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Voluntary workouts can be rewarding

Posted by Darren Urban on April 25, 2014 – 12:49 pm

The Cardinals have had good turnout at their voluntary work thus far, which is always good to see. I’ve seen almost everyone on the current roster at some point (I keep getting questions about players that aren’t in photos — Patrick Peterson, Ted Ginn and Carson Palmer in particular. I have seen all three. Workouts run at 6 a.m., 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. after meetings. I’m not taking pictures at 6 and usually I’ve moved on in my day at 12:30, so just because they aren’t in a photo doesn’t mean anything.) It’s important to have guys around, as Darnell Dockett noted yesterday.

“This is voluntary, so when you have guys here, voluntary, and we grade out at 94 percent every day of people coming in, that shows the right direction we’re trying to go in,” he said. “Not showing up with 20 guys, missing 15 here and 30 here, 20 guys late, people missing in the classroom. That’s a bad sign. So right now every day we’re getting out this work, and we’re appreciating it and enjoying it. We’re getting better. Chemistry is not all about coming in talking about football and weights. We’re getting to know each other.”

Kent Somers does a nice job chronicling how Dockett’s mindset has changed after multiple offseasons when he wasn’t here. Part of the change for the Cards — and around the NFL for that matter — has been a proliferation of workout bonuses in contracts. Players get paid for their weekly attendance, but it’s not much really, $175 a day as stipulated by the collective bargaining agreement. If you make the workouts a fruitful part of the paycheck, you tend to motivate. Overthecap.com writes about this. Seven teams in the league have invested at least $2 million of cap space into offseason workout bonuses, including the Cardinals at $2.085 million. The most is the Packers, at $4.325M, and that’s not a surprise knowing that many players probably wouldn’t want to stick around Green Bay in the offseason if they could avoid it.

Nine Cardinals collect six figures just for showing up for whatever the prescribed amount of offseason workouts would be (it’s usually a high percentage of the total days available.) Dockett, DE Calais Campbell, WR Larry Fitzgerald and QB Drew Stanton get $250,000. C Lyle Sendlein and S Rashad Johnson get $150,000. Linebacker Matt Shaughnessy gets $125,000. Linebackers Lorenzo Alexander and Daryl Washington get $100,000. And there are eight other players who get money.

Cash doesn’t explain everything. There are a ton of guys on the roster — big-name guys — who have been here and get no extra monetary reward for doing so, including new players like Jared Veldheer, Antonio Cromartie and Ted Ginn. There is a push from those on the roster to make sure teammates are hear for the reason of just making sure the team will be as good as possible. But as always, money plays a role.

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Okafor, Acho, Alexander and OLBs

Posted by Darren Urban on April 1, 2014 – 10:03 am

The Cardinals got 11.5 sacks out of starting linebacker John Abraham and excellent edge-setting run defense from fellow starting linebacker Matt Shaughnessy last season. With both coming back in 2014, it’s hard to believe those won’t be your starters at the position. It’s also hard to believe neither were starters when 2013 opened — instead, it was Sam Acho starting over Shaughnessy, and Lorenzo Alexander instead of Abraham.

That changed early in the season, when both Acho (broken leg) and Alexander (foot) suffered season-ending injuries Week 3 in New Orleans. Oh, and that was the same day rookie outside linebacker Alex Okafor (biceps) also was lost for the season. It opened the door for Abraham — who hadn’t been thrilled with his playing time — and Shaughnessy to play a lot and ultimately play well. But it also leaves in question the roles of Acho and Alexander going forward, as well as the spot for Okafor.

It would be an upset if the Cardinals do not take a pass rusher/outside linebacker in the draft. As well as Abraham played last season, he is 35 and in the last year of his deal and the team needs to find a longer-term solution as a dynamic pass rusher. Acho and Alexander have their strengths, but neither figure to fit that bill. Okafor (who said late last week he has been officially cleared to work post-rehab) still could become that guy, although missing his rookie year set him back in his development. Acho did have seven sacks as a rookie in 2011 but only four in 2012. Alexander, meanwhile, might not end up outside. Coach Bruce Arians has talked about Alexander’s ability to move inside and right now, the Cards could use the depth there after cutting Jasper Brinkley and losing Karlos Dansby to free agency.

