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You've Got Mail: Already Talking Free Agency And Draft

Topics include Monti philosophy, position upgrade priorities, and MHJ

Monti mailbag 012324

The NFL is down to four teams, I am down to one mailbag (per week) -- which truthfully is plenty. Questions have been edited for length and clarity. Don't forget to send a question for a future mailbag.

From Steve Zukowski:

"Don't you believe that Monti and JG have clearly identified their draft philosophy that it all starts up front? We've seen enough of K1 running for his life trying to throw to an elite receiver (D-Hop). Will you be surprised if they trade back a few spots for even more draft capital and snag more OL and DL help? I would like them to take a Belichick approach and trade down in each first round to accumulate future No. 1s and No. 2s, then we can have this luxury every year. Thoughts?"

Will I be surprised if they trade back? No. I've made my stance on this clear. Would I be surprised that even if they stay at 4 and Harrison is on the board that they take a lineman, with the idea "it starts up front?" No. And after Ossenfort accumulated so many picks last year, I'm not going to be surprised if he has moments like that either. You mentioned Belichick and Monti was in that front office for more than a decade, so he knows all about that. However, I will say this -- you still have to pick the right guys (Belichick struggled in the draft at times and that showed up in the later years) and while I like multiple bites at the apple, the blue-chip players get drafted earlier. So trading down has opportunity cost that must be considered.

From Israel Grey:

"Hey Darren, are there certain positions that are historically better to find in free agency versus the draft? Do certain coaches have preferences on this that they talk to GMs about? Any insight on what this might look like for the Cards? I picture JG telling Monti that he wants to develop a raw 21-year old linebacker himself with his coaches, but would prefer a veteran CB who can come in on an island on Day 1, or something like that. Is this a thing?"

It wouldn't quite work that way just because it would be impossible to know if you could acquire the right veteran cornerback or find the right raw linebacker. You said prefer, and that's probably the best way to say it. The coaches, and Gannon in particular, are going to have input in both free agency and the draft as the team goes through prep meetings for both. There are going to be targets in free agency and then the rankings of the draft board. Both coaches and GMs have to keep their options open at every position. It'd be silly, even if Gannon would prefer a veteran cornerback, to pass on a potential stud CB in the draft if he checked all the boxes except experience. 

From Ken Moroney:

"I've been a season-ticket holder since they arrived in Arizona. I have have supported our QB since we drafted him, and believed new coaching is what was needed. Do you believe our new coaches may attract Eagles free agents that liked working with them and what are the chances the Cardinals trade down to get extra draft picks?"

I'll take the second first and say I think it is highly likely at some point in the draft the Cardinals trade down. Will it be in the first round? That's tougher to say, because it is mostly based on the circumstances when the Cards are on the clock. As for Eagles free agents, a prior relationship doesn't hurt, and it might help. But it's usually about the money (and maybe the playing time opportunity) more than a coach a guy would like. Business is business. 

From Liam T:

"What do you think of the Cardinals' edge group, and do you think they'll address it in the draft? Personally I feel they should draft a tall long edge like Laiatu Latu, or Steve Linton later in the draft. The Cardinals' group does feel a little short, with Ojulari at 6-2, Zaven at 6-3, and Gardeck 6-foot. Cameron Thomas is 6-4, but I think he's more of a power guy, rather than a long-armed technical guy like a Chandler Jones, or Latu."

I get a guy who "looks" the part, but the Cardinals would be fine if they could get another James Harrison if he could produce like the first Harrison. Yes, I think the Cards go into the offseason looking at edge. I do think they will look at free agency, but again, good edges frequently are not available in free agency. So yes, it'll be a draft possibility. I'm not sure what the edge class looks like; in most early mocks, 4 is too early to take any of them and 27 might be too late. 

From Joe Cardea:

"Darren, I'm thinking, and I'm probably being influenced by the media, the Cards should go tackle/WR in draft and interior DL in FA. CB and edge as second priorities. But I think I'd wait for a top edge one more year. What would you do?"

I'm not ruling anything out. Wait for a top edge sounds good, but what does that help you next year -- where there will be some expectations? I don't know who they will target in free agency and that will obviously impact some of the the draft desires, but in the end, I'm not ruling out anything in the draft. Receiver in the draft makes sense because it's a deep WR draft, but again, why box yourself in?

From Miles Mann:

"Do you think that drafting Marvin Harrison (if he's available at 4) and then trading back up for one of the top tackles sort of like the Texans did last year would be good?"

The issue with that scenario is that your other first-round pick is 27, and to get all the way back up to the 6-10 range for one of the two stud tackles (assuming they make it that far) would cost you way too much, much more than the Texans gave up to go from 12 to 3. That's a move you make, IMO, for a quarterback. Not for any other position. This is a deep draft for tackles; there should be other options for the Cardinals either at 27 (or around there if a trade up a few spots is made, or even the second round) that the team can get a good player without sacrificing what it would take to move up. And that doesn't even include another strong option -- in a draft deep in receivers, maybe it's the reverse and you spend the 4 on a tackle and get a good receiver later.

