An early look at the free-agents-to-be

Posted by Darren Urban on November 5, 2015 – 11:31 am

With the season halfway over and talk here and there about possible contract extensions, it felt like a good time to note who is scheduled to have their contract run out after the season ends. We’ve talked for a while about the secondary decisions that are coming, but in terms of players that are making an impact, it’s a lengthy list. This is only the players set to be free agents; There have been some of you wondering if, for instance, Tyrann Mathieu could get an extension. He is under contract through 2016, so I don’t expect anything soon. The Cardinals, according to the NFLPA, have about $5.3 million of cap space right now.

UNRESTRICTED-TO-BE

CB Justin Bethel
LB Dwight Freeney
TE Jermaine Gresham
RB Chris Johnson
S Rashad Johnson
G Ted Larsen
LS Mike Leach
T Bobby Massie
CB Jerraud Powers
C Lyle Sendlein
T Bradley Sowell
QB Drew Stanton
LB Sean Weatherspoon
LB LaMarr Woodley

RESTRICTED-TO-BE
WR Jaron Brown
P Drew Butler
LB Kenny Demens
S Tony Jefferson

(Tight ends Darren Fells and Ifeanyi Momah and defensive tackle Josh Mauro are all exclusive rights free agents, meaning they can be tendered and not go anywhere.)

Again, a long list. The restricted free agents, if you want to prevent them from hitting the market unfettered, can be tendered with one of three designations: A first-round tender (a one-year contract of about $3.3M), a second-round tender (about $2.3M) or the original draft spot ($1.5M). That means, if tendered, if another team signs them away, that team owes the Cardinals the tendered pick. Given that all those guys were undrafted, the Cards would get nothing for the low tender. It makes for hard decisions on a Tony Jefferson, and even to Jaron Brown.

As for the unrestricted guys …

It seems likely that the older one-year guys — Chris Johnson, Gresham, Freeney — would want to see what they might get on the open market. The secondary is the most intriguing area. It wouldn’t be a surprise that some team might want to swoop in and Greg Toler-contract a guy like Bethel, especially if they’d want him to start right away at CB. The Cardinals like Powers. They like Rashad Johnson too, but with all the safeties around, what will be the offer? What does the future hold (or rather, where is the future) for Deone Bucannon? Is he a linebacker or safety? That’ll come into play.

Freeagentgresham


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Tight end takes another injury hit

Posted by Darren Urban on September 9, 2015 – 2:31 pm

Darren Fells chuckled. I mean, what else can you do? It’s not funny with all the injuries the team’s tight end room has absorbed — the latest being a knee problem for Ifeanyi Momah, after he got hurt in Tuesday’s practice — but it’s better than crying. Or punching a wall in frustration. Fells is the one healthy tight end, although Jermaine Gresham (hamstring) did finally practice full on Wednesday and Troy Niklas (hamstring) was able to go limited.

UPDATE: Momah will reportedly have to undergo surgery for a torn meniscus. I would guess Bruce Arians will give the official diagnosis Thursday.

“I don’t know what to say anymore,” Fells said, shaking his head.

(Wide receiver Michael Floyd also returned to practice on a limited basis, even diving to catch one pass.)

Fells laughed again when told that Bruce Arians said he wasn’t worried about his tight ends because at least “we’ve still got one.” That’s Fells, who has maintained his post atop the depth chart, the place he’s been since the summer when the tight ends began their roller coaster journey on the surprise retirement of John Carlson.

“That’s all you can do is laugh about it because … I mean, it’s a bad thing, but all you can do is, like B.A. always says, have next man up,” Fells said. Fells admitted, with all the two-tight end and three-tight end sets the Cards like to use, the lack of bodies makes things hard.

At least Fells is there, though, knocking on the wood of his locker.

DarrenFellsUSE


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Raiders aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 30, 2015 – 11:19 pm

There was a lot of talk about needing to watch the video before anyone could say for sure what the biggest problems were for the starting offense Sunday night in Oakland. Bruce Arians insisted there were no pass protection problems, although for whatever reason – whether it was line breakdowns or running backs not helping enough or Carson Palmer holding the ball too long in certain circumstances – it can’t be denied that Palmer was pressured more than anyone would like.

But again, there wasn’t any panic after. There weren’t any major injuries, so in the end, that probably qualifies any preseason game a success. It is true that the starting offense won’t really get a chance to work in a game before the opener. If that side of the ball is worried, nobody showed it afterward in the locker room.

