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A day off, camp observations and tidbits

Posted by Darren Urban on July 31, 2014 – 2:59 pm

The Cardinals got a day off today from practice before doing two more workouts Friday and Saturday, which is the Fan Fest workout. After slamming into each other for three straight days, it’s good to get a reprieve. And to think, with practice just across town at University of Phoenix Stadium, it’s easy to pop home for the day. I know I appreciate it.

“It’s a little bit of everything,” running back Jonathan Dwyer said. “Get your mind away from football for a day. Guys who have family can spend time with their young ones, like myself. Just rest our bodies and come back to work the next day.”

— Speaking of Fan Fest, click here for all the details of the practice.

— What stood out through the first five days of practice? WR John Brown, obviously. Confidence in CB Justin Bethel’s progress. Thinking that TE John Carlson, if he can stay off the injury report, could have a very nice year catching the ball. Kareem Martin is going to have a key role on the defensive line, I think. Michael Floyd is destined to improve on his season a year ago.

— I’m off to Canton tomorrow to cover the induction of cornerback Aeneas Williams into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday. I’ll still have stuff on the blog from both Canton and training camp, and my cohort Kyle Odegard will be the boots on the ground at University of Phoenix Stadium. He did a nice piece on Bobby Massie today. Speaking of Aeneas, I hope you’ve been checking out all the content on the special Aeneas Williams page (azcardinals.com/aeneas). I’ll have a big story on Williams posted tomorrow first thing.


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Splitting right side reps and OTA notes

Posted by Darren Urban on May 27, 2014 – 1:27 pm

Last week, Bobby Massie (at right tackle) and Earl Watford (right guard) started getting some work with the first unit. It wasn’t that surprising, given how open the job is right now. Bruce Arians clarified it a little more after Tuesday’s OTA, which again featured Massie and Watford with the first unit. By the time the Cards go through six OTAs, Arians said, Massie-Watford and Bradley Sowell-Paul Fanaika will each get three with the first unit. The reps will continue to be divvied up, and let’s face it, nothing can be determined now because offensive linemen aren’t even blocking now. There’s no way to prove yourself in the time of year when, as Arians likes to say, the Cardinals are just playing soccer. The true depth chart/starting jobs won’t be figured out until training camp and the preseason.

(Although, for instance, Massie must sidestep too many mental errors right now, the bugaboo that Arians and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin like to bring up.)

— Tuesday’s workout was moved an hour earlier with the heat. No bubble will be used when there are this many players. You can only have so many guys inside. Besides, Arians said, “we need the heat to get in shape.” They’ll get in shape, that’s for sure. With some missing players and the fact Arians uses two fields, all the main guys were taking a ton of reps Tuesday. If you were looking to see, for instance, Larry Fitzgerald vs. Antonio Cromartie, there were plenty of opportunities.

— The rookies are a little banged up after minicamp. First-round pick Deone Bucannon has a minor turf toe, Arians said. WR Walt Powell also had to sit out.

— The early thoughts on Andre Ellington from Arians? Hopefully 25 to 30 touches a game, which is a ton and basically unheard of these days for a running back. A lot of that will have to do with Ellington’s receptions (Arians has made no secret he wants to use Ellington a bunch as a receiver). There’s no question Ellington is the No. 1 back. How that translates to the stat sheet, we will see.

— Arians did say the Cardinals will use more two-back packages than last season, and that’s not the time when a tight end moves back there. There will be no true fullback on the roster, but both Jonathan Dwyer and Robert Hughes are beefy enough to be in there, I’d think.

— As the team waits on word about Daryl Washington’s status, Arians said he would like to add a veteran inside linebacker if the right guy came available. That’s not a big surprise.

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Offseason program officially begins

Posted by Darren Urban on April 20, 2014 – 5:44 pm

The new collective bargaining agreement from 2011 changed and redirected several elements of NFL teams’ offseason programs, one of which being fewer days for the team to officially work together. The Cardinals have had a handful of players use the team facility to work out the last few weeks, but they couldn’t interact with coaches and they couldn’t get the official workout program of new strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris.

That changes Monday, when the Cardinals are allowed to begin their workout program (along with the rest of the league, save for the teams with new head coaches who could begin April 7.) It bears repeating — and emphasizing, the NFL Players Association would certainly say — that this is only voluntary work. In fact, the only mandatory work of the entire offseason is the minicamp June 10-12, which includes Fan Fest at University of Phoenix Stadium June 10. The rest can be skipped if a player so chooses — although after covering this for 15 years, it’s not a surprise to see most players take part in most if not all of the voluntary work, especially when organized team activities start.

Certainly, a glance at Twitter Sunday saw more than a few Cardinals making note of their trek back to Arizona, undoubtedly for the introduction to Buddy classes that will take place Monday:

Not everyone will be there Monday, nor should they be expected to be. But there were quite a few guys trickling in last week already, and I’d think there will be a big group Monday. We’ll have more on azcardinals.com tomorrow.

