The Super Bowl is set: Rams against Bengals. The mailbag is set: I sat all day Monday answering a lot of questions, as you can see below. As always, you can send in a question for a future mailbag here.
From Michael Schmorr:
"Did you know Larry Fitzgerald and Tom Brady faced off only twice in their whole careers? The first being Larry's first ever home game (a rare game for me to attend in Arizona as I live on the East coast). They went 1-1 in their matchups, pretty cool huh? I'm sure you'll doublecheck me on this. Do you think if B.A. stayed with us we'd have gotten Tom Brady? If Larry announces his retirement officially this year would they be eligible for the HOF the same year?"
I did know that tidbit about Brady (and more). As for Arians and the Cardinals and Brady, I don't think Arians was the main reason Brady went to the Bucs, only one of them. Who knows what would've happened. As for Fitz, again, there is no such thing as an "official retirement announcement" when it comes to the Hall of Fame. You are eligible five seasons after the one in which you last appeared. So Fitz is eligible for the Class of 2026, Brady the Class of 2027.
From Matthew Stroh:
"Hey Darren, thank you for the mailbag. Do you think that the Cardinals can get Kurt Warner in to teach or maybe call it a consultation with Kliff and Kyler this offseason. I've seen the Kurt Warner YouTube channel and I think he has a lot of great ideas and points of views. Like the Bills quarterback did, maybe in the offseason getting an outside perspective could be a good thing."
I don't know if the Cardinals or Warner would have interest in that, but it is a possible. I understand the idea of an outside perspective, but to be frank, it's a very different concept between what the Cardinals are doing as an offense and how Kyler is progressing as a QB. (There is some overlap, of course, but it's still different.) I also think it gets forgotten that Kyler already has an "outside perspective" that he works with, and that's his father Kevin, who runs a QB academy in Dallas. I don't know if he'd be looking for another one.
From Joy Brooks:
"Hi Darren, just read your story on the Cards putting a price on their running back duo. In my opinion, no. Those two are worth whatever the Cards need to pay. In fact, if I were GM, they'd be the first of our free agents to get long-term deals. The cap has gone up for next season so there's money to play with and everyone knows there are ways to play around with that cap and get players signed. If next year is Super Bowl or bust for Keim and Kliff, then they need to keep the players that have more than proven they're worthy and our two running backs have done that."
You are convicted in your argument, I'll give you that. I'll start here: Expectations will be high for the team, Kliff Kingsbury and Steve Keim next year yes. But Super Bowl or bust? That's not true. That's a bar that is unrealistic to set in my opinion (this league has too many variables to be so black and white when it comes to making decisions about coaches and GMs.) As for the running backs, I have no doubt they would like both guys back. But it won't mean paying whatever it takes. Unfortunately for running backs, that's not the way it works in the NFL most of the time. The Cardinals will have a number they are willing to spend with both; I'm guessing it'll be up to both Conner and Edmonds if that is enough.
From Jules Nance:
"It's weird to me that I can watch the Chiefs who have big name big money guys at a lot of positions, and yet here the Cardinals are, with somewhat a talent void and not even paying Murray yet, and struggling with the cap. How's that possible? Other than Hopkins, we don't have any glaringly overpaid or top-paid players. And the cap savings aren't even substantial if you were to cut a 'cap casualty.' Want to hear a funny joke? The KC Chiefs have $14M in cap cap despite a $35M QB. We have minus-$800K in cap space. So what is it? Do we need a new GM or new cap guy?"
It's not all that funny to me when people make the effort to find the info (a good thing) but then don't actually put out all the details and create misinformation. Whatever point you want to make that might have some credence, you lose it because of the lack of details. Yes overthecap.com has the Chiefs with about $14 million in cap space at this moment for 2022 and the Cardinals in the red. But you fail to mention the Cardinals actually have 53 players under contract, while the Chiefs only have 39. Here's another good one: Yes, Mahomes' cap hit jumps to $35 million this year (and by the way, it was only $7.4 million in 2021, about $2M less than Kyler Murray's cap hit on his rookie contract) but the Chiefs also don't have under contract two starting offensive linemen, a starting defensive lineman, their best edge rusher and their top safety (Tyrann Mathieu).
