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You've Got Mail: As The NFL Reaches Its Championship Games

Topics include postseason award potential, a developmental league, OL construction


Things are relatively quiet around the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center right now. The questions keep coming though -- more than I thought, honestly. So thank you for that. If I didn't get to yours, I may have answered one similar, or I may get to it next week. As always, you can leave a question by going here.

From Will Tharp via

"Will Kyler Murray or Josh Jacobs win the ROY award? Or someone else? How are these awards decided, especially given that candidates play very different positions? How does the success of one position earn the award compared to the success of another position?"

The award -- at least the "main" one given out at the NFL Honors show on Super Bowl eve -- is voted upon by the same panel that votes for the All-Pro team (that Chandler Jones just made.) In the end, it has everything to do with how the voter interprets the award. As I noted in a story on the subject a little while back, Saquon Barkley won it last year on a team that also ended up with five wins. But the position-versus-position thing for this award is no different than MVP or Defensive Player of the Year. I do think Tennessee's A.J. Brown will be in the conversation, but ultimately, I expect it to come down to either Murray or Jacobs.

I do think the offenses are pretty different. Kyler Murray is not deployed the same way Lamar Jackson is used. That game did reiterate to me something that's fairly obvious -- a run-first team can get in a bind when it's behind. Not that the Ravens can't pass the ball. But it's the reason so many see the NFL as a pass-first league. Mostly though I think that game was a) a bad matchup for the Ravens; b) a bad day to have a bad day for the Ravens overall; and c) a bad, bad man running the ball for the Titans.

From Zim Clark via

"Hi Darren. Could you describe what the offseason is like around HQ? I assume injured played keeping coming in for treatment. Do healthy players come in often? Just to use the gym or anything? Even to train? In my mind, if I were a depth player pursuing this NFL dream thing, I would come in every day, like it was my 9-to-5 and work. Watch film. If there's any assistants around, maybe go out on the grass and work technique. Is that realistic or fantasy?"

The latter part is fantasy, because the collective bargaining agreement prohibits any player-coach football contact until the offseason program begins April 20. Mostly, this time of year, it's time to be away. To recharge. You might eventually work out again after a month or so, but letting your body rest and recover is just as important as working out all the time. There is a law of diminishing returns. Coaches will be here grinding away after a short rest period; there is free agency to plan for and draft prospects to analyze. But for players, yes, the injured guys continue to come in and get work done. There is some working out on their own. But players essentially go seven days a week from the start of training camp until the end of the season. Time away is crucial.

That's a good question. I find it hard to believe that he's going to shun stuff he has already found that works in his "adapted" offense. But to think he isn't hoping to get some of those pieces and get back to as-of-now-benched segments of his playbook, I think you'd be naïve.

From Blake Duffield via

"Hey Darren, love reading the mailbag questions and answers and your insight on our team. My question is about David Johnson. Personally I think he can still be the best back on our team when healthy, but considering he spent the latter half of the season backing up Kenyan Drake and even Chase Edmonds in some spots, how does the Cardinals' brass view his future with the team? I know he is a talented player, but is a trade on the table with him this offseason?"

I think it'd be a mistake to think that every option isn't possible with Johnson right now. Some might have to do with Drake -- Drake is going to be an unrestricted free agent, so his spot in 2020 isn't locked in. While Kliff Kingsbury never said it, it's fairly easy to see how they view him as it stands now. Johnson was healthy the last part of the season, yet Drake got all the work, and Johnson didn't even play a snap in the finale. If they decided to deal Johnson, we'd have to see where that is -- I know people have speculated about Tampa, because of Bruce Arians, and that is an educated guess. But trades can't happen until mid-March at the earliest. A lot has to be sorted out before then.

More likely? Based on how the season played out, I don't know how you wouldn't say Drake. But at this point, and as I noted above, there are still so many moving parts those percentages might be pretty close to each other right now.

From Nathan Palmer via

"Assuming we retain David Johnson for the 2020 season, how much cap space will the cardinals have to spend on draft picks/free agents? Where does that rank among other teams?"

According to, the Cardinals are scheduled to have about $69 million in cap space. That would obviously shrink before free agency if any of their own players are extended. Johnson's spot doesn't really impact that one way or the other, unless they were able to find a team willing to take on his contract (or part of the contract) in a trade.

