Abraham has Cards living on the edge

Posted by Darren Urban on July 29, 2013 – 10:02 am

Steve Keim, speaking for the first time since the Cards’ flurry of roster activity at the outset of camp, mentioned the obvious when talking about newly-acquired John Abraham.

“John obviously brings an element that we don’t and have not had,” the general manager said.

The Cardinals haven’t had a double-digit sack guy since Bertrand Berry had 14.5 in 2004. In the eight seasons since, nine is the top individual number. Safety Adrian Wilson had eight one year to lead the team. Chike Okeafor had 8.5 in 2006 and he was an edge defensive end, but no one was adjusting their protection schemes for Chike. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell have taken their turns too, but even when Campbell was operating as a 4-3 DE he wasn’t the guy who was going to turn the corner and constantly wreak havoc.

Often the Cards have made it work through blitzes and schemes. But to add a guy like Abraham potentially changes that for the better.

The Cards have tried this recently, as I’ve mentioned before. Joey Porter was coming off a nine-sack season with the Dolphins when the Cards signed him in 2010; Porter had 17.5 sacks the year before that. (By contrast, Abraham has 19.5 sacks the past two seasons). At 33, Porter clearly was out of gas, which is why Miami let him go in favor of the up-and-coming Cameron Wake and why Porter never made an impact in Arizona.

The way the Cards scout and break down players now, though, they are certain Abraham — at 35 — is in a much better place to produce. The previous staff tried to play Porter every down (and Porter made that a problem, fighting tooth and nail never to come out) and that wasn’t going to work. Abraham made it clear he wanted to be every down but also said he understood he might be used more in pass-rushing situations.

Clarity with Abraham is easy to see for Keim, too.

“Sometimes when you study a 35-year-old on tape, he looks like a 35-year-old,” Keim said. “I don’t know if they put this guy in wax, I don’t know what it was, but this guy can still get off the rock. He had had 10 sacks last year, seven forced fumbles. His ‘get-off’ to this day is still what I remember when I scouted him at South Carolina. There are some areas of his game where he would probably admit his skills have declined, but to pick a player up of this caliber at this time excites us all.”


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The free agency effect

Posted by Darren Urban on June 9, 2011 – 4:13 pm

So I was looking over this article by Football Outsiders about the top 10 most disappointing NFL free agents of the past 25 years and it got me thinking about the Cardinals (although no, there are no Cards on the list). My first full free-agent offseason came in 2001, when the Cards — up against the salary cap — chose to sign Seattle guard Pete Kendall as their one big purchase, to team with center Mike Gruttadauria from the year before and first-rounder Leonard Davis to build the “Big Red Line.” Kendall, as always, was blunt; when he came in for his press conference and was asked, why the Cardinals, he said, “Because they paid me the most money.”

That’s usually how it goes.

The bottom line is that, occasionally, help comes via free agency. More often than not, you acquire the best players through the draft because, aside from a player here or there, there is a reason a team lets a player go. Usually it’s because they don’t see him being worth the money he commands on the open market. (Karlos Dansby? Maybe he was. Antrel Rolle? Probably not.) I would argue that, if you charted all the “bigger-name” free-agent signings in the NFL over the years, there would be more that underperformed to expectations rather than met them.

Anyway, you look back through the years and think about the “key” free agents the Cards signed. How many provided the impact that people thought they would provide the day they signed?

  • 2002 – CB Duane Starks, TE Freddie Jones
  • 2003 – QB Jeff Blake, RB Emmitt Smith, S Dexter Jackson
  • 2004 – DE Bertrand Berry (now this one was a real winner, even with Bertrand’s later injuries)
  • 2005 – DE Chike Okeafor, QB Kurt Warner (OK, that one turned out pretty well)
  • 2006 – RB Edgerrin James (Edge was actually pretty effective, but certainly not the star his contract said he should be)
  • 2007 – T Mike Gandy, C Al Johnson, CB Rod Hood (The Cards decide not to get FA “stars” under Whiz, just pieces to the puzzle).
  • 2008 – DE Travis LaBoy, NT Bryan Robinson
  • 2009 – CB Bryant McFadden
  • 2010 – QB Derek Anderson, LB Joey Porter, LB Paris Lenon, K Jay Feely

Certainly a mixed bag over the years. The biggest disappointment? No, I’m not going with Anderson — remember, he was signed to be Matt Leinart’s backup, so how much disappointment can there be? (Careful now …) I think I’d probably go with Duane Starks, who parlayed his spot in that great Ravens defense into the idea he could be a shutdown corner, which he wasn’t, especially on a team that sometimes used Fred Wakefield as the right defensive end (Fred was a great guy but didn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of quarterbacks). Realistically, Emmitt probably provided what everyone expected and so did Edgerrin, especially since he never seemed to fit Whisenhunt’s style (and was clearly at the end, which was proven out after the Cards let him go).