We will see where the teams are when July rolls around. The Chiefs have been fortunate to have some big hits in the draft -- Hill, Kelce, Jones, Mahomes -- which has allowed them to construct good-for-the-team contracts in the short term. Eventually, too many of those big money deals will drain the roster of depth. But the biggest key is not the money -- it is the play of the QB. You saw what happened with the Chiefs when Mahomes struggled Sunday. You saw what happened to the Cards when Murray didn't play well.
From Jake Maloy:
"Hi Darren, I was just reading the Cardinals Awards piece and something jumped out at me. Defensive MVP Budda Baker. He had a great year, no doubt. Good choice. But the thing that made me think was that Budda is the DMVP by default because nobody on defense had a standout year. Not really. I think if JJ Watt stayed healthy he would've easily been the pick because he was stellar early on. Murphy was also stellar early on but fell by year end. So without Watt, the defense overall, despite mostly having a good year was without a clear-cut star. Perhaps you disagree but I didn't notice that fact til I read the article and struggled to come up with a clear cut pick myself just because the options were so few."
I think that is a fair assessment and, if you look at the votes, there were multiple names that were mentioned. It felt that way for many of the awards, with both how the season played out and how so many different guys played pivotal roles at different times.
From Lann Kidd:
"If you could pick three team leaders for next season who you believe carry respect in the locker room and on the field who would they be?"
I mean, that's a tough question because I am not in the locker room -- not even the little I got to be there pre-Covid -- and so I can't judge exactly the dynamic. But from the outside looking in, the names that pop to mind are J.J. Watt, Budda Baker and Rodney Hudson. That doesn't mean those would be the top three, or that there aren't more. But that's who I think of in terms of leaders.
From Mark Georgetti:
"Darren, what do you think about Kingsbury hiring an offensive coordinator? Is this something you feel Mr. Bidwill may require heading into next season? I personally feel that this is a factor in Kliff's late-season fades; handling both roles does not allow for him to properly focus/adjust as well as he should when things become more intense."
I don't know if there will be any changes/additions to the coaching staff. I understand the concept and obviously you are not to suggest such a thing. Kliff isn't going to give up play-calling duties. I feel confident in saying that. But would another OC-type voice/mind help in prep? When Kingsbury said there will be an evaluation of everything, I assume such things are at least discussed.
From Chad Johnson:
"With the coaching rumors swirling as always, there is also a mention of a 'QB whisperer' or a coach who will 'develop young QBs.' Do 'QB Whisperers' have a super-secret way of looking at coverage no one else knows or some age-old wisdom their privy to and or special mantra that unlocks the keys to success? Or does it have more to do with specifying how a QB should operate during a game based on the coverage and play call like, when x happens then do y?"
It sounds good to talk about a QB whisperer but in the end, you're either a good coach or bad coach. You might, personality-wise, have a way to connect with a certain quarterback more than others, but that isn't all QBs, that's a particular player. Bruce Arians got credit for being such a whisperer, especially having worked with Peyton Manning early, but in the end, B.A.'s biggests head coaching successes came with old QBs -- Palmer and Brady.
From Marty Taylor:
"Hey Darren. Hope you're well and thanks for keeping the mailbag going through the offseason. I think we have a good chance of being an even better team next year, so definitely looking forward to free agency and the draft. A couple of questions:
- I know at this stage most high(er) profile free agents want to see what their market is like, but out of James Conner, Zach Ertz, Chandler Jones, Christian Kirk, Chase Edmonds and Colt McCoy, who do you think is most likely (and least likely) to sign a new deal before free agency starts?
- Compared to previous years, do you think there's a bigger chance we sign one/some of the guys above during the two-day period when teams can talk to other teams' free agents and when players can get a better sense of what their market is like?
- Is there a chance Chandler Jones gets franchise tagged again?
- In case we lose Vance Joseph, do you think Brentson Buckner might be the next in line for the DC position?
Thanks as always!"
