Time for another mailbag. As usual, please go here to send in a question for a future mailbag. We're here every week.
From Cris P via azcardinals.com:
"Darren, thanks for the opportunity. Is there some special way the NFL decides home and away games? Living in Indy area my chances to see the Cards in person is limited, and look forward to the years they play the Colts and Bengals. However, 2021 will make three of four most recent matchups against the Colts a home game for the Cards, 2017 the lone time they came to Indy. But then if you look at the Cards against the Bengals, the Cards have traveled to Cincinnati three of the last four times. One other question. With the league looking at going to 17 regular season games, I would like to see the league to revisit the late Bob McNair's proposal of a regional rivalry game. What team do you think would make a great yearly Cardinals' rival game?"
Every eight-year cycle -- in which the NFC and AFC teams play each other twice, home and away -- is its own entity, and they pair up the connecting teams in the divisions. The formula was also tweaked in 2010 because of the way some East coast teams had to travel so far for four games (to play, at the time, at San Diego, Seattle, Oakland and San Francisco in one season.) So for instance, the Colts-Cards went A/H with the Colts and H/A with the Colts and now stand to go A/H. That's my guess. As for your second question, they have already decided that the 17th game will be AFC-NFC against the like finisher in a pre-determined division you are not already playing. So in the Cards' case, they would face the Ravens if there is a 17th game in 2021, at a site TBD.
From John Ingram via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren. Enjoy reading your mailbag very much. Hypothetically if Larry retires, Pat P moves on in free agency and players like Robert Alford and Jordan Hicks were to be released, what would the Cardinals gain in actual cap space? I'm sure it's more involved than just what they all earned this past year. Keep up the good work and stay safe."
If Larry retires and Patrick signs elsewhere there would be no gain in cap space because they are already considered free agents and have no impact on next year's cap or its space. The estimated cap space teams have right now is only based on the current contracts the team already is scheduled to have. As for Hicks and Alford, Hicks would be a $6 million dead cap hit and $3 million in savings (that could be flip-flopped if he were designated a June 1 cut), and Alford would be a $1.5M dead cap hit and a $7.5M cap savings.
From Juan de la Pena via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren, thanks for the mailbag. I'm from Argentina and this year will be my second time visiting the USA (luckily the first one I was in Phoenix and attended the Cardinals-Bucs game in 2017. Hey, we beat the champs.) I have an open ticket this time to Miami so I will try to go to the Jacksonville game. When will we know the dates of the schedule? Second, if JJ Watt gets available, do you think the Cards have a chance on him, financially speaking? Thanks again!"
Juan, the schedule will be out around mid-April. We won't know about dates before that. As far as Watt, I would not expect them to be able to afford him, although again, in this odd offseason with a diminished cap, I don't know what his new deal might look like. (In Watt's case, he has been injured so much, I think any team will have to take that into consideration.)
From Bob Haines via azcardinals.com:
"It is said that when building a winning franchise, you should focus on six key positions: QB, LT, No. 1 WR, dominant pass rusher, shutdown CB and a no-fear sideline-to-sideline safety. Well by my account, the Cardinals have these positions covered with Kyler, Hump, D-Hop, Chandler, Pat P and Budda. So why aren't the Cardinals a better team? Is it coaching, playcalling or player attitude? What I saw in 2020 was a team that committed penalties in crucial situations and could not convert a first down on third or fourth down with one-yard or less severely stalling drives. They showed flashes during the season which was very exciting to watch, but could not sustain the momentum. I have been a very loyal fan since 1966, will turn 66 in a few months, and would like to see a championship during my lifetime!"
I don't disagree you need those spots manned by quality talent, but you need a lot more than that to be a good team. While I think Peterson is still a good cornerback, I don't know if he is shutdown anymore and the Cards need to get some talented youth at the position beyond Byron Murphy. At pass rusher, the Cards didn't even have Jones most of the season. You are right that the Cardinals committed way too many penalties and were not able to covert too many times in very convertible situations. If you are talking about contending for a title, there are a lot of areas that need improvement, and it goes well beyond six spots.
From Georges Olivier via azcardinals.com:
"Revenue of the birds blog mentioned something that bears discussion. That was that BA and others came out of retirement in 2019 to coach Tampa. TAMPA...not AZ. So let's talk about it. Whether it be the BA side or the Keim side, what was the reasoning for not coming back to AZ? A jaded Cardinals fan can only assume it's because Tampa gave BA something AZ couldn't beyond a job offer because not only did AZ not push for BA to come back here, BA didn't seem inclined to come back here. So why?"