Like cornerback, outside linebacker (and more specifically, pass rusher) is a position at which a team will constantly throw numbers. You always need multiples, and you can never have too many. Where Acho, Alexander and Okafor fit in Year 2 of the Arians/Steve Keim era will be something to watch. The landscape is definitely different from the last time they stepped on the field.

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In the wake of the free agency week

Posted by Darren Urban on March 14, 2014 – 4:00 pm

A quiet day, finally, around the Cardinals. I know many were hoping for Antonio Cromartie free agent news but there isn’t any. Until he signs somewhere though, I wouldn’t rule out the Cardinals. Again, if he comes, it’ll be on the Cards’ terms. Beyond that, I think the Cards will keep looking at options but the market is going to be a buyer’s market now. That’s right up Steve Keim’s alley.

— The Cardinals have about $11 million in cap space. I don’t know if that yet includes Ted Ginn’s deal. It’s definitely not going to count the new contract for LB Matt Shaughnessy, since Shaughnessy hasn’t actually signed yet, and there might be a couple other lesser deals yet to be counted. That will come soon. Still, it’s plenty of room to work. It doesn’t hurt the space that Jared Veldheer’s cap number in the first season is just $2.5M and Ginn will be a mere $1.75M.

Overthecap.com, which broke down the Ginn deal, notes that $2 million of Ginn’s $3.25M salary for 2015 is guaranteed if he is on the roster on the third day of the league year next year. In other words, if the Cards decide to release him it will be right around the time free agency begins.

— The Cardinals exercised the option bonus they needed to pay linebacker Daryl Washington this week. Washington’s assault case is still ongoing — his next court date is scheduled for April 23 — but he’s a cornerstone of this defense and isn’t going anywhere. There is still a chance he is suspended depending on the outcome of the court case, but the Cards will deal with it.

— It was a fruitful and smart start to free agency for the Cardinals. Get a left tackle, get a speed receiver/return man, get some interior OL depth, get running back depth. Re-sign a key linebacker like Shaughnessy, and as much as they wanted Karlos Dansby back, let him walk when the money got crazy. I also think, the way Keim operates, that from this point forward is even more important for the Cards. They have an excellent sales pitch right now and two guys in Keim and Bruce Arians who know how to sell it. There will be another Dansby-Abraham-Winston or two this offseason.

— As I pointed out on Twitter last night (@cardschatter, if you want more immediate updates from yours truly), we will have a video on azcardinals.com soon about Fitzgerald’s trip up in an F-16. Until there, here’s a taste of Fitz in the cockpit.


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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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Roberts figures he’s done as a Cardinal

Posted by Darren Urban on March 4, 2014 – 4:48 pm

The season started great for Andre Roberts. And it finished on a high note. In between, it wasn’t what Roberts wanted, and now it also looks like it was the last season for Roberts — at least as a Cardinal. This is not a shock. Roberts will be an unrestricted free agent in a week and the math has said for a while now it probably didn’t make much sense for the relationship to continue. The Cardinals, with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, don’t need anything more than a third receiver. Roberts would like to be at least a No. 2, and certainly wants to be paid like that. Parting ways seemed the logical conclusion, and Roberts drove that home during an interview Tuesday on NBCSN’s “Pro Football Talk.”

“I don’t think I’ll be back in Arizona,” Roberts said. “I haven’t received any phone calls from Arizona and free agency is coming up here in about a week. I definitely feel I did the most with my opportunities, but I thought I would get a little bit more coming my way balls-wise. It’s part of the business. But I don’t think I’ll be back in Arizona. I’ll be testing the market.”

Roberts had 43 receptions for 471 yards and two touchdowns in 2013, his numbers dropping with the emergence of Floyd. In Bruce Arians’ offense and the desire to use two tight ends, three receivers just weren’t used as much, and Roberts was the odd man out. Can Roberts get the contract he wants this spring, with numbers that were down and a glut of receivers destined to be available? Probably not. He’s probably in a position like many free agents last year (some who signed with the Cards) to be better off inking a one-year deal and playing in a place that could feed him the ball. Where that is — and whether that team wants Roberts — is TBD. Roberts grew close to Fitzgerald over the years, and in their friendship, I’m sure Fitz has given counsel to find the money.

The Cards, meanwhile, will need another wideout. But they probably will seek one with more speed, and certainly one that will be cheaper.

