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You've Got Mail: 49ers Week, Part One

Topics include Larry Fitzgerald, practice squad protections, and the absent crowd


Here we are, against all -- well, at least some -- odds. It's Week One, the Cardinals play in San Francisco against the 49ers Sunday, and we will see where the 2020 season might take us. In the meantime, here is a mailbag to pass the time. As always, you can leave a question by going here.

From Bob Livingston via

"How does Larry Fitzgerald fit in to this year's plans. I have been a Cards fan my entire life and also a season ticket holder."

I don't have the exact breakdown -- Kliff Kingsbury tends to shy away from such information before the season -- but there is little question a) Fitz should once again be a main target for Kyler Murray and b) he's earned that with his work habits. Given where they are in their careers I'd be surprised if Hopkins doesn't emerge with the most targets, but if defenses are worried too much about D-Hop, Fitzgerald has the ability to cause problems, even in Year 17.

From Lin Boon via

"Hi Darren, do you think its an absolute certainty we extend Chandler? He contract is up in 2021, when he's 31 and I just think back to Calais Campbell who was only 29 when we determined he was 'too old' to keep. When it comes to ageism in football, I understand CBs and WRs (Fitz excluded) lose a step. But with guys like Chandler and Campbell, I don't think their skillsets are effected by age until their mid 30s. Heck, Campbell almost won the DPOTY with the Jags. So what do you think with Chandler? It's going to be gigantic money, as you'd expect. I would absolutely be beside myself if we let Chandler walk."

I don't think anything is an absolute certainty. Jones still has two years left on his deal, and given current circumstances, I think I'd be surprised if anything happened during this season. I understand the natural comparison to Campbell, but to be clear, it wasn't they thought Campbell too old per se just that he would fade by the end of the four-year contract he was seeking (and he obviously proved that wrong.) Right now, yes, I expect them to extend Jones at some point. Don't know when. Don't know how the likely salary cap drop will impact those things, or even the market. Will all contracts take a hit, or will the high-end players still get all of theirs and every other contract drops?

From Daniel Martin del Campo via

"Hi Darren, a lifetime fan from Mexico City here! My question is regarding the canceled game that was programmed for 'Monday Night Football' in my city. Do you know if its like on a pending status? Is it going to happen whenever it can or it has been canceled forever? Thanks a lot and RISE UP RED SEA!"

That has yet to be announced. I would think it would still be happening at some point, perhaps as soon as 2021. But those kinds of decisions aren't going to be made until there is some coronavirus clarity, and that seems far away right now.

From Lo Bean via

"What's the story here, Darren? C'mon, out with it. What happened with Hakeem Butler behind the scenes? For him to not even make the practice squad means there is bad blood. It's feeling like a Robert Nkemdiche situation. So what stories have you heard? He late all the time, get in fights, what?"

I have never heard one thing about Butler being an issue off the field. He did struggle on the field however. Butler's raw tools were something to behold. But when coaches talk about receivers needing to be fluid, Butler never looked fluid. His consistency wasn't there. And sometimes, other guys are better. Kingsbury said Monday "it wasn't working here." When you see that they brought back three receivers to the practice squad ahead of him, that tells you the thought process. I did think JoJo Ward and A.J. Richardson had better camps (albeit I am not a personnel guy). With Patton, they kept a guy who has similar height as Butler. Sometimes with a roster move, it's the looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, it's a duck thing.

From Larry Legend via

"Hi Darren, I was wondering what the strategy is behind cutting players on different days when getting the roster down to 53. Why release Hakeem Butler on Friday, but Evan Weaver on Saturday versus everyone all together? Are they waiting to see who other teams release? Are the players released closer to the deadline more likely to get signed to the practice squad? Thanks!"

There can be different reasons. It's possible they let Butler go early because they knew they wouldn't bring him back and wanted to give him an early looksee from the rest of the league so he could find a job. Sometimes it's because they know for sure who they are letting go in some instances and there is still discussion going on about others. And yes, sometimes you wait as long as you can so a guy is out there in the flooded cut market so there is less chance someone grabs him.

From Lorenzo Tewahaftewa via

"First, can the players work with the NFL to make masks with their names and number to benefit their charities? Second, when can I get them in the order I want?"

from Roldon Patterson via

"Hi Darren. Question about the practice squad. My understanding is that teams can have up to four players each week that are basically off-limits to other teams. Do those players have to first go through waivers?"

