A “minicamp” plan of sorts, and other stuff

Posted by Darren Urban on June 21, 2011 – 9:49 am

Kent Somers has some comments from safety Adrian Wilson this morning about Cards vets — notably Wilson and Larry Fitzgerald, but including guys like Levi Brown and Jeremy Bridges — trying to organize a three-day “minicamp” for the players as they wait out what is hopefully the final stretch of the labor impasse.

“We’re trying to get three days in, or three practices in, depending on what guys have to do,” Wilson told Somers. “We’re not trying to take up guys’ time but we are trying to get better as a team, get better as individual units.”

There is only so much the Cards can do, assuming Wilson and Fitz can gather the troops. There are only so many troops to gather (do potential free agents like Steve Breaston and Deuce Lutui, for example, take part?) and with the knowledge the probable starting quarterback isn’t even on the roster yet makes for an interesting dynamic. Then again, it doesn’t surprise me that Wilson, etc., don’t want to sit idly by.

— The news came down yesterday that because Qwest is being merged into CenturyLink, the Seahawks’ home field is no longer Qwest Field but CenturyLink Field. I re-tweeted this info yesterday, leading follower @ethanpoulsen to say “False Start Field was it’s name before…and always will be it’s name.”

As I noted on Twitter, however, the Cards have done a good job with that. The Cards have only been nailed for five false starts total in the last three visits to Seattle, and none last year (despite a bad, bad game offensively). Two other ones came from tight ends, both in 2008, by Stephen Spach and Leonard Pope. The other three were in 2009 — two by RT Levi Brown and one from LT Mike Gandy.

— Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. breaks down the Cards’ receivers. He has interesting takes on both Breaston and Andre Roberts.

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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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O-lineman Hadnot officially arrives

Posted by Darren Urban on March 11, 2010 – 7:31 pm

UPDATE: The Cardinals have officially agreed to terms with Rex Hadnot to a three-year deal, and brought back C Ben Claxton on a one-year deal.

I had heard the sides were close, but is reporting the Cardinals have signed veteran free-agent guard Rex Hadnot. I’d think, given the re-signing of Jeremy Bridges earlier in the day, this would close the door on bringing back Mike Gandy. You probably never say never, but the fact the Cards probably want to continue to bring along young players like Brandon Keith and Herman Johnson makes a difference. I would guess Hadnot will battle both Reggie Wells — whom the  Cards are hoping can up his play going forward — and Deuce Lutui — who for now is scheduled to be on a one-year contract — for a possible starting spot.

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Bridges brought back on three-year deal

Posted by Darren Urban on March 11, 2010 – 2:47 pm

The Cards are still chasing guys like Joey Porter and Larry Foote, but they did bring back reserve offensive lineman Jeremy Bridges on a three-year contract Thursday. I’m not sure if that ends their chase of free-agent Rex Hadnot, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Bridges was solid in his fill-in role as tackle once Mike Gandy went down with a hernia, and he’s a valuable piece. Plus he handled Jared Allen. If Gandy doesn’t return, Bridges is an option, although one of the youngsters — Brandon Keith or Herman Johnson — likely gets first shot. And I would also guess the Cards think long and hard about drafting an offensive lineman at some point.

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Levi leaning left

Posted by Darren Urban on February 28, 2010 – 2:42 pm

Ken Whisenhunt would like to have Mike Gandy back as his left tackle. The coach made that clear, noting Gandy’s versatility and how Gandy “fought his butt off to play for us.”

“I have great respect for Mike Gandy,” Whisenhunt said.

The problem is that Gandy is a free agent, and after playing for a $5 million salary last season, the Cardinals probably would want to sign him for less in 2010, and Gandy may not be amenable to that. If Gandy doesn’t come back — which my gut tells me won’t happen — the plan for now is to slide one of the young linemen (Brandon Keith or Herman Johnson) into the right tackle spot and move right tackle Levi Brown to the left side – where Brown played in college.

Whisenhunt said he doesn’t think the transition would be difficult for Brown, who has practiced some on the left side during his three NFL seasons as a starting right tackle. Clearly, Brown is now more comfortable on the right side given it’s where he has played as a pro. But Whisenhunt has talked to Brown about a potential change, and “I don’t think Levi really cares.”

“The only thing he cares about is running the football,” Whisenhunt said with a smile, “because he likes getting on guys and mauling them.”