Well, the Cardinals were already on the way to hiring Kingsbury when Arians was hired (they both were announced the same day.) There was no reason at the time for the Cards to think he was necessarily coming out of retirement. And Arians has said Tampa did in fact provide some things no other team could provide, not the least of which being it was a lot closer to his forever home in Georgia. I just think Arians had retired here and the feeling on both sides is that part of his coaching career had ended.
From Ryan Sherman via azcardinals.com:
"Darren, a long time Cardinals Fan from Oregon. I have watched the team the last two years seem to falter toward the end of the season. It got me thinking is it possibly due to a college coach, college quarterback, as well as many receivers etc. hitting that wall due to length of schedule difference? I am extremely happy BA got his Super Bowl. I wish he would have never left but am not unhappy with what he seem to have going on here. I think just about the time we have to overpay our quarterback the pieces will fall into place and we will have a team similar to the Seahawks that are in the conversation no matter what happens."
Actually, the Cardinals finished 2019 stronger than they had started. They did falter this season, certainly. No, I don't think it has to do with any kind of college hangover. I think they just didn't play well. Again, this past season, once Kyler got hurt in the finale, that was a major problem. The game that truly bit them was the home loss to the 49ers the week before -- a game that had they won, they would've been in the playoffs regardless of the Rams' result. That was simply a poor game. No real excuse.
From John White via azcardinals.com:
"I'm a little disappointed in the fact that it didn't seem like Kliff Kingsbury was able to write Larry Fitzgerald into the script this season. I know Larry is getting older and all but he was a top target in 2019! Do you think Kliff's playcalling on offense is advanced enough for the NFL?"
That felt like a sharp turn between sentences. But is it advanced enough? I mean, this was an offense that generated a hell of a lot of points and yards the first part of the season, so if you say he wasn't good at the end of the year, you have to allow that he was good earlier in the season. For me, I'll say what I always have -- Kingsbury's playcalling continues to evolve, and he knows there are improvements that have to be made, just like Kyler at QB.
From Jack Hills via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren, enjoy your cut-to-the-chase, more edgy with some emotion in your responses this past week. To Vincent, who is waiting for his participation trophy, the Red Sea does not pass out trophies so, see ya. It's the line of scrimmage that wins games. As my Australian friends figured out; oh I get it, the fat guys block and tackle so the fit guys can run, catch and score. Does the top tier of 2021 draft provide better fat guys or fit guys to increase wins vs the free agent route? Thank you for letting me set up the question and feel free to cut to the chase."
To be fair, Jack, I don't have a clear answer for the fat-v-fit argument at the top half of the draft. I'll get a better answer as we move in the draft's direction, but I do know there are potentially a lot of good wide receivers set to hit the free-agent market, so perhaps that's a better spot to grab another playmaker to pair with Hopkins. And No. 16 seems like a good place to find a lineman on once side of the ball or the other. It would all depend on who is there at the time, which is going to be a lot more difficult to predict than last year at No. 8 or in 2019 at No. 1.
From Harvey Kuntz via azcardinals.com:
"Hey Darren, I am a loyal season ticket holder, I never sell my tickets and all my adult kids get to choose a game. This past season there was praise and excitement over our draft picks and trades from media and NFL folks and that it was a real opportunity to roll into the playoffs. Kyler is tremendous and I hope he can mature into a REAL LEADER, I wish him well. I believe Kliff Kingsbury is very talented and I wish him the very best but he has a high powered team and he has to outcoach his fellow coaches. The Cards front office HAS to look at augmenting/helping Kyler and Kliff. There has to be that culture of being totally focused on winning and the preparation that needs to be done, period. Please give me some insight. Thanks. Go Cardinals."
Not sure what insight you are seeking within the framework of your writing. I know there are fans that are frustrated often, but the decision-makers aren't doing anything just to do it -- they make their moves with the thought the team will be better and hopefully contend for a title. Of course there has to be the salary cap figured in, but ultimately the moves are to push the team forward. Now, are they a team that will hand out multiple giant free-agent deals? Probably not, and it's not because they are cheap, but because their own analysis of all NFL free agents says that more often that not, you won't get production for the investment. This is a big year for the current iteration of the Cardinals, with the roster and the coaching and the front office. They all know that.