Berry, by far, was the best signing, based on his 2004 season alone. I would have loved to see what sack numbers he would have had if he hadn’t gotten hurt every year after that. UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Some of you want to know how I could ever pick Berry over Warner. The simple fact is that Berry, as a free-agent signee, impacted imemdiately. Warner’s time in Arizona didn’t come across that well until after a change in coaches. That was Warner’s third season as a Card by then. Am I splitting hairs? Maybe. But in the context of this discussion, it’s difficult to argue that, as a free agent coming in, Berry didn’t produce better than Warner.

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Who loves Joey?

Posted by Darren Urban on May 10, 2010 – 4:39 pm

A couple of leftovers from linebacker Clark Haggans, after talking to him about the story about he and Joey Porter I just posted:

Porter obviously delivers a love/hate relationship with many other players and fans. They love having him on their side, they hate him when he’s not. One person always on Porter’s side, though? Haggans’ mom.

“My mom loves him,” Haggans said. “He is one of her favorite people.”

Haggans said his mom used to go to sports bars (because she didn’t have a satellite NFL package) to watch the Steelers when he and Porter were there. “She used to hear a lot of flak (about Porter), ‘He’s mean, it seems like he is a crazy dude,’ ” Haggans said. “She would overhear people and she’d stick up for Joey, saying, ‘He’s not like that. He’s more misunderstood.’ ”

Speaking about the linebacking corps in general, Haggans (pictured below) said it was going to be “fun.”

“We obviously lost Karlos, Bert and Chike. But with G Hayes, myself, Joey … there is still a lot of experience. There is a lot of football 101 between us.” That will hopefully pay off with young linebackers like Cody Brown, Will Davis, Daryl Washington and O’Brien Schofield, but Haggans isn’t dumb, and before I even had a chance to move on, Haggans jumped to a parallel theme, noting, “I’m guessing the next question might be how old we all are, well, I feel fine.”

“I could run for days and everyone else is fine, Haggans added. “I just think it’s like fine wine. We get better with age.”

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About the pass rush

Posted by Darren Urban on February 4, 2010 – 11:30 am

When you talk about the Cards’ pass rush, you can’t get away from the fact the Cards were very successful this season piling up sacks. They finished with 43, sixth in the NFL and easily the most the team has had since moving to Arizona. In fact, it was the third-most in franchise history, behind the 1984 (55) and 1983 (59) defenses.

The Cards had another five sacks in the Wild Card win over Green Bay as well. But that game was a microcosm of the way the pass rush operated. All five sacks — two by Bertrand Berry and one each by Chike Okeafor, Darnell Dockett and Michael Adams — came because Aaron Rodgers couldn’t make the throw on his initial read. Adams’ sack, which led to the fumble that ended overtime, came after Karlos Dansby got his hands in Rodgers’ passing lane, forcing Rodgers to wait. The other four all came after Rodgers was flushed from the pocket. There is a bit of irony that they could be considered “coverage” sacks, given the way the Packers were able to pass on the secondary.

But flashing forward, that’s what the Cards are searching to improve — they’d love to find an edge rusher who can get a sack because he quickly whips his man and the quarterback simply doesn’t have time to react. That’s what Berry was in 2004 when he went to the Pro Bowl, and that’s why the Cards are giving a shot to CFL star Stevie Baggs. The DeMarcus Wares and Elvis Dumervils don’t grow on trees of course, so it isn’t as simple as “just go get one.”

Dockett obviously can get to the QB from inside, and I think Calais Campbell should evolve into a double-digit sack guy. But in the 3-4 alignment, the Cards need speed and youth outside. Will Davis looked decent as a rookie before getting hurt. We’ll see on Cody Brown; he’s going to go through a rookie year all over again after getting injured in the preseason. The Cards think Mark Washington looks the part and could be a find after getting him on their practice squad. Baggs isn’t young (he’s 28) but maybe he has turned the corner in the CFL.

If one of those guys — plus whomever the Cards draft at the spot, and they will take a pass rusher, I’d think — pans out, the Cards’ pass rush could be formidable, given what they already showed they can do.

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Porter and reality

Posted by Darren Urban on February 2, 2010 – 3:43 pm

So Joey Porter wouldn’t mind playing for the Cardinals? Given the Cards’ linebacker circumstances — Bertrand Berry retiring, Chike Okeafor likely not returning, Cody Brown and Will Davis still raw — he certainly sounds attractive. Porter had nine sacks for the Dolphins, and while he is 32, he has history with Ken Whisenhunt from their days in Pittsburgh (as well as fellow former Steeler and Colorado State alum Clark Haggans). He also is good in a 3-4 alignment.

But the Cards are trying to get a little younger on defense and that doesn’t necessarily help. If Karlos Dansby leaves as a free agent, it would free up early draft picks for an inside ‘backer if the Cards could nab a pass rusher on the open market.

First, of course, the Dolphins would have to cut Porter, which is no sure thing (although it seems like, through the radio interview linked to above, the Dolphins will want to rid themselves of him). Then we’d have to see what Porter is looking for contractually — because it’s likely a big payday. Do the Chargers or 49ers — the other teams Porter is eyeing — provide a better landing spot.

Plus, I’m not sure how the final eight berth for the Cards would/could affect this situation, seeing that Porter will be released instead of just being an unrestricted free agent.

That’s a lot of hoops to get through before Joey Porter could ever land in Arizona.

