whose situation always felt like a more intense version of Calvin Pace. Pace was the pass rusher the Cards settled for instead of taking Terrell Suggs, and that too became an albatross for Pace. Brown tired early on with the Peterson talk, and that was understandable. Of bigger concern was his play, which was shoved further into the spotlight when he moved to the left side.

Brown struggled often. Brown’s play late in 2011 spurred reason for hope, enough so, apparently, that the Cards made sure to bring him back despite releasing him because of his exorbitant rookie contract salary due in 2012. Then he missed all of 2012 with his triceps injury, and the pressure was put back on him as soon as coach Bruce Arians called Brown “elite” at the owners’ meetings.

Arians was basing that on video he had watched. The coach addressed the “elite” comment Wednesday: “The player I saw on that tape was why I made the comment,” Arians said. “Once we started working together with all the offensive line coaches we had, it just wasn’t working out.” It’s hard not to feel that the three sacks Brown gave up in the season opener to the Rams’ Robert Quinn wasn’t ultimately the tipping point.

I have no doubt that had one of the top three tackles in the 2013 draft fallen to No. 7, instead of all being gobbled up by the fourth overall pick, the Cardinals would have taken one. Who knows? The Levi Brown era might have been over much sooner than now. Instead, Brown is traded and the Cards move Bradley Sowell to left tackle. He’ll get his chance, but if a left tackle is staring at the Cards in round one next May, I’m sure they will consider it. The hope is, if they take one, they won’t have a similar roller-coaster ride.




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Suggs’ near-miss in the desert

Posted by Darren Urban on January 30, 2013 – 10:41 am

It seems now a lifetime ago, a few years before the Cardinals would even move into their new stadium and the culture shift within the organization just beginning to take root. But the Cardinals had a high pick — sixth overall — in the 2003 draft, a need for a pass rusher and a local kid who dominated on the college level who wanted very much to play for the home team. It seemed logical that the Cards would end up with Terrell Suggs.

They didn’t, of course. The Cards instead made a trade with the Saints, swapping the first-round pick for the Saints’ two first-rounders (17 and 18) and the teams also swapped second-round picks. That actually moved the Cards lower in that round as well. In the end, the Saints took defensive lineman Johnathan Sullivan, who was a wash-out. The Cardinals took defensive end Calvin Pace and wide receiver Bryant Johnson, each of whom had limited success (although Pace to parlay a decent 2007 season into a big free-agent contract with the Jets.) Of course, the Cards’ draft was made that year when, with the second-round pick, they took wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who performed like a first-rounder from jump.

Meanwhile, Suggs, who had 24 sacks in his final season at Arizona State, was taken 10th, by the Baltimore Ravens. That turned out pretty well for both him and the Ravens, and now he finds himself in the Super Bowl for the first time. That doesn’t mean the near miss with the Cardinals doesn’t still resonate, however.

“I was disappointed because I did want to play at home,” Suggs said during media day Tuesday on the Cards passing on him, “but it worked out better for everybody.”

Suggs began his prep career at Chandler High School a few miles from the Cardinals’ facility, eventually transferring to new (and burgeoning football powerhouse) Chandler Hamilton High School where he starred as both a defensive end and running back. Then he went to ASU where he dominated. The Cardinals were still battling perception around the league as a franchise, but Suggs wanted to stay right where he had made a name for himself.

The trade didn’t come out of nowhere — rumors of the Saints deal were floating around a day or two before the draft commenced — but it did leave an impact locally. Obviously, in hindsight, Pace (or even Pace plus Johnson) didn’t equal Suggs. On the flip side, no one would have guessed that day the Cards would have actually reached the Super Bowl before the Suggs-infused Ravens. (From the file of storylines-that-could-have-been: The Ravens and Suggs lost to the Steelers in the AFC Championship the year the Cards made it to the Super Bowl.)

“We had a hint that they might do (a trade), but I was thinking that they wouldn’t,” Suggs said. “I wasn’t surprised, but like I said, it was a rumor that they might do it so it didn’t catch me all off-guard. I was disappointed when they did, but like I said, that was 10 years ago and it all worked out for the best now.”


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Missing rookies no longer an issue

Posted by Darren Urban on June 15, 2012 – 10:45 am

Once, the end of offseason work for the Cardinals wasn’t just a beginning but a much bigger deal, specifically when coach Dennis Green used it in his first season as a time to announce his starting lineup for the season. (That was a crazy time. It really was.)

Now, coach Ken Whisenhunt emphasizes competition and ongoing competition. Nothing up for grabs was going to be settled in a month’s worth of work in May and June. But there was one thing settled that is a significant step for the Cardinals — every draft pick was signed before the work ended. Michael Floyd and Jamell Fleming (below) signed on the dotted line, and just like that, a headache that had shrunk in recent years (yet still existed) was gone.