From Zeb Coulter via azcardinals.com:
"Hey Darren, drafting on need is usually a bad idea. But does it reach a point where the need is so great, that its necessary? We talked about this a few weeks ago, but now it seems it has come to pass. We don't have a No. 1 or No. 2 CB on the roster. What do we do? Draft CB Jaycee Horn at No. 16 Sign a free agent CB (all of which will be expensive). Richard Sherman? Believe it or not, the guy is still really good. At the rate we're going, just wait til 2022 when we can draft Derek Stingley Jr No. 2 overall in the draft."
So wait, the Cardinals are going to tumble to a 3-13 or 4-12 record this season in order to be drafting No. 2? That's not going to happen barring injury catastrophe. If the Cards hold on to Peterson, which isn't out of the question, they still have a No. 1 (or No. 2 depending on what else they get.) Sherman, I don't think, fits great into what Vance Joseph likes to do. Overall though, I agree cornerback is a position of need. And drafting for need always happens to an extent, for every team. Very rarely does a team spend a pick on a position at which they are already superstrong.
From Williams Wootten via azcardinals.com:
"I noticed during the season that Isaiah Simmons had a lot of unnecessary roughness calls and I wanted to know if it is something you noticed as well? There were a couple that were during key moments in games. I liked his growth and I am excited for his second year but was this a product of him being a rookie and not having an offseason? Do you feel it is an easy fix? Or is it something they won't even touch on in the offseason?"
I did notice Simmons got a few flags for that this season, and some at key times, like in New England. I do think it can be an easy fix. As BA used to say, it's easier to say whoa than sic 'em. I think as Simmons gets used to the game and his own emotions playing as a professional, that's something he can easily get under control.
From Chad Johnson via azcardinals.com:
"The mailbag asks you a lot of questions about players perspectives and their feelings, but how much access to you have to the players, GM, and owner? Can you and your staff go to position group meetings? Sit down and have some lunch with players? Sit in on the pre-draft meetings with scouts?"
No, we don't have that kind of access. I can ask for an interview with all of those people, but I still have to get the go-ahead like other media. We certainly aren't sitting in meetings with position groups or scouts, or eating with players (in normal non-coronavirus times; right now, we're not even allowed to be on the same floor as players.) With players, normally, I do have to ability to approach/talk to guys a lot more often in the locker room than regular media, and when our requests are considered by the media relations department, I'm sure the fact we work for the team is considered.
From Michael Travers via azcardinals.com:
"Hello Darren and thanks for the forum to talk about our Cardinals. Now that the Super Bowl is over and Bruce's team made it to the end getting that ring we'll all ask ourselves how close are we? There are so many variables that go into a roster but one thing for sure is you have to have a QB, which we all believe Kyler is it. This year will be a bit tricky for Steve with the lower cap, but every team is in the same boat. Each year there are always tough decisions that have to be made regarding players and this year is no exception. What positions do you believe the team will target in free agency? Also, do you think this is a all in year for Steve Keim with regards to the upcoming draft? Guess are free so take three and let us fans know what you think the 2021 free agency and draft could have in store for the RED SEA."
We're too far out to know about the draft. I'd need to see what the roster looks like after free agency to really have an idea which way they might go, but again, I see a lineman or a cornerback or, maybe, a wide receiver. As for free agency, the three big names everyone is waiting to see with which what will happen is Patrick Peterson, Haason Reddick and Kenyan Drake. If I had to pick the one most likely to return, I guess it would be Reddick, but I will not be surprised if all three left (I have a hard time seeing all three staying given what they might have available on the open market). Beyond that, perhaps they seek a receiver to pair with Hopkins, a guard or maybe a center, a cornerback and maybe a defensive lineman. (Again, these are guesses and given the money available, it'll probably be either and not most or all.)
From Jacob Lagang via azcardinals.com:
"Hello sir! I hope that you are staying safe. I have noticed that a lot of people are wanting some guys at D-line depth and I love Angelo Blackson so I want him to stay. Do you think we can get Mike Pennel and Trent Murphy for a cheap price? I feel like if we upgrade a couple things we can look at the Super Bowl. I think Kyler and Hop and Humphries and Pugh and Budda and Chandler and Hicks and Simmons can be the best at their positions. What do you think about signing Jason Verrett and what him and Robert Alford and Byron Murphy would look like together? I know Jalen Thompson WILL be elite."
