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You've Got Mail: Filling Out The Roster

Topics include draft plans, quarterback hats, and Benjamin's role

Eno Benjamin mailbag 033021

Now the Cardinals have a cornerback they can feel good about as a starting point. Still lots of time before the draft. Still lots of free agents out there, potential one-year deals. Still lots of mailbags to come, for which you can send in a question by going here.

From John McGill via

"Hey Darren. I think the Cards are doing a great job in addressing need this offseason. With the signing of Malcolm Butler, I still would like to see the Cards draft a CB in the first round and a TE or a RB in the the 2nd round. My choice would be Hunter Long or Travis Etienne, but they might not be there when they select in the second round. What TE would be a good choice in the 2nd round? What running backs? And for all those who are going to rip the Cardinals for signing A.J. Green, here is something to think about -- just a few names that signed with the Cardinals after everybody thought their careers was over. Kurt Warner, Carson Palmer, Adrian Peterson. Just to name some. Granted there were also some busts as well, but I say let's give the guy a chance. If he can draw some coverage away from Hopkins, I think it will be a great pick up."

I do not expect Etienne or Najee Harris to be there at No. 17 in the second round as a running back, but you never know. Nevertheless, I would hesitate to drop in a name at 49 overall -- other than to think they might want a back with size, I don't know what they are looking for at this point. And I would think they are more likely to not take a running back in the first two rounds rather than take one (although maybe they will make Ron Wolfley's day and take Javonte Williams out of North Carolina.) Tight end is the same kind of deal -- unless there is someone special, I don't know if they spend a pick there on that position.

From Andrew M via

"Darren, in light of the trading of Mason Cole for a sixth-round draft pick, I have a question about late-round picks: do the Cardinals (or any other team for that matter) ever target a pick who would be considered a stud special-teamer first and a position player secondarily? I am referring to Justin Bethel prototypes, not kickers. The track record of successful sixth-rounders as position players seems not impossible but typically low odds. Why not draft a fast kamikaze? Seems like there are more and more examples of guys who make careers mostly on special teams as the league is giving more emphasis to "all three phases". Rather than drafting a "project" lineman, tight end or linebacker almost 200 players into the draft, identify the best potential special teamer. Thank you for this mailbag. Always look forward to it."

There are a couple layers to this. There is always an element to special teams, especially for later picks, that is factored into their scouting reports. No player is coming into the NFL thinking, "I'm only going to play special teams.' And you don't want to see a guy that way either. Dennis Gardeck got into the league strictly as an undrafted special teamer, but look what happened once he got the chance to play a little defense. Besides, you can find those guys, often undrafted (Gardeck, Trent Sherfield, Ezekiel Turner, Charles Washington) without spending a pick. Makes more sense to roll the dice and see if you can find position players with the draft.

From Allen The Cards Fan via

"A draft question, your favorite! Hi Darren, you retweeted CB Jaycee Horn commenting on it being cool to join the Cardinals. I think fans would be so stoked to get that guy. You see he ran a 4.39 40 at his pro day. Patrick Surtain as well blew up his pro day. So that's the top two cornerbacks making it real hard to get them at 16. Here's the thing, the actual No. 1 CB in terms of talent is Caleb Farley. Believe it or not, he's faster than both Horn and Surtain. But he's got injury concerns. What's your view?"

At this point, it does feel like we have a top three cornerback group, with that trio. And yes, with Farley's recent back procedure, that has to be a red flag. Maybe he will be fine. The tough part for Farley is that not only does he had the back issues, he didn't play in 2020 because of COVID. Early on, it was Horn that seemed to be the one likely to slip to 16 if one did. Now, it feels like it'll be Farley. I'll be honest -- I have no idea who the best one is/will be. Surtain is a hell of a talent, but he does have a heck of a front seven in front of him. I've heard Horn might have to work on his hands on this level -- we know how the flags can come out for physical cornerbacks. Ultimately, we will see who is there when the Cards pick -- and whether they value them enough to grab him.