— While the players are getting started, the front office and coaches continue to head toward the draft. The bulk of the draft meetings were completed last week as everyone discussed, broke down and haggled about the dozens of pro prospects. Speaking of that, don’t forget the Cardinals Spring Tailgate event is coming Thursday. Click here for more details, but part of the celebration (which helps kick off the Big Red Rib and Music Festival out on the Great Lawn) is a one-hour televised special featuring GM Steve Keim, VP Michael Bidwill and coach Bruce Arians, as well as Tyrann Mathieu and Jared Veldheer. Tweet a question for anyone on the panel — using the hashtag #CardsTailgate — and if the question is used, you will win an autographed mini-helmet.


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Edge and the falling value of running backs

Posted by Darren Urban on April 17, 2014 – 11:01 am

It was a rainy Saturday in March 2006 when Edgerrin James visited the Cardinals for the first time. Kurt Warner was gamely trying to hold his annual flag football tournament on the practice fields, and the Cards were in the process of locking up a star running back. The price, in the end, was four years and $30 million. James didn’t collect all of it, but he still got plenty. The Colts felt James was on the downside, not worth the cash, and in the end, they were proven right that they didn’t need him — winning the Super Bowl in 2006 with young Joseph Addai and the serviceable yet forgettable Dominic Rhodes at running back.

The overall trend to run through running backs when they were cheaper and then move on hadn’t enveloped the NFL completely. But that’s about when the Cards’ thought process turned. From there, Tim Hightower was a fifth-round pick who essentially replaced Edge in 2008. Beanie Wells was added in the first round for 2009. Ryan Williams was drafted in 2011. Then came Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor last season. The Cardinals have not spent anything close to significant money on a free agent running back since Edge. They have yet to have a running back drafted play past his rookie contract. The reality of the NFL is that the position has not only be devalued, the bottom dropped out of the market faster than Arizona home sales circa 2009.

Only Williams is scheduled to make at least $1 million this season, and whether he remains on the 53-man roster for 2014 is very much up in the air. Ellington (who only will make $495,000) is the starter, and whether Taylor ($495,000) or Jonathan Dwyer ($795,000) is the other back, there is little (relative) investment. You see the same across the league, with the money being paid to free agent running backs, with the way running backs are sliding down the draft every year. The way things have gone, that No. 3 overall pick spent on Trent Richardson might be the last time a top 10 pick is spent on a back ever.

Of course, “ever” is a long time. Sometimes, a back is special and deserves the big money. Adrian Peterson comes to mind (and no, we won’t go into how he ties into the Cardinals and the Edge signing right now.) But these days, it doesn’t look like many Petersons will emerge. Not the way colleges are using running backs themselves, and not the way the NFL is handling them once they get to the pros.

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Where Cards, Keim go from here

Posted by Darren Urban on March 21, 2014 – 11:54 am

Antonio Cromartie was asked about moving into the NFC West. “Oh, I love it,” he said. “The competition is here.” Obviously, the division sets a high bar for the Cardinals this offseason. But General Manager Steve Keim isn’t going to get giddy about free agency improvements.

“I don’t want to step out on a limb and say that we’re there yet,” Keim said. “As a perfectionist, I think we all look at things and would like to be a little deeper in certain positions.”

To recap, the Cardinals have added a starting cornerback (Cromartie), a starting left tackle (Jared Veldheer), a probable starting tight end (John Carlson), a speed third receiver and return man (Ted Ginn), a potential replacement for Rashard Mendenhall (Jonathan Dwyer) and an interior offensive lineman who has been a starter (Ted Larsen.)

Cap space is shrinking. After Cromartie’s deal is worked in, the Cards should have only about $4 million of space left. There is more coming after June 1 when the Colledge release is figured in (and I was wrong on how that is considered. I knew the cap hit had to be carried through the actual June 1 date; I didn’t realize Colledge’s entire original cap hit for 2014 stays on the books until then. So that’s more than $7 million, although it means the Cards will clear about $5M in cap space come June — before they’ll sign any rookies.)

But there will be more moves of some sort. Now, roster building will be about bargains now for Keim. There are still spots that he’d like to address, whether there or in the draft:

— depth at defensive end
— depth at outside linebacker
— “length” at both positions
— safety
— depth at inside linebacker

Depth at inside linebacker is the call because the Cards are counting on, not surprisingly, 2013 second-round pick Kevin Minter. “We’ll find out what Kevin Minter is made of,” Keim said. “Kevin is a guy that we drafted in the second round and is going to replace Karlos Dansby. He is in the audition stage. He’s got to prove that he is the guy that we thought he was coming out of college at LSU.”

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Jenkins visit and the shrinking roster of March

Posted by Darren Urban on March 18, 2014 – 10:07 am

Running back Alfonso Smith — who had been a restricted free agent to whom the Cards did not tender an offer — tweeted out this morning the Cardinals had told him they would not be bringing him back. It’s the other side of the fluctuating roster of March.