It’ll be league-wide, and it’s thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement. No longer will players be holding out. I’ve never thought, if a player missed a day or two of camp, it was a huge deal, but looking at the last 10 years and the number of picks that have missed at least some time in camp, this is a welcome change:

— 2011 Patrick Peterson, missed 1 day

— 2010 Dan Williams, 3 days

— 2009 Beanie Wells, 3 days

— 2008 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, 2 days

— 2007 Levi Brown, 6 days

— 2006 Matt Leinart, 15 days

— 2005 Antrel Rolle, 8 days

— 2004 Larry Fitzgerald, 1 day

— 2003 Calvin Pace, 3 days; Bryant Johnson 4 days

— 2002 Wendell Bryant, all of training camp and two weeks of the regular season

“Knowing the first day of training camp you will have everyone there is a big deal,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “When they miss those first couple of days, it seems like they are always playing catch-up. It’s good we had all our guys here. It’ll be good to have everyone there from Day One. It’s great that our organization, (president) Michael (Bidwill) and (general manager) Rod (Graves), have been so proactive.”

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The rookies don’t have to sign yet

Posted by Darren Urban on May 10, 2012 – 7:43 am

There has been a lot of news nationally of late of draft picks signing quickly across the league. Understandably, the question arises whether the Cards will do something soon. But the reality is this: There is no reason, at this point, for rookies to sign. And given the new collective bargaining agreement, it’s not going to matter.

The circumstances provide a two-fold explanation. There has never been a reason for rookies to have signed for offseason work. Other than last season, when there was no offseason, almost every draft pick — and every Cardinal draft pick that I can remember — started offseason minicamp/OTAs without a rookie contract. The players instead sign injury waivers, which basically guarantees a rookie his “normal” contract even if he gets hurt during minicamp or other team work.

(Yes, that’s what we were talking about for those who remember the Wendell Bryant situation in 2002. The team’s No. 1 pick wouldn’t sign the injury waiver because his agent didn’t think the Cards had the right language protecting his player, and Bryant never took part in the summer work. It was repeated the next year with No. 1 picks Calvin Pace and Bryant Johnson. The Cards fixed what they were doing — another step in the way the franchise progressed over the past decade — and it hasn’t been an issue for a long time.)

There will be no issue with the draft picks participating, even though they haven’t scribbled on the dotted line yet.

That brings up the other side of the equation. In years past, the negotiations would have heated up sometime after July 4. The top two or three picks wouldn’t be signed until camp was imminent, or in the case of the top pick, a day or two into camp. Since Bryant — who didn’t sign until September — it’s never made a difference. The rookies never had missed so much to make a difference.

Now, though, because of the new CBA, rookie contracts are slotted and set harder than in years past. The reason guys have signed so fast other places is because there really isn’t much negotiating to do. Because of that, the rookies will sign quicker. Every guy will be signed before camp. There’s no reason to fret right now.

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Karlos has always been consistent

Posted by Darren Urban on February 16, 2010 – 9:53 am

As free-agent-to-be Karlos Dansby has made the radio rounds over the weekend, he has been asked a lot of different ways where he’d want to go. He goes on a show based back East, and the Giants suddenly are an attractive team. He spends time on a Miami talk show and the Dolphins become a team he has long envisioned himself playing for if he had a chance. There are talks about “wish lists” and the like. (Dansby went on XTRA 910 to insist “I can look good in any team, actually I can fit in anywhere.”).

Here’s the deal, and it’s not exactly breaking news: Dansby has one team on his wish list — the team that ponies up the most money.

I say this not to slight Karlos in the least. But any notion the money won’t be, if not the sole factor, at least 98 percent of the reason Dansby will end up wherever he ends up is fallacy. ‘Los will say he wants “a team to step up to the plate and say, ‘Dansby, we want you. Dansby, we need you. You are our type of guy and we are going to ride with you.’ ” — which he did to radio station WQAM — but that is just euphemistic language for “I want to be one of the highest-paid players out there.”

That makes sense. The more money invested in a player, the more important they must be to the team — at least, in theory.

It’s more than that, in some ways. The contract game changed for Dansby when he watched Calvin Pace get wined and dined (and helicoptered over New York, in the case of the Jets’ sales pitch to Pace) before Pace got showered with money. Dansby always believed he was better than Pace, so he should get all that and more, right?

Darnell Dockett and Anquan Boldin chose to take extensions earlier in their career in part for the security, and obviously it has affected them down the road. The Cards were more leery of doing something like that with Dansby because of his injury and practice issues earlier in his career, and by the time they decided to shift gears, Dansby got it in his head he’d rather test the open market. That’s been delayed because of two years with the franchise tag (and do not overlook the fact Dansby has been essentially playing for a contract for three seasons now, so we will see if anything changes when he gets a long-term deal).

But Dansby has never changed his tune. He has always held fast to this ideal of hitting the open market, to the point where he scuttled an extension last offseason after the team and the agent thought they were close to making something happen (and Dansby changed agents soon after).

Dansby wants his chance at a helicopter ride.

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