From Linette Klopp via

"I'm relieved to get Malcolm Butler. In no way are we 'set' at CB, but this helps. I am actually more concerned about DL at this point. It has more bodies than CB, but arguably thinner talent in the room. I'm alone here, but I feel like the loss of Angelo Blackson was severe. I would've prioritized keeping him over almost any FA we had. And then there's Corey Peters who got hurt, but for a long time was our rock in the middle. He's still available. I wanted to get your thoughts on Kawann Short. Currently a FA. One of the 5 greatest DLs in the last few years prior to some shoulder injuries. He'd fit right in and is a massive need."

I'm going to disagree that it is a massive need. You spent two fourth-round picks last season on defensive linemen, and you better be thinking they will be able to play bigger roles. I don't know about Short -- at this point, you want someone who is going to be healthy. You'd have to do your homework. Blackson I thought was solid last year, but again, that's why you draft Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence and Zach Allen and sign Jordan Phillips and J.J. Watt. I think they will add some bodies, but I see it as depth/rotational, not as a potential starter.

From Greg Borges via

"What do you think about using Leki Fotu as a 'refrigerator-like' RB version for short yardage situations? He was and all-American rugby player. He has ball handling skills for tight quarters."

Fotu is going to be a crucial part of the defensive line, so that has to be the priority. But that's been wondered about since he was drafted. Even if they did do it in a situation or two, it doesn't displace the need for a bigger back in my opinion.

From Jerry Brown via

"Eno Benjamin 'redshirted' his first year in the league. But the coaches have had a year to assess him. Is there any info as to what the team expects his role to be? Many people may not realize that the departed Kenyon Drake, Chase Edmonds, and Eno are all listed at similar weights. So there doesn't seem to be a big back/small back issue. Where do they want to go with this?"

I think Benjamin, right now, has a chance to be the backup. If they sign/draft someone, that could change. I know Eno is a fan favorite, but the reality is he was a seventh-round pick and there are always battles especially for lower picks. The special teams was an issue last year, which is documented. I think they need a bigger back. I think Chase Edmonds is going to be the starter. Beyond that, we will have to see in training camp.

From Monte Oates via

"Darren, recently there have been sightings of Kyler sporting an Oakland A's cap in public. As a diehard Cardinals fan, this is very discomforting. It is my understanding that when Kyler signed his first contract, conditions were made that he could only play football. After his contract expires at the end of this next season, do you think Keim would demand a football-only contract? It would be comforting to know that Kyler is committed to the long-term with the Cardinals. Right now I lack that comfort."

Well, first of all, I was the reason those sightings gained attention, at least on Twitter:

Little did I know a guy wearing a hat -- a hat he got because, you know, he was a top 10 pick, so why wouldn't you have some pride to wear it -- would cause such a stir. Here's how I approach this question. It's not going to work, not for a quarterback, to play two sports. If he wants to play baseball, he'd have to retire from football. In that case, it doesn't matter what his contract says. Besides, sometimes a hat is just a hat.

From Tim from Phoenix via

"Darren: I'm thrilled to see the O line get some depth, but what is the status of Marcus Gilbert? Is he coming back? Does he have the will to play? If he does, is he a starter? If not, who do you see as the starting five? Thanks!"

Gilbert is still under contract. I don't know if he is officially going to try and play at this point. If he does, he'd have to battle for a spot, and to be honest, once Beachum returned, it feels like having both would be redundant. As for the starters, as of now, from left tackle to right tackle, I'd say Humphries-Pugh-Hudson-WInters-Beachum, although Justin Murray might be the right guard.

From Robert Malicki via

"With Patrick Peterson not able to work out a solution and re-sign it makes another of fan favorite players to be traded or leave in free agency. It's always been tough to accept this reality for us fans but, how do you see his career going forward? Our players who have left and continued contributing at a high level let us be happy for them and proud of them. Some achieved HOF status before they left, like O.J., and others are even highlighted on the Cardinals' Ring of Honor. A more recent player who always excited me and was able to become a champion was Aeneas Williams, one of my all-time Cardinal players. Do you see Patrick as following in No. 35's footsteps?"

