The Cardinals are back from the bye with exactly half the season to go, with still five road games on the slate. Facing the Chiefs this week isn't an easy task regardless, but the way that team has been playing makes for a tough trip. In the meantime, here's this week's mailbag, and again, if I don't get to your specific question, I have often answered one similar. As always, you can send questions for next week's mailbag by clicking here.
To me, the identity of this team for 2018 is clear -- developing Josh Rosen. If the Cardinals are able to string together some wins, perhaps it morphs into something different. But the offense is going to be built around getting Rosen better, and from there, you hope the defense can find consistency and keep the Cards in games so that Rosen has a chance to make some things happen. On a level below, it'll be about getting David Johnson to the level within which he needs to work. But mostly, it's prepping Rosen, I'd think.
From Cardnos Cardacios via azcardinals.com:
"Would you agree that John Wetzel was a valuable depth player on the o-line? What is his contract status for next season and who do you think we can pick up as a backup tackle?"
Wetzel will be a free agent after the season -- I'm not sure if he will be restricted or not. It is a loss for the Cardinals, in large part because they continue to suffer so many injuries. He was versatile enough to play guard or tackle, and the reality is he likely would have been needed again this season. He was up and down in his performance, but you knew what you had in him. Now we'll see if rookies Korey Cunningham or Zack Golditch can provide anything if they are called upon. Right now, the offensive line looks like it will be back to the normal five starters.
From Georgiebird via azcardinals.com:
"Because the division is so strong and with young successful QBs, why didn't the Cards trade Patrick Peterson, Chandler Jones and/or David Johnson, who looks slow? A new GM could have a field day with two or three No. 1 draft choices. Notre Dame has about 3 guys who can be all-pro offensive linemen for eight to 10 years. Don't fool yourself with false hope. Cards need an overhaul."
They didn't trade Jones or Johnson for the same reason they didn't deal Peterson -- because they believe, if Rosen develops, they can compete in 2019. You aren't trading Johnson after just giving him the new contract (plus they would get killed with dead money. Overthecap.com estimates a $24 million dead cap hit for Johnson, and $36 million with Jones had they been dealt this season). It's so easy to say, trade this guy or that, but you have to actually factor in all the details. And you are assuming you are getting multiple No. 1 picks for those guys. Finally, in terms of Peterson and Jones in particular, all you are doing is having to spend one of those high picks at those same positions and hope you find someone similar in talent. A good O-line is great, but if the defense then can't stop anyone, are you that much better off?
Not sure of "all" the "chatter" you're talking about. Some former players aren't thrilled with how it ended here. I get that. The Bruce Arians thing is totally different in my opinion. The window for the Arians team started closing -- sooner than some expected -- in 2016 and key injuries wiped out any redemption chance in 2017. Toxicity usually stems from losing games, not the other way around. It's like chemistry in that regard.
From Don Hill via azcardinals.com:
"I've been a big Steve Keim fan. His drafts haven't always worked but I love his approach and aggression. His FA signings have been pretty spectacular and his hires have been excellent. But the wheels fell off this year. How does he keep his job?"
Well, to begin with, he just signed a lengthy contract extension in February. Second, it's interesting that you go from praising him all the way until this season, and now, with a bad year, you discuss a change. We will see how this all plays out the second half of the season, but I don't see a move coming at GM anytime soon.
From AK via azcardinals.com:
"From earlier, what do you make of John Brown's comments of his dislike of Arizona? Do you take it as a criticism of B.A.'s ways as a coach, or just evidence that things didn't work out between them?"
I'm not sure there's a difference there. I mean, if it's not working between them, you'd have to say that's criticism from Smoke's side. Even last year you could tell Smoke was down and not the same happy-go-lucky personality he had been. A couple of quotes he had in camp about playing and his injuries sure seemed like read-between-the-lines stuff. Sometimes, a player (or a coach, for that matter) just needs a change of scenery. It's pretty clear in Brown's case he needed to be somewhere else, if for no other reason than to get some of his joy back. Those last two years were rough for him.
I read the story and Arians was pretty blunt about saying he'd consider the Browns job. He was also talking to a Browns writer, so that's one thing. I personally don't think B.A. will coach again -- if he did, he'd have to tell his family that, and his family was pretty strong in wanting him to move on to the "step back and enjoy life" part of life and moving to the "forever" home in Georgia. I'm not surprised Arians misses coaching -- that was always going to happen, which you could tell from the tears the day he retired -- but I think if it ever came to serious discussions, he'd think about the grind.
From Robert Malicki via azcardinals.com:
"Could you address special teams play? At season's start their play, especially in coverage, showed improvement over last season's play. With the inadequate contribution of the offense could not special teams be stepping it up? I can swallow what's happening with the offense, but special teams too?"
Special teams, according to the rankings of Football Outsiders, is 19th right now, or around the middle of the pack. That alone is an improvement (they were 28th last season.) Andy Lee is having a great season punting the ball. We frankly haven't seen much of kicker Phil Dawson. The return units haven't been great, but I still think Christian Kirk has a chance to be a very good punt return man and we'll see if T.J. Logan can energize the kickoff returns. In terms of coverage, I don't think it's been bad. Again, Lee's punting has been good in part with some of the coverage.
From Issac in the UK via azcardinals.com:
"Have the Cards got any major FAs due this offseason? And what do you think they will do in terms of contracts for them?"
The biggest free agents-to-be as of right now: Larry Fitzgerald, Markus Golden, Deone Bucannon, Bene Benwikere and Benson Mayowa. The most interesting one to watch for me will be Golden, who told me the other day he isn't thinking much of his situation. There is a chance a guy might get an extension later in the season, but I'm thinking it'll come down to the offseason to figure most of these out. And with Fitz, of course, he has to decide if he wants to play in 2019.
From Jerry Brown via azcardinals.com:
"With all of the high draft picks (ours and others) and money we've invested in the O-line, why do you think they've played so poorly? Is Iupati past it? Is it poor coaching? I know you love Ray Brown, but results count."
I'm not sure if I have personal feelings toward Ray Brown, but that's moot. Iupati isn't the player he once was, not after all these years in the league, but it doesn't just fall on him or coaching. Part of it, I think, has to do with how they are deployed and some of the play calls. But generally, I think all of them could play better. I think they'd say that. I don't think there is any question it's a group that will be scrutinized carefully in the offseason.
From Joseph via azcardinals.com:
"Why do so many Cardinal fans think it is Steve Keim that cuts/releases players from the team? I know you have written about this before and outlined the channels of authority in this matter. Yet posters continue to lay the cutting of a player on Keim when is it not. Clearly Steve Wilks has the decision and authority on whom gets cut and when?"
To say Wilks makes the decisions isn't altogether true. I think the two of them work hard together to come to a consensus when they are letting players go. Obviously, coaches are watching them every day and evaluating who makes sense to be there and who should play. But Keim still has a say because contracts matter and the future matters. Sometimes other factors (like injuries) matter.