From Brian Neerit via

"I think we all expect LT D.J. Humphries to be extended, or tagged, but the bottom line is he's not going anywhere. LG Justin Pugh is entrenched. We have plenty of depth at C. RT is a big question mark, arguably the biggest on this team and so I know you're as interested as we are in seeing what happens there. My question is in regards to RG. I know Sweezy signed a two-year deal. But in terms of 'big splash' FAs, two if the biggest names on the market happen to be young Pro Bowl guards. So what are your thoughts on the position?"

I would be surprised if they spent a ton of money on a free-agent guard. As always, I could be wrong -- it wouldn't be the first time -- but when you have Cole and/or Gaillard there, and Sweezy already, I'd be surprised if they broke the bank at that position. Especially if they decide to look at free-agent right tackles.

If Cole ends up in the starting lineup, I think the odds would be more likely it would be at center. First we need to see if Shipley re-signs. As far as Humphries, my gut says he's back at left tackle. Not sure if that would be with a new contract or with the franchise tag.

From Blaine Pierce via

"I respect your opinion, so what do you think of the following: Do not pay Humphries $12 million/year (or more!). Instead draft a left tackle with the eighth pick. The $11 million Fitzgerald salary could be used to sign Drake, Hundley and RT Justin Murray. Use the 40th pick on a CB. Trade Peterson, Reddick., Johnson. Use that draft capital on DL and LB. Sign free agent WR Robbie Anderson. Thoughts?"

That's an involved plan. But you've hit on a lot of points. So you're saying you tell Fitz to go away, or pay him a lot less? Not sure that would go over well with the fan base if you are swapping Fitz for Robbie Anderson, given those circumstances. But let's say Fitz retires (which again, I don't think he will.) I'm leery about letting a left tackle walk in the assumption you will get the replacement at No. 8 -- FA is before the draft, so you won't know what's there at 8. What happens if there isn't a left tackle worth taking at 8? Yikes. If you trade Peterson, you'll basically be forced to take a cornerback high. Which is fine. But those trades you suggest -- you aren't getting much for Reddick or Johnson right now, the latter because of the contract. They have needs on the defensive line and linebacker (inside and outside) even if they don't trade Reddick. It'll be fascinating to see how it plays out.

From Irin Oona via

"I just saw your article regarding Tua going pro, which only helps our position at No. 8 in the draft. I know you're not a big draft guy, but I am (well, draft gal). Say three QBs go in the top 7 (Burrow, Herbert, Tua). That pushes some talent our way. So I'm just going to shoot you a 'what if.' I know you're not terribly well read on these guys yet, but just play GM for a minute. All these guys are similarly rated, so its just a positional choice. Who would Darren take and why?

DT Derrick Brown - best DL in the draft
RT - Jedrick Wills - best pure RT and possibly best overall OL in the draft
LT Andrew Thomas - best pure LT in the draft
ILB Simmons - best ILB in the draft
WR Jerry Jeudy - best WR in the draft
WR Ceedee Lamb - 2nd best WR in the draft, but has established connection with Kyler"

Obviously it would be huge if all three QBs went before No. 8. Right now, I don't know if that's happening. But there are at least enough QB-needy teams to consider it. As for your list and what I would do -- and again, this is with the condition they are all ranked about the same -- I'd eliminate Lamb, because if Jeudy is better, I don't really care if someone played with Kyler in college. But again, unless you see a Fitz-type receiver in Jeudy, a guy who can be a superstar, I'm passing on a receiver given these choices. Free agency also makes a difference -- did they already give Humphries a long-term deal? Is he on the franchise tag? If it's the latter, Thomas is hard to pass up. But in a vacuum of just the players listed, I'm leaning toward Brown or Simmons. I think the defense needs an infusion.

With James Bettcher, he doesn't have any ties to Kliff or Vance Joseph -- and I will be interested to see where the assistants come from in that regard this time around. It couldn't hurt to have that kind of experience on staff. Would be a repeat of adding former Cards DC Bill Davis as a position coach. I am guessing they already have some ideas in mind for the spot, though.

