Still on the market

Posted by Darren Urban on May 7, 2013 – 11:13 am

The draft is over. Rosters for most teams have ballooned to the max of 90 or near it (the Cardinals, right now, have 88 on the roster.) And yet there are still a ton of veteran players out there without jobs that you wouldn’t think would be without jobs.

Some players you can understand why it might be happening. Both Michael Adams and Paris Lenon played significant time last season for the Cards, but both were free agents and their time had run its course in Arizona. Adams was always a Ken Whisenhunt favorite — with both Whiz and former special teams coach Kevin Spencer in San Diego, I expected Adams to end up with the Chargers, but it hasn’t happened yet — but his size isn’t great for a cornerback. Lenon played well but at his age, teams are looking to go younger and cheaper.

Of the players cut, Kerry Rhodes still hasn’t been picked up, nor Early Doucet or Beanie Wells. It’s not surprising with Beanie, unfortunately. His knees aren’t in good shape and he’s going to have to pass a physical for someone. But I thought Doucet would have a spot by now and Rhodes too. The Cards wanted Rhodes to take a pay cut, yes, but they wanted to find a way to extend his contract too and apparently he passed. So now what?

Those aren’t the only “names” on the market. actually has compiled an “All-Unemployed team” of players still looking for jobs, and it’s a pretty impressive list. (The Cardinals have been linked to defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, by the way, and they still need to sign a couple of players.) Some of these veterans are looking for money they probably aren’t going to get. Former front-office guy/agent Andrew Brandt pointed out this morning some vets may not be in a hurry to sign because the same minimal offers out there now will be there closer to camp (and then the vet doesn’t have to show up and work in the offseason.) That may be true. For some, you have to consider the risk/reward. Even if Lenon, for instance, was paid minimum, is that worth it at age 36 for the pounding his body takes?

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Waiting game for Cards’ own free agents

Posted by Darren Urban on February 18, 2013 – 3:49 pm

The Scouting combine is usually when the talk of free agency begins to start to pick up. Free agency doesn’t start until March 12, although teams can start negotiating (although not sign) potential UFAs from other teams on March 9. Until then, each team has the exclusive chance to talk with and re-sign their own impending free agents.

The Cardinals have a handful of their own free agents and there are some you’d think the Cards might want to bring back. Given the position and circumstances, I’d peg cornerback Greg Toler and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling would be at the top of the list. Toler began to play better in the second half of last season after missing all of 2011 with a torn ACL and would be a nice piece to keep around. Stephens-Howling has been a steady contributor over the years and the old regime wanted him back. It’s hard to know exactly where Toler, Stephens-Howling or any of the free agents fit in the new scheme of things.

Could the Cardinals get a deal or two done before free agency? Maybe. But general manager Steve Keim didn’t sound like anyone should be holding their breath, either.

“It’s always the plan,” Keim said. “We want to be pro-active and aggressive in our decisions but at the same time, you’ve got to understand a lot of the time, these guys are trying to see what the market is going to bring and their representatives have the mindset of, ‘Let’s see what is out there and then we will come back and talk.’ Not that they want to leave the Cardinals because I know a lot of our player’s agents have made overtures to me or Bruce (Arians) that they want to be here. At the same time they want to get market value as well.”

Other possible returnees among the UFAs would include quarterback Brian Hoyer, linebackers Paris Lenon and Quentin Groves and safety Rashad Johnson. (Although during a conference call Monday NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said this was a deep draft for safeties, so that could change some potential decisions.)

Unless a player is going to get a good chunk of money from his old team, it is understandable they test free agency by now. There is a reason extensions often come down in-season, because by the time we get to the end of the season — and the potential free agents can’t get hurt playing anymore — why wouldn’t you wait for free agency to arrive and shop your talents.

(Then again, if agents start poking around and find out their guys aren’t going to have big deals waiting for them when free agency starts, the player may be motivated to get something done sooner.)

The franchise tag isn’t going to come into play, either. Last year it made a ton of sense to do it for defensive end Calais Campbell. You aren’t going to do it for a Hyphen or a Toler. So when free agency begins in early March, the Cardinals will likely be working on contracts for their own guys as well as anyone else on the market they will try to bring in.


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Work to do on the linebacking lineup

Posted by Darren Urban on February 11, 2013 – 11:46 am

With the news, reported multiple places, that the Cards are a little more than $3 million over the salary cap about a month away from needing to get in compliance, general manager Steve Keim still has some maneuvering to do. Knowing now that new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is sticking with the 3-4 base defense, the linebacker corps remains a crucial part of the equation.