From K Patrick:

"Is it just me or are there are a ton of defensive linemen that could be available in free agency? Chris Jones, Josh Allen, and Brian Burns probably aren't moving, but even down the list there's D.J. Reader, Justin Madubuike, Leonard Williams, Danielle Hunter, Bryce Huff and Chase Young to name a few. We've gotta get one of these guys, and the market can't be that big with so many of them, right? Is this not a layup?"

I think free agency will be a place to find a quality defensive lineman. Now, many of those guys you name will be mega-expensive, and while that shouldn't preclude looking into any of them, that all has to be taken into account. Free agency for this team will be fascinating -- what positions will Ossenfort try to shore up before we even get to the draft? DL? OL? CB? Given that the Cardinals were trying to clear the decks last offseason, this will really be the first offseason to see Monti's true vision.

From Juan de la Peña:

"Hi Darren, greetings from Argentina. What are the chances for the Cards to play in the Brazil game this year? Thank you very much, as always."

The teams to play in Brazil have yet to be announced, even the home team -- unlike the games in London and Germany. But the Cardinals just happen to have an opponents lineup that lends itself to at least the possibility of an overseas game. Not only do they play at the Vikings (who have a game in London) and at the Panthers (a game in Germany), but it is expected that the Dolphins could get the Brazil game, since they are the lone NFL team to have international rights there through the NFL's program. And yes, the Cardinals have a game at Miami this season. That doesn't mean the Dolphins will definitely play there, but perhaps. Whether the Cardinals are a part of any of these games is anyone's guess at this point. We'll find out in May.

From Chad Duck:

"The offseason is here, and we have about $52 million in cap space. Maybe a big splash in free agency is incoming? As far as players likely to hit the market, CBs L'Jarius Sneed and Kendall Fuller or DLs Danielle Hunter and Leonard Williams seem like natural targets, especially since an offensive piece (WR or OT) is projected for our first pick, even if we trade down. What are your thoughts on this Darren? Will Monti pay money for a stud?"

Depends on the stud. Here is the tough part of free agency right now in terms of projecting what this team might do -- you don't know which of these players on a personal level fits with what Gannon/Ossenfort are trying to build on the roster. We've learned that the person means a ton to this group, and we have seen them move on from players when that hasn't meshed. So to just pull names from a FA list won't show the whole picture. But I do think they could use enough on defense that you might want to pull a quality veteran or two on that side of the ball even if you spend a first-round pick on that side of the ball too. 

From Jose Quiroz:

"Why did they cut Kevin Strong? Are they going to bring him back?"

We did not get specifics on the Strong release other that it was in the best interest of the team, but when a contributing veteran is suddenly released without an explanation, in my experience that means he likely won't be returning. 

From Francis McCloskey:

"I'm from Philly, love Philly, and still live in the Philadelphia area, but I do follow the Cards. My question is, what was the purpose of letting Zach Ertz walk? I didn't see how Trey McBride had such an impact on the game that Arizona doesn't need a viable option at tight end."

I'll be honest, that's an interesting combo rooting for both the Eagles and the Cardinals; even Zach Gershman won't go that far anymore. The reality was that neither McBride or Ertz were going to be able to have the role either needed to be successful. The Cardinals had a blocking tight end in Geoff Swaim at that point and McBride was going to be the top pass-catcher. Ertz was a guy who understandably felt he had earned the right to be the top pass-catching tight end. He was not going to be around in 2024, so the process played out like it did and both sides were good with that. Ertz now has a chance to win a ring with the Lions after he finally signed somewhere this week, and McBride set franchise records and showed he's one of a slew of excellent young tight ends in the NFL. 

From Gary Brown:

"I have jacket with Cardinal head on a background of the Arizona state flag. The front has 'Cardinals' printed on the front next to the zipper. Made by Reebok. How old is it and is it worth anything?"

Since I don't have a photo I'm having to search through Google images and that's not really working. Judging by the Reebok part and the flag details, that feels mid-1990s. Now, whether it's worth anything, you'd have to take it to a taping of "Antiques Roadshow" or perhaps eBay. 

From Terry Graunke:

"Thank you for your patience with us fans and your insights regarding the team. What you do for Cardinal fans is greatly appreciated. As a native of the inner ring Chicago suburbs I am very thankful that you recognize that team records include the entire history of the team. Frankly, I first got excited about the Cardinals when they had John David Crow at running back. My question is, given his injury, do you think Kyzir White can be the leader the Cardinals need on defense next season? Haven't heard anything about his status. Many thanks, Darren!"

John David Crow means a lot of Cardinals under the bridge for you, Terry. I believe White will be just fine after an offseason of rehab, and yes, I have no doubt that he will be a key piece of the defense and a leader next season. He was having a very good season before his injury and is definitely the type of player Gannon wants in his program. 

