Bell future and playing it safety

Posted by Darren Urban on April 7, 2014 – 11:30 am

The Cardinals brought Yeremiah Bell in for cheap last season, a minimum salary deal to have a smart presence both in the secondary (he started every game) and in the locker room. There was always the chance he could return, and indeed, Mike Jurecki reported the Cards have extended a one-year offer to Bell. Jurecki also reported Bell is leaning towards retirement.

Retiring wouldn’t be a shock given Bell’s age (36) but it does go against his thoughts the day after the season ended. “I’m glad I came here as a player,” Bell said. “I didn’t know a lot of these guys before I came here but to sit in this locker room and go through battle each week with these guys was really nice. Of course I’d love to be back here with these guys but this is a business. We’ll see how it goes.”

Things change, though, and sometimes, the effort and work required for an older player to get through another season isn’t worth the paycheck — however handsome it might look to someone who doesn’t play the game. The other factor is the reality that a safety spot would probably not be a lock for Bell if the Cards were able to find help in the draft. That’s something else that would need to be considered.

This is a draft where the Cards can find a safety. The Cards have been linked to potential first-round picks Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, but they can probably nab one later if they go in a different first-round direction. It’s definitely a position in need of an upgrade. Coach Bruce Arians said late in the season he was generally pleased with Bell’s play, but there is no question the Cards’ inability to cover tight ends — a job that in part fell on Bell — was an Achilles’ heel all season. The Cards also have unknowns around the return of starter Tyrann Mathieu. Second-year man Tony Jefferson may be ready for a bigger role. Rashad Johnson remains a component of the rotation. Bell would probably be a fallback option at this point, but one that would allow more flexibility on draft day. We’ll have to see if his Arizona tenure has a chance to continue.

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Extra money for lesser paid Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on March 24, 2014 – 1:59 pm

Part of the collective bargaining agreement is the performance-based pay system every season. Each team has a pool of money — this year it is $3.46 million — to distribute among all the players who played for it the previous season. The money is doled out based on playing time and the amount of money you made in the first place. In other words, think of the lesser paid players (rookies, cheap starters) who played a ton. They get the most cash. There is a caveat. Players don’t actually get the money until April 1, 2016, an agreement made by the players’ union in a trade to have a larger 2013 salary cap.

For the Cardinals, safety Yeremiah Bell made the most. Bell was paid just $905,000 last season (adjusted, with his veteran status, to a $621,000 salary cap hit) but played almost 80 percent of the defensive snaps. That earned him an extra $263,097.

Nine Cardinals total earned an extra six figures through the distribution:

— T Bradley Sowell $247,150 ($480,000 adjusted compensation last season)
— G Paul Fanaika $223,625 ($683,500)
— S Tyrann Mathieu $209,788 ($570,625)
— TE Jim Dray $165,375 ($647,850)
— S Tony Jefferson $131,510 ($408,366)
— WR Jaron Brown $125,954 ($408,000)
— RB Andre Ellington $125,680 ($430,966)
— DL Frostee Rucker $104,261 ($624,200)

Everybody who played in a game got something — even linebacker Vic So’oto, who signed in Week 4 and briefly played against Tampa Bay before suffering an injury that ended his Arizona tenure. Of the nine, Dray, of course, is gone, having signed with the Browns. Bell is unsigned but there is still a chance the Cards could bring him back. The other seven are on the roster and figure to be a part of the 2014 roster.


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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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Safeties in numbers

Posted by Darren Urban on December 26, 2013 – 10:38 am

Tony Jefferson said he normally gets nervous before games. For some reason, he didn’t feel that way Sunday in Seattle. Forget about the part that he was making his first NFL start, or that it was coming in a hard place to play against arguably the best team in the NFL. And it’s not like defensive coordinator Todd Bowles took it easy on Jefferson, playing the undrafted rookie all 52 defensive snaps.

It’s not like the Cards had much of a choice, given the season-ending knee injury to starting safety Tyrann Mathieu and the bad ankle sprain of backup Rashad Johnson. But Jefferson had a solid game (one that could have been even more exciting had the rules not said a missed field goal is dead once the ball hits the upright, since Jefferson grabbed it on the fly and went to return it.) More importantly, it could have given the Cardinals a little breathing room going into the offseason at the position.

Johnson, who could be ready to play this week, will be back next year. But Bell is older and a free agent, and there will remain a big unknown of how long Mathieu will be out rehabbing his torn ACL/LCL. If Jefferson can work out long term, even as just depth, speaks again to the job GM Steve Keim has done building the roster. “I did (like what I saw),” Bowles said of Jefferson. “He’s a tough tackler. He has some things to learn mentally and needs to be a little more vocal, but as far as a straight football player, he was pretty good last week.”