What that means going forward is the question as free agency/cap compliance/the offseason gets closer.

Daryl Washington, the Pro Bowler and burgeoning star, isn’t going anywhere. He got his new contract last year and is the cornerstone of the position. But beyond that? The biggest part of the to-do list is got to be the other inside linebacker spot next to Washington. Paris Lenon is an unrestricted free agent, but he is also going to turn 36 in November. With a new staff, those are often the kind of players that are left to move on, or brought back later in the offseason. But Lenon has been playing, which in Stewart Bradley’s two Cardinals’ seasons hasn’t been the case. Bradley took a reduction in salary last season of 50 percent and still didn’t play much on defense at all, relegated to mostly special teams. Again, that could change with a new defensive coordinator, but up against the cap and with Bradley owning a $6.5 million salary cap number for 2013, his return under that deal doesn’t make sense. At best, renegotiation/pay cut would be coming, although the Cards may just part ways. UPDATE: I’m not sure why I forgot to mention Reggie Walker, who played solidly this season. Walker is under contract for another season and surpassed Bradley on the depth chart.

(That’s the dangerous part of this process, however. Bradley would still cost $3M of dead cap space if released, which is still a savings of $3.5M, but it’s not like it’s zero impact. The cap hit has always got to be considered with moving on from any player or trading him. Sometimes it can be spread out over a couple of years, but it’s still a hit of worthless space.)

O’Brien Schofield and Sam Acho, your outside starters, still have to prove themselves to the new staff too, although the decision to go with a 3-4 base helps both tremendously. They might have a much harder time in a 4-3 setup finding a place to play.


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Breaking down the roster

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2013 – 3:24 pm

The combination of a 5-11 record and change with both the general manager and head coach usually leads to one thing: Roster turnover. Of course, none of that happens until the new GM and head coach are in place, and that isn’t happening tomorrow.

(Reiterating from Michael Bidwill on Monday: “It’s not going to move at lightning speed. You don’t want it to, because you learn a lot during your due diligence period.” Remember that concept.)

In the meantime, there are things to speculate upon. With that, here is my annual overview of the roster and where players stand contract-wise heading into the offseason. Free agency begins at 2 p.m. Arizona time on March 12. Until then, the Cardinals have the ability to re-sign any of their own players set to hit the market. With the shift in giving all draft picks at least four-year contracts, the shrinking of the restricted free agent market continues; the only RFA the Cards have is linebacker Brandon Williams, who was so far off the radar after being waived-injured back after training camp that he didn’t appear on the roster.

There are some key decisions to make:

— In terms of unrestricted free agents, it seems probable that all of them would choose to at least reach the market. At this point, there is probably nothing to lose, and would want to see their market value. The Cardinals need to figure out whether they want to lock down these guys. Of the 13 unrestricted guys on the market, the most intriguing include safety Rashad Johnson (given the looming decision on Adrian Wilson), linebacker Quentin Groves, running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, linebacker Paris Lenon and cornerback Greg Toler. I would not be shocked, especially with roster change, to see any of them leave. Lenon’s age works against him. Johnson’s future may be tied to whomever is coach.

— Of the players under contract, money may dictate change. We’ve covered QB Kevin Kolb’s situation plenty, but that will have to be figured out. I think the Cardinals would like to extend safety Kerry Rhodes, who has one more season, but he’s also due a $4.5 million salary and a $1 million reporting bonus next year and that might be too pricey for the team. I’d think they’d want to extend Rhodes and restructure the deal. He may end up in a Wilson situation from camp. Speaking of Wilson, does the team bring him back for a 13th season? That too may depend on the new decision-makers. Wilson is due a roster bonus in March so we may know soon. Curious to know what the Cards do with running back Beanie Wells, if anything.

Lots of questions like that. Obviously I’ve barely touched on most of them. It’s difficult to get too much of a read on them until those making the choices are in place. I think there are going to be plenty of comings and goings, and it won’t just be relegated to the coaching and GM searches.


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Packers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 4, 2012 – 6:30 pm

Perfection isn’t an option. Everyone knows that. But that means a couple of mistakes, not many. If Adrian Wilson is going to miss on a red-zone tackle that ultimately cost the Cardinals four points – the difference between a touchdown and a field goal – then Early Doucet can’t drop a couple of passes that should have gone for first downs, and John Skelton can’t force a ball into coverage that ends up being intercepted (and turned into a field goal) and the defense can’t get caught allowing a 72-yard touchdown pass, whether it was Paris Lenon or someone else.