— Speaking of free agency, Kent Somers reported today that the Cards and the agent for free-agent-to-be Matt Shaughnessy have been negotiating. After Karlos Dansby, Shaughnessy made the most sense of a guy whom the Cards would like to re-sign.

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No need for the franchise tag

Posted by Darren Urban on February 11, 2014 – 4:54 pm

During this slow time of the NFL year, it’s hard not to notice little things, like the comments of Karlos Dansby saying he expects to remain a Cardinal. Big news? Not really. But it’s more defined than Dansby was at the end of the season, so that, to me, breeds more optimism. Dansby is probably the most high-profile free-agent-to-be the Cards want to re-sign. Which got me thinking of the franchise tag, because of all the free agents the Cards have (and in part because the Cards, Dansby and the franchise tag were synonymous for a while.)

Teams can use the franchise tag as early as Monday. The tag, for those unfamiliar, is a set number for each position based on the top five or top 10 salaries at that position the previous year. It’s a guaranteed salary as soon as the player signs it. If a player is tagged, he can still sign elsewhere, but his original team has a chance to match, and if they don’t, there is a heavy price to pay — usually a pair of first-round picks. The chances are good right now, for instance, that Saints tight end Jimmy Graham will be tagged so he doesn’t hit the open market in March.

The Cardinals, however, don’t have that issue. Dansby is not going to be franchise tagged (at a projected $10.9 million for linebackers for one season.) None of the Cards’ free-agents-to-be fall into that category, in fact. Even for players the Cardinals could want to re-sign — linebacker Matt Shaughnessy, wide receiver Andre Roberts, tackle Eric Winston, for instance — aren’t going to command the kind of money nor get from the Cards anywhere close to the kind of money the tag dictates. There is a reason it is called the “franchise” tag because it is supposed to be for franchise-type players.

UPDATE: I was reminded of a ruling in a case of Drew Brees, who was once franchised by San Diego and later by New Orleans, that tags are considered cumulatively over a player’s entire career, not just if they are in consecutive years. So Dansby, since he was already franchised twice in his career, would be considered tagged for a third time if the Cards were to do so, making his salary an average of the top five salaries in the league. That’s quarterback money, and only underscores why Dansby wouldn’t be tagged again.

The last time the Cardinals used a franchise tag, it was on defensive end Calais Campbell in 2012. That time, the tag did exactly what it was supposed to do — buy the two sides extra time to negotiate a long-term deal. Before that, the last tagged guy was Dansby. He got it two years in a row, and then, well, we know how that turned out. Funny that now that the Cards won’t be tagging him again, he probably has a better chance of sticking around.


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Ranking positions of need

Posted by Darren Urban on February 10, 2014 – 1:01 pm

Next week, the decision-makers for the Cardinals and the rest of the NFL will head to Indianapolis for the annual Scouting combine. Already teams, including the Cards, have been meeting and ranking their rosters and figuring out what direction they will need to go in. Free agency, which begins March 11 officially (although teams came start to talk to guys from other teams a couple of days before that), will impact what happens in the draft and the rest of the offseason.

But before all that, and before the Cardinals re-sign any more of their own players, here are — in my opinion — the positions that need to be addressed the most over the next few months:

1) Offensive line: It doesn’t hurt that this encompasses multiple positions. Ultimately, it is left tackle that the Cardinals likely need to go after the most. I have no doubt Bradley Sowell can be depth at the position, but clearly the Cards would like to upgrade there. Easier said than done, of course, and we’ll see if it comes in free agency or the draft.

2) Defensive line: You’re not going to win in the NFC West unless both lines of scrimmage are fortified. As it stands now, the defensive line seems to be OK, with Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams. But Alameda Ta’amu was an important co-nose tackle with Williams, and he is coming off ACL surgery. Dockett’s age and contract will likely call into question his future after 2014. And with Frostee Rucker a free agent, the Cardinals need depth there, especially after using rotations during the season.

3) Linebacker: This is in part a continuation of the defensive line issue, because whether you consider a pass rusher a linebacker or a defensive end in nickel situations, the Cards still need pass rushers. John Abraham was a godsend in 2013 but he is not getting younger, even if he has another double-digit sack year in his arsenal. Alex Okafor is an unknown quantity at outside linebacker after his lost rookie season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Matt Shaughnessy get away as a free agent. It’s hard to tell, since both missed most of the season, how well Lorenzo Alexander and Sam Acho fit in the defense as well. That doesn’t even include the inside, where Karlos Dansby could still leave.

