We're about a month out for (scheduled) training camp. Still a lot of questions to be answered. Kyler did throw to D-Hop, so there is that. As always, you can send in a question for next week's mailbag right here.
From Hebe Frick Jr. via azcardinals.com:
"Good for Kyler getting the gang together. That was phenomenal to see. Kyler may not be a vocal leader, but he shows his leadership through actions like this. And moreover getting 20 millionaires to coordinate and all agree to participate, I think, is a sign of their buy-in to Kyler and the direction of this team. Good time to be a Cardinals fan. This is the first time I can ever say (in my lifetime) our team has a young franchise QB that we will roll with for 10+ years. That feels amazing. With all due respect to Kurt and Carson, no more retreads. I guess the thing I wanted to ask you was in regards to the closeness of a team. I think fans romanticize the NFL, not realizing an NFL locker room is often similar to any sea of cubicles in any other normal job. You have a few friends, but mostly just associates you don't know too well, and a couple people you avoid. Are you seeing a different level of buy-in in comparison to previous years?"
It's difficult for me to talk about level of buy-in that I see because, frankly, I haven't seen anything. In a normal year I would've been in the locker room a lot over the course of the offseason and obviously that has not been the case. If I had to guess, I'd also say that probably, I wouldn't have seen much different. Amazingly, buy-in tends to come when there is overall belief in success, and that comes a lot easier when there is a quarterback in place that guys think can win games. Kyler is that guy.
From Kevin Campbell via azcardinals.com:
"Will the NFL allow a limited audience of perhaps every other row in the stadium be used to crease social distancing in games? One-third of a stadium with fans is better than empty seats. This staggered approach would provide almost exactly six feet between rows. They could also add a three-chair separation on each row. What do you think, Darren?"
I don't know what is going to happen with fans at games. I wish I did. The biggest issue right now not only in the NFL but in the world is that people want clarity with everything when there is none to be had. The NFL will continue to work out their plans, just like businesses everywhere, and schools, etc. But this continues to be a fluid situation, because we do not know everything about this coronavirus. Could I see partially filled seats? Sure. I do believe strongly that if fans want to see football in person, they need everyone to wear masks and try and slow the explosions in cases. I also think -- and this is just me talking, I don't know any inside info -- fans would have to wear masks if they did attend games.
From @KMando1TheWay via Twitter:
"I see all these individual rankings of Cards players in the top 2, 3, 4, 5 etc. all but a few past 15. Yet as a team they are ranked at the bottom? Is that just muscle memory? Biased writers? Or am I missing something?"
I guess I'd start by asking to what players you are referring? DeAndre Hopkins yes. Chandler Jones. Patrick Peterson for many, although he has lost some backing. Maybe Kyler Murray as a top 10. That's far from a full team. I'll say this, I don't think there is any question that there are some national analysts, looking from afar, who can fall into a trap when it comes to predicting things for a team they don't cover or see regularly. At the same time, I can see the thought process -- a five-win team, in the most difficult division in the league. The Cards could be much improved and still be under .500. This is one of the reasons I'm not into predictions. The 49ers were picked to be a bad team in 2019 and that turned out dead wrong. In the end, too many fans get wrapped up in the "respect" thing, whether it is power rankings or predictions. If the Cardinals are good, people will notice.
From Blaine Pierce via azcardinals.com:
"According to Pro Football Focus, right guard J.R. Sweezy had the lowest grade on the O-line last season (61.1). While I like Sweezy's playing attitude, what do you think about moving Marcus Gilbert to right guard and starting Josh Jones, a reported first-round talent, at right tackle? Thank you."
I don't think it makes sense to move a player who has never played at a position just to get someone into the lineup who may or may not be ready to play as a rookie. No one is saying Sweezy is a Pro Bowl player, but I thought he was fine last year and in your scenario, you could end up making yourself weaker at two positions. To me, if Jones beats out Gilbert at right tackle -- which I don't see happening with the truncated offseason -- then you probably just move on from Gilbert period. (Justin Murray also could have a say.) With the way this offseason went, the best thing to do in my opinion is to keep as much stability from last season as you can.
From @zudamusic via Twitter:
"Who do we expect to return kicks and punts? Christian Kirk? I'd personally really like to see what Andy Isabella can do on special teams."
These are excellent questions, one of those that normally would have more clarity with an offseason. I think Kirk will be in the mix, yes. Isabella as well. Maybe Eno Benjamin, at least on kickoffs. But without a chance to see guys out there -- and it's a question that, not surprisingly, never came up to Kliff Kingsbury, given all the other topics -- it's hard to say.
From @jhart9232 via Twitter:
"Hey Darren. I know this is kind of a doomsday question, but if there is no season do the players who are scheduled to become free agents at the end of the year still become free agents, or are they back with the team next year since technically they didn't 'play' this year?"
There are a lot of things that still have to be negotiated with the NFLPA and I would guess that is one of them. I expect some sort of season, so it'd be a moot point. But it'll have to be discussed, just like how they are going to handle the salary cap with the expected major loss in revenue.
From Alvin H via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren, could you please dive in a little deeper regarding your thoughts on the right tackle situation please. Justin Murray is the hot hand, but Marcus Gilbert might be the most talented, and Josh Jones is the wild card. I'm not sure what to think going in. Thanks."