Both sides of the ball had slow starts again Sunday. That wasn’t happening early in the year. The defense was punctured too many times in the first half. That wasn’t happening earlier in the year. The Cardinals lost again. That wasn’t happening earlier in the year.

What that means on the other side of the upcoming bye – a road trip to the currently undefeated Atlanta Falcons is up next – is anyone’s guess.

“It don’t get no easier, that’s for sure,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said.

Dockett was talking about the schedule. Hopefully he wasn’t foreshadowing how the Cards will play the rest of the season.

— The “big” story of the game, if you want to call it that, was the insertion of Nate Potter at left tackle. I thought during the game he held up well after coming in to replace D’Anthony Batiste in the second quarter. Potter got a lot of first-team work during practice last week so it wasn’t a surprise to see him. I’m guessing we will see him a lot more, and now he’ll have two weeks to prep for what I would suspect will be his first NFL start.

— No idea what has happened to the defense, especially early in games. They are playing well after some time, but those early hiccups are killing the Cards. Clearly the Cards set up to foil the Packers’ passing game Sunday, so the Packers said “OK, we’ll run.” And they ran for a season-high 176 yards, while Aaron Rodgers still got his four TD passes. If Wilson had just been able to make that first tackle of Randall Cobb on the catch-and-run – it was déjà vu of the Michael Crabtree San Francisco in-close catch-and-run – who knows how that might’ve changed things?

— The drops were not good, especially those of Doucet. According to Mike Sando of fame, Doucet already has six drops this season. “I had a couple of plays that I let get away from me,” Doucet said. “I need to do my job.” The question will be how many chances he’ll get to do that. Given Whiz’s post-game comments, this could easily be the point where Michael Floyd gets more playing time going forward. Floyd did have his best overall game, with five catches for 80 yards.

As for Doucet, Whiz shook his head when asked about what was wrong with Early, although he certainly wasn’t going to scapegoat his receiver. “I do not know. I do not know,” Whisenhunt said. “It’s not just him. We missed tackles. We missed a tackle on the first touchdown. There was a busted play on the 72 yard touchdown pass. That’s the point of what I am saying.”

— So much for the sack fest everyone – including me – was expecting. One sack for the Cards, two for the Packers.

— Whisenhunt was asked, again, about the possibility of rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley playing.

“I don’t know if the way that John (Skelton) played today would warrant that,” Whisenhunt said. “We feel like we’re going to go forward looking for the guys that can help us win. If that comes up in that situation, then we will certainly consider it.”

Personally, I didn’t think it was the quarterback play that got the Cards. There may be a point where the record dictates the Cards should try the rookie behind center. I don’t believe this is that time. Not yet.

— The Cards will have a couple of practices this week. There are multiple days off, something I believe is mandated by the CBA. I don’t know if this team needs a break – “After a loss, the one thing you want to do is get back on the field and play,” Lenon said – but I can’t say that I don’t welcome the mental respite.

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Some work under the lights

Posted by Darren Urban on October 1, 2012 – 7:56 pm

It was basically a walk-through tonight, which is what is expected a day after playing an NFL football game. The Cards will practice late afternoon tomorrow, and midday Wednesday before flying out for St. Louis.

The Cardinals did have an injury report, although as coach Ken Whisenhunt noted earlier today, the truth about how banged-up players like Darnell Dockett really are won’t be known until tomorrow at the earliest. And even then I am guessing Dockett and others will be game-day decisions whether they will play.

Monday’s list is long. CB Michael Adams (hamstring), TE Jim Dray (knee), TE Todd Heap (knee), RB LaRod Stephens-Howling (hip) and LB Quentin Groves (hamstring) did not practice. Dockett (hamstring) was limited, as was LB Paris Lenon (knee), LB O’Brien Schofield (knee), FB Anthony Sherman (hamstring), QB John Skelton (ankle), G Adam Snyder (elbow) and NT Dan Williams (foot).

For the Rams, among those on the injury report were RB Steven Jackson (groin) and T Rodger Saffold (knee), both of whom sat out.

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D-Wash uses speed to (help) score

Posted by Darren Urban on September 24, 2012 – 5:07 pm

Daryl Washington’s speed helped him harass Eagles quarterback Michael Vick all game Sunday. It was the reason he notched a pair of sacks. But nowhere was Washington’s speed more apparent than the final play of the first half not as a defender, but a blocker.

