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You've Got Mail: Buccaneers (and Christmas) Week

Topics include from Kliff

Mailbag gang tackle in Denver

The Cardinals are still searching for a post-bye win; this time they'll try for it on Christmas night on national TV. So with that as the backdrop, here is the mailbag. Questions have been edited for length and clarity. As always, you can send in a question for a future mailbag here.

From Sonny Sunday:

"Hey Darren. The draft order just got updated and we pick fourth behind Denver. We are both 4-10 and we just lost to Denver. Can you explain why they are still ahead of us? Strength of schedule is behind head-to head matchups. Denver won. We have the same record. We should pick first, right?"

I'm not sure what tiebreakers you are looking at, but the draft order is set by weakest strength of schedule. The weaker the SOS, the better the pick. So right now, the Broncos have played a weaker strength of schedule than the Cardinals. That could in theory change over the final three weeks. (And don't forget, the Broncos pick goes to the Seahawks from the Russell Wilson trade.)

From Corey Wolf:

"Hi Darren, sorry maybe this was asked and I just didn't hear, but did anyone ask Kliff why Colt McCoy was running the ball when we can't afford to lose him? Seems like a credible criticism to have the backup QB expose himself to injury like that, and low and behold, he gets injured. Just give the ball to James Connor. It reminds me of last season where Kyler, with his bad hammy, was still QB option running. It's not smart, and now we lost Colt."

Well, to start with, I don't think losing McCoy is going to change the trajectory of the season. Injuries are part of the game, unfortunately. If you watch the play, he had the option to give it to Conner. If he does, the linebacker crashing down hard -- assuming Colt won't run -- gets Conner for a two-yard loss. I'd also bet no one says much had McCoy not gotten hurt on the play.

Nevertheless, I asked Kliff about it Monday: "He's super competitive which I appreciate, but yeah, we wanted James to hit that downhill. He saw an opportunity to try and get the first down he felt like, so he pulled it and did that, but the intention was for James to get ball, hit it downhill and get the first down."

From Darrell from Pinetop:

"I have a question regarding the uncalled but obvious pass interference on the two-point attempt to DeAndre Hopkins. Who holds the referees accountable for those mistakes? I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels that we were robbed of at least making this game manageable."

Clearly Hop did, and he was making that clear to the officials on the sideline afterward. But the league does hold officials accountable for mistakes. The public just isn't informed of decisions. That doesn't make it any better for the teams/players (or fans), but yes, they are being graded.

From Chad Johnson:

"We are all devastated about Kyler Murray's injury, not only from a football perspective but also for him as an individual and the challenge that lies ahead. Is it up to the player to determine who performs the surgery and where/how rehab is done? Or does the team dictate those sort of things? The Cardinals have only played Murray when he's 100%, and I think Murray will rehab hardcore, but if a player is rehabbing offsite, is there anything other than personal motivation to encourage recovery?"

You ask a few things: One, the player does get to choose the surgeon. Every team has a guy who does such things, and since a player usually has a teammate or two who has used said doctor, it's easy to get first-hand reviews. But he is able to go wherever. I'm sure his agent also has connections to other players, and maybe his father as well. The rehab is also up to the player, ultimately. However, if he rehabs off-site and gets hurt doing so, there are usually implications with the contract. Finally, whether he is at the facility or offsite, personal motivation is really the only thing driving anyone toward recovery. These guys make money off their bodies. That's a lot of motivation -- and a guy like Kyler, who loves to play, is going to want to get back and right as soon as he can. I truly believe that.

From Kenneth Schroeder:

"The Cardinals could have another tough season next year already with Kyler down for a good portion of it, Keim's unusual absence, Kliff's job status, key players beginning free agents. The list is too long. How can this franchise get around those obstacles? Also, on a suspected turnover, aren't the refs supposed to let it play out and then review it since all scoring plays are reviewed? JJ Watt had one and then today, the Vikings had one. Seems sloppy and a trend. Thanks from South Dakota!"

If the Cardinals have a tough season next year that's next year. I see what you are saying -- but they are in the situation they are in. I would think the GM and coaching status will be determined perhaps even before the Super Bowl, so that isn't about next year. You'll have people in place. And the free agents were going to be a thing regardless. The Kyler injury, to me, is the linchpin here. What happens at QB? As for the turnover, no the refs aren't "supposed" to do anything one way or the other. It's become commonplace for officials to let a play go knowing it will be reviewed, but what they are "supposed" to do is make the call in real time as they see it, and then a review can change it if needed. Yes, it screws with a potential defensive score. But those are the rules we have right now.

