Now where on free agency

Posted by Darren Urban on March 22, 2010 – 4:58 pm

General manager Rod Graves is in Orlando right now for the owner’s meetings. I’m not sure exactly what happens with the Cards now in free agency — I am trying to get that answer — I wouldn’t be surprised if the plan, at least until the draft, is to chase a few of the Cards’ own un-signed guys like Bryan Robinson and then wait until after the draft to see where else the roster needs talent.

One spot the Cards will keep considering outside in free agency is kicker. Jay Feely is still in play — he finished up his visit Monday — and there remains the option of bringing back Neil Rackers. Safety Matt Ware, despite earlier reports elsewhere in the NFLverse, has not yet re-signed and I don’t get the sense that’s imminent. I still think he eventually returns. Wide receiver/special teamer Sean Morey wants to return, I believe, but he has yet to re-sign and took a visit with the Seahawks.

UPDATE: Well, I was partially on track. I heard back from Graves, who said the Cards will continue to consider free agents. But if the Cards sign players from elsewhere, they would “likely be to replace some of our own UFAs that we do not have agreements with.” That’s the category Feely would fall under, and would come into play, it would seem, if guys like Robinson, Morey, Ware, linebacker Monty Beisel, quarterback Brian St. Pierre or fullback Dan Kreider don’t return.

I think the free agency market will be very interesting post-draft. Veterans who are waiting now for bigger potential deals probably aren’t going to get them, and historically it’s even harder to get a decent deal after the draft because teams have filled up their holes with new talent that can be home-grown. What happens to Mike Gandy or Chike Okeafor, for instance (other than that they won’t be in Arizona)? And will anything change this week, after NFL owners are going to get the low-down of exactly where things stand with the impending labor problems?

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About the kicker

Posted by Darren Urban on March 18, 2010 – 12:15 pm

The Cardinals still need a kicker.

That’s easy to see, when the lone kicker on the roster — Neil Rackers — is an unrestricted free agent. reported veteran kicker Jay Feely is due in for a visit to the Cards this weekend. That comes on the heels of general manager Rod Graves acknowledging earlier this week the Cards were still talking with Rackers. I’m not sure if the Feely visit is because of anything changing with Rackers or if it is just the course of business until the Cards get a kicker under contract. Feely will be 34 in May, and had a good season for the outdoor New York Jets in 2009, making 30 of 36 field goals (and all 32 extra points).He was 12 of 15 from 40 yards or longer.

Rackers, who will be 34 in August, was solid last season too, aside from when his groin injury was wreaking havoc on his play. He only tried 17 regular-season field goals, making 16. Of course, everyone remembers the miss to end regulation against the Packers in the playoffs (below) and his issues in the Saints’ playoff game (although his leg had given out because of his injury in that game).

It’ll be interesting to see how this develops. The things that make Rackers so valuable — his quirky ability to do crazy, effective onside kicks and his kamikaze willingness to tackle on kickoffs — are also the things (because of the mentality needed) that give pause when it comes to the end of games.

Personally, I hope Rackers returns, because he is a weapon in so many facets. But that’s far from a lock right now.

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Cards notch a special top 10

Posted by Darren Urban on February 15, 2010 – 1:35 pm

Ranking special-teams units across the league is not an easy task, so when Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News came up with a system to do so, it’s become universally regarded as the best way to sort out such things. And this season, Gosselin’s rankings put the Cards eighth.

“Our specialists had a good year,” Spencer said, noting improvements in punts inside the 20, net and gross punting averages, and field-goal-made percentage. “The return game showed some life.

“It was an excellent effort by our veterans and out young guys.”

Rookie LaRod Stephens-Howling made an impact both in coverage and as a kickoff return man, while Sean Morey was a Pro Bowl alternate this season on special teams. Punter Ben Graham was snubbed for the Pro Bowl himself after tying the NFL record for punts inside the 20. Neil Rackers made an NFL-best 94.7 percent of his field-goal attempts. The Cards also got impactful seasons from guys like Jason Wright and Kenny Iwebema, among others.

“It’s amazing how smart you become when you have good players,” Spencer said.

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Divisional Playoff Aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 17, 2010 – 12:38 am

Last year at this time (at least, as I am writing) I was also sitting on a plane coming back from a road trip in the second round of the playoffs. Obviously, that had a whole different feel. Saturday certainly didn’t go the way the Cardinals wanted it to go. There really aren’t any true regrets, because it felt like the Saints were going to find a way on their home turf.

I mentioned about a billion times (OK, exaggeration) this past week how, if the Cards could not lose the turnover battle, they had a good chance to win. Saturday, they come up with that amazing 70-yard run to start, and, even after the Saints answered (a little too easily), that next play was a 28-yard gain to a wide-open Jerheme Urban … and then Urban allowed himself to get stripped from behind and the ball was lost.