Players that were cut that were not vested veterans all had to go through waivers. Vets were automatically free agents. This year, vets can be on the practice squad, but yes, every player was out there for the taking if someone wanted first. In terms of the protection, player are protected from a certain deadline Tuesday (I'd guess starting at 4 p.m. Eastern) through the game Sunday. Every practice squad player then can be poached after the game through that Tuesday deadline, when players can be protected again.

From Zero Tanata via

"Hey Darren, I just realized this is Chase Edmonds' last year on contract. He is a free agent this coming summer. With all the distractions of David Johnson and Kenyan Drake, we never really stopped to think we could lose Edmonds. I myself feel strongly you don't overpay RBs. Let Drake walk. But it does mean we have to pay Edmonds enough to keep him, and who knows, maybe other teams have spotted his talent. I'm sure they have. So, it may be that come 2021, Chase will be our No.1 RB, and he will be paid as such. That's an interesting storyline I haven't heard."

Well, Zero, one reason you haven't heard it is because Edmonds is actually under contract through the 2021 season. So we're still a year away from hearing such things. It is possible Edmonds will move up the depth chart depending on what happens this season and the following offseason with Drake, but his contract status isn't a concern yet. Certainly not ahead of a lot of other more pressing deals.

From GGE Douglas via

"Darren, diving into your memory bank, can you recall all the times that a Cardinals locker room became obsessed with a particular game or activity? This always interesting to me. Across the entire NFL, a team will get enthralled by some game for one or two seasons, and then find something new the next season. I know the Vikings were super into the board game Risk a couple years back. This year it looks like chess is the Cardinals thing. But I can remember articles in the past where you wrote about the team becoming obsessed with ping pong or foosball or mahjong or some various board game.Can you think of past games and also any thoughts on how a game takes hold?"

Honestly, nothing is popping into my head. Chess was an organic thing in part because it started in multiple spots -- Kyler has always played, Fitz has long played and introduced Trent Sherfield, and so on. But I cannot recall anything beyond this -- other than the current Call of Duty stuff on line, but that's certainly not in the locker room.

From Tim from Phoenix via

"Hi Darren: I understand the advantages of not showing the competition too much of your hand during preseason, but the extent to which the Cardinals' blocked coverage of the first and second strings during the Red-White practice surprised me. Have other teams done the same thing this training camp season? Are there any player stats available from that scrimmage apart from the ones we all saw regarding the Benjamin runs?"

This has been a unique season in a lot of ways. One part has been the ability for teams to be secretive since practices were closed to fans and there were no preseason games. Trust me, I don't like that either, with a lot of stuff off-limits when I'm trying to write about or podcast about the team. The Cowboys broadcast a scrimmage with no names or numbers on the jerseys. If practices had fans, this wouldn't be an issue. For the Cardinals themselves, when it came to the starters, unfortunately by the time we got to that day in camp, they weren't scheduled to do much -- it's not like they weren't shown as much as they didn't do anything to show. Hopefully, next year, we will be back to normal.

From Robert Malicki via

"How will a very limited crowd to no crowd affect a game? Consistently competitive teams can become dependent on a rabid crowd presence moreso than second-division teams. Can we be witnesses to a flip-flop of how a squad's game tempo and focus response is altered? As a fan of high school baseball and semi-pro football very small crowds or no crowd is the norm and players get used to that playing environment. How coaches and players from different experiences prepare and handle this new gameday reality could affect everything from choreographed TD celebrations to the betting line."

You are exactly right, which is why the league is piping in crowd noise and teams -- including the Cardinals -- are planning to go through a normal (and loud) pregame introduction ceremony, to keep things as normal as possible. Every player has talked about how weird this will be. Will it impact games? I don't see why not. It's not just the atmosphere to get guys ramped up emotionally. Will there be less nervousness from young players? So many questions.

From Alex Franklyn via

"Do Andy Lee and Fitz have any sort of relationship at all? The fact that two teammates from Pitt are here together 17 years down the road is astounding to me. And yet I don't think I've ever really observed them interacting or having a friendship. Do they?"

Yes, they interact. Lee is a punter, so naturally, those guys tend to interact less with teammates in part because their schedule is a little different. I don't know if I'd classify them as best friends, but it's not like they ignore each other.