Said Jefferson, “I was just ready to get out there and hit somebody.”

With Mathieu’s rehab, Keim’s approach to the offseason in terms of safety will be altered from what it would have been. But to have Jefferson hold up against the Seahawks gives the Cardinals more options than they might have had.


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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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Colts aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 24, 2013 – 8:04 pm

Bruce Arians stuck with them. That’s what popped to mind Sunday. There were many calls to dump Rashard Mendenhall to the bench and Carson Palmer too. The Cardinals’ coach didn’t. Sunday that paid off.

This isn’t to reignite the Mendenhall-Ellington debate. I still think Ellington is the better back (and oh my he showed some of his shifty goodness against the Colts, especially with that 17-yard run along the sideline) but Mendenhall had a burst against Indy we hadn’t seen. And if he can play like that, he’s worth having on the field and worth being the yin to Ellington’s yang. As for Palmer, the cacophony surrounding him when he was throwing way too many interceptions was hard to ignore. Arians stood by him. Now? Palmer looks like a QB of a playoff team.

“The biggest difference really is trust,” Palmer said, before admitting, “It took a little longer than you’d like.”

There are many things going well for the Cardinals right now. But offensively, they are clicking, and those two vets are in the middle of it.

— It does feel like sometimes, the defense gets a short shrift. They just do what they do, they control the game, and the Cards are winning (or at least have a chance to win). Palmer said it best: “Identity-wise, we’re a defensive football team,” the quarterback said.

— After all the talk all week of Arians and his Colts memories, that was more or less put aside Sunday. Lots of pre-game hugs (and a few postgame) but basically it’s been the B.A. the Cards have known all year. “It’s crazy, he’s been even keel all week,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said.

— If there was a question about which better second-half unit would win the second half – the Colts’ offense or the Cardinals’ defense – it came out on the Cardinals’ favor. Arizona took the second half, 13-8, and honestly, I’m not sure how safety Yeremiah Bell didn’t get a hand on the lone touchdown pass to tight end Coby Fleener.

— Then again, if you would have said Luck would give up as many touchdowns throwing the ball as scoring, the Cards would have taken it.

— Good to see you hold on to one, Karlos Dansby.

— Good to see Darnell Dockett not get a sack on that play, too. “I don’t care,” Dockett said. “They say, ‘You had the sack.’ I don’t care, Karlos had the touchdown, and I’ll take the interception touchdown over a sack any day. I’m glad I didn’t hit his arm and knock the ball out.”

— Arians with his quote of the day, talking about his second half defense against the explosive Colts: “We didn’t want any bullets left in the gun. I know I’m not supposed to say bullets anymore. It’s not the politically correct thing. But here in Arizona it’s OK.”

— It was kind of amazing that the Cardinals, on their first two TD drives, did not face a third down. That’s one way to avoid the third-down conversion problem.

— Speaking of that, 7-for-14 on third downs works. And Dave Zastudil only punted twice. He had never had fewer than four in a game since joining the Cardinals in 2011.

— Palmer’s touchdown of 26 yards to Larry Fitzgerald was a thing of beauty. Palmer hung in the pocket a long time and absorbed a crushing hit by linebacker Kelvin Sheppard while delivering the perfect pass – with Fitz being chased by two defenders.

— According to media relations VP Mark Dalton, that makes the Cards 13-3 overall wearing the red-red uniforms and seven in a row. And here I am feeding into the frenzy. I disappoint myself.

— Fitz looked like Fitz on those touchdown catches. He now has eight this season, double his 2012 total. His other numbers don’t match up to what he’d like, but heck. All he does is catch touchdowns. The Cards could live with that.


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Arians talks the day after

Posted by Darren Urban on October 18, 2013 – 1:09 pm

Bruce Arians met with the media to talk, post-video-watching, about the Seahawks game. The players are in meetings now but will have the weekend off before going through a full padded practice Monday. Some of the Arians highlights:

— The pressure was too much for QB Carson Palmer and the pass protection must improve, Arians said. “Looking back, neither interception was (Palmer’s) fault whatsoever,” Arians said. “He protected the football like he needed to.”

Someone said to Arians if he felt that even Peyton Manning would have the same problems behind the protection right now.

“Tom Brady or Peyton Manning,” Arians said.