Little confused here. Not sure what O.J. for the Cardinals made the Hall of Fame. O.J. Anderson didn't. Aeneas, unfortunately, didn't win a title -- his Rams lost in the Super Bowl in Tom Brady's first title -- and the only reason Aeneas left was he was frustrated and demanded to be traded or he would retire. Williams went to a Rams team that was a powerhouse and had won the Super Bowl two seasons prior. The Vikings team Peterson joined is not nearly that well put-together. I wish Patrick well, but Williams survived in part because he transitioned to safety. Not sure Patrick wants to do that, nor if he has the right skillset.

From Justin S via

"Not a question just a few comments. First, best of luck to Pat P and thanks for the many great seasons! The only thing that left a sour taste in my mouth was before the deal him saying it's out of his hands where he goes. True in the sense that he doesn't know what teams will offer money, but also untrue. If he wanted to stay he could have. I'm sure the Cardinals offered him a deal 'he' just didn't like it. So it just bugs me a little when players say it's out of their hands, but again best of luck!"

I am not 100 percent sure it was that cut and dry -- it's possible the Cardinals were simply ready to move on. But for argument's sake, let's say Peterson -- who got about $8 million -- was told he could return for, say, $5 million, or whatever Butler got. I mean, I'm not turning down $3 million. Nor are you.

From Zane O'Chara via

"If the Cardinals are in fact at $1.5M cap space, still needing to replace PP at CB and a new backup QB (which everyone seems to have forgotten about) then Larry's career in AZ is kaput. Decision or not. Can't squeeze blood from a stone bud. $11M? lol. Would you accept a coupon to Chili's instead?"

Did you call me bud? Zane, you don't know me like that. To your point, obviously your question arrived prior to the Butler deal, and prior to the Pugh news. It seems like they have a chance to sign Colt McCoy for a (cheap) backup QB role, and Chris Streveler will still be around. But even if Fitz had said in January he was coming back, he was never going to get $11M, not with this cap. You could give him -- for example -- $8M, with $1M salary and a $7M signing bonus with four voidable years tacked on and his salary cap number would be only $2.4M this year. They could easily find that room. There are always ways around stuff.

From Sebastian Quiros via

"Hey Darren. Do you see it possible that we trade up in the draft? I'm saying because my favorite player in the draft is Jaycee Horn, and after his pro day his stock seems to be going up. I really want him for the Cards. He fits the mold so well, physical, blitzes and sticky in man. He's what we need, even if we already signed Butler. What do you think?"

Could the Cardinals use Horn? Yes. They still need a young CB to be the No. 1 in the future. After his pro day (and the news of the Farley surgery) I definitely could see Horn off the board before No. 16. But to trade up, they might not have the ammunition. I think they need their second-round pick, and a fifth probably won't help them. Ultimately, I think there is more of a chance to trade down than up.

From Cameron Reese via

"Last year you said 'this is a big year for Andy' and it was a big letdown. Is it once again a big year for Andy, or has the ship sailed and he's now a depth guy awaiting eventual release?"

I do think he probably gets one more year. But he's in a similar situation as Haason Reddick was a year ago in my opinion. Right now, he probably won't get a lot of snaps, so he'd have to blow up in the limited work he might get. If there is an injury, he'd need to shine.

From Michael Travers via

"Hi Darren. We are all witnessing the NFL moving to an offensive league more than ever before. Also, the trend is to get a franchise QB, lock him up for many years for a sizable portion of the salary cap. The Cards are no different so why not embrace the trend and plan a team who offense can score four to five touchdowns per game -- in other words, scoring over 30 per game. With that in mind how about adding the top RB in round one. What do you think about drafting Javonte Harris in Round One and the best available CB in Rd 2?"

I still don't think you need to take a running back in round one. I think there are more important places to look, and if the right cornerback is there, I think you need to go there. Or even a good offensive lineman. I think you can get a good running back in round two if that's what you really want to do.