The mailbag will be around most weeks (although there will be a vacation week or two in there for me).
- I don't know if it makes sense to say least likely because most won't, I'd guess. Most likely? My guess would be McCoy, because he is older, he has a narrow role that he excels in, he played well in this offense when he did play, and he won't break the bank.
- I think it is safe to say some of these guys will have an idea of their market before that two-day period, but I don't know if there would be a bigger (or smaller) chance this year compared to most years.
- That is possible I suppose. I do not think it is likely. If Jones were to get tagged, he'd cost $18.5 million for 2022.
- It sure seems like the potential Vance Joseph-to-the-Dolphins chance has elapsed, so I expect him here in 2022. Beyond that, I'd think Buckner would be worth a look but I don't know if he'd necessarily be next in line.
"Dear Darren. In my opinion, defensive tackle was one of our weakest positions on the field this season, and the lack of a consistently impactful run stopping defensive tackle (e.g. Aaron Donald, Calais Campbell, Vita Vea) contributed a lot to our spotty run defense. As much as I am rooting for the players that we already have in that position, I think an upgrade is needed if we want to fix our rushing defense. How important do you think upgrading the DT position is to the Cardinals organization this offseason? Are there any free agent DTs who stick out to you as potential targets this offseason? How likely do you think the organization is to target a player like Jordan Davis out of UGA in the draft?"
I think the Cardinals will look everywhere to see where upgrades could help. It sounds vague I know, but it's the truth. I don't think at this point it would trump some other spots -- edge rusher if Jones leaves, wide receiver (especially if Kirk leaves but even if not), cornerback, interior offensive line -- but yeah, they need to make some choices. Jordan Phillips has a year left on his deal, but he's been oft-injured; does that mean a change? I haven't looked at the draft or free agents yet; the latter could still change a lot given the franchise tag or re-signings. Davis is a name I have heard and maybe he makes sense at No. 23. I do know though that I'm not spending a high pick on a run stuffer. If he can push the pocket as a pass rusher and happens to be good against the run fine, but I'm not spending a first-round pick who isn't playing on passing downs.
From BDUB Wooten:
"Darren; did someone in the last mail bag really call Tyrann Mathieu and Daryl Washington the two best players in Cardinals HISTORY? lol. Really? I'd think Larry, Anquan, Kurt, Pat P or a host of old time Cardinals HOFs might disagree. Washington, although a good player, isn't in the same conversation. Thoughts?"
I don't remember the point exactly, but no. If I put together a list of the best, they wouldn't be very high. There have been some excellent players in this franchise's history.
From Ralph Davies:
"The more I watch these playoff games, the more I realize our biggest need is a No. 2 WR. Green and Kirk are too inconsistent. In the modern day NFL, a No. 2 WR is really another #1 WR. Looking at the 2022 draft and our position, a WR may very well be the BPA at that time. the more I think about it, the more I'm on board with a first-round WR. We watch Kyler get eaten alive out there and of course the offensive line bears much blame, but arguably our receivers weren't getting open either. Hop is the clear No. 1, and then we have a bunch of No. 3s. Time to invest in WR again."
It'll come down to what they think of Kirk, I believe. Various valuations of his potential free-agent deal is at $10-$12 million, and if you are paying him that, that's No. 2 money. Now, you can in theory draft a guy at No. 23 and he'd be cheap enough to work under that structure. We don't know yet exactly what their plans are for Rondale Moore, and how that could expand. But larger point, yes, I think they could use another quality receiver. I don't know if Green returns; while he had a solid season for what they needed, it didn't seem like he and Murray ever totally were on the same page. I will say this: If Hopkins isn't healthy, you're going to have problems regardless.
From Benoiut Chabot:
"A.J. Green was a big disappointment at the end of the season. I thought he would ask for the ball, get 10 targets per game. This didn't happen. Is it because he and Kyler weren't on the same page? Miscommunications happened a few times and dropped balls also."
I did think Green would be more of a target after Hopkins went down but it didn't happen (Ertz became the guy with the most targets.) But let's be honest -- pinning the struggles at the end on one or two players doesn't make much sense; I think there was blame to go around. As I mentioned, it never seemed like Green and Murray were completely aligned. Maybe that's a factor on what to do with Green as he gets to free agency.