That was the beginning of the end.

Had Urban hung on, maybe the Cards march down and take a 14-7 lead. But the injuries mounted. Had Antrel Rolle not suffered a concussion, maybe he makes the tackle missed by Rolle backup Hamza Abdullah on the screen to Devery Henderson – which, after the blown tackle, was the play on which DRC wrecked his left knee. Maybe if the game was closer Kurt Warner doesn’t throw the pass picked off by Will Smith and, in the process of chasing the play, gets hurt when he is drilled by Bobby McCray.

Teams need health to win, however. Even the kickers were banged up. Neil Rackers knew it was going to be tough to make that 50-yard field goal at the end of the first half his right groin was hurting so bad. He had no chance on the second-half kickoff either. And punter Ben Graham would’ve had a little better opportunity to at least angle Reggie Bush out of bounds on his 83-yard punt return, except Graham can’t sprint with a bad left groin pull.

No use dwelling, however. As for a few other kibbles and bits from the game …

— The defense played arguably the two best offenses in the NFL the last two weeks and had trouble stopping them. The Packers scored 35 second-half points last game and the Saints had 35 in the first half Saturday. There was more bad tackling but the Cards needed more of everything. “It’s frustrating,” defensive lineman Darnell Dockett said. “You want to win every down and you can’t win every down.” It doesn’t need to be every down, but it has to be more downs that what was happening.

— Who says Tim Hightower can’t break away for a home-run sprint like his 70-yarder (pictured below). How the Beanie/Hightower combo continues to evolve when it comes to playing time may be one of the more interesting  — and crucial – stories of this team heading into 2010.

— It’s always tough to pressure Drew Brees anyway, and the Cards were limited when Rolle and DRC got hurt. Greg Toler was going to play more in lieu of Michael Adams, but Adams was forced in once the injuries cropped up. The Saints took advantage, and that’s why coach Ken Whisenhunt didn’t want to blitz more. It was an ugly catch-22.

— Cornerback Bryant McFadden had his issues and it will be interesting to see if the Cards go try for veteran help or if Toler can wrest the starting job away. Toler is still very raw. And now you have the knee issue of DRC that, if indeed needs major surgery, will keep DRC off the field all offseason at the least.

— Warner took the blame for the bad exchange between he and Beanie Wells to start the Cards’ third possession. The Saints were in a possible safety blitz and Warner is supposed to blow off the handoff and make a quick throw in that case. But at the snap the safety sprinted back into the hot read’s passing window, and Warner tried to pull off the handoff. He just missed.

— Before you ask, I don’t know what Kurt Warner is going to do. I know everyone on the Cards desperately hopes he returns. I don’t know if that will mean enough for him. I’d like to see him play out this one final year of his contract and give this group one more shot.

— The Cards will have their exit physicals tomorrow morning. It’ll be a short night, but after Saturday, I think everyone is ready to put the season to bed and heal up mentally and physically.

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Final eight berth changes free agency UPDATE

Posted by Darren Urban on January 12, 2010 – 6:37 am

The Cardinals’ playoff win — plus the looming uncapped year given the impending end of the collective bargaining agreement — will affect the Cardinals in free agency.

Assuming there is no new CBA before free agency (and there likely won’t be), the NFL will have a season without a salary cap in 2010. The change also brings with it various rules that were designed to forced the two sides to the bargaining table in order to avoid a work stoppage in 2011. One was a limit on free agency for the top eight teams (the theory being, that way, the rich couldn’t get richer). Teams in the “Final Eight Plan” (page 76 77 of the official CBA), which are all the teams now remaining in the playoffs, can’t sign a new free agent unless they lose one, and then that player’s salary can’t be greater than the one the former player is getting.

What that means is the Cards could chase a big-ticket player if, say, LB Karlos Dansby leaves for big money. But if Dansby is waiting around and, for example, kicker Neil Rackers (also an FA-to-be) leaves for a less-than-huge deal, the Cards can’t make any kind of splash yet.

It will definitely make maneuvering the offseason more difficult. Then again, no one would trade a place in the Divisional round of the playoffs for the alternative.

UPDATE: There are a few questions below and I thought the best way to address them would be to throw in a couple more details: The uncapped year also makes it harder to become a an unrestricted free agent, meaning a player has to have six years in the NFL to avoid restricted status. That impacts two main contributors for the Cards: guard Deuce Lutui and nose tackle Gabe Watson. Each were scheduled to be unrestricted after their fourth season and now, they likely won’t have that option.