From Ray Martin via

"Lifelong Cardinal fan (St Louis to Arizona). This is my first question in the mailbag but I'm not a first-time reader of your mailbag. A free agent move that I question is letting Reddick go and signing A.J. Green. Per reports the contract dollars are the same $6M - $8M. Seems like a 26-year-old Reddick at his prime teaming playing next to Watt vs a 33-year-old Green past his prime coming off a down year. Keim gets paid to make free agents decision and I don't, so I defer to his expertise. Also on last mailbag I agree with comment made on how eloquent and grounded Kelvin Beacham came off in his post signing interview. Definitively a person I would want in my locker room."

I understand where you are looking at the money but in the end, that's just a coincidence. Reddick isn't back because the Cards decided to get J.J. Watt and then bring back Markus Golden, and that more or less pushed Reddick out of a slot (and you can't be devoting all your cap/money to a single area.) They were going to need a receiver. That was true whether or not Reddick stuck around.

From Luan Figueredo via

"Hi Darren, greetings from Brazil. I have some questions about the CB situation. Do you think it's possible for Robert Alford to play as good as he did in Atlanta (or even better)? What happened to Prince Amukamara? How many more cornerbacks do you think the Cardinals should sign? Thanks for everything! :)"

  1. Is it possible? Sure, it's possible. I think the expectations for Alford need to be tempered however, since he hasn't played in a game in two years. There is a reason the Cards re-signed him for the minimum salary.
  2. Amukamara was on the practice squad, but the coaches never saw enough from him to feel like it made sense to elevate him to the active roster on game day. He won't be returning.
  3. How many more cornerbacks? I think after Butler, the Cardinals need to think of at least one more veteran, potentially to compete with Alford for a top 4 spot, and I think they need to draft one in the first couple of rounds. IMO.

From Matthew O'Donoghue via

"Will there be another series of Flight Plan this year and what do you think would be the most interesting moment this offseason to see?"

There will be more Flight Plan episodes coming, although again they are somewhat limited because COVID protocols remain in place (and we don't know how much players will actually be around before camp.) I don't know what the most interesting moment will be -- I'll leave it to you to watch them all and let me know.

From A.J. Hall via

"Giving you a break! No draft, uniform, or free agency questions. I'm an educator by day. What are some of the things you are aware of that the Cardinals do to promote community and education? I always see snippets from players, but definitely would love to hear! From a Cards fan in North Carolina."

The Cards have a bunch of things they do within the community and in education, whether it's the reading program they have done for years, or various camps for kids, and even helping set up State Farm Stadium for vaccine doses. Obviously, there also have been things done by players over the years on their own too, like Patrick Peterson's reading corners or Larry Fitzgerald's various shopping trips for kids, or Calais Campbell's shopping sprees at Christmas.

From Marty Taylor via

"Hey Darren, thanks for doing the mailbag every week! I was wondering whether you think having exit interviews with some of the players that leave the team in free agency would be a good idea? I'm only talking about big names like Patrick for us and guys like J. J. and A. J. for the Texans and Bengals, respectively. I wonder whether that would give the players a chance to leave the team on better terms. I appreciate that wouldn't always be the case, but I think with some players, it could help everyone get some closure (player, team and fans). It could also help to leave the door open for potentially coming back later down the line. Anyway, just a thought."

There are not exit interviews like that per se, but those conversations already happen if a team is choosing to move on, and usually, both sides understand what's coming by the time a guy gets to free agency. Either the Cards really want a guy back and he just resists because he knows he can make more, or the Cards just aren't going to get much of a conversation going because they know it makes sense to let him go. Believe it or not, most players leave on decent terms. Can there be hard feelings? Sure, like when Anquan Boldin left. But mostly, guys understand and so does the team.

From Jack Hills via

"Darren, I appreciate this form and look forward to your response. Being a CARDINALS fan for 47 years, the line of scrimmage is where games are won and lost. We are going in the direction to fix the line of scrimmage, we are overdue. What's your expectation for upcoming draft? Protect our franchise QB with more OL in 1st round? Or provide better run options with big RB that can run between the tackles?"

You seem to have forgotten the other side of the ball, where the Cardinals could use a youthful, talented cornerback. But would I rule out an offensive lineman in the first round? I would not.