On the flip side, I thought the starting defense held up well. They were put in some tough positions by the offensive struggles, but I thought they were solid, save for that one third-and-16 conversion they allowed.

— Palmer, who had his right knee wrapped with ice in the locker room after the game, took some hits. But it was his own journey outside the pocket that made everyone gasp a bit. It was third-and-9 and Palmer took off up the middle of the field – diving headfirst to make sure he picked up 10 yards and a first down.

“Larry (Fitzgerald) was screaming at me to get down,” Palmer said. “There is no hesitation. You want to get the first down, you want to stay on the field and keep playing. I probably shouldn’t have done it, but it worked out and I got away with it so I got lucky.”

— The second unit offensive line – from right tackle to left tackle, Earl Watford, Anthony Steen, Lyle Sendlein, Jon Halapio and D.J. Humphries – acquitted itself well, I thought. After the way Palmer was harassed, Drew Stanton had some time against the Raiders’ starting defense during his 12-play, 80-yard TD drive.

— Watford, in particular, played well against Khalil Mack. Watford quietly has been pretty solid, and that’s playing through a bad ankle.

— Defensively, Calais Campbell and Alex Okafor were stout against the run, and Kevin Minter made some good plays. Jerraud Powers showed up in coverage.

— I don’t know if Cariel Brooks makes the 53-man roster but making a play like the 81-yard touchdown return tends to help. I think he’s the leader in the clubhouse if the team’s fourth cornerback is already on the roster – I just don’t know if he’s already on the roster.

— Arians said a couple of times that Phillip Sims would come in first in this game because he wanted Logan Thomas to potentially get a two-minute drill. He couldn’t have come up with a better scenario – tie game, 2:18 left on the clock. Thomas came up big, especially after taking a huge hit on his knee at the outset of the drive.

— Speaking of huge hits, tight end Ifeanyi Momah took a big hit too on his catch-and-rumble to set up that game-winning score. It looked worse than it was, Momah said.

“I’m good,” Momah said. “We ran the play a couple times today. The safety kind of cheated over and the middle of the field was wide open and Logan made a good read. I was expecting the safety. I tried to stick my shoulder into him. It was a big hit but I initiated it too. It wasn’t too much of a blindside.”

— Interesting that tight end Jermaine Gresham, who was expected to play, did not. It did not come up when Arians spoke afterward. Chris Johnson said he thinks he’ll play Thursday after skipping Sunday – he could run full speed straight ahead but was having trouble cutting in pre-game warmups.

— It’s a short turnaround. We’re on this plane flying back to Phoenix now, and the Cardinals have practice Monday afternoon to prepare for Thursday’s preseason finale.

RaidersBLOGuse


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Chargers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 23, 2015 – 12:11 am

Let’s be real — Bruce Arians would have liked to get a preseason win Saturday night, but he couldn’t have wanted extra football in the form of overtime. Injuries happen that late with tired bodies, and there is no upside of a fifth quarter this time of year. It shouldn’t have come to that anyway, of course, if Marion Grice doesn’t drop a wide open pass on the Cardinals’ previous drive, or if Phillip Sims doesn’t overthrow 6-foot-7 tight end Ifeanyi Momah soon after. Or if Logan Thomas and Momah don’t get crossed up on a pass where Momah was wide open in the third quarter, failing to connect on a pass that seemed like it could have been a touchdown.

In the preseason, these things get forgotten, however. In the regular season, Thomas or Sims would (hopefully) never throw a pass. So, with a nod to the football gods for letting us get out of this one in regulation time, my thoughts:

— Carson Palmer said he wanted to take a couple of hits. Not sure he wanted to be buried on two sacks and get whacked another time. But he didn’t break and that pass to J.J. Nelson was a thing of beauty. So was that touchdown dart to John Brown.

— If David Johnson really can perform like that in the backfield, and Andre Ellington — who had a very nice 11-yard run himself — stays healthy, the Cardinals are going to be fine running the ball.

— Chris Johnson out a week or two with a hamstring pull. He might not get any preseason carries now. You wonder where it might put him after David Johnson’s performance.

— It’s always good to be a young player on the bubble to be named by name by the head coach as playing well. So linebacker Alani Fua, cornerback Cariel Brooks and defensive end Josh Mauro, that’s a good thing.