The long anticipated visit of free agent cornerback Mike Jenkins is happening (Kent Somers noted the visit, and Mike Jurecki was the first to report interest in Jenkins before free agency even started). Nothing new has come about with free agent cornerback Antonio Cromartie, and as we all know, GM Steve Keim usually puts an offer out there and if it is rejected, he is prepared to move on to the next option. Cromartie obviously hasn’t been amendable to the deal the Cards offered, so Jenkins is now up. He’s not Cromartie, but he’d provide depth.

Meanwhile, I’d guess Smith isn’t the only ex-Card to be told he’s definitely an ex-Card. Every year at this time there are a handful of players from the previous year’s team that have a chance to return until they don’t. As needs and circumstances change, so do the possibility they could come back. The Jonathan Dwyer signing probably ended any possibility of a Smith return. That’s why some unsigned players remain on the roster, at least for now, and sooner rather than later, that will change.

In the meantime, free agency is an ongoing process. As of this morning, the NFLPA lists the Cardinals with $5.13 million (UPDATE: NFLPA now has the Cards with $8.1 million and one less contract, so I am guessing they mistakenly added in a non-Cardinal, like the other day) in cap space for their top 51 of the offseason. That should include everyone’s contracts that have signed as of now, including cornerback Bryan McCann yesterday. That’s not a ton of room. But there are some points to make when it comes to that.

— The Cardinals do need space to sign the rookie class. But remember, half the draft class — which for the Cards need about $4.2M total cap space to sign — won’t count on the cap until the regular season, because the players who aren’t in the top two or three rounds won’t have a first-year cap hit big enough to qualify for the top 51. The Cards will likely need about half that.

— And that rookie cap money will come available June 1 anyway when half of the released Daryn Colledge’s cap number comes off the books as a June 1 cut.

— Any player can usually be fit under the cap, for those worried about signing more free agents. It’s all about how you structure the deal. So yes, the shrinking cap doesn’t mean Cromartie isn’t coming here. It doesn’t mean he is, either, but the point is, a team can make a lot of things work if they want to enough.


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Cards sign three more, plus Shaughnessy

Posted by Darren Urban on March 12, 2014 – 6:35 pm

Here’s how the news trickled out during the day Wednesday as the Cardinals tried to make sure they still had a beefy linebacker to play the role that Matt Shaughnessy did last year. First was the national report that the Cards were still very interested in free agent DE/LB Mike Neal of the Packers, who is built similarly to Shaughnessy. Then came the news Shaughnessy was visiting the Patriots today. Then Neal tweeted out he was staying with the Packers — which could have ended up being bad news for the Cardinals, until Kent Somers broke the news Wednesday afternoon that Shaughnessy will be re-signing with the Cardinals too, also for two years.

It’s very important for the Cards. Shaughnessy worked under the radar (he’s not much of a talker, so you won’t see him a lot in interviews) but he was solid in Todd Bowles defense last season, especially against the run. It’s a big deal they were able to keep him. Nothing is officially announced yet, but it’s coming.

— The Cardinals brought in two more free agents Wednesday night, signing running back Jonathan Dwyer to a one-year contract and guard/center Ted Larsen to a two-year contract. Both are expected to be depth signings. The Cards also re-signed outside linebacker Marcus Benard to a one-year deal.

Arians promised more offensive linemen were coming “shortly.” Here’s one. Larsen started in two of his four seasons in Tampa and the Cards have long been searching for a solid backup center. If he can swing on all the interior line spots, and Bradley Sowell could be the backup right and left tackle, the Cards could be in good shape there. Dwyer (pictured below) comes from Pittsburgh, where he spent two seasons with Bruce Arians. The Cards needed a back with the departure of Rashard Mendenhall. Andre Ellington will start. Dwyer can battle Stepfan Taylor for No. 2.

— The Cardinals were supposed to get a Friday free-agent visit from Steelers defensive lineman Al Woods, who could have provided depth. But he never made it past his Tennessee visit Wednesday, and agreed to a deal with the Titans.

— Ex-Card Karlos Dansby was on the Burns and Gambo Show on Arizona Sports 98.7 Wednesday. He said he was “definitely surprised” and “I didn’t expect” at how large contract was that the Browns offered. He said the reports of a two-year, $10M to $12M offer from the Cards was incorrect (he did not clarify what it was) but he said he was not disrespected by whatever it was the Cards offered.

— Speaking of Dansby, Arians wasn’t fazed by his leaving, which wasn’t surprising. “We’ll have young players, and we have enough leadership on defense,” Arians said. “Kevin Minter, we drafted for a reason. We love him. He should assume that role. We’ll still look through free agency who is available.”

Lorenzo Alexander can play inside as well, Arians added. “We wish Karlos all the best. He gave us a fantastic year last year. At his age, to get that contract, God bless him. We wish him all the well. He did a great job. We’re moving on.”

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