From Sidney Sexon via

"Darren, I have read comments and listened to the radio shows where people have said they think we should be targeting a skill player/wide receiver for Kyler with the 8th pick. I hear NFL pundits constantly state that games are won in the trenches and while we shouldn't stretch for a defensive player or an offensive lineman, it just seems that would be a much better use of the first-round pick. If our offense stayed exactly the same, which means re-signing the free agents we have, and we concentrated just on improving the defense, it seems to me that we would have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs. As always I appreciate your thoughts."

This is why it is impossible to truly have this conversation right now. We don't know what will happen in free agency or how this roster will be constructed. As you saw in a previous answer, I'm leaning defense -- as long as all the right players are there. I understand the desperation on the lines. And you have to take the players you think are the best, even if someone else thinks it's a reach. But the other example that jumps to mind is 2007, when the Cards took Levi Brown because they needed a tackle so badly, and passed on Adrian Peterson, whom they considered but also already had Edgerrin James. That's extreme (and Levi did his job OK for a few years, including as part of a Super Bowl offensive line). But you have to be careful about passing up a difference-maker.

From Red 1 via

"Is there any NFL career more odd than Josh McCown? I cannot fathom the guy I watched as a child at Sun Devil Stadium is still playing in the NFL. And the reason its so odd is because he's not a star. We understand guys like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady get 20-year careers. McCown is that 53rd guy on the roster, and somehow, someway, hes managed to make it year after year."

He tried to retire, and the Eagles brought him back this year. Yes, I think Josh himself would think it improbable he lasted as long as he did. But he was never the 53rd guy on the roster. He was almost always at least the backup QB, a heartbeat away if you will (like with the Eagles last week), and that is not the same as the inactive third-string linebacker, lineman or safety.

From Moon Milway via

"Can you discuss these 2 guys please? Zach Allen. I assume he's penciled in as a starter next year? I was at Cards camp and was so impressed by him. He has a J.J. Watt-esque presence on the sideline. He talks to everyone. I know DL is such a dire need for us, but I think people forget about Allen. And Lamont Gaillard. Maybe a little strange to single him out given hes a sixth-rounder who didn't play, but I'm a big college football fan. And Lamont is seriously a hidden gem on this roster. Quinnen Williams (the #3 overall pick last year) said he was the best center he faced in college. Shipley ain't gonna be around forever, and Mason seems to be the utility knife C-G-OT. But if we identify the C of the future, it's gotta be Lamont right?"

Allen is absolutely expected to be in the rotation next year, and yes, I would think they would hope he'd be starting. But it'll depend on who else is available and how he progresses. His rookie status showed when he was in the game this year early in the season, starting because he had to. But he needs to perform at a high level. As for Gaillard, it's possible -- if Cole ended up being the guy to play center, for instance -- that Gaillard would end up taking that Cole role of backup G/C. Maybe Gaillard improves enough to beat out Cole at center. Either way, they are hopeful he's at least active on game days.

From Gary Muller via

"I've been a Big Red fan since I had my picture taken with Larry Wilson at Cards camp in Lake Forest in 1966. I still have that picture! A few questions:

  1. Why not play top players more in preseason games (ask the Bears)? We got to Week One healthy, then started 0-3-1 (playoffs were kinda pretty much out).
  2. Can anyone discuss why we took Isabella over the obvious pick DK Metcalf?
  3. I'm not sure what David Johnson did to get in the doghouse, but by overusing Kenyan drake (instead of DJ and Chase), he helped our team this year, but we only 'raised his free agent value.'
  4. Why not give Isabella and Trent Sherfield an occasional pass (13 catches total)?

All said, I love the Cardinals! We live in Chicagoland, but have been to many games when in St Louis and five games in AZ... I just think we "shoot ourselves in the foot" so often (not to mention the wins we gave away early w bad decisions, we were IN the NO game on the road before going for 4th down from our OWN 37-yard line, Tampa game was ours too."