Rules like that will cut down on the amount of available free agents anyway, making the “Final Eight” rule less important, but, if I read the rule correctly, it’s a one-to-one swap; i.e., if Dansby signs a  deal worth $5 million in salary elsewhere, you can’t then sign two guys for $2.5 million each. A team can re-sign all its own players, by the way, regardless if it is in the Final Eight or not.

Also, all teams get a franchise tag and two transition tags a transition tag for players, rather than just one (choosing between a franchise or transition tag). That will also restrict movement. There are further details here (HT to Sando). Ultimately, what it all means is that free agency isn’t going to be much of anything this year, and players are going to realize a salary cap situation is probably the best for them.

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Fitz: Great receiver, not great at clock work

Posted by Darren Urban on January 11, 2010 – 11:58 am

It turned out to not be a huge deal, but coach Ken Whisenhunt was not a happy camper when Larry Fitzgerald — after teammate Early Doucet broke a bunch of tackles for a 16-yard gain to set up the final field goal — hurriedly called timeout with 14 seconds left in the game. It was a mistake, because the Cards wanted to wind the clock down to seven seconds before doing so, giving them a little time to spike the ball on a poor snap just in case but eating up any possible time for the Packers.

Monday, Fitzgerald sheepishly owned up to his error, saying he had made two mistakes in the game (his fumble being the other). Asked what Whisenhunt said to him, Fitzgerald quipped, “He said I was an idiot and that he was going to release me after the season, so I have to go back to work and make some plays for him this week and get out of the doghouse.”

Whisenhunt said he thought the move caused a few problems. Because the plan had been to take the clock down to seven seconds, he said there may have been some confusion with kicker Neil Rackers about when he was going in to kick, or whether the Cards would still try and run another play to get it to seven seconds. “Larry threw a little kink into it,” Whisenhunt said. Fitzgerald was screaming and signaling for the timeout immediately, and then tried to take it back (as pictured below). The official who saw him was having none of it, so Whisenhunt had to adjust on the fly.

“There was delay in Neil getting there (on the field) and he rushed it and that’s why I think he missed it,” Whisenhunt said. “I’ll take the blame for that. I should have communicated better to Neil.”

Whisenhunt said players aren’t supposed to call timeouts on the field because coaches can call timeouts from the sideline, and clearly, Fitzgerald should have known the situation. Obviously, Fitzgerald isn’t going to be released. Not anymore.

“Last night if you would have asked me that, I would have said yes,” Whisenhunt said. “But I have reconsidered today.”

P.S. Whisenhunt reported no new injuries coming out of the game, and repeated that Anquan Boldin will continue to try and progress, although his status for the Saints game remains vague.

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Wild Card aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 11, 2010 – 1:41 am

Antrel Rolle was exhausted and he said as much in the locker room after Sunday’s 51-45 overtime win. Rolle had an excuse, since he had barely practiced for two weeks before taking part in the Wild Card track meet. But I don’t know how the Cards can’t be shot, mentally and physically, and now they have one less day before traveling cross country for another playoff game.

Then again, as Adrian Wilson said without hesitation, “Next.”

What a game. The range of emotions … I mean, I was like everyone else in the building, believing it was over when Neil Rackers trotted on to the field, and believing it was over when the Packers won the coin flip before overtime. Turns out I was wrong on both counts. “It’s one of those games you hate to play great and not go away with a victory,” quarterback Kurt Warner said, and fortunately, the Cards don’t have to worry about that.

It’s getting late (that’s pretty much an Aftermath theme, no?) so some of my post-midnight thoughts:

— Larry Fitzgerald joked that Warner was going to play another four or five years. That’s not going to happen, but man, it’ll be tough to see him walk away knowing he still can play like this. How are these numbers, by the way: In Warner’s last three playoff games – the NFC Championship, the Super Bowl, and Sunday – Warner has 1,035 yards passing and 12 touchdown passes. That’s just sick.

— I do not want to get into the whole Anquan Boldin debate right now, and I will say for the record I hope Boldin can make it back for the Saints game because I think that would be important. But – and it may simply be coincidence – Warner has thrown 10 touchdown passes (with zero interceptions) in the two games Boldin has missed, at Chicago and then Sunday against Green Bay. They were the Cards’ two highest scoring games of the season.

— Oh, did anyone notice the Cards gouged the NFL’s top rushing defense for 156 yards? It was the quietest big rushing day I’ve ever seen. Beanie Wells had 91 yards on 14 carries and it was lost in the shuffle. The Cards averaged 6.8 yards a carry. Take that, Rodney Harrison.

— LaRod Stephens-Howling played a impressive offensive role. He made a big catch for a first down in the red zone to set up the Cards’ first TD and added an 18-yard run (which also had a facemask penalty tagged on the back end) to set up another score. “It felt good to be in the offense as much as I was today,” he said. “That’s just an electric feeling to be out there.”