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Clearing up what the combine Cards said

Posted by Darren Urban on February 27, 2010 – 11:24 am

OK, here’s what wasn’t said today by the Cards at the Scouting combine, when Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves spoke to the media:

— The team wants Chad Pennington (Graves said Pennington, if he becomes a free agent, will be among the quarterbacks the Cards look at).

— The team is going to trade Anquan Boldin (Graves said, as he has said over and over and over, the team will consider all options — including a trade — with Boldin.

— That the fact Boldin could be traded is suddenly breaking news (It’s not, so keep that in mind in your comments).

Here’s what was said:

— The team wants to keep S Antrel Rolle, who needs a new contract before next week. Even if the Cards do cut him, they plan to fight to bring him back. They want to keep LB Karlos Dansby too, but the money is probably too huge in that case.

— Levi Brown can make the move to LT easily, Whisenhunt thinks, although Whiz added the team would very much like to keep UFA Mike Gandy. Gandy is going to have to re-sign at the right price, methinks.

— If Boldin were to be dealt, Graves said “I’d be remiss if I say it’d be easy to replace a player of that caliber.”

— Someone asked Whisenhunt if Matt Leinart “was his guy,” and Whisenhunt acknowledged Leinart is the only QB on the roster right now, so it was kind of obvious. As for competition for Leinart once the Cards do add QBs, “everybody on our team knows they have to play well to keep their position.”

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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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Friday before the Wild Card

Posted by Darren Urban on January 8, 2010 – 4:42 pm

This is what I first thought in the aftermath of all the scary injuries the Cards suffered last weekend, the ones that seemingly put them on tenuous ground going into Sunday’s Wild Card playoff game against the Packers:

(OK, maybe it’s not what I first thought, because the first thought is, “You’ve got to be #*$@&%$ kidding me.”)

The thought was, “At some point, this was going to happen.”

You can argue that, for instance, Anquan Boldin shouldn’t have been in the game and you can make a strong case. You could argue (with a much weaker case) DRC and Calais Campbell shouldn’t have been playing. But as Boldin said today, “This is football. You play the game hard, you’re going to get injured at some point.”

That’s what the Cards have been able to sidestep so deftly since the beginning of 2008. Last year, injuries were at a minimum and when they did hit the Cards, they were either short-term (Boldin’s face fracture kept him out only two games), were early enough to be sidestepped (linebacker Clark Haggans was out down the stretch and in the playoffs) or were apparently ignored (Kurt Warner’s bad hip). The offensive and defensive lines stayed intact.

This year, it’s been a little tougher. Left tackle Mike Gandy went down and out, and it’s clear the Cards’ defense (and, on more individual scale, Adrian Wilson) was hampered by the loss of safety Matt Ware. As for the latest aches and pains, it’s the timing more than the injuries themselves, since being less than 100 percent can kill in the playoffs.

Then again, the Packers are without a starting cornerback (Al Harris) and good pass rusher (Aaron Kampman) because of injuries, and it’s a non-story – because those injuries happened a few weeks ago.

It’s football. You’re going to get injured at some point. Even the Cardinals.

On to some last-minute bits and pieces:

— The Cards must get off to a good start, for multiple reasons. They need to feel good about themselves, and that goes for every week. And while the first two times these teams met this year ultimately meant nothing, it doesn’t mean the Packers did not derive confidence (and likely a certain bulletproof mentality) in playing at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cards also need to keep the crowd engaged.

“(A good start) makes a difference for us,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “Against Minnesota, we recovered from (a poor start). When we start quickly — Chicago comes to mind, and Jacksonville — we are a tough team to beat. We have talked about it.”

— Speaking of the crowd, will there be a chunk of Packer backers? Probably. But I have seen people concerned about 10,000, even 15,000. My thought is, so what? By my math, 63,000 (slightly less than capacity) minus 15,000 still equals 48,000 Cardinals fans. They will drown out any Packers contingent, as long as they have something to cheer for.

— The Cards had five passes of 40 yards or more in the postseason last year. They had three the entire 2009 regular season. We’ll see if the offense can generate some big plays again – they’ll likely need it.

— As everyone knows by now, three of the four playoff games this weekend are rematches of regular-season finales: Cardinals-Packers, Cowboys-Eagles, Jets-Bengals. The two NFC games will be played in the same stadium, a coincidence that has happened five previous times. In those five games, the home team won the playoff game three times.