From Jack Hills:
"Thank you Darren to let me vent. It's the line of scrimmage! Both sides of the ball. It's understanding what's going on at the line of scrimmage and making in-game adjustments. Example, of the offensive line can't protect for more than 2.5 seconds the coaches have to make the adjustment and call a play that takes less than 2.5 seconds to execute. Vince Lombardi had a single play that he ran the entire game. John Madden learned that from Lombardi and won a Super Bowl! Does Kliff have a single play that's a go-to that the team can believe? I haven't seen it at crunch time. What say you, DUrb?"
I say anyone comparing 1960s coaching or 1970s coaching to today's game, while well-intentioned, is out of touch. The rules, the athletes, all that is way different. I would also say, both Lombardi and Madden didn't have to deal with free agency. So once they got all the good players, they couldn't lose them. In some ways, it's how good college teams are able to operate. I will agree that adjustments are crucial. But one "go-to" play? Defensive coaches are too good for that.
From The Walker:
"I like Monty Williams approach to the regular season/playoffs vs Kliff Kingsbury's. KK's approach is 'one game at a time.' That is short sighted. It worked at the beginning of the season when they were undefeated but seemed to be meaningless in the second half and playoffs. Monty's approach is 'embrace the journey.' In other words, it is a 17-game schedule so be consistent. Do not make the 49ers game more important than the Lions game. Each game is equally important and part of the journey. Finish with the best record and division titles and playoff seedings will take care of themselves. About the playoffs he tells them, 'Everything you want is on the other side of hard.' Again, the focus is on the big picture and not one game or series. Maybe if we had a big picture approach, we could maintain focus in the second half. What do you think?"
I think if Monty Williams didn't have Chris Paul, being so philosophical wouldn't mean anything. I think it's a lot easier to say "Embrace the journey" in the NBA when if you lose three in a row in February -- and yes, I know the Suns won't -- because over 82 games it doesn't mean anything. Lose three in a row in the NFL -- as the Cardinals found out -- and the entire season shifts. It's funny that you say the Suns are about being consistent when that's exactly what the Cardinals were doing. One game at a time means no game is any different than the others. Isn't that what you want?
Don't get me wrong, I love Williams, I love how he has coached the Suns. I love the mantra "everything you want is on the other side of hard." Too many people in this world don't get that. But the Suns are winning in large part because they have two superstar guards that won't let them lose. If Kyler Murray reaches the consistency of a Chris Paul, Kliff Kingsbury's mantra could be simply "football is cool" and the Cardinals would be fine.
From John M:
"Hey Darren. Here's one for the Did You Know? file. Kliff Kingsbury has 24 wins as a Cardinals coach. Since they moved to Arizona only three coaches had more victories: Bruce Arians with 49, Ken Whisenhunt with 45 and Vince Tobin with 28. And if you look at all-time Cardinals coaches he ranks ninth. Just food for thought. I know fans were really upset that the Cards fired Steve Wilks after one season. Do you think that is why there are still so many anti-Kliff fans?"
I'll be honest, and this has nothing to do with Wilks, but I don't remember some big groundswell of outrage when WIlks was let go. I know there were some national media that brought it up, in part because he was Black, that he should've had more time, but the Cards went 3-13 and the whole season was pretty messy. So no, I don't think whatever feelings fans have for Kingsbury it has anything to do with Wilks.
From Cayetano Charley:
"Hello Darren. There was talk of Adrian Wilson moving up to a possible GM. I think Michael Bidwill should look into Wilson becoming the Cards GM. Steve Keim has had many opportunities but can't seem to make it happen. I know the Cards did better but this is the NFL, only one team is happy at end of season. We need a GM that can get that done. Do you think Adrian Wilson is ready or do we need another GM?"