— Arians said he’d like to get Bobby Massie — who was active for the game Thursday — some game action soon. That will be interesting to see. Guard Earl Watford is a little further off at this point.

— The coach remained disappointed with his offensive production. He said it was the first time in 20 years he didn’t have a team get an explosive play.

— Arians said he had no plans to change the running back personnel.

— The only injury of note was G Daryn Colledge, who hurt his back. Arians said he was hopeful Colledge would return for practice Wednesday. Arians said Patrick Peterson had some issues with jammed fingers, but was fine. Wide receiver Brittan Golden (hamstring) also could return next week.

— Arians did say safety Yeremiah Bell made a bad play on the long touchdown pass, but generally he was happy with Bell’s play this season.

— Leftover from the San Francisco game: Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett was fined $7,875 for his late hit on running back Frank Gore. Safety Tyrann Mathieu was fined $7,875 for for grabbing running back Kendall Hunter after Hunter scored a touchdown and unnecessarily throwing him to the ground. Defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu was fined $10,000 for kicking Niners offensive lineman Alex Boone, although Boone was fined $7,875 for unnecessarily striking Ta’amu.

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Seahawks aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 17, 2013 – 11:52 pm

The Cardinals were hoping to at least get a split in this five-game stretch against the elite of the NFC West. That didn’t happen, clearly. So the Cards move on, with an extra couple of days to prep for a flailing Atlanta team that will come into Arizona a week from Sunday. The next three games are home against the Falcons and Texans – neither of which have played very well and have been punished with injuries – and then a road trip to Jacksonville. The season could turn quickly. But the Cards better figure out what ails them, especially offensively.

It’s late. This won’t be long. But in light of a rough game against the Seahawks Thursday night:

— Bruce Arians said he didn’t consider a quarterback change. What would go into the process, he was asked. It’s not just interceptions themselves.

“It’s the reasons for the interceptions,” Arians said. “Is it his decision-making? If it’s his decision-making, then we will make the change. The first (interception) to me was obvious pass interference (on Larry Fitzgerald), and the safety makes a great play. The second one was just a poor decision. Those are the ones we have to look at.”

— No surprise defensive end Calais Campbell played. He said there was a doubt coming into the day, but once he ran around he felt ready. He had a team-high eight tackles. Campbell also warmed up in an old-school Bryan Cox neck-brace/extension (google the image) but apparently discarded it before coming out for kickoff.

— I haven’t seen Andrew Luck play yet, but my vote right now for the best QB out of the current young bunch is Russell Wilson. He is so impressive on so many levels.

— The slow start was on both the offense and defense Thursday. Veteran safety Yeremiah Bell lamented too many busted coverages early — something that shouldn’t be happening — and Daryl Washington complained about the shoddy tackling. The offense needs to be much, much better but that’s 66 points allowed in the two games this week.

— So in the last two Thursday games the Cards have played, they have allowed a total of 16 sacks. That’s a tough way to live on national TV.

— Not the way I’m sure Machine wanted his send-off. Regardless, good luck in retirement.

— Larry Fitzgerald could have drilled defensive back Walter Thurmond on a blindside block early in the game. He did not, and Thurmond, while blocked, could’ve been much worse for wear. Later in the game, Fitzgerald did pop Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman harder, although replays showed Fitz could’ve creamed him much harder. And you wonder why Fitz has such a good reputation among his peers.

“I tried not to hit him too hard,” Fitzgerald said. “They fine you on those crackbacks and penalize you too. I didn’t want to put my team in a position to lose 15 yards in the red zone like that. I just tried to make a smart play.”

— GM Steve Keim said Bradley Sowell was going to have his ups and downs at left tackle. Thursday was definitely a down. He had a rough game getting pushed back, down and away by what is a very good Seattle defensive line. There were plenty of plays where other linemen had issues, but Sowell – with the Seahawks able to pin their ears back and come without fear of the run – was overmatched one-on-one much of the time.

— Not a whole lot else to say on this one. The Seahawks a good team. Better than the 49ers right now. After these two games, the Cards know where they stand. They wish it was in a better spot.


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Niners aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 13, 2013 – 10:26 pm

It was, in a lot of ways, seconds from the perfect quarter for the Cardinals. They had withstood two early Carson Palmer interceptions and the defense somehow allowed almost nothing in stoning the 49ers right where they were before two measly field goals, They had withstood 171 yards receiving in the first half from tight end Vernon Davis.

(Another tight end. Truly an Achilles heel this season.)