As I wrote the other day, I personally think right now Gilbert will be the starter. That's just a gut feeling, since these guys haven't been on the field. Here is my reasoning. Gilbert was probably the best offensive lineman they had before he got hurt right before the season. He has to show he is healed and healthy, but I'm stipulating that for now. Murray did show a ton of improvement this past season. I think they love Murray as a top backup -- maybe even for tackle and guard -- and if he had to start, they would be fine with it. Jones does have talent, but I was leery of him being able to show he was better than both Gilbert and Murray anyway, and that was before it was clear he'd get no on-field reps this summer.
From @eduardorub via Twitter:
"Hi Darren, how about some bold predictions from your side? Extra moves before start of season? The season record? MVP?"
Oh Eduardo, you don't know me very well. I'm not a big "bold predictions" kind of guy. I'll leave that to the TV and/or radio guys who need that clickbaity-type juice to boost ratings. I mean, in terms of moves, as I have said before, I could see them adding veteran depth -- perhaps -- at pass rusher or safety, but I don't expect them to sign a guy who would start. I think you'd have to be crazy not to think Kyler Murray will be this team's MVP, mostly because he plays the most important position. As for a record, I really, really don't like predicting records. You don't have any idea how injuries or other issues will affect this team or who they play (especially this season, when the coronavirus could really jack everything up.) If this team has everything go right, could I see 10 or 11 wins? Sure. Could I see 7 wins? Sure. I do know this team is in a much better place than it was this time last year.
From Jeff Anonymous via azcardinals.com:
"Darren, I don't think there will be a 2020 season unless a vaccine is found first. Let's assume there is and the season is shortened to something like 12 games. Instead of just cutting the first or last four games on the current schedules, wouldn't the whole thing need to be redone to accommodate teams playing their divisional opponents twice? Let's assume there isn't a season. Is there a policy already in place on how the draft order be determined?"
They aren't going to re-do the whole schedule. If something happened where they would lose games, I think they would make due the best they can. Again, you don't go into the season thinking you'll shorten it -- only if there is an issue, it would be delayed. But as I noted earlier in the mailbag, you are asking for clarity when there isn't any available. As for the draft order, if the season got wiped out altogether, I would guess they would have talked about it, but again, there isn't anyone in the NFL thinking right now there will be no season, so it isn't something they are going to make public. That's something you can address much further down the road.
From Fritz Norman via azcardinals.com:
"Are there areas of Cardinals HQ that are off-limits to you? I'm picturing Darren getting in the office at 5 a.m. so he can go down to the gym and ride the bike for a little while with Jordan Hicks. Or swing by the lunch room or stop by Kliff's office to say, 'Hi, love the Scarface house.' Just curious about the separation of players and non-football staff, or if it's just one big office building and everybody mingles. Myself being normal folk, I can go knock on the CEO's door in our office. Just wondering if its the same dynamic."
So there is some nuance here. For me and my job, I can basically go most places. Now, am I allowed to go work out in the weight room? No. That's for players and football staff. But I do walk past there and, in certain situations, I could talk to someone, especially in the offseason. I'm in the locker room a lot when I am seeking out a player for an interview or to set up an interview or yes, just to say hi to some of my friends who work down there. Could I stop by Kliff's office just to say hi? I leave the saying-hi-to-Kliff part to when we happen to pass by each other in the building, which does happen quite a bit. I can also go knock on Michael Bidwill's door, in your CEO analogy. Again, part of that is my job -- I am naturally going to have a lot of interaction with the football side, because I'm writing about the football side.
From @Joe_Ed_DeM via Twitter:
"Since moving to Glendale, the Cardinals have a significant home field advantage and it gets loud in State Farm Stadium. If no fans are allowed in the stadiums for games, will teams be allowed to add 'crowd noise?' "
Again, we'll see about fans. I don't know what will happen inside the building, and whether crowd noise would be added inside a stadium or on TV. I wouldn't think teams could artificially add stuff -- that's illegal right now -- but again, I don't know.
From Michael Travers via azcardinals.com:
"Hello Darren and thank you again for this opportunity. We're in this period which is normally used for the new rookies to get that extra coaching and beginning the learning curve of the team. Typically, by now we have seen and receive media reports in particular about our No. 1 draft pick. Speaking about Isaiah Simmons, we heard from Chandler Jones that he is doing well in the Zoom position meetings. But the one that counts the most is coach Vance Joseph and he has been silent so far. This I believe is a good thing as the less the competition hears about our future defensive star the better. Patrick Peterson has said our defense will be much better that last year. Surly, Joseph must imagine a better defense along with a improved offense, so why haven't we heard much from Joseph about our new defense?"
That's simple -- because it's a coronavirus offseason, he didn't get to see them on the field, and most importantly, he only spoke to the media once. If you're not interviewed, there's nothing to hear. When Joseph did talk in late April, he was optimistic, both about Simmons and the whole defense.
From @Jay_Cressent via Twitter:
"What do we need if we really want to call ourselves 'Super Bowl contenders?' We're close! But I don't think we're there yet."
I answered a question similar to this last week. I truly think, if every single piece came together on this team this year, they could end up in the mix. No one thought the 2008 team was Super Bowl-bound either. Luck plays a role. But they need the offensive line to stay healthy and Humphries to continue to improve and Mason Cole to work out at center. They need Isaiah Simmons to make an impact. They need Patrick Peterson and Robert Alford to play well. They need Kenyan Drake to continue to look like he did when he got to the Cardinals. And they really need Kyler Murray to take that second-year mega-jump other top quarterbacks have done. It wouldn't hurt for the 49ers and Seahawks to suffer some setbacks. Again, I don't think this team is ready to reach a Super Bowl, but that doesn't mean it cannot happen.