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You've Got Mail: Fans Return To Camp

Topics include Josh Jones, the NFC West race and a pivotal year for the offense

WR Christian Kirk during training camp last season, when there were no fans.
WR Christian Kirk during training camp last season, when there were no fans.

It's time for one more guest spot before training camp begins and the Mailbag King returns. Send future questions for Darren here.

From Elle Nooke:

"HEY! Hold the phone. Tickets to attend camp? Does that imply there is a limited number? I've been looking forward to camp for 2 years now and I'll be beside myself if I cant get in if all the tickets get gobbled up."

That's correct. There will be digital tickets for training camp this year as the pandemic has yet to cease. If you aren't a season ticket holder, you can begin reserving tickets at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. There are 12 open practices so hopefully there is enough opportunity for you and everyone else to see the team in person. Admission and parking remain free.

From Liam Thurman:

"Hello! Every year I like to predict the record my Cardinals will get. Last year, I predicted 9-7, with us going to the wild card, winning, and losing in the next playoff game. This year I predict Arizona going 11-6, winning the division. I believe we will make it to the NFC title game but sadly lose to a roster that is more filled out. What record do you think Cardinals will get, and how far will they go in the playoffs? ... If you even predict them making the playoffs."

That was a solid prediction. If Kyler Murray didn't get hurt in the regular season finale, you may have nailed it. This is a critical season for the Cardinals, and one that is hard to judge. I think the team's floor is pretty high provided Murray stays healthy, but with several key players in their 30s, health is going to play a huge factor. I wouldn't be surprised to see double-digit wins and a playoff berth, but things will need to go right during the season, especially in such a stacked division.

From Steve Zukowski:

"I never get a sense that Kliff Kingsbury 'takes what the defense gives him.' He appears to try to force his gameplan, and I think that he needs to hand the reins to a talented offensive coordinator. He can have input, as all head coaches do. but I'm not confident that his predictable/questionable play calling will get us to the next level. Put someone in the booth who has authority! Your opinion?"

I actually think the opposite is true. The Cardinals do a lot of short, high-percentage passes, especially when defenses use two high safeties. I believe the key in 2021 will be finding ways to complete deeper passes, even if a defense is geared to stop it. I'm sure Kingsbury has areas he'd like to improve upon this year, but I'm a fan of the scheme. I think we need to give him another year and then analyze the body of work then.

From Garret Tanner:

"Hey Kyle. My question isn't a Cardinals specific question, just one I'm curious about and thought I'd throw it into the mailbag. What's the difference between a restricted free agent and an unrestricted free agent? What is a restricted free agent restricted in? What determines if a soon to be free agent is restricted or unrestricted? Thanks!"

If a team gives a qualifying offer to a restricted free agent, it has the ability to match any contract the player signs from another team. If it decides not to match, there is sometimes draft pick compensation for losing the player. Unrestricted free agents are not tied to their former team in any way. They can sign with anyone. Restricted free agents are those that have three accrued seasons and an expiring contract.

From Chris Maloy:

"Hi Kyle, Darren has given his input on this question, I'd like to ask your views. Josh Jones, the tackle we miraculously got in the the third round only two years ago. Everything we see out of Cards' camp seems to indicate they view him as a guard now. It REALLY bothers me. Darren says it's good to be diverse, but I call BS. Humphries is a left tackle. He doesn't kick in at guard. Nor will Hudson play anywhere on the line other than center. Where you're a young player like Jones, you should spend 100% of your time learning your position. That being right tackle. Guards are a dime a dozen. Tackles are hard to find. Make Jones only learn right tackle so that the day his number is called he's the best he can be. Thoughts?"

I think there's a bit more nuance to it. If Jones is the best candidate at right guard, it makes sense for him to start rather than hone his craft as a backup right tackle. But if Jones is only the third-best right guard, then I agree with you. While versatility is important in the NFL, maximizing Jones' potential at tackle could pay off big time. We'll see how it goes in camp. If Jones isn't in the mix to start, I wouldn't be shocked if he practices mainly at tackle.

From Tom Ward:

"It was noted on this website that 'the Cardinals don’t go to a tight end very much.' In your opinion do you think that this could be the reason we don't defend well against opponents' tight ends? If the offense doesn't run plays for tight ends would that mean the defense does not practice against plays designed for tight ends?"

The Cardinals actually did a pretty nice job against tight ends last season. Regardless, there isn't any correlation. The starting offense and defense only face each other in training camp. Once the season begins, the defense plans for the scheme that the opponent will run each week. When the Cardinals don't defend tight ends well, it can be a schematic or personnel issue, but I wouldn't point to lack of reps. No matter what Isaiah Simmons sees in practice this year, I'm confident he will do a good job guarding tight ends.