From Johnny C:

"Why do we never have rookie contributors? Yes I know that question is a bit absolute, but looking at all these first-year players, I can't remember a Cardinal ever being a real star is his first year aside from Kyler. Maybe Budda? He made the Pro Bowl as a special teamer at least. Seems like all our 'success stories' are not great their rookie year, then passable, then show flashes finally in year four or five. Many of them leave too. Kirk, Reddick, Simmons, Collins, Humphries, Murphy, McBride, Moore, Jones, I could go on. How have we never found that Micah Parsons or Sauce Gardner, or even someone on the Kenneth Walker / Brandon Aiyuk level. These are the best-case picks too."

Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson and David Johnson, just to name a few, made an impact as rookies. DRC, Levi Brown, Byron Murphy did too. You've got to have coaches who are willing to trust rookies out of the gate and the Cardinals really haven't had that -- plus yes, these rookies haven't forced their way on the field either. Jonathan Cooper would have started as a rookie had he not broken his leg in preseason. John Brown was good as a rookie. Zaven Collins is playing well now; and no, he wasn't ready to do that last season. I think McBride would've been playing pretty well for a chunk of the season had Zach Ertz not been here, but he was. And yes, who is drafted makes a difference. But Parsons and Gardney and Walker (and some other guys) are far more the exceptions than the rule.

From Pete Newton:

"Hi Darren. It looks like Kyler's injury is going to doom two entire seasons. This and the next, because he ain't coming back until Week 8 and we aren't a playoff team. So, let's be rational adults about this. Do we draft a QB in the first round? And then trade Kyler for pennies on the dollar like we did Rosen? C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young are two good QBs. You can't argue there will be any drop-off from Kyler considering Kyler isn't elite or anything. And we get out from under his contract. Kyler gets a fresh start elsewhere. Sounds like a win/win right? You will likely say 'who is willing to take on an IR QB with a $230M contract.' Fair question. Well the tradeoff is that typically Kyler would be a two first-round picks sort of guy. In this scenario you can have him for a second. Understanding the trading team is taking on his contract is part of our compromise. The next question will be 'who's willing to make that trade?.' (I read your work Darren, I know your patterns). Answer: Any team who needs a QB who's not drafting in the top 5 (therefore not able to grab an elite QB) with the cap space. They are: Falcons, Giants, Patriots, Colts. Explain why it doesn't all work, if you can."

The funny part for me here is I was going to edit this down because it is far too long but at the same time, I don't want to because the number of assumptions you make are mind-boggling. So let me talk about why I think this reasoning is flawed. Because, you know, I can.

  1. Kyler's injury dooming two seasons. He got hurt this year when they were 4-8. They weren't making the playoffs. So no, it didn't doom this season. Maybe the next. We'll see. But that leads me into this point ...
  2. He "ain't coming back until Week 8"? You know this how? This makes no sense to me (just like the dueling Rap Sheet and Schefter news from the weekend.) Kyler hasn't even had surgery yet. Trained medical professionals don't even have the ability to set a timetable yet, much less reporters or, yes, even you Pete.
  3. You say trade Kyler for pennies on the dollar, and then say that's a second-round pick. OK. But you also say he's not elite. But you also say if healthy he'd be traded for two first-round picks, and I'm getting whiplash here. Either he's a good quarterback worth a haul or he is not.
  4. You say there are four teams that need a QB that would willingly take that contract. Why do you think that? If you are trading Murray, it's because you don't think he can do it (and I don't think that's where the Cardinals are right now.) You yourself say Murray isn't worth it. So why would other teams? Especially since, by your own analysis, he'd be unavailable for half of next season?
  5. You say I can't argue there would be any drop-off with a Young or Stroud. Again, how do you know that a completely untested college QB would at least reach two Pro Bowls in his first three years and potentially win NFL offensive rookie of the year? I mean, no first-round QBs never ever bust, right?
  6. Finally, and this is the most important one (I probably should've put it at No. 1 and just spared everyone the rest): Murray would be a $60 million cap hit if he is traded. He is a $16 million cap hit if he is on your roster.

None of this necessarily precludes you from drafting a QB with the first-round pick. And yes, you could trade him. But it makes little sense to me with so many other needs. Or you can trade down some and pick up and extra pick or three.

From Jay Corea:

"Why did we release Trayvon Mullen? We traded a pick for him. He played fine. And Byron Murphy is a total TBD with his bad back. Why the hell are we releasing a healthy cornerback? I'm nauseated with this team. This is absolutely worse than the Skelton days. Back then we just had no talent. But crap like this is self-inflicted."