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Breaking down the roster

Posted by Darren Urban on January 21, 2010 – 12:35 pm

Right now, the Cards are knee-deep in offseason meetings, meaning I haven’t had a chance to talk to general manager Rod Graves for a story. That will be coming. In the meantime, I have collected all the contract situations (at least, organizing what year each player is signed through, or their free agent status) in a file you can find right here. It doesn’t cover every single player on the roster but it has everyone I considered a contributor this season or someone who needed to be addressed.

Officially the Cards have 14 unrestricted free agents and 10 restricted (the numbers would have been 17 and 7, but Gabe Watson, Deuce Lutui and Jerheme Urban all are going to be hamstrung by the new rules when the NFL deals with an uncapped offseason). On offense, the Cards seem to be in good shape. Starters Dan Kreider (FB), Anthony Becht (TE), Sean Morey (special teams) and Mike Gandy (T) — along with Jeremy Bridges (G/T) are unrestricted. Bigger questions are on defense, where Karlos Dansby (LB) and Matt Ware (S) could walk away, and the Cards are in transition with veteran UFAs like Bryan Robinson, Chike Okeafor, Bertrand Berry, Ralph Brown and Monty Beisel.

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Warner feeling good on Friday

Posted by Darren Urban on November 27, 2009 – 12:57 pm

Quarterback Kurt Warner said his sore neck loosened up this morning and he felt more comfortable today than all week, and “all indications are that direction” that he will play Sunday. Warner remained cautious, saying he didn’t want to give anyone a “false sense” he was OK, but he obviously is optimistic.

LB Chike Okeafor also should play, but in both cases, coach Ken Whisenhunt said you could never know with a long plane ride how it would affect either player. Both guys — along with CB Bryant McFadden (knee), DE Kenny Iwebema (thumb) and K Neil Rackers (groin) are listed as questionable, but I’d expect all to be available.

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Warner practices; Davis out 4-to-6 weeks

Posted by Darren Urban on November 25, 2009 – 1:44 pm

The good news was that QB Kurt Warner practiced today, although he’s still doing the day-by-day thing. Warner took all his normal reps and I’d still expect him to play barring setbacks. The same can’t be said for up-and-coming LB Will Davis, whose troublesome knee turned out to have a torn meniscus. Davis already had surgery but is out 4-to-6 weeks (hello Monty Beisel!).

Warner passed all his tests Tuesday, for those wondering.

CB Bryant McFadden (knee) was back in a limited capacity, but he should be OK I believe. LB Chike Okeafor was also back at practice.

I’ll have more in a notebook posted on the home page ASAP.

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Beisel comes back, Byrd cut

Posted by Darren Urban on November 24, 2009 – 1:59 pm

Searching for depth at linebacker – especially after Gerald Hayes and Chike Okeafor missing games with back problems and having the inexperienced Reggie Walker and Ali Highsmith on the roster – the Cardinals brought back veteran Monty Beisel today. The Cards wanted Beisel when his contract expired after last season , but Beisel instead followed Todd Haley to Kansas City. Then Beisel was cut after just three games and has been searching for a job since. He had been in contact with the Cardinals in an attempt to come back since then.

To make room on the roster, the Cards decided they couldn’t hang on to four tight ends any longer. They released Dominique Byrd, who had yet to appear active in a regular-season game this season. With Anthony Becht and Ben Patrick taking hold of the two tight end spots on game day and Stephen Spach a more accomplished blocker than Byrd, Byrd was the odd man out.

The Cardinals also brought back a couple of familiar faces to the practice squad: linebacker Pago Togafau and defensive end Jason Banks. Both Banks and Togafau were injured during training camp and eventually received injury settlements. They take the place of FB Jed Collins and DT Antoine Holmes, who were released from the practice squad.

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Whiz talks Warner

Posted by Darren Urban on November 23, 2009 – 11:32 am

Coach Ken Whisenhunt had his day-after press conference and, as you’d expect, much of the talk was about QB Kurt Warner. Not that there was anything new — Warner had a long talk with Whisenhunt on the plane flight home discussing strategy and Tennessee (Warner was even watching Titans video already) — and it certainly seems like it’ll be an upset if Warner isn’t able to play this coming week. He’ll have a baseline test (probably tomorrow) to test his head — again, at this point, he has “concussion-like symptoms” and has not officially been diagnosed with a concussion — and go from there.

— The other significant injury was the right knee bruise of CB Bryant McFadden, and as usual, Whisenhunt didn’t have anything new on that front. The injury isn’t feared to be serious, so from there, I guess we have to wait until Wednesday to see if McFadden can go. Even if he does end up playing this week, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him miss some practice time. But that’s just a guess.

— Whiz said LB Chike Okeafor (back) should return to practice. He didn’t make the trip to St. Louis because they didn’t want him sitting on a plane for three hours.

— Finally, Whisenhunt again was talking a lot about backup QB Matt Leinart. One key point: “There were a lot of things we didn’t allow him to do,” Whisenhunt said, noting the Cards preferred to stay “close to the vest” and avoid big losses or turnovers as the Rams dialed up heavier pressure.

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