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You've Got Mail: Delving Into The Offseason

AZC_CardinalsMailbag

We're through a week of the offseason. The questions remain. As I noted before, as long as you provide the fodder, we'll keep the mailbag weekly during the offseason. (And we got a ton of questions next week, so there's a chance it'll show up down the road if not today.) As always, you can go here to leave a question.

From Jesse via azcardinals.com:

"I'd love to see Steve Keim put an emphasis on targeting free agents from teams in the division. The Rams and 49ers both play a 3-4, and while it doesn't mean any player would be an automatic fit, I think there is plenty of talent that will be available to help the Cardinals while taking away from both teams (assuming they even hit free agency.) Brockers, Fowler, and Littleton coming to mind from L.A., and Armstead from SF, would certainly fit on paper. What do you think about this strategy in a vacuum?"

If those guys are the best players for the money you are trying to spend, cool. I get the idea of trying to "weaken" the opponent. But if any good free agent leaves a divisional opponent, unless it's to another NFC West team that isn't the Cardinals, does it matter? They are leaving that team. I'm not targeting free agents based on where they are. It's all about their individual talent and what it could mean for me. You take a guy from an NFC West team, that's fine. But a bonus.

From Jonathan Knowles via azcardinals.com:

"Why do the Cardinals have gray face masks? Gray is not a color on a cardinal bird so why the gray face masks? Wouldn't it look better to have red, black or even yellow face masks?"

Truth be told, I have never given one moment of thought to the face mask. I know there are a lot of fans asking all the time about uniform changes/updates, and I suppose this would be along those lines. I don't know why it is gray, other than the fact it always has been gray.

I think it's a leap to say "Kliff" here. Steve Keim will still make the final call. But as I have said before, at 8, there are a lot of variables. The Cardinals shouldn't just have a blanket statement thinking "We will take OL no matter what at 8." That would be a mistake. Is a receiver possible? I think yes. But it certainly is no lock. You haven't even mentioned defensive line and/or linebacker.

From Cy Fredrick via azcardinals.com:

"Hello Darren. Is it Fall of 2020 yet? I have an Arizona fan-wide question for you. When I read posts here and comments on Twitter I get a overarching sense of a need of vindication among Cardinals fans. Would you say the fanbase wants to win to be vindicated? If so, why is that? Is it the 2008 Pittsburgh loss? Is it the strongest team we have had limping into the NFC championship? Is it being nationally called the worst playoff team ever? I feel all those things as a long-time fan, but I wonder if fans would be satisfied with being a team that is just perennially strong and occasionally has the goods to make it all the way."

I don't know about a need for vindication. Perhaps other fans can chime in in the comments but I just think fans like to win 1) because they want to win and 2) many like to be able to boast about that winning. There is little question some fans of a team that's winning get a boost to their own self-esteem because of it. There is a reason trash talk among fan bases exists. I don't think those feelings on the whole change whether you are a Cardinals or Lions or Titans fan or if you are a fan of the Steelers or Patriots.

From Paul Court via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren. Love the mailbag and your insight into the team. Mine is a what-if question. If Kliff had implemented his offense in the preseason do you think we would be playing in January? Wishing you and all the media team a Happy New Year from Hamilton, Ontario (Canada.) Birdgang for life."

Couple of things here: If you mean used his offense more in preseason games, that's one thing, but it's not like they weren't practicing it in camp at all. Second, the offense morphed during the season anyway, so frankly, I'm not sure what happened in preseason really would've mattered (unless they would've realized sooner that they'd have to change, which I can't see happening in the vanilla of the preseason.) As for your ultimate question, no I don't think there was a way for this particular team to have prepped in preseason to have made it to the playoffs.

From John M via azcardinals.com:

"My question would be the same as I asked at the beginning of the year. I know it is early, but what are the chances of Mason Cole landing a starting position and what are the chances of the Cards resigning Zane Gonzales?"

I think the Cole question will have a lot to do with what happens with A.Q. Shipley, whether Shipley comes back, and then Cole's work to unseat him if that happens. Gonzalez isn't going anywhere. I think there's a good chance at a contract extension, but regardless, he is a restricted free agent and I'd be floored if they didn't tender him an offer (meaning if he were signed away, that team would have to give up that round of a draft pick and gives the Cards the right to match a contract.) To tender Gonzalez at a second-round level, it would be approximately $3.2 million. If it was at his original draft level (seventh round) it would be about $2.1 million.