— Arians also praised Sims, as he should. Sims did miss Momah late, but Sims looked incredibly cool in the pocket and patient. Arians said there is no leader at third quarterback between Sims and Logan Thomas, but Sims is making his push.

— After all the Rodney Gunter talk, it was Matt Shaughnessy out there in the starting lineup with Frostee Rucker and Calais Campbell. Gunter did play with the starting unit, however.

— The Cardinals are off tomorrow, and practice Monday before taking Tuesday off. They play next Sunday in Oakland.

— Arians screamed at the officials much of the game but at no time was it more noticed that late when he (and Patrick Peterson) kept yelling for some flag on Chargers’ defensive backs guarding Jaxon Shipley. That Cardinals cornerback C.J. Roberts was flagged for holding on what turned out to be the game’s deciding play on a pass that wouldn’t have been completed stuck in Arians’ craw too.

“Don’t ask me about officials. Please,” Arians said, after he was asked about the officials. “That’s why I’m hoarse. We need to relearn the rules they changed two years ago. This crew might need eight preseason games to get ready.”

That’s a good way to end it. G’night all.

BAchargerafter

 


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Friday before the Chargers

Posted by Darren Urban on August 21, 2015 – 10:53 am

Is it me, or does it always seem to be this way about this time, where everyone is just so ready to have football games that count and instead there is still so much time left on the preseason schedule. The Cardinals still have a week left at University of Phoenix Stadium for training camp, three preseason games and another nine days before they even have to have first roster cuts. Yet so much has happened — including the harsh news that Corey Peters is out for the season, which covered up the less-harsh-but-still-harsh Mike Iupati injury news — it just feels like it’s time for the regular season.

But it’s not.

— The Cardinals will play their starters about a quarter against the Chargers, and let’s be real, everyone will cross their fingers on Carson Palmer’s uprightness on every play. The first offense looked so good in the first game. Let’s see how game two goes, with Ted Larsen in the mix at left guard. Another part to watch there is Earl Watford and how much time he’s given at left guard after playing right guard all camp. Can he make inroads to possibly get on the field? It’s year three for Watford. Eventually, he’s going to run out of time to show he belongs in the starting lineup, and Iupati’s injury opens a door.

— I am interested to see Andre Ellington’s work a week later. He looked very promising in the first game. We are supposed to see Chris Johnson, but after he came off the field Thursday with a leg wrap, it’s possible his preseason debut will be delayed.

— Peters, by the way, was officially placed on injured reserve Friday. The Cardinals have two open roster spots.

— We definitely are going to see David Johnson for a good portion of two quarters in his debut. I know he can catch, and I think he’ll be fine there in the games. What I want to see is how he does running the ball.

— Jermaine Gresham ended up not playing last week. Does he make his debut? Bruce Arians didn’t say Gresham wasn’t going to play last week either, so that’s a wait-and-see. Seeing more game time for Troy Niklas, and the continued development of Ifeanyi Momah at tight end are other things I’d to which I’ll pay attention.

— If it turns out that rookie Rodney Gunter can do the job as a starting nose tackle, that will make his tremendous story all the better. (And quite the opposite of first-round tackle D.J. Humphries, although I thought Humphries did OK in the first preseason game, even though Arians clearly wants to see more in practice.) But I also agree with the vets like Calais Campbell who note that the Peters’ injury will be filled by committee. The plan all along was to have all these defensive linemen so there would be a steady rotation. That hasn’t changed.

— I don’t think the Cards will look for a free agent defensive lineman or free agent offensive lineman — at least not at this point — because of the injuries. I do think they will continue to scour carefully what’s out there, both in free agency and once teams start making cuts, to add another cornerback. This is a big game for any cornerback not named Peterson, Powers or Bethel.

— With a game on “Sunday Night Football” next week in Oakland, there is a funky start to the final week of camp. The Cards are off Sunday, practice Monday but then are off again Tuesday. They finish Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, but the Friday schedule has been adjusted to the morning (Check our camp page for details.)

BeforeChargers


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Keim: Johnson update and Chiefs review

Posted by Darren Urban on August 17, 2015 – 8:14 am

Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim, during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf Show” on Arizona Sports 98.7, acknowledged he has had discussions with the agent for running back Chris Johnson. But as of Monday morning, “there is nothing on the horizon,” Keim said. Johnson was expected to work out for the team. As I’ve said a few times, we’ll see what pans out.