Safety James Sanders scooped up the fumble at his own 7-yard line and had a convoy (as you can see in the video below). But Eagles running back LeSean “Shady” McCoy had the angle, and there was no way Sanders was going to score — and he had to score, since time for the half expired on the play — without some help.

“As I saw McCoy, I’m thinking, ‘This could be a big play,’ ” Washington said. “So I hustled my butt. I’m tired. But it’s a hustle play.”

Washington ran a 4.51 at his pro day before he was drafted, but you watch the video, it looked like he was running faster than that. “I had people texting me that I was running like a corner,” Washington said with a smile. “I take pride in my speed.”

Washington raced up as if he was blasted out of a chute. No discredit to linebacker Paris Lenon or defensive linemen Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell, who both tried to keep up with Sanders, but Washington ended up necessary.

“I saw Paris and a couple guys, but I didn’t see D-Wash,” Sanders said. “I was trying to slow up a little bit to see if Paris and those other guys could get  McCoy out of the way. Then I saw 58 flying out of nowhere. I thought, ‘I’ll follow this stallion to the end zone.’ He went ahead and threw Shady out of the way and made it a lot easier for me.

“I knew it was a matter of time to get that last guy out of the way.”

(All I could think about was the Oregon kid I had seen on ESPN who also had a convoy on an interception but his teammates provided an epic fail. Thank goodness Washington was more on top of the situation.)

“James had four or five guys who could make the block, but I thought, ‘If I can get there before them …,’ ” Washington said. “You need the one guy to make the block. I knew it’d be a huge play. Just killed their whole spirit.”

Here’s what was really impressive. The Cards’ defense had been on the field for an intense 73-yard, 11-play drive just before the fumble. Exhaustion was setting in. “I ain’t going to lie, I was really tired on that play,” Lenon said. “I’m like for real. That (play) was great.” Washington felt it, but knew he needed to make one final push. The locker room awaited one way or the other.

“I thought, ‘Thank God it’s halftime,’ ” Washington said. ” ‘I’m not running in. I’m not jogging. I’m walking.’ ”


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Stuff your sorries in a sack

Posted by Darren Urban on September 20, 2012 – 12:48 pm

The Cardinals don’t have that one pass rusher, a la Bertrand Berry 2004, that piles up the sacks. For that reason, many have wondered about the Cards’ ability to get pressure on the passer. But as they proved last season — when they finished seventh in the NFL in sacks, despite their leading sack guy, Calais Campbell, having just eight — they are faring just fine in that regard. The Cards, in one fell swoop, took control of the NFL’s longest active streak of games with multiple sacks.

The Cardinals have done it eight games in a row, supplanting the Patriots, who had done it nine games in a row before the Cards made sure they got just one last weekend. Tom Brady, on the other hand, was sacked four times. The Cardinals already have seven sacks this season after posting 42 last season, with two each for Campbell and linebacker Paris Lenon. Next up is Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who can be had (the Cards sacked him twice last season).

It’s not always about the sack. Sometimes pressure is enough, or even better, depending on what you’re trying to do. But clearly the team is finding a way to get to the quarterback. Given that they rarely blitzed last week, it’s also a good sign they can generate sacks with just four rushers.

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Seahawks aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 9, 2012 – 8:33 pm

As well as the defense played – and make no mistake, the Cards would have been in huge trouble if the defense didn’t play the way it did – the way Kevin Kolb played when he came in in the fourth quarter was clearly the story Sunday. He airmailed his first throw well over Fitz’s head in a toss that looked like every ounce of adrenaline being pumped into one pass. But after that he was sharp, everything the Cards hoped he’d be. And that was his lone drive, save for his lone kneeldown at the end. He felt like the equivalent of a comic or rapper who just had the perfect finish, and then dropped the mic and walked off stage.

Kolb certainly didn’t act that way after – “To win a game in that fashion, the way the preseason went, I’ll definitely enjoy this evening,” Kolb said – you know he has to be feeling pretty good inside. The guy is human. Any one of us criticized to the level that he’s been criticized, redemption is always sweeter.

Of course, that’ll last a week, and he’ll start in New England, a brutal test, and he’ll have to put up or shut up again. But that’s in a week. Right now, it’s good.

— Everyone wondering about the relationship between Kolb and John Skelton, people talking about Kolb blowing off Skelton when he came off the field hurt in the Hall of Fame game or Skelton somehow acting happy when Kolb made mistakes in Tennessee are just foolish. When Skelton got hurt, it was Kolb on the field crouched down with the doctors, talking to him at that moment. Again, both guys desperately want to be the starter. But it isn’t personal, it’s why Kolb was never going to be a problem as a backup, and why there was genuine happiness for Kolb’s success in the locker room afterward.