From Star 8-8 via

"Hello Darren. This is a question for Budda Baker, but maybe you can give your thoughts. It's an open secret that Budda wants to play for Seattle. He's a Seattle kid, who actually trained with the LOB (prior to their breakup). It's like Earl Thomas wanting to play for his hometown Dallas. Budda wants to play for Seattle. Which was interesting to me that he signed here long-term. I'm not dumb, you gotta sign the contract when the money is on the table, no matter where it is. So of course he re-signed with us for mega bucks, his family is secure now. But maybe at the end of this contract (four years is a short time), do you think he looks to go home?"

I'm not sure where you get "open secret." Maybe Budda wouldn't mind playing for the Seahawks, but I have never gotten the sense he's thirsting for it. Four years is a long time. And as Thomas is finding out, just because as a player you want to go somewhere doesn't mean that somewhere will want you. I think Budda is happy with the Cards and the Cards paid him because they are happy with him. The question of 2025 can come later.

From Joel Lewis via

"Darren, I'm not naming names, but some of these questions that reporters are asking players on these Zoom interviews, man. Somebody the other day asked Vance to describe Budda's and Chandler's friendship. What's he suppose to say? Yeah, they're pals. What about it? And why does it matter. Ask them, not me. Another one, somebody asked (I think Josh Jones) 'What have your teammates done to make you feel welcome?' Before you ask that question, do you consider the possibility that the answer is 'nothing?' In fact, that's probably the answer. This ain't Boy Scouts. Empathetic journalism man. Is this a lost art? I took an elective over there at the Cronkite School, and I clearly remember that before you ask a question, you should put yourself in the shoes of the other person."

Joel, having actually taken all the Cronkite classes to get a journalism degree, I have to say you sound like someone who took just one. In the initial case, you don't think asking the coach who is around the two players in question the most might not have an opinion? Or see an example? (In fact, Vance actually refuted the idea they were close, which is a pretty significant answer actually.) How do you know the answer if you don't ask. Almost every single good quote that's ever been uttered in an interview session comes because someone asked a question. You never know what might elicit a good answer. As for empathy, I get it if you are asking the question of a mother of a child who was killed. But empathy asking most of these questions about football? How did you put it? This ain't Boy Scouts.

From Jamal Brown via

"Greetings from Bisbee, Texas. Darren, I am a Houston Texans fan predominantly, however with family back in Phoenix, I also follow the Cardinals on occasion. And after reading some choice fan forums, I felt it was my duty to make a public service announcement, as I feel qualified to do so. On the subject on DeAndre Hopkins practice habits: the man doesn't practice much. For the last seven years of Hopkins' Houston career, hes followed the same routine; and I see that its continued without a beat in Arizona. Deandre will almost always be on the injury report for some minor nick and nagging issue (the hammy recently). And as a result he will very rarely be seen practicing in full. Whats important is he would show up ever singly Sunday and dominate, without fail. I hope Arizona fans get use to it. Don't panic. He's fine. Trust me."

Something to consider from Texas.

From Cris P via

"Urban, thanks for the mailbag, always love reading them and your sometimes sarcastic/passive aggressive responses. I watched the newest Flight Plan and my eye was drawn to the field and the beating it takes during camp (games for that matter). Would it be possible to do a video on the grounds crew and what work they put in on a daily/weekly basis to keep the field in playing condition? I have always been mesmerized by the beauty of natural sports fields, whether it be football, baseball, soccer or others. As always, thanks for your hard work."

I will pass that idea along.

from Hale Camer via

"Is Josh Jones 100 percent focused on RT? What has been his rep distribution? Also, say Humphries gets hurt. Is Beachum the No. 1 backup at LT, despite the possibility he may be the starting RT? That'll cause a lot of shuffling. I'd prefer if two guys focused on RT and two focused on LT. That means deciding on Jones' future."

The first depth chart comes out this week. I don't know what they would do if Humphries got hurt. Josh Miles also works at left tackle. I can't talk about rep distribution; that's off-limits. I'm not ruling anything out for down the road, but I do think they see Jones as the long-term right tackle.

From John Turilli via

"As a season ticket holder and die hard Cards fan can you please thank Michael Bidwill for just being him? The stadium experience and players he has retained make me very proud. Can you thank Patrick Peterson for being who he is and his excellent play. And please let Isaiah Simmons know we are all very excited to see him play. My family this year will be tailgating in our backyard this season and cheering loudly in Gilbert."

I will pass it along.