4) Tight end: This position probably should be higher on the list, considering all the free agents the Cardinals have. Then again, maybe I’m just used to the Cards just getting along the best they can at tight end to make sure other spots are taken care of first. But Bruce Arians likes to use the tight end in multiple ways and use multiple tight ends. The Cards need bodies, and that’s even if Jim Dray returns. Rob Housler had flashes again last season but this is likely a make-or-break season for him to stay healthy and be consistent.

5) Safety: Even if Yeremiah Bell returns he is older. Tyrann Mathieu is coming off major knee surgery. The depth is thin, and the Cardinals, as you might have heard, had some issues covering tight ends last season. As good as Richard Sherman is, a big reason why the Seahawks secondary is so good is because Earl Thomas is backstopping Sherman and all those corners. Getting a safety like that wouldn’t be too bad.

Bonus) Quarterback: There’s no reason to list QB in the top five because the Cardinals are fine going into next season playing with Carson Palmer. There’s no argument there, really. But reality says the future QB has to be acquired sooner rather than later. This is a draft-only kind of scenario. I don’t see the Cards seeking another trade or anything. But at some point, GM Steve Keim is going to come across a quarterback he likes very much when the Cards are on the clock. And he needs to pull that trigger for down the road.

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Cardinals, the roster, and target areas

Posted by Darren Urban on January 27, 2014 – 11:33 am

Every time General Manager Steve Keim talks about his roster, he talks about looking to improve everywhere. That’s always the default. While the Cardinals probably need, say, offensive linemen or tight ends more than, running backs, you don’t turn down chances to upgrade your team at any position. (As for the latest talk-radio conversation about quarterback, I feel confident that a) Carson Palmer is going to be the starter in 2014 and b) if Keim has a QB sitting on the board in the draft that he really, really likes — whenever that is — the Cardinals will likely take him.)

All that said, there are spots that need addressing just for the sheer numbers. I’ve already posted this once, but below is a link to a roster breakdown done right after the season. It has changed a bit — punter Dave Zastudil has re-signed by now — but the rest of the contract situations remain the same. Keim has a little more than six weeks before contracts officially expire. In terms of strictly numbers, here are how impending free agency impacts the positions (not including all the futures deals/low-end free agents that have signed):

— QB: Cards are fine with all three guys under contract. You’d expect a fourth camp arm to sign if one isn’t drafted.

— RB: Rashard Mendenhall is unrestricted and plays a big role, although if the Cards rode Andre Ellington/Stepfan Taylor in 2014, no one would be surprised.

— WR: Assuming the Cards can get comfortable (if they aren’t already) with Fitz’s contract, the position is probably OK. They need to add someone if Andre Roberts leaves as a free agent, but they can ride with Floyd/Fitz as a top two.

— TE: A major question. Only Rob Housler is under contract for next season. This has got to be a spot where the Cards draft, right?

— OL: Upgrades are necessary and will happen, but as of now, only Eric Winston is a free agent of guys who played at all.

— DL: Need depth here. Do you bring Frostee Rucker back? And that rehab needed for Alameda Ta’amu’s ACL tear hurts the team as much as Ta’amu.

— LB: It’s hard not to notice two starters in Karlos Dansby and Matt Shaughnessy who could potentially walk away.

— DB: The Cards could probably use another young safety, although they may be in good shape if Tony Jefferson can step forward. But what about cornerback, with Tyrann Mathieu coming back from injury and Javier Arenas/Antoine Cason/Bryan McCann scheduled to be free agents. Depth is needed there. It’ll be interesting to see if Justin Bethel ends up playing a bigger defensive role.

— Specialists: Zastudil is back. We’ll see what the Cardinals do at kicker and impending FA Jay Feely.

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The future, and breaking down the roster

Posted by Darren Urban on January 2, 2014 – 10:58 am

This time around, the Cardinals aren’t going to be looking for a coach or general manager, so this early part of the offseason figures to be much more quiet than it was in January of 2013. But there is still plenty for GM Steve Keim and his people to work on, because the combine is in less than two months, free agency is soon after that, and it’s time to focus on what the offseason roster in 2014 will look like.