I agree that keeping Blackson, who will be reasonably priced, make sense. I don't know what the FA market might mean for other guys. We still don't know the cap limit. Alford is going to be an interesting case, especially since his salary jumps significantly. He might have to rework his deal if he were to stay. He's missed two seasons through no fault of his own, but the Cardinals would have to decide if they can afford to count on him again.
From Chris Fernandez via azcardinals.com:
"What is the general rule for when players still on their rookie contracts can negotiate a long-term deal? I don't know if there is a clause in Kyler's contract or a league rule, but I would think the time to consider signing Kyler to a mega deal is fast-approaching. When do you think that will be and how close will the numbers be to the Mahomes contract? With thanks from a Cards fan in GA."
On their rookie contracts, players cannot get an extension until after their third season, which means a Murray extension can be discussed at the conclusion of the upcoming season. Because the Cardinals control two years after that, they will have a little leverage, but it will behoove both sides to get something done. I don't know what the numbers might be, but the rate for franchise quarterbacks -- which is the bucket Murray figures to fall into -- is what it is. You're not getting an established starting QB on the cheap. We'll see how it compares to Mahomes, but if Kyler continues to trend up, he's going to have some significant demands.
From Henry Brownstone via azcardinals.com:
"Hey Darren. I know the answer is 'it's up to P2' but how open is he/ how hard is the team pushing for him to move to safety? It's interesting your article mentioned the HOF push and how he needs some more time to get there. I think it's fair to say he won't get there as a cornerback from here out, it will take a Charles Woodson-like conversion to safety. P2 could be a Pro Bowler once again, as a centerfield safety (Budda handling the more SS responsibilities). I feel like it's a missed opportunity by both team and player if that isn't being aggressively sought together."
Well, Peterson has mentioned that possibility in the past, but that wouldn't pay as well as a cornerback and right now, Peterson definitely still sees himself as a cornerback. The Cardinals also like Jalen Thompson very much, so I don't think they see a need to find another starting safety at this point. Interestingly, Peterson disagrees with you -- he said he already thinks he has had a HoF career. Would several years of quality play, potentially at safety, help? Yep. But if he were to move to safety, I don't know at this point it's with the Cardinals in 2021.
From Ken Norton via azcardinals.com:
"I knew a split from PP was inevitable, but I really hope we don't completely burn bridges on that relationship. P2 is an all-time AZ great and a sure-thing ROH inductee. Seems to me that so many Cardinals greats leave the team with a bad taste. Q notably. Dockett hasn't been back. If not for working for the team, it's almost fair to expect A-Dub might not be on the best terms with how his career ended here. I dont like it. Seems like teams like the Steelers, their alumni always have this always-a-Steeler mentality and the team and city rally around them. Why can't we have that with our alumni? On a side note, when Fitz retires we won't have a bad relationship with him. But he just seems the type of personality to leave and never come back. He'll drop in for his ROH ceremony. But that'll be the last we see him."
Man, Ken, you kinda sound depressed. You definitely are off on some of your facts. 1) Peterson isn't gone yet. 2) Anquan Boldin did leave with a bad taste, and I know Darnell Dockett was upset when he left, but Dock came back to sign a one-day contract to retire as a Cardinal so it's all good there. 3) Wilson -- and I still have an interview he did after he was released -- is fine. He understood. Now that he's in management, he helps make some of the very same decisions that ended his time. He gets it. 4) Sure some alumni are salty but most others are not, and that goes for every team. The Steelers? Check out the history between Terry Bradshaw and the team some time. I'm guessing things aren't great with the Seahawks and Earl Thomas. As for Fitz, yes, I could see him being scarce, but that's the life he prefers to lead. Nothing wrong with that.
From Brad Cain via azcardinals.com:
"I have an answer for you to give all the uniform changers. The only 'new look' I want from the Cardinals is consistent playoff appearances and a couple/few Super Bowls. One more Lombardi Trophy than the '12s' would make my day."
Well, you've got to get one before you get more than one. And I am guessing, since uniforms are completely separate from the actual roster building and play, improving the unis and winning don't have to be mutually exclusive. But I appreciate the help.