As for Keim’s view of the game:

— He praised a handful of young players for their initial performances: Defensive end Rodney Gunter and linebacker Markus Golden (although he wants to see Golden finish more often), and from the non-rookie side, cornerback Justin Bethel and linebacker Kevin Minter. The latter two are in big years in terms of earning regular position spots on defense.

— As for the first units on both sides of the ball, “I don’t think you could have scripted a better start,” Keim said.

— On Logan Thomas, Keim said he liked the quarterback’s pocket presence. “There are times when he makes some really ‘Wow’ throws,” Keim said. “The question is consistency and I think he played a consistent game.” Keim did note that Thomas completed 11-of-12 passes in the preseason opener last year, so again, it’s about consistency going forward.

— Not surprisingly, he thought tight end Ifeanyi Momah competed and looks like a nice option as receiver, but needs to get better as a blocker in terms of technique since he won’t have the bulk or body type to ever maul as a blocker.

— Keim was happy with the “excellent” play of the starting offensive line and also thought the backup offensive line did a good job. It should, really, since it’s populated with three one-time starters (Sowell, Larsen, Sendlein) and a first-round pick (D.J. Humphries). Keim said Humphries had some technical issues in his first game but showed the physical play and the athleticism the Cards liked when he was drafted.

— Going forward, Keim said there are still many questions open, such as fourth and fifth cornerback, the back end of the wide receiver depth chart, core special teamers. The Cards did come out of the game “relatively healthy,” Keim said.

— As for wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald getting munched by pulling guard Mike Iupati on the Cards’ touchdown run — Fitz was blocking a Chiefs’ defensive back when Iupati came in to clean up and looked like he got mostly Fitz — Keim was blunt. “We all know Larry is a tough guy. He’ll stick his face in the fire.”


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Friday before the Chiefs

Posted by Darren Urban on August 14, 2015 – 11:19 am

The training camp of Palmer, Mathieu and hamstrings takes a brief break so the Cardinals can open the preseason Saturday night against the Chiefs. It figures to be what should always be expected in the first preseason game of the season — some good play, but also some stumbling out of the blocks. Vanilla offense and defense. A big game for those playing especially in the second half, because those are the guys fighting to stay on the roster. And as always, fingers crossed no one gets hurt.

Carson Palmer will get to make an appearance and that’s amazing, given that he tore his ACL last November. But as we’ve said multiple times, Palmer has been excellent in camp and now, it’s about the reality of exposing him to another team. He has to get ready for the regular season, even if Bruce Arians acknowledged he’d rather put him in bubble wrap for now.

Some other things to watch Saturday:

— It’s about time for Logan Thomas. He will get a lot of playing time. This is where he has to make a push to convince the Cardinals he will fit. His performance in the preseason opener last year was what first caught everyone’s eye. We’ll see if he can repeat that, and push aside a lot of the questions that surround him these days.

— Arians said there were a ton of players he wants to see, and it’s hard to disagree. Among what I’ll be watching: Jonathan Cooper as starting right guard. Tackle D.J. Humphries. Outside linebackers Markus Golden and LaMarr Woodley. Summer sensation tight end Ifeanyi Momah. Wide receiver J.J. Nelson. Undrafted rookie cornerback Cariel Brooks. All those undrafted inside linebackers, including Gabe Martin (pictured below).

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher moves from the press box to the sideline. He’s been calling plays in practice, but now we get a chance to see what it’s like in a game.

— It’s a great story from the Chiefs side that safety Eric Berry — who was battling cancer last year — will be back on the field and playing.

— Watch the defensive linemen. With all those guys, someone is going to be out by the end of the preseason, either through trade or being cut. That’ll make for an intense competition.

OK. Football is back.

FridayChiefs


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Keim’s first-week analysis of #CardsCamp

Posted by Darren Urban on August 10, 2015 – 8:16 am

Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim reiterated today that there could be a trade or two for the Cardinals as the regular season approaches and the team tries to figure out what they do with a couple positions of depth — in particular, the quality group of defensive linemen the team has compiled. He also said, during the first of his weekly appearances on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, that a trade usually comes down to a focus on positions of need rather than the best player available.