From Stephen Black:

"When Kliff was hired, he was touted as this special offensive mind similar to McVay or Shanahan. But over two years, we haven't seen a special offense. Why? You cant say we didn't have weapons. Can't say it was the OL -- they played pretty darn good. That was the most frustrating part of the last two years, in that we didn't have an excuse to be so mediocre. We didn't have injuries or positional holes. So why are we so mediocre?"

The offense did make a tremendous jump in his first year. Last season, the unit regressed, particularly after the second Seattle game. It's a critical season for Kingsbury to get the offense rolling. I do think there were some personnel deficiencies last year at the skill positions, and penalties were a big issue. The group looks better on paper heading into 2021, and Kyler Murray has another year of experience under his belt. After one impressive season and one subpar one, Kingsbury will undoubtedly be under the microscope.

From Frankie Tanner:

"I want to talk to Fitz if you could make it happen I'm a big fan of him. I want to know if he's coming back and why he's not saying anything yet. And I wish I could meet him before he does retire."

Welcome to the club, Frankie. A lot of people would love to chat with Fitz right now, but he's keeping things close to the vest.

From Nathan Kurtz:

"What's up with Chandler's post about on to better things? Any insight? Thanks!"

Those were song lyrics. Was there a double-meaning? Your guess is as good as mine, but unless something explicit is said, I usually don't put a bunch of stock in social media posts.

From Kenyon Carlson:

"Greetings during the doldrums of the NFL. What is your opinion as to how well the Cardinals have stayed abreast of their NFC West rivals since the 2021 draft? Do you think the Cardinals have gained or lost ground to any of them? And within the NFC West, since most of the high-priced FAs have already been signed, in what rank order would you predict who'll have the most cap money available in 2022? Barring a flood of injuries to any one position group of any team, how would you predict the order of the NFC West at the end of 2021? And what is your opinion as to how important a good blocking TE is in an offensive scheme and why?"

Greetings. I'll lightning round this since you had a few questions. We'll see how it plays out, but the Cardinals had more cap space and better draft capital than their NFC West rivals, so it's more likely than not they have closed the gap. There are a lot of factors that will play into 2022 cap space, but in general, the teams with the rookie-contract quarterbacks – the Cardinals and 49ers – will have more flexibility. I'm not ready to predict an NFC West order, but if injuries don't knock one of the teams from the race, I truly believe it will be a battle royale in the division. I don't think a blocking tight end is super important. Now, if you can get a guy like Gronk who is a great blocker and receiver, that's a serious advantage.

From Sammy Bough:

"Hey Kyle!

Glad to hear from you. Always nice to get fresh perspective on things. Not that you're an 'insider' or anything, but just from your closer proximity to the players than the outside world, I'd like to hear your thoughts on two past players in particular:

1. What happened with Jonathan Cooper? He was suppose to be what Quenton Nelson has turned into. An all-world guard. He was absolutely phenomenal in college. Seemed smart and driven. Gets to the NFL, breaks his leg, and he's been a journeyman ever since. Some theorize the broken leg gave him the yips, mentally. Do you agree with that? What were your thoughts on his failure?

2. Along the same lines as Coop, David Johnson. What in the heck happened with David? The difference is David was actually a megastar in the NFL. He proved he could do it. But maybe similar to Coop, he got hurt, and then maybe got inside his own head? He's one of the bigger mysteries I've ever seen in the league. Strings together HOF seasons, and then suddenly isn't the same (despite the injuries being non-leg related). Gotta be yips right?"

The broken leg couldn't have helped matters for Cooper, but I'd hesitate to say it derailed his career. While it could have been a factor, sometimes first-round picks just don't pan out. Johnson is a bit of a mystery. That 2016 season was unbelievable, and he seemed primed to become one of the best backs in the NFL. He didn't have the same burst in subsequent years, so I'd also lean more toward physical issues than mental with Johnson.

From Matthew Stroh:

"Hello, the Phoenix Suns went 2-0 to start the NBA Finals and before Game 3 a lot of news outlets talked about how they will sweep the Finals and how everyone was great and etc. Then we had some bad games. And they are now wanting to turn in the towel. So does that mean a lot of people in the sport news world don't have bad days? Only good ones? I believe in the Suns and this is one thing I love about the NBA it's OK to have a bad game. Just not four in a series. I feel that the NFL sometimes it happens when the beginning of a season after four games some people say they know who's going to win the Super Bowl. It's different in every sport but why do people in general want to rush to a decision? Thank you again for the mailbag."

From your mouth to my ears, Matthew. There is way too much overreaction based upon a game or two in every sport. The Buccaneers were 7-5 at one point last season, but their underlying metrics were always strong, and they went on to win the Super Bowl. As always, follow the numbers and not the narrative.