I'm not sure Mullen was playing any better than another fill-in you might use, like Christian Matthew. Obviously, they didn't know Antonio Hamilton was going to miss a game when Mullen was cut. And if he had played in another two games, the pick to the Raiders would've conveyed from a 7th-round choice to a 6th-rounder, and if you weren't going to re-sign him -- and clearly they were ready to move on -- there is little reason to keep him on the roster. It was interesting with the reaction to Mullen's release -- I have no problem if people were disappointed but you would've thought they cut Aeneas Williams in his prime.

From Dan M:

"At least one other team complained about our grass causing their player an injury. We have many injuries on the field too. Could there be anything to our grass?"

The grass is causing injuries? Uh, no. If you're talking about the Chiefs kicker, I don't think that was directly related to the grass. The stadium has many many times been voted as the best playing surface in the league by players. And players all want to outlaw turf -- State Farm Stadium is exactly what they want. Alas, football has injuries.

From James E:

"I often make the mistake to click the comments in different stories on social media. Most recently with K1's injury and Keim's health issues. Now, I have had my doubts about Murray and most certainly Keim. But to read such poison and vitriol from 'fans' of the team is so discouraging and disappointing. As a fan or supporter of the team I don't understand the hate when it comes to real-life issues like that. As a reporter and writer for the team, how do you handle it with (seemingly) such ease? Do you often feel frustrated with the fan base when it turns into a cesspool of negativity? Side note: Kudos to you and your team! I look forward to the mailbag to see your reasoned thoughts. Obviously, you are pro team. But your thoughts and opinions come from a place that doesn't scream emotional bias."

There is a difference here. Do I get frustrated with fans when it gets real negative? That's case-by-case to me. When the team performs poorly, it's going to be negative. The fans won't be happy, and that's what comes with the territory with my job when the wins aren't there. Now, do I agree with all of the takes? Of course not. Do I think some are overboard, or lack reason? Sure. But not all of them. I am also going to have a different perspective than a fan. I try to remember that. (Coming at me personally? That changes the equation.)

Now, when it comes to the personal stuff against players and coaches, yes, it bothers me tremendously when the comments go there. I think it's unnecessary -- if things aren't going well, there are plenty of football areas to criticize without getting into non-football stuff -- and I am sure a couple of current commenters here can vouch that I don't like to let that go. There is far too much speculation and cheap shots. As far as the emotional bias though -- this is my job. It's bad enough sometimes trying not to be emotional when everyone else is reacting emotionally out there in internet-land. But it is literally is no good for my health or my job performance or my family life to be like that, and I try to keep that in mind.

From USMC Through Thick and Thin:

"Howdy Darren. I have been on active duty in the Marine Corps for nearly 10 years and have been a Cardinals fan since I was old enough to understand football. In that time I have waived our banner in five different countries and all across our beautiful United States. I have witnessed our highest and some of our franchise's lowest moments. After Sunday's game, I am compelled to write for the first time. Although I will agree that this season's woes have been due to injuries and self-inflicted wounds, I can not help but feel that we are constantly playing against the refs as well. How are the referees reprimanded, if at all, for bad calls? Their actions and/or lack there of are sometimes so blatant that it makes me question the integrity of the game altogether. Do the owners, GMs, or head coaches have any way of contesting what we witnessed?"

As I noted above, there are ways the officials' arm of the NFL grades and reprimands the officials that make mistakes or get things wrong. Yes, there is a way to complain about calls and basically every team sends in their issues every week. Here's the thing: It doesn't matter if it's pee wee, high school, college or pro -- officials are going to make bad calls/make mistakes. Just like players, even the best ones, make mistakes. It's inevitable. Do I think the Hop two-pointer should've been called PI? Yep. Do I think one of the sacks the Cardinals got should've been negated because there was a facemask? Yep. Every fan base feels like the officials are out to get them. I've never found fans for any team that didn't have a sect that didn't think that. It's what happens when humans are in control.

From Kerry Brown:

"If guys retire mid-contract, do you save the remaining money or are you still penalized the same way dead-cap works? Pretty much referencing Rodney Hudson. He's got an $11M cap hit next year. Be nice to get all that back for the rebuild."

There is some nuance here. If a player retires mid-contract, you save whatever salary he was supposed to make, and depending on the situation, a team could go after a portion of the signing bonus too (although that can cause problems; see Johnson, Calvin.) If Hudson retires, the way I'm reading it, the Cards would absorb a cap hit of a little more than $5M, because they have a deal with two void years beyond 2023.