From Burt Corn via

"What happened with Patrick Peterson? I think the fans deserve an answer considering we invested 10 years into this relationship. His deal with the Vikings wasn't crazy, which seems to indicate the Cardinals offer was ridiculously lowball. Which is insulting when you consider the Cardinals didn't have a ton of leverage. Yes, P2 has lost a step, and yes the cap is tighter this year, but you can't try to big-time someone only to be left with the thinnest CB depth in the league. The Watt deal means nothing if we have the worst pass D. He was still the best CB we had. How long did we search for a steady LT or pass rusher? Years. We been searching for a new D-Wash for years. No.1 CBs are no different."

Once it was clear the Cardinals hadn't reached out during the season, I think everyone kind of had an idea where this might be headed. Even Patrick said that himself. You are making the assumption the Cards' offer "was ridiculously lowball." Not sure how you know that. It's possible -- and Patrick himself said the Cards told him they were going in a different direction -- that there was never really an official offer. I find it hard to believe the Cards would make a terrible offer they knew he'd turn down if they understood he do much better. Knowing Butler probably comes in around $5 million, maybe that was what they were looking to spend. Peterson was the best cornerback they had, correct. But is he better that Butler at this point? Again, I get the connection fans had with P2, and I was hoping he'd stay. But he doesn't sound angry at the Cards with how it worked out, so I don't know why anyone else would.

From Kenyon Carlson via

"Hi Darren. Thanks for taking the time to answer burning questions fans have. I know that the Panthers signed Reddick for a one-year, $6 million contract, with incentives. Did the Cards even tender him an offer and if they did, what were they willing to pay to keep him? I suspect the drafting of Simmons made Reddick expendable. But I'm curious how much more money the Panthers offered Reddick to lure him. Reddick was drafted to play in a 3-4 defense and now he'll be playing in a 4-3, and truthfully, I don't think he'll flourish in that scheme."

As I noted higher, while there may have been some discussion with Reddick, my guess is the whole thing changed when Watt agreed to come to Arizona. And here's the other thing (and this applies to Peterson as well), you are assuming Reddick was thinking he'd get the deal he got with the Panthers all along. My guess is that both he and Patrick were hoping to have much bigger deals come to them. By the time it became clear for Reddick that wouldn't happen, Watt and Golden were already committed in Arizona.

From Oli Laden via

"I found it very notable in your Patrick Peterson article that Patrick repeatedly mentions his conversations with Mike Bidwill, not Keim, about the team going another direction. That goes hand in hand with many of Larry's comments about his discussions with Mike. We know Mike is an involved owner, but is he more involved than we realize? If bad news is coming, does he deliver it? Or if there's a particularly valuable free agent, does he reach out personally? We know he flew the Watt family down. He's got a little more Jerry (Jones) in him than appears."

I think when it comes to certain guys who have made their careers here -- Fitz, P2 -- it makes sense the owner would have a closer relationship with them. They have been faces of the franchise. I don't think Michael is necessarily delivering bad news, but his door is going to be open, again, with these players he has know for so long. It makes sense for Michael to talk to Patrick in this situation, I'd think. Ultimately, Michael is signing off on these free-agent contracts.

From Quinn Winton via

"What are your thoughts on a rookie CB starting? And I mean 'a rookie CB covering No.1 WRs". Say we draft Surtain or Horn. That would really be the situation. Lesser known options are that the Patriots CBs, Gilmore and Jackson, are both available via trade. Good veteran players, I would prefer. Thank you!"

While you sent this in pre-Butler, I would assume, Quinn, you are pleased with the Butler signing. That's your veteran. But in general, you aren't wrong -- you would take your lumps with a rookie cornerback. Even Patrick Peterson was up and down as a rookie in coverage. But if you happen to get one of those guys, yeah, I'd want him out there. If he makes enough progress, then maybe he's covering No. 1's by midseason.