— Larry Fitzgerald, talking about what it means to have Anquan Boldin around: “His desire and his passion he displays every week is infectious. Anybody that’s around him can see it and feel it. He’s definitely and old-school player, an old-school defensive mentality guy. Early in the season, he was always lobbying to get in there and play defense and try to get a blitz. I don’t doubt if he ever got the opportunity to get in there, he’d make a play.”

— Congrats to assistant head coach/offensive line coach/run game coordinator Russ Grimm (I love that title) for being one of the 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Grimm has been here before and he downplays it every time, but one of these years, I think that decade he spent anchoring the “Hogs” offensive line in Washington will get him in. Former Cards cornerback Aeneas Williams didn’t make the cut this time around. Former Cards running back Emmitt Smith did – maybe on the strength of what he did elsewhere during his career – as did one-time coach Don Coryell. Coryell was the Cards’ coach the last time this franchise won 10 games in a season.

— Also congrats to defensive lineman Darnell Dockett and Warner, each of whom capture the annual awards from the local chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association (sponsored by Oregano’s Pizza Bistros). Dockett was awarded the Lloyd Herberg MVP award, beating out Warner and Larry Fitzgerald. Warner was given the Steve Schoenfeld Good Guy, given to the player the writers deem most helpful to the media, beating out Fitzgerald, Campbell and Tim Hightower, among others. The awards are named after two former Cardinals/NFL writers for the Arizona Republic who each passed away while still covering the team: Herberg from cancer, Schoenfeld in a hit-and-run accident.

— The Cards, I would think, need to run the ball Sunday some, to control the clock a bit and keep the Packers’ offense off the field. It is a unit that can put up points, and while the Cards always have been able to themselves, you get a feeling – even against Green Bay’s top-ranked run defense – the Cards have to find a way to make Beanie Wells and Hightower a factor.

— It wouldn’t be bad if the Cards could somehow get to Aaron Rodgers like teams were getting to him earlier this year. This is when Dockett shines, under the spotlight. It’s time to see a heaping helping of 9-0.

— There has been a sense all week the Cards not only have something up their sleeve, but they know a little something everyone else doesn’t. Whisenhunt has been eerily calm, in a good mood. As Warner said, this is the fun time of year, so maybe that’s just part of it. Personally, I’m just a little tired of talking Packers after two straight weeks.

I’d like to be talking Saints or Vikings at this point next week.

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On losing Gandy, injuries, and Beanie

Posted by Darren Urban on December 24, 2009 – 1:29 pm

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the decision to put Mike Gandy on IR was tough but “the fact we were probably looking at the (NFC) championship game (for his return) and then to throw him in and compete in that situation is a difficult situation.” Jeremy Bridges is the starter at left tackle now but Whisenhunt said if something were to happen to Bridges, Levi Brown would move from right to left tackle and Brandon Keith would take over at right tackle.

Tight end Ben Patrick and wide receiver Sean Morey (concussions) remain out and will be game-day decisions if cleared. Spach can play for Patrick. Linebacker Will Davis (knee) had another good day and it looks like he will be available this weekend, although we will see if Whisenhunt makes him active.

On a non-injury note — and because I know the Beanie storyline remains topic A for many — Whisenhunt was talking about Wells getting more carries than Tim Hightower of late. Part of it is because Beanie is running well, Whisenhunt said, part is because Hightower’s thumb has been an issue. But, and I know this will bother some out there, that doesn’t mean it won’t balance out again. “It’s play-driven, package driven,” Whisenhunt said. “They can go in and out on a play-by-play basis. It’s really not a conscious effort (to give Beanie more carries) as much as it is a game-plan-type thing.”

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Gandy to IR, Togafau to active roster

Posted by Darren Urban on December 23, 2009 – 4:21 pm

The Cardinals officially put tackle Mike Gandy on injured reserve today after he had surgery to repair a sports hernia Friday, and with the open roster spot, the team promoted linebacker Pago Togafau to the active roster. That open spot on the practice squad allowed the Cards to bring linebacker Ali Highsmith back to the practice squad.

The move with Gandy isn’t a surprise. It was going to be difficult to carry him and then, should he actually make it back to the field, play in a game that, by then would likely be a divisional round or NFC championship game after being off a month or so.

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