As for the Cards’ own positions of need right now, Keim named three spots, all of which have been impacted by early injuries: Running back, inside linebacker and offensive tackle. Running back and tackle, Keim said, are OK when the Cards are healthy and he added Andre Ellington should return to practice this week. (The Cards are also missing David Johnson and Marion Grice, while young tackles D.J. Humphries and Rob Crisp are also out.)

One position Keim is bullish on is tight end. He praised Ifeanyi Momah a ton, which just falls in line with what has been easy to see on the field. Momah has been OK blocking — he’s definitely missed a couple during 11-on-11, but he will be a receiver-first tight end, and he does that well — while Keim also is happy with Darren Fells and is excited about Jermaine Gresham. Now, if Troy Niklas can get back and going …

— Keim, like Bruce Arians, wouldn’t put a timeline on Michael Floyd’s return, but he noted how focused Floyd was before he got hurt and reiterated what a big season this is for Floyd and his future in Arizona.

— The defensive line is deep and talented. Rookie Rodney Gunter is flashing what the Cards had hoped, and there is a belief Gunter can work at nose tackle as well as defensive end. Keim also said Corey Peters is having a good camp.

 

— Keim believes guard Jonathan Cooper has lost the “hitch” he developed after breaking his leg and looks like he did when he was trending up in his rookie training camp. He also praised the camp of inside linebacker Kevin Minter and outside linebacker Alex Okafor.

 


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Injuries don’t make Arians flinch

Posted by Darren Urban on August 5, 2015 – 1:22 pm

The Cardinals still have 75 or so players able to practice today, so with 13 players now sitting out, Bruce Arians isn’t worried about making practice go. He’s also not worried about any of the current guys being out long-term, saying that a “couple” of the injuries could stretch to two weeks but most he’d suspect are week-long issues. Now, it’s hard to tell with a hamstring, and the Cardinals now have six of those guys, including running back Marion Grice, who joins Andre Ellington and David Johnson at that position with hamstring issues. But again, no panic from the coach.

There was good news on tackle D.J. Humphries, who hyperextended his knee apparently after tripping on the turf of the lower field. He could be out up to a week, Arians said, but it might only be a couple of days. The offensive line lost three players yesterday, with tackle Rob Crisp (knee) and Earl Watford (ankle) also going down.

If you are counting, that’s six of the players. Linebacker is down four, with Zack Wagenmann (foot) joining Shaq Riddick (hammie), Sean Weatherspoon (hammie) and Daryl Sharpton (hip flexor) on the sideline. Three tight ends in Troy Niklas (hammie), Jermaine Gresham (back) and Ted Bolser (knee). That makes 13.

But as Arians said, “one man’s injury is another man’s opportunity.” Three tight ends out means an opening for Ifeanyi Momah, who has looked excellent catching the ball since he signed and now has showed he should be able to block a little bit.

“He was one hell of a player in FIFA,” Arians said, with his reference to the “soccer” playing the Cards do in the offseason. “He was an all-star FIFA player. Now he’s a pretty good football player.”


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In the short term, tight end still a concern

Posted by Darren Urban on July 30, 2015 – 11:13 am

Heading into camp, the Cardinals will ease Jermaine Gresham back into football. He’s coming off back surgery and hasn’t done anything football-related this summer, and so slow going makes sense. Gresham can come off the PUP list at any point, and like Tyrann Mathieu last year, I’d expect Gresham to be on the roster by early September. Hopefully, a return to the field will be even quicker for Troy Niklas, who ended up on the active non-football-injury list yesterday at the same time the Gresham news was announced. Niklas has a bad hamstring, I would assume hurt while working out in prep for camp.

But that’s two tight ends the Cardinals don’t have for the outset of training camp, and the one open roster spot the team currently has may end up being spent on another tight end just to keep the numbers up — depending on what the timetable might be for Niklas and/or Gresham. It’s another setback for Niklas too, who had his rookie season shredded with injuries — from a broken finger to a bad ankle that needed surgery.

Even without the latest hamstring issue, Niklas acknowledged his ankle isn’t quite 100 percent, noting that his doctor told him it’ll probably be into the season before he builds up all his strength and flexibility.

“I’m not going to make that an excuse,” Niklas said before his hamstring injury. “(The ankle) has healed to a point where I can do mostly everything I want to do.”

As it stands, the Cardinals still have five tight ends ready for camp’s first practice Saturday: Darren Fells, Ifeanyi Momah, Ted Bolser, Gerald Christian and Gannon Sinclair.

GresTEs


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