From Marty AZ via

"Hi Darren, thanks for answering our questions every week. While watching the Red & White Practice, I noticed that while Isabella and Butler were still out there during the scrimmage playing with Hundley and Streveler, KeeSean Johnson was on the sidelines with the starters watching the scrimmage and it seemed like he was done for the day. Would you say this is an indication he battled his way back into some playing time and should be considered the first guy in line after Fitz, Nuk and Kirk? Thanks again!"

I don't know exactly where Kee fits, but when you look at who is in the receiving room, it's fair to say he would be the top backup as an outside receiver.

From Joe Cardea via

"Darren, have you heard of any ideas to minimize 2021's cap impact? I had two ideas, one extend 2020's cap or even raise it slightly (say $200M) and then evaluate real world impact of lost revenue and spread it over several years. Say reduce cap $5M per year for five years. It can be adjusted to be fair to owners as well. Second thought was to waive the cap for re-signing in-house players, put in a cap of again $200M but only for re-signing your own players. It's terrible to see teams get sandbagged by an odd cap year. Any chance?"

I would doubt it. The main thing owners did was agree to a cap floor of $175M for next year (it's about $198M this year). Until we know numbers it'll be hard to tell how exactly this will play out. It will be spread out over three years I believe. But the thing about the cap is that it is just accounting -- and using it the way you describe would mean the owners bear the brunt of the actual cash pain, and the owners are going to want to share that with the players.

From Wyatt Holland via

"'Sup D. First off, I know how ridiculous it is to compare, but I'm gonna do it anyways. You seen the new Raiders stadium? Gooood heavens is that thing slick. Cannot wait to travel up for an away game (when do we play Raiders?). As you'd expect, the locker room is state of the art. Gorgeous. And I look at our locker room and just feel like its lacking. It's kind of bland. The Vikings have a beautiful locker room. The Cowboys do too. I just feel like as an NFL team, we should be state of the art. It's a selling point for free agents."

You know what the biggest selling point is for free agents? The most money in the contract. Guys aren't picking teams because of the locker room. College? OK, that could be different. Not the pros. I would expect the Raiders stadium to be awesome. They just built the thing and spent a lot of money doing it. The amount of time the Cardinals actually spend in the State Farm Stadium locker room isn't a ton. As we have gone along, the Cardinals have continued to make upgrades at SFS and I'd think the locker room is something that's always at least considered.

From Cat Phillips via

"I feel like I'm the only person interested in Zach Allen. Everybody is always asking about Andy Isabella and Josh Jones and Chase Edmonds, but I really feel like big Z is a key player on this team. Hes always reminded me of a poor man's J.J. Watt, which is recklessly high praise. I was in the stands watching him in camp last year (the good ole days). And I was struck by how big he is first of all. I also noticed how mature and veteran-like he seemed. I can't help but feel like Zach is the true secret gem nobody is paying attention to. Am I wrong?"

I mean, Cat, you're not the only one interested in Zach. Brentson Buckner and Vance Joseph are too. I know he doesn't get a lot of run, but there haven't been any preseason games for him to stand out within, we couldn't say much about practice and his interview session came at the outset of camp. I think they believe he will be a big part of the defensive line this season. They hope he'll be a gem. But he still has to prove it.

From Nick Z via

"Hey Darren, has there been any talks about potential new unis? Maybe something more subtle like new white face masks or something bigger like a full jersey re-design? i know I'm not the only fan and even some players on this team that are becoming more vocal about their believes that it's time for an upgrade."

No, Nick, you are certainly not the only fan. I feel complete now. We are definitely ready for the season.

From Cece N via

"Hey Darren, today (Aug. 31) is Larry's birthday! Happy birthday Larry. He's 37. And by NFL standards that's old for a WR. But is it? Maybe it is. I don't know. Thirty-seven is like twice my age away. But I feel fine. You were 37 once. How did you feel? Maybe a person does feel old and slow at 37, but I just don't like that impression being forced on Larry if he still feels youthful."

Lotta layers here Cece, one of them being "you were 37 once." Oh yes I was, and what I wouldn't do to be there again. I happen to share a birthday with Fitz, and so I never ever consider him old given that he is so much younger than me. Look, it's well-documented Fitz is still feeling good (heck, I often am the one documenting) and I guarantee he doesn't consider himself old and slow. I think he'll keep going as long as he feels right -- and as long as the decision makers think he looks right.