From Devon Matthews:

"Hi Darren! I have a hard question to ask and hopefully you're able to figure it out better than I can word it. But at this point with the season lost isn't the best use of playtime to start experimenting for next year? Try concepts we don't usually use. Feed Trey McBride. Start Cam Thomas and Myjai Sanders as pass rushers full-time. Maybe try Isaiah Simmons at safety? Maybe start some of the depth running backs. Move Hopkins to places he doesn't usually go to. Run offensive plays we don't usually do. All of that with the understanding it probably doesn't work out very well and we probably lose badly in those games. That does not mean give up. We are trying new things to try to build on next year while we have the opportunity of live reps. What's wrong with that?"

Look, I get the idea of getting some young players more playing time. (Simmons is already playing a lot at safety or defensive back.) But you're not paying Conner what he's making to sit. And you're not overhauling the playbook with a few games to go. You're still going to gameplan as normal. To turn games into pure training grounds doesn't do coaches or players much good. Both are trying to impress, whether it's their current employer or someone else.

From Zach H:

"Hey Darren. What's your outlook on Kyler's future style of play after this injury? There's always been that lingering worry with 'running QBs' that they get hurt, and they do. We see it consistently. Russell Wilson doesn't run nearly as much as he used to. Lamar is reducing his running quite a bit lately. While Justin Fields highlights are amazing, there will be a day soon where he also stops running so much. So that brings us to Kyler. What are your thoughts? Ultimately we need a full offensive identity redesign in order to adjust to the new largely immobile Kyler Murray, upon return. And lastly I'll just say it was inevitable."

There it is again. An assumption that Murray will be "largely immobile." Not sure how you can make that call at this point. The way medicine and rehab is now, there easily can be optimism that Murray can run like he once did. Now, the idea that he won't be able to run as much? Kyler actually doesn't run much compared to other guys. His injury happenstance not withstanding, he doesn't take a lot of punishment when he runs. So I'm going to disagree with the premise that everything must change as soon as he returns.

From Auden Barre:

"Hey Darren, the Super Bowl is here this year. Should be a good one, as Arizona Super Bowls usually are. Do you lose all your access to the stadium during Super Bowl week? Or do you still get to go in and snoop around?"

To be honest, I'm rarely at the stadium, other than game days and training camp. Definitely not that time of year. But Super Bowl week (and it's two words, just remember.) The NFC team will officially be the "home" team for the game and will use the Dignity Health Training Center for the week; sometimes we are booted out of the building for parts of the day while the team is in there for practice. I wouldn't get to snoop then either.

From Reggie Red:

"Hi Darren. I hate bad seasons but I love the draft. It's looking like we're set up for a top-5 pick. With the expectation that the two big QBs take up two of those spots, there are some dang good players available to us. I know you hate this game, but c'mon bro, humor the fans. In your expertise, who would GM Darren draft? I myself being a draft expert (holla atcha boy) have provided the options below, with valid considerations:

  1. The premier OLB edge pass rusher Will Anderson Jr - *granted it's yet ANOTHER first-round LB
  2. The premier interior DT Jalen Carter - *granted that's not a blue chip position (but is a major need)
  3. The premier WR Quentin Johnston (who is 6'4) - *granted do we NEED a WR with Hop/Hollywood?
  4. The premier CB Kelee Ringo - *granted he's not a P2, he's just the best of a good class (but a major need)
  5. The premier DE (non-OLB) pass rusher Myles Murphy - *the "safe" pick, but maybe that's what we need

Choose wisely (and explain your reasoning please!)"

Well Reggie, you are right. I don't love this, especially during the season. There is too much draft talk before the draft. And for me, there is so much that goes into this (including what happens with the front office, free agency, etc.) before a decision is made. You are also not including the reality some of these guys will be gone. If the Cards pick fifth, Anderson won't be there. But of these picks, I'd want Anderson. He's an edge, so the "another linebacker" thing doesn't mean anything. I think if the Cardinals could get a guy like that, it'd go a long way toward altering -- in a good way -- what this defense can be.

From Kevin Parham:

"I'm really not expecting to see good things happen on the field during the final home game, as that's been the norm for the last couple of years. But what about the super fan Cortez with the training camp tape on his helmet? Is he still around? Would be nice to see a reminder of good times any way I can get it. Merry Christmas?"

I do not know the status of Cortez. If someone wants to let us know, please do. And ... Merry Christmas? (*Ron Burgundy teleprompter voice, probably.)

From Cook Harris:

"Coach Kingsbury arrives at the facility every morning at 3:46 a.m. When do YOU arrive to work, slacker?"

I arrive at work later, at a time that is a proportional to our salaries. I'll let you estimate the math.

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