That starts, of course, with figuring out what they liked and didn’t like with the roster from 2013. It also comes down to budget, and contracts, and how many of these unrestricted free agents-to-be want to come back to Arizona based on the deals Keim wants to/is willing to offer. These are not always simple solutions but it is why Keim, as they say, earns the big bucks. When I talked to Keim as early as the week in Florida prior to the Week 4 game at Tampa, Keim was already acknowledging the work that had to go into this offseason.

“There are going to be some tough decisions to be made after the season based on the numbers, just looking at the three-year view,” Keim said then. “We will obviously have to make some tough decisions like we did this past year after the season. The one thing fans and other people don’t realize (is) there are certain contracts that bind you and you can’t do anything (with) and you have the dead money factor.

“Once we get to 2015 I feel really good where we are going to be from a salary-cap standpoint.”

With that all in mind, here is my annual roster breakdown, with most players by position, when their contracts expires and a quick comment on each. There are a lot of choices to be made, and not just by Keim. If you are Karlos Dansby, for instance, do you like the scheme Todd Bowles has put you in — and like playing next to someone like Daryl Washington enough — to want to stay? Money, as always, talks. Dansby did not get the kind of interest he expected last offseason in the market. He had a better year this season, but will that translate for a player who will be 33? These are the things the Cardinals, and Dansby, must balance.

The Larry Fitzgerald situation, and a looming $18 million salary cap number, is another touchpoint. The Cardinals really need to get it lower. How they can work with Fitzgerald on that impacts a lot of things, including, for instance, any potential Patrick Peterson contract extension. When you start mulling all these numbers, you start seeing why Keim is targeting 2015 for salary cap comfort.

There are other key things the Cards must look at roster-wise, aside from the draft. Other key free agents like Matt Shaughnessy, Rashard Mendenhall or Andre Roberts. Other contracts, like perhaps those of Daryn Colledge or Darnell Dockett. Other issues, like the long-term rehab of Tyrann Mathieu and Alameda Ta’amu, or a possible suspension of Daryl Washington, and whether absences at the beginning of the season could make a difference on who is needed on the roster for depth.

The offseason is just beginning. So too is the job of the Cardinals to get ready for 2014.

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Keim talks potential contract extensions

Posted by Darren Urban on December 9, 2013 – 8:25 am

The Cardinals have a lot of players — and key ones at that — who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March. Among those whose contracts will expire: Karlos Dansby, Matt Shaughnessy, Eric Winston, Yeremiah Bell, Frostee Rucker, Javier Arenas, Antoine Cason and Rashard Mendenhall. (For those wondering, John Abraham signed a two-year contract.)

The Cardinals will have varying degrees of interest in bringing each of those guys back. And again, I’m sure the deals will have to fit the Cards’ philosophy. The wheeling and dealing General Manager Steve Keim did in the offseason to bring in so many short-term vets had an upside that it worked for the Cards and the salary cap yet quickly rehabbed the roster. The downside is this. A player has a good year, and he has some leverage to take to the open market (See Dansby, Karlos.)

But Keim said during his weekly radio appearance on the “Doug and Wolf show” on Arizona Sports 620 that he has already begun the process of trying to get some extensions done. Keim didn’t name names.

“We are going to aggressively approach several of these guys,” Keim said. “I have already to some degree. We are going to try and put something in place to try to keep some continuity here, particularly for the guys who are playing well. But in some regard, the fans and media are going to have to understand, sometimes the market dictates what happens.The agents and the players sometimes want to see what’s out there.”

Translation: Some of these guys are gonna want to get paid. Dansby, for instance. Asked last night about getting a new contract. “Why not?” Dansby said. “I can do this three, four, five more years. I am playing at a high level right now and I don’t see anyone outplaying me right now.”

That doesn’t sound like a guy willing to play for $2.25 million like he is this season. But we will see. And even if he might want to make it work in Arizona — and I do think ‘Los would like to stay — it might behoove him to wait to see what other teams want to pony up. Last offseason was ugly for most of the vets listed above when no one came knocking on their door offering what they wanted. I’m sure they’d like to see what is out there one more time. So it could be tough to get many deals pre-March done.

“We just have to be smart about the deals we put in place with the cap situation and make good decisions,” Keim said. “But we will definitely be aggressive in addressing some of the players we feel are core guys.”


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