— Skelton’s ankle sprain means he’ll be down a little while, I’d think. Ryan Lindley becomes the backup in that case. You’d think they’d sign someone. It can’t be Rich Bartel – since Bartel was put on IR before being released on an injury settlement, he can’t sign with the Cards for six weeks (at least, that’s what he tweeted.)

— Kolb will need the running game. The Seattle defense is good, but for Beanie and Ryan Williams to combine for 23 yards on 15 carries? Ouch. Wide receiver Andre Roberts was the Cards’ leading rusher with his lone end-around for 15 yards. LaRod Stephens-Howling even vultured the lone touchdown with his one-yard run on third down.

— The run game is what made coach Ken Whisenhunt’s answer to a good day from the pass protection – one sack despite the fears of two new tackles – tempered. “They brought a lot of pressure today, and we didn’t run the ball good enough, so how can you judge a line?” Whisenhunt said. “Based on protection? In that they did well. We didn’t run the ball very well. We have to get that fixed.”

— It’ll be interesting to see how bad the shoulder injury is to Jamell Fleming, but Michael Adams had a very, very good game in his place. He had three tackles and three passes defensed, including a pair of impressive breakups on that final drive. “Like any other day’s work,” said Adams, who probably wouldn’t have played much other than special teams if Fleming hadn’t gotten hurt. “When your number is called, you go out and make plays. Today I was able to make plays. I’m living for today. I don’t know if I’ll see tomorrow.”

— The timeout fiasco wasn’t good. The officials admitted later they basically gave Seattle four timeouts. Here’s an explanation from a guy who knows his stuff. I fall in the it-is-what-it-is camp.

— Two sacks for Paris Lenon, his career high (and he’s below, belting Seahawks QB Russell Wilson). “I just played within the scheme,” he said. He had a very good game and showed why he is such an important cog. Daryl Washington had a very good game too, and Reggie Walker got a ton of playing time – while Stewart Bradley was relegated to special teams.

— Calais Campbell with yet another blocked field goal, after three last year. Huge Sunday, since without the block, the Seahawks are down just one late and easily kick a field goal to win (unless, of course, Campbell would have blocked that one – which is always possible.)

— Tight end Todd Heap came up huge in the winning drive, with two big catches. Larry Fitzgerald didn’t have a gigantic game, but Kolb found him twice on that drive too. Obviously the Cards want him to get the ball more often, although they were so bad in the third quarter, there were hardly any snaps.

— After Adrian Wilson’s interception, he gave the ball to Patrick Peterson for a return attempt at the end of the first half. It was a far cry from in Seattle last year, when Peterson made a pick at the end of the half and Wilson implored him to get down and not risk a fumble. Wilson seemed to have forgotten that. “I know my role, and my role isn’t a runner with the ball,” Wilson deadpanned.

That’s it for tonight. It was a grind for the Cards, but they won, and it’ll make for a much better week than the alternative.

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Next up for a contract

Posted by Darren Urban on September 6, 2012 – 12:32 pm

With the news Daryl Washington got a contract extension, it changes the list of who might be next up for the Cardinals on the contract front. The obvious and probable choice is running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season and is a player whom general manager Rod Graves has already said is a target for a new deal. We’ll see if that comes to fruition, but the way the NFL is these days, a back who fills the Hyphen’s role is important to have.

Beyond that? The Cardinals have done a good job managing contracts at this point. Extensions are usually only there for younger players who you don’t want to hit the open market. Older veterans who play a role usually don’t get anything done until after the season and even then, after free agency arrives — if the team is going to bring them back at all. So some of the guys scheduled to be free agents after the season — defensive linemen Vonnie Holliday and Nick Eason, tight end Todd Heap, safety James Sanders, linebacker Quentin Groves, tackle D’Anthony Batiste — probably aren’t going to get into talks until later.

One intriguing name is linebacker Paris Lenon, but he likely falls into the previous category, even as he is about to start for a third straight season and was named captain again. Lenon said he thinks he has more in the tank for beyond 2012, but we’ll see if the Cards’ front office has thoughts that dovetail with that. Beyond Lenon, there are younger guys like linebacker Reggie Walker and defensive backs Rashad Johnson and Michael Adams. I don’t see any of them getting new deals in season.

Other than that, the Cards are in good shape through 2013 in terms of key guys under contract. I know some are asking about Patrick Peterson, but he’s already under contract through 2015. He’ll have to be locked up before then, but there is plenty of time for that.

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