  1. Playing players more in preseason doesn't mean much. There is no real cause-and-effect. Now, does going all "vanilla" mean something, as opposed to practicing "real" stuff? That might. But playing time I don't think means a lot. Teams want to stay healthy. That's what every team does.
  2. They liked Isabella and what he could mean in the offense that Kingsbury envisioned. And while there were some that wondered if Metcalf would be the pick, I'm not sure why people say it was obvious -- he lasted until the very end of the second round, and plenty of receivers went before him. (I go back and look at the comments on the Isabella-is-picked story, and there are tons about the trade of Rosen -- and not many if any angry that Metcalf wasn't the pick.) There were legitimate questions about Metcalf, questions he has obviously answered.
  3. I wouldn't say the Cardinals overused Drake, and if playing a good player means you are simply raising free-agent value, then every team does it wrong every year. I mean, you play to win the game.
  4. The coaches determined they are better off throwing it elsewhere. I think they had a pretty good plan on offense for the majority of the last 10 games. Hard to argue the decisions on that side of the ball.

From Barbara Tower via

"Darren, my husband often sends in questions but I love reading your mailbag just as much so I thought I should send you questions that are on my mind. My question/comment has to do with resigning D.J. Humphries. In my working career, I always found that the chemistry of the team was virtually as important as the talent of the team members (obviously if you have slackers then they need to be replaced). In listening to interviews with Justin Pugh and also how D.J. is received on the 'Big Red Rage' by his guest teammates, it seems there is good chemistry between the OL and the rest of the team. Humphries is a known quantity and we should work hard to arrive at a contract that keeps him a Cardinal. To me, other than Larry, who isn't going to play anywhere else, D.J. is the top priority among the UFAs on this team."

I do think Hump is well-liked in the locker room. Chemistry is important. But I'm sure I don't need to tell you the chemistry is quickly lost if the coolest dude in the room can't play. Doing well and winning is the most important part of chemistry. The OL got along well this season. They fit well with teammates. All that is true. And I agree that Humphries is likely going to be kept, moreso because he is a 26-year-old left tackle who played well enough this season and those things are hard to find in the NFL. The one phrase I liked was "known quantity." They know what they have in him and what they would be investing in him. If you draft a guy -- and there doesn't seem to be an Anthony Munoz or Orlando Pace in this draft -- there is an unknown.

From Norm Wallace via

"Hey Darren, who are among your all-time 'If only they hadn't gotten hurt' players? Jonathan Cooper will be high on a lot of lists, but my choice would be Ryan Williams. He got hurt in preseason game No. 1, before he could even get started. Man, he would run so hard. You been around Cards football for a long time now, so maybe you've got some names that many of us have forgotten about from the olden days."

Yes, from all my time living through the olden days. Never have I felt more over the hill. Appreciate that, Norm. Nevertheless, I like this question. I'm going to stick with the franchise since it moved to Arizona, back in that ancient time of 1988, but there are a few. Here are mine off the top of my head, in no particular order, some that never got started, and some that had a full Cardinals career derailed:

From Elmer Black Jr. via

"Don't name names because I know you won't anyway, but I find it interesting how every player is always so complimentary to every other player on the roster. Which is understandable, these are your co-workers. But you kind of need to take everything a player says with a grain of that salt. Out of rookie camp, all the vets had nothing but glowing reviews of Kyler Murray. Well, a lot of those players said the same thing about Josh Rosen. My question for you is, have you ever interviewed a player who was a little less considerate of the locker room dynamic, and just put teammates on blast? I don't recall any. But if you have, I'm just curious what's that like when a guy is being too honest."

In my 20 years, I don't recall anyone going on the record and lighting up a teammate. There's no upside to it. And sometimes, it's not because they are just being "nice." When the Cards were in the offseason in 2018, I think the players saying good things about Josh believed those things. He did look solid at that point. Now, might there have been a couple of times where players said something off the record? Yes. But it's rare, and it's never been an on-blast thing really. It happens more when players might be talking about a coach, frankly.

From Hewidar Hasso via

Hey Darren, I'm a long-time Cardinals fan from Germany. If you would be our GM, what would be your offseason moves this year in terms of re-signing free agents and the draft. Thank you."

Those are tough questions, because I'm not privy to all the information -- like what the contract demands might be or what free agency might bring. Generally, though (and you can see what I am thinking draft-wise) it makes sense to bolster the defense potentially with that No. 8 pick. Get a DL and an LB in free agency. If Drake sticks around -- and I'd want him to stick, as long as it financially made sense -- I'm probably seeing what there is out there for David Johnson, in part because he's definitely not happy having to play a reserve role. I figure out how to keep Humphries, even if that might mean a franchise tag. I don't rule out spending a pick on a good wide receiver, especially since there seem to be a lot of difference-makers out there. But again, this is all so fluid.