From Matthew Stroh:

"Hey Darren. A lot people say we need a free-agent No. 1 cornerback. I disagree. I believe the corners that we have did better than people realized and we just didn't have the defensive line to help. With a whole offseason all three young corners have a chance to improve. If we get a D-line and pass rusher this and no FA CB, do you think the defense will be bad? Would you put WR and CB over OL and DL as offseason needs? Also do you think Pete Carroll will get another HC job this year? Thank you for your time."

I would be surprised if they didn't add a veteran cornerback this offseason just to have some experience in a room that doesn't have a lot. But I generally agree with the idea that this team has a bigger need on the defensive line/pass rush that automatically would help the back end. As for offseason needs -- and these are all needs -- I'd rank it DL, WR, CB, OL. With Carroll, I think he might be interested but it doesn't seem like he's getting a lot of attention and when you start looking at coaches that age, you have to be concerned about longevity.

From J Schubert:

"I was curious about the status of Chandler Jones. Has he retired, out of football on medical/personal issues, signed with another team or still a free agent? If a free agent, do you think the Cards might be interested in having him come back? Last question is whether the Cards have thought about running more offensive plays with two tight ends, similar to what New England used to do with Brady and company? That lineup gives linebackers and edge rushers fits because of the equal potential of run vs underneath pass."

Jones is currently a free agent, and I don't think he has retired, but given the things he has put out on social media and some of the off-field issues, I do not see any team signing him again. As for formations for the Cardinals, the Cardinals were in personnel groupings with at least two tight ends 33.9 percent of the time last season, sixth-most in the league, and 12 personnel exactly 20 percent. 

From Bob Haines:

"Darren, I am a long-time Cardinal fan and enjoyed watching all the Cardinal games this season on the NFL ticket since I live in Delaware. The Cardinals were projected to be the worst team in the league in 2023. I feel they exceeded expectations even though they only won four games. Shouldn't their first priority should be to get Kyler a No. 1 receiver? If Marvin Harrison is still available, they have to select him."

They should prioritize getting a No. 1 wideout. But that should not and will not be their only priority, and given the depth of excellent wideouts in this draft, it's possible to find one not named Harrison. I'm not saying they shouldn't or won't draft Harrison if he is there, but I do think there are multiple ways this can go and still achieve necessary goals. 

From Nigel Green:

"Hi Darren, living in England I have little to zero clue about college players, other than the names that pop up in the mailbag now and then, other than MHJ, who else should I be aware of as potential Cardinals?"

Nigel, I'll be honest -- those who have read me for a long time know that I am loathe to get too much into draft stuff ahead of the Scouting combine because a) I need to get up to speed myself and b) the process for this is ongoing. But that said, it's hard to see -- if the Cardinals stay at 4 -- that the pick isn't anything but Harrison or one of the top tackles: Alt and Fashanu. That doesn't mean it's for sure, but none of the defensive linemen or edge rushers seem to engender top 5 talk, and the Cardinals could use either a great receiver or another cornerstone OL. Beyond that it's tough to name names because the Cardinals don't pick again until 27 and some of this could be influenced by free agency.

From Pierfausto Seneci:

"Greetings from Italy. I'm a bit old, so I was just thinking: how long do you think it'll take for the Cardinals to get to a sustainable winning season? In other words, do you think that the current scenario may evolve at least close to a major player in playoffs/divisionals/even more in a few years, or you're pessimistic about that? Thanks for your nice work, and buona fortuna!"

Argentina, England and now Italy? We celebrate the worldwide Cardinals fans in this here mailbag. There is reason to be optimistic right now. Gannon and Ossenfort have a plan, you could see the initial steps this season, and they have a franchise quarterback -- which is always the key of any team building. But there are a lot of factors, and the draft and free agency has to go well. If that does, there is no reason they can't get to where you are talking in the next two years. 

From Brandon Clark:

"Offseason pondering. Not really sure how to describe this but watching football over the years, college and pro, it often seems like there is a tarp of some sort that covers the sideline parts of the field, usually the bench areas. What is this and why? I feel like I see players running out of bounds and frequently slipping on this. It has just always seemed an unnecessary and dangerous addition."

I can't speak for any place but State Farm Stadium, but it's there to help protect the grass with the many people/players walking over it in that three-hour period. And I have never seen anyone slip on the tarp. Maybe the plastic part that surrounds the field -- it's there to level out the rest of the ground since they wheel in the grass field -- but not the tarp.

From Jason W:

"Good day sir. I was wondering about the news about the office side of things moving to a newly renovated office space and if that means the space that is left behind will be used to upgrade and expand the football side of the facilities. I was just wondering if there is any information you can share about the upgrades. I am just more curious than anything. Thank you as always for your time."

There was a lot that went into the move of the business side of the operations, the biggest reason of which was the organization had simply outgrown the original building and subsequent renovations. This way, the business side has more room and the football operations -- which has also grown significantly over the years, not only with number of coaches but other support staff -- will also have room in the old place. I don't know specifics, but I'm sure there will be changes made at the original building now that many have been moved out to make it better for the football side.

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