I think you said it yourself -- only one team is happy at the end of the season. If a franchise is going to fire coaches and/or GMs after they make the playoffs or have double-digit win seasons every time they didn't win the Super Bowl, no one is going to want to be a coach or GM there. I think Wilson is a talented front-office man. He been promoted a couple of times in six years here, so he's been recognized. And Keim built a roster that did well this past season. I don't see why you'd make a change. Wilson has gotten -- and earned -- some attention, yes. That's the league. Look around at all the current GM hires. Sometimes, you'll lose good people.
From Troy Ezeh:
"In your opinion why do you think our rookies (particularly those drafted in the first round) struggle to be effective during their first year? Humphries and now Zaven Collins comes to mind. For instance, Micah Parsons who was selected by Dallas four picks ahead of Zaven Collins in the first round basically plays the same position as Collins. Parsons in his first season is pretty much a lock for defensive rookie of the year, a Pro Bowler, and he was even getting Defensive Player of the Year talk during the season. Are the slow starts for our first-rounders due to our development coaches? Are our defensive schemes that much more difficult to grasp? It almost makes you less optimistic about who we select in the first round moving forward."
Well, hold on there. Cherry-picking one first-round pick as an example doesn't tell everything. They play the same position, but coming out, the notion nationally was that Parsons had a chance to be special and maybe should've been drafted earlier. That same buzz wasn't with Collins. Doesn't mean he won't be, but this isn't apples and oranges. Was it a disappointment he didn't play better and earn more time? No question. But let's see where this goes.
As far as the Cardinals' No. 1 picks, Humphries was in a unique situation (they were fine at their tackle spots and made the NFC Championship, so I'm not sure what the issue is there.) Rosen and Kyler played immediately. Cooper would've started if he didn't break his leg. Bucannon had an immediate role. Nkemdiche was a bad pick, and you can't argue that it was slow starts for Simmons and now Collins. But let's see where those careers go.
From Don P:
"Hi Darren. I have a rules question that I have not been able to find the answer to. I always assumed that the player that was going to receive the snap had to call the snap count but recently got into a conversation with someone who said no. So a trick play where say the running back is going to actually get the snap, can the QB call the count or does the RB have to? Thanks as always."
I am not aware of any rule that says the person getting the snap has to call the count. If that were the case, silent counts would be illegal, no?
From Jesse L:
"I'm sure you'll get inundated with questions like these, but can you see Calais Campbell coming back and retiring as a Cardinal, or do you think he views himself as a Raven?"
If this is a "does Calais come back to sign the one-day contract" thing, I wouldn't think so at this point but I don't know. I don't know if he considers himself a "Raven" -- he's spent the least time there of his three NFL stops -- but I also don't think he's ready to hang it up yet.
From Jeff Smith:
"Hello Darren. Still reeling from a disappointing season and stand by my statements that this was the best team the Cardinals have put on the field since I have been a fan (1990). Why don't we roll the dice and go for Aaron Rodgers and Sean Payton. If we don't make significant changes our division rivals will pass us by. Since I have been following the Cards, we have never had a great coach and QB. The timing is perfect and will give us a five-year run of the ages. Not like we draft well anyway and might save Keim's job. Give up the picks and make some noise."
I'm impressed that you are assuming Rodgers, who will turn 39 during next season, will provide any team a five-year run. So I am assuming this plan is to give the Saints a couple of significant picks to get Payton, and then give the Packers a significant pick or two plus Kyler to get Rodgers? That's a bold strategy, Cotton. And if you try to make it happen and it doesn't -- what then? You've at best alienated your coach and QB and at worst blown up your franchise.
From Patrick Moody:
"As a fan I want to see the Cardinals succeed. Yes I get mad when they don't. As a fan sitting on the sofa I could say why did you do that , why didn't you do that. But most importantly I want to thank the Cardinals organization for giving the fans a great effort . Over the last three years the Cardinals have gotten better each year. We are grateful for the direction the Cardinals are going. I realize there are lot of moving parts but because of you (owner, coaches, players) we have had several great, exciting seasons and it's been awesome to see OUR Cardinals do great things. The state of Arizona salutes you. Keep up the great work, your fans support you and will continue to. Can't wait until next season- Thank you."
Patrick with a little positivity to end the mailbag.