First he has to decide to come back, and I would think the money is part of the equation. He and Michael Bidwill essentially work together on this so it'll be easy to figure out one way or the other. But I guess I'd think of it in Fitz's terms, which is, he still led the team in catches and yards. So I'm not sure he's going to feel like taking a pay cut. We will see how this plays out.

From Thomas Krepelka via azcardinals.com:

"Thirteen O-linemen on the season ending roster, three on IR, one non-injury reserve and five of those players are free agents. What priority would you put on re-signing the free agents, and after this year's starting five and Mason Cole, who would you speculate are the most expendable?"

I'm not going to get into the most expendable. Any discussion about the offensive line right now has to start with D.J. Humphries. He is an unrestricted free-agent-to-be left tackle who is 26 and is going to make money. The question is where, and potentially, when. The Cardinals do have the option to use the franchise tag if needed (which is projected by overthecap.com to be about $16.1 million.) If you don't keep Humphries, you are going to need a left tackle, and there is no guarantee the right guy will last until No. 8 in the draft. And it can be argued, given his age, he will be one of the most attractive linemen on the market.

As for elsewhere, I think center will either be Cole or an A.Q. Shipley return. I think you need to keep Justin Murray, but likely as a backup. They will probably want to try and find a right tackle. I think they will probably stay status quo at guard with Pugh and Sweezy. I think there's a good chance the right tackle isn't on the roster yet.

From Sidney Sexson via azcardinals.com:

"Darren, thanks for all the great coverage and for keeping the mailbag going as long as you receive questions. Thanks for the example of the cap hit on David Johnson (last week). In a trade scenario involving him I am going to assume that any team that might be interested would probably not want to take him at the $10.2 million salary so am I correct in that we can trade him and agree to cover part of the salary, which would then be counted against our cap? Also do we have a cap hit next year on Terrell Suggs or any of the other players we released?"

If you were to trade a player, yes, you could in theory restructure a deal and convert salary into a bonus to be paid pre-trade, accelerating that cap hit on to the trading team rather than the team who is taking the player. As for next year's dead money, according to overthecap.com, Suggs and Darius Philon will each count $2 million in dead cap space.

From Tim Forsythe via azcardinals.com:

"Why was it more important to play Kyler Murray instead of trying to win? Due to Murray's inability to scramble and passing off-target, putting in Brett Hundley for second half or even the last play when he could at least scramble and throw a Hail Mary pass, Cards would have at least had chance to win."

I too was surprised on the final play that they wouldn't use Hundley for a Hail Mary. But otherwise, you are making the assumption the coaches felt like Hundley was a better option than a less-than-100 percent Murray, and the obviously disagreed.

Of course it is possible. I think it's much more likely, of the two, the Cardinals move down. But certainly it could happen. But you can't know details in January (or even the week before the draft.) Trades, unless you're going into the top two, let's say, are an on-the-clock thing based on who is there and how much that team moving up -- whether that's the Cards or someone that wants the Cards' pick -- wants to make that move.

From Allie Hall via azcardinals.com:

"Hey Darren, what are your thoughts on HC/GMs? Like Bill Belichick in N.E. And Andy Reid in K.C. Personally, I like it. It makes sense to me. Who knows what the team needs more than the head coach? We make a big deal about the GM, but ultimately his only job is to stock the roster with players. I feel like the head coach knows what he needs. Am I wrong?"

Well, it's an opinion, so you can't be wrong. There is no wrong/right on an opinion. I'll generally disagree, although as with most things, there is nuance here and every case is different. First, to be clear, the Patriots and Chiefs have general managers. Yes, Belichick and Reid have the say in which direction to go. I think you have to have the right guy as coach to be able to pull it off. A lot of coaches want that control, and many struggle with it. For one, it's a lot harder for the coach to deal with players up close and personal when they know he is that involved in the roster and potentially, the contract. Also, not every coach can see the forest for the trees, and to me, you need someone who can take a 30,000-foot view of things sometimes rather than be down in the weeds, like coaches must.