— What a physical battle between Fitzgerald and Charles Woodson today. Woodson got his hands up in the facemask of Fitzgerald on one play – isn’t that a penalty? – and then stripped Fitzgerald for a big fumble that may have kept the Cards from sealing the game much, much earlier than it was. But Fitzgerald slipped Woodson later for his first TD when Woodson fell down, and then Fitzgerald made a beautiful, diving one-handed catch for a touchdown after giving a little love tap to Woodson – isn’t that a penalty? – to clear some space. Woodson may be named NFL defensive player of the year this week, but Fitz gets to keep playing.

— Absolutely love seeing Gabe Watson and Darnell Dockett in the backfield. Dockett is lobbying for the ball. Coach Ken Whisenhunt, at least hearing it from Dockett, might not be all that keen on the idea. Still, with the way Fox broke down Dockett’s blocking on Tim Hightower’s touchdown Sunday, “I’m definitely going to TiVo that play if nothing else.”

— The Packers averaged exactly one turnover per game this season. Sunday, they had three. The Packers averaged 2.5 turnovers forced per game. Sunday, they had one. Just a huge victory by the Cards, who were turnover-creating machines in the playoffs last year as well.

— Michael Adams is one of my favorite people on the Cardinals. It’s hard not to root for the guy. So the ending against the Packers was good to see. It’s tough to remember another player playing as rocky of a game as Adams did Sunday and still getting a chance at late redemption.

— Rolle, on Aaron Rodgers: “That dude is phenomenal. He’s a true champion and a true warrior and I don’t want to play him again.” No worries, Antrel. It’s Drew Brees time. The Cards are on to the Divisional round.

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Nugent cut, Banks promoted

Posted by Darren Urban on January 2, 2010 – 12:09 pm

Well, Neil Rackers really must be OK, because the Cards cut kicker Mike Nugent today, making way for Rackers to get back on the field Sunday now that he’s recovered from his groin injury. In Nugent’s place, the Cardinals have promoted defensive lineman Jason Banks to the 53-man roster. Coach Ken Whisenhunt had already said Rackers was kicking this weekend, but in all honesty I thought as a precaution they’d keep Nugent around. Then again, that clears the way to inactivate a defensive lineman Sunday, should the Vikings win and make the game against the Packers basically meaningless.

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An “irritating” scenario for Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2010 – 1:02 pm

The Vikings lose Sunday, and the Cardinals are playing for the No. 2 seed and a bye. The Vikings win, and fighting hard for No. 3 or No. 4 — when you’re making key players susceptible to injury or showing trends to make it easy for the Packers to scout you — doesn’t make as much sense.

It’s made getting ready this week, with everyone knowing all the different possibilities, difficult. And not an ideal situation.

“It’s irritating,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “This type is irritating, because it is more the unknown. Listen, I am glad we are in this situation because we know we are in the playoffs and all we’re doing is working to get a better seed, and that’s always a good thing. I’d like to have the two or the one seed already locked up. That’s the best.

“But this is different because we’re waiting on another game just to see if we even have a chance at the No. 2 seed. That determines a lot of what you do going forward.”

Interestingly, the teams with the first-round bye the last four seasons are just 7-9 in their initial playoff games. The bye teams lost three of four last season, including both NFC teams (the Giants and the Panthers).

“We were a benefactor of that,” Whisenhunt said. “Who knows? There is a theory it’s better to play in the Wild Card games to keep your routine going. It worked for us last year. But it’s always great to have a week off, especially when you are a team like us where you’ve had how ever many weeks straight since our bye week.”

Safety Antrel Rolle (thigh) didn’t practice today and he probably will try and go if the No. 2 seed is on the line. Otherwise, nope. Kicker Neil Rackers (groin) will kick. The other five guys listed as questionable — TE Ben Patrick (head), WR Sean Morey (head), FB Dan Kreider (neck), DE Kenny Iwebema (head) and RB Beanie Wells (groin) — all will likely be subject to the same What-did-the-Vikings-do scrutiny.

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Whiz reveals a bit more

Posted by Darren Urban on December 31, 2009 – 1:39 pm

There wasn’t any change on the injury front Thursday, with safety Antrel Rolle (thigh) still sitting out and kicker Neil Rackers (groin) doing a bit more but still limited. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said, assuming Rackers continues to progress, that Rackers should play Sunday against the Packers. We’ll see on Rolle. But that may depend on a game in the Metrodome three hours earlier than the Cards’ game.

“It’s going to depend on what happens in the game before us, no doubt,” Whisenhunt said. “We’ll obviously make some decisions based on how the Minnesota-Giants game goes, not only with the health of our players but certain other players. That will factor into it. You have to be smart in this game and make sure you err to the side of having a healthy team heading into the playoffs.”

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