From Jake G via

"Hi Darren, thanks for the mailbag. I hope you keep it going during the dredges of the off season. I know we've touched on it a little before, but please delve in the best you can. For the life of me, I don't understand why the NFL doesn't have a development league. Every major American sport has a D-league. Football arguably needs one more than any of them. Why? I wasn't alive for NFL Europe, but in my mind its failure has more to do with it being in Europe than anything. We even saw a number of success stories come out of the tragic AAF. You know if the NFL has a D-league, and broadcast games, that would be an additional billion dollars on the pile. Can you explain it to me? Does the NFL hate money and well developed young players? Why on earth is there not an NFL summer D-league?"

Your assumption that there would be this massive TV money for minor-league football, I believe, is probably incorrect. It costs a lot of money to run a football league in which few people have interest. In a lot of ways, that's what college football has become -- this developmental ground. I'm not sure summer football works for fans -- it's not "football" season, and most places, it's dang hot outside. But the biggest reason is finding players. Teams expand to 90 players in the offseason. Coaches are loathe to not have players in the offseason workouts due to voluntary status -- they really don't want to lose guys all summer to play in a minor league, where they can get hurt, where they aren't learning specifics of whatever team they are on. Finally, NFLE did generate some players -- Kurt Warner, for instance -- but certainly not enough NFL-worthy guys to justify its cost/work.

From Halee Kleo via

"Hiya Darren! Happy New Year. Who are you rooting for in the playoffs? And don't be a bump on a log and say 'Nobody because I'm not a football fan.' You gotta root for someone. I'm pulling for the Ravens. They seem to be an organization similar to the Cards. Good-guy team with A+ front office guys. Ozzie Newsome is why I want A-Dub as GM. If Lamar wins the big one, that just gives us all the more confidence in Kyler. Also we cant forget about our guy Tony Jefferson!"

Unfortunately Halee, you lost your Ravens (and obviously sent this in last week). I wouldn't have minded seeing Tony Jefferson get a ring, and I was hoping to see Jackson vs. Mahomes. Props to the Titans though. I wouldn't mind seeing Tyrann Mathieu get a ring. Out of the teams left, the order I'd probably root for them is Chiefs, Titans, Packers, Niners. But it's not going to weigh heavy on my mind any way it goes.

I missed this last week, but I have to admit, I laughed.

From Boston Mike via

"Since there's nothing else to talk about in the offseason, I say it's Darren story time. Since you've been on every road trip in your Cards' tenure, can you identify the hell trip in that time? And I ain't talking football. I mean the flight, the hotel, the food poisoning, etc. What was the worst road trip you ever experienced?"

Two come to mind. On a personal level, the joint training camp practices in St. Joseph, Missouri in 2012 was a brutal trip for me. I got food poisoning, and for basically three days I was stuck with attacks of brutal pain in my stomach. Made it impossible to sleep through the night, and we were staying in bare-bones dorm rooms with spotty internet and no TV. Wasn't my favorite trip (although I did somehow write a story about the unlikely friendship between RB Ryan Williams and then-Chiefs GM Scott Pioli, of which I was pretty proud.)

But as for the team, nothing will beat the trip to New England for Week 16 in 2008. The basics everyone knows: The Cardinals were drilled in the snow, 47-7, by the Matt Cassel Patriots, and Cris Collinsworth called them the worst team in playoff history, and soon after the Cards were in the Super Bowl. But the post-game deal made it worse. The Cards were flying in and out of Providence. Because of the weather, we sat on the plane for a few hours before takeoff so it could be loaded, de-iced and prepped, and I believe we were the only flight leaving -- everything else had been canceled because of the snow. We finally get in the air, and we had to make a pit stop in Minnesota -- because of the weight of the plane and the limited runways in Providence, we didn't have enough fuel to get all the way back to Arizona. So we refuel in Minny, and because of the weather have to get de-iced again and that takes a while. I think I figured out later, from the time the game ended to the time we actually landed in Phoenix it was double-digit hours. Does that qualify as a hell trip?

From Randy P via

"Can you dunk?"

I wish, Randy. I wish.