From Tom Cowley via azcardinals.com:

"Given the problems surrounding David Johnson, would it be solved by turning him into a tight end or wide receiver, which also would solve the current need for another quality wide receiver and save that draft pick for a quality pass rushing edge. Assuming DJ is that good and he would accept -- seems like a solution. What is your opinion and the chances of that happening?"

The chances of that happening are zero.

This was brought up earlier in the year. He is way too small to be a tight end. And what makes him good as a pass catcher is directly related to having him out of the backfield and creating mismatches. He would not have those friendly coverages if he were a wide receiver.

Why would he take a pay cut? Pay cuts are something that a player faces when his money is not guaranteed and the other option is to be released and have no salary coming at all. Johnson has a guaranteed $10.2 million salary for 2020, whether he is on this team, on another team, or a free agent. He wouldn't give that up, nor should he. The main reason someone wants to be "the guy" is because he wants to maximize his earning potential in his job. Johnson has already done that in this contract.

From Justin Power via azcardinals.com:

"Hey Darren, a question from a long-time Cards fan in Australia - a David Johnson-for-Cameron Brate trade makes sense -- both have relatively high salaries, both used sparingly at the moment and both could make the other team better. Any thoughts on a straight swap here?"

I don't know if the players work, but I can see Brate's contract is not the same situation -- the Bucs could release him if they wanted with no cap hit. And given what the Cards have with Maxx Williams and Dan Arnold, I'm not sure they are looking for a $6 million tight end in 2020.

From Car Dinale via azcardinals.com:

"Darren, last offseason I thought we should have re-signed Markus Golden especially after I saw how cheap N.Y. got him. Suggs was only a short-term rental even if he had played better. What do you think about the Cards going after Golden this offseason? It bolsters the defense with a proven high-character veteran, and frees us up to draft an offensive player (OT!) in the first round if that is who the best player available is."

I addressed Markus last week. First, we have to see if he actually reaches the open market. Second, Markus bet on himself with how "cheap" he was and he won't be cheap again. Would I like to see him return? Personally, yes. I think he has nice chemistry with Chandler Jones. But we'll see how it plays out. The Cardinals definitely need to find a pass rusher who can balance things out with Jones.

I don't know if there will be any offensive-side changes. But I wouldn't be expecting any grand OC move. Kliff is your main OC, and that's not going to change. It's the reason he was hired, and he's fit well with Sean Kugler and Steve Heiden when it comes to integrating the running game. In terms of any coaching changes, I wouldn't expect any official news until new coaches are hired and they can bring it up in a singular announcement.

From Brad Cain via azcardinals.com:

"With all the talk of Kenyan Drake and a contract, if both sides don't come to a deal, can Drake be franchised for a year and come to a deal next year to extend longer if we still wanted him long-term?"

Could they use the franchise tag? Yes. Will they? No. The tag will be north of $12 million for a running back, and for that money, they would want something longer signed.

From Gary Wang via azcardinals.com:

"I don't know all the rules with contacts and cap structure, but in regards to Larry (Fitzgerald) and all hes done for this organization, could you structure a 10-year $3 million per year guaranteed contract? He can retire in 1-to-3 years if he wants without us having to tie up $20 million year to year. This would free up money now to sign Drake, extend Patrick Peterson and Budda Baker. This could help if we move money forward in these deals along with the estimated $65 million to try for a three- or four-year window of a Super Bowl. I understand that if he retired after Year Two we would have the cap charge for the next eight years but in terms of dead money it seems manageable compared to some of the dead money we have had to deal with in previous years. Thanks for doing the mailbag. Look forward to it every week."

Could you? Not exactly. I don't know what the length is but I am fairly sure you cannot have that long of a deal, and I believe if there is a retirement it is like cutting a guy in terms of all the money accelerating into the current cap. (Don't quote me on that, though.) The NFL must approve all contracts too, and if they think this is just a salary-cap workaround, maybe not. More importantly, why would Fitz do that? He wants his money up front.

There wasn't really anyone like DRC. Cassius Marsh is a different kind of guy. Joe Walker I think is a little outside the box with some of his quirks, and the linebackers overall definitely liked to turn up the music in the locker room. But it's been a while since there was a DRC-type guy.

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