But they were down just eight at the half, and they stopped the Niners on a three-and-out when Tyrann Mathieu pulled down the much bigger Colin Kaepernick on a run. Then came a nine-play TD drive capped by a Michael Floyd 10-yard scoring catch. Then came another three-and-out.  And the Cards embarked on another long drive, surely to end with points and a lead and after 11 plays … Fitz lost the fumble.

Now, after the Fitz fumble, the 49ers were still stuck at their own 11. Another three-and-out – and at that point, it’s not like the defense was tired – and the Cards could have overcome. But it didn’t play out that way. Frankly, if you would have said before Sunday the Cards would have four turnovers, I would have expected a major blowout. Is it progress? Not really. As Bruce Arians said, close means nothing. (I’m paraphrasing.) But if the Cards can bottle that third quarter – most of it, anyway – that’d be progress.

— Of Palmer’s first six passes, two were incomplete (one of those being nearly intercepted), two were caught for two and three yards, respectively, and two were intercepted. An awful start. It seemed like a chance for Drew Stanton at some point, and indeed, after the second pick, Stanton took off the baseball cap he usually wears on the sideline and put on his helmet.

But Palmer steadied himself. After the second interception, Palmer completed 23-of-35 passes for 293 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. That’s a passer rating of 110.8. The Cards are lucky the poor start didn’t bury them. But you see Palmer calmly talking to Tom Moore after the second pick and realize, Palmer truly is able to move past mistakes quickly.

— Scary moment for defensive end Calais Campbell, although it looks like he will be OK. I was stunned when the crowd at Candlestick started the Wave while Campbell was being put on a stretcher. Clearly, it wasn’t everyone in the stands, but it was more than just a few. It was nice to see so many 49ers players and others in the organization talk about how dumb it was. Because it was.

— Fitz had a very good game, but we’ll see if his right hamstring can hold up for a Thursday game. He was moving slowly after the game.

— Vernon Davis ended up with eight catches for 180 yards, again with 171 of those yards in the first half. The Cards had a few different players on him in the first half – linebacker Karlos Dansby, cornerback Jerraud Powers and safety Yeremiah Bell among them.

“Vernon is a tough matchup,” Bell said. “You’re going to win some and you are going to lose some.”

— Andre Ellington another very good game. Explosive 15-yard touchdown run. Averaged eight yards on seven rushes, got 36 yards on five catches. He’s become a major weapon, although I guess I could stop saying that.

— Brittan Golden was promoted to the active roster from the practice squad this week in place of Kerry Taylor. Wondered what he had showed. Uh yeah, apparently it was speed. Lots of it. He looks like that take-the-top-off-the-defense guy that Taylor couldn’t be and like none of the other receivers are.

“It was great to get the first catch,” said Golden, whose 53-yard bomb set up Ellington’s TD run. “It sucks that we lost. I know everyone when we walked out, we felt we could win the game. With the situation, it’s a little bittersweet.”

— After the Floyd touchdown, the Cardinals went for two to try and tie it. There was about eight minutes left in the third quarter. The Cards ran the same pitch and reverse-field pass play by Patrick Peterson. His pass was eventually incomplete.

“At that point and time it was the time to do it,” Arians said. “The play was open. Patrick just didn’t see it soon enough.”

Fitzgerald was open initially but Peterson didn’t throw the pass. The miss also left the Cards down nine after the 49ers’ long fourth-quarter TD drive.

— OK. It’s late, it’s a short week, and there’s lot to do. That’s a wrap for tonight.


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Rashad Johnson’s 9.5 fingers to sit vs. Bucs

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2013 – 8:28 am

Safety Rashad Johnson was not cleared by doctors to play with his severed fingertip so he will not be active today against the Bucs. As expected, Tyrann Mathieu will start in his place.

No Johnson is a blow especially to a special teams unit that was already missing Lorenzo Alexander and Sam Acho. Special teams was a spot where the Cardinals had been consistent. We will have to see how the unit can respond. You figure rookie Tony Jefferson will also take a bigger role all the way around. The fact the Buccaneers probably will run the ball more with a rookie quarterback lends itself to the play of vet safety Yeremiah Bell, too (although the Cards must tackle better than they have.)

The rest of the inactive list comes as no surprise. Nose tackle Dan Williams (father’s death) and linebacker Kevin Minter (hamstring) were already out. The others sitting:

— QB Ryan Lindley

— RB Ryan Williams

— T Bobby Massie

— G Earl Watford

For the Buccaneers, QB Josh Freeman, benched this week, is inactive. Wide receivers Mike Williams (ankle) and Vincent Jackson (ribs) are active.

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