From Frank Daniels via

"Have Turner and Gardeck not signed their tenders yet? Also, who replaces Reddick as OLB/pass rusher? I'd like to point out the OLB does quite a bit more than just pass rush. I was very impressed by Reddick's coverage play. Surely it can't be Kennard or Golden. They are too slow. I know its been suggested before, but Simmons? The guy is a similar body type to Reddick. Maybe better suited for OLB than ILB."

Turner and Gardeck have yet to sign their tender offers. As for coverage linebackers, that's TBD. I do think Simmons is an option. But there is a long time and many practices to go before they have to finalize what they want to do. Maybe they just use six DBs in passing situations, and Jones and Golden are essentially D-ends with Watt and Phillips.

From John Lombardi via

"Mr. Urban last mailbag you stated Dan Dierdorf was a left tackle. Roger Finnie was the left tackle. Dierdorf played right tackle and later center. You stand corrected."

I do stand corrected. That was like a written slap, there, John. But you are right, and I was wrong.

From FitzWatch 2021 via

"Weird fact of the day - Walter Jones (the HOF LT) announced his retirement on Twitter. Am I the only one who thinks about guys like Walter Jones and Orlando Pace as having last played in the '90's? I've no semblance of time. I blame quarantine. ... Also Fitzwatch update - still dunno."

Yeah, I don't know what Fitz will do, or when he will do it.

From Sidney Sexson via

"I have been pleased with all of our moves so far and it is too early to say which will pay the biggest dividends because of injuries, etc. but inconsistencies in kicking field goals and extra points has always driven me nuts so I am excited that we signed Matt Prater. For you, Darren, which move so far excites you the most?"

Ultimately, it's the trade for Rodney Hudson, which gives them a solid anchor in the middle of the line (although I did think they made a nice save after Peterson left by signing Malcolm Butler.)

From Al Grey via

"Hi Darren. I don't understand the Brian Winters signing. Along with Garcia, it seems like we have five right guards now. On one hand I like depth. On the other I don't like indecisiveness. Who is the right guard? Is it Murray? Is it Jones? Is it Lamont? What's up? Or is it fair to think all five guys will not be on the roster Week 1?"

It is absolutely fair to think they might not all be around. The idea is not only depth, but also a huge battle. I don't think they signed Winters if they believed Justin Murray was so good last season it was a done deal he would start. Garcia, Gaillard and Winters even can play backup center. Murray can back up at right tackle if needed. And we still need to see what Jones can really do. There is a reason there are 90 players in the offseason. You'd prefer most of them be no names who wouldn't push hard for spots?

From Joe Cardea via

"Darren, now that Dan Arnold has moved on, is Fitz a viable tight end? He loves to block."

No. Fitz doesn't want to be a tight end. And while I think Fitz is good at blocking, I have no earthly idea where you got the notion he "loves" to block. He most certainly does not. If you told him he would barely have to block next season in his role, that alone might convince him to return.

From William Barry via

"Darren, prior to signing Malcolm Butler, how many draft picks did we have? Also, what are the responsibilities and duties of the offensive and defensive quality control coaches?"

Not sure why it would matter, since Butler was a free-agent signing, but they had five picks. Soon after he agreed, they traded Mason Cole for a sixth pick. As for quality control coaches, usually those guys are the ones doing a lot of the legwork -- compiling the playbooks, for instance. They usually are aligned with a certain position on their side of the ball, where they would work with during practice.

From Justin Hickson via

"What's going on with the RB position. I love Chase Edmonds but we don't have a true starter. Please give me your thoughts. We haven't done anything in free agency to address this."

My thought is that they disagree right now, and that if they went into the season with Edmonds at starter they would be fine with that. It doesn't mean they won't address the position in free agency still, or the draft, but unless something unexpected happens, I think Edmonds will go into camp as RB1.

From Thomas Krepelka via

"First, I love reading this article, you do ASU and Walter Cronkite proud (ASU alum). This question may or may not be within the scope of your intentions because this is more an NFL question, not a Cardinal question. The NFL just released the news that a new multimedia package was signed for a boat load of money (reportedly $10 Billion a year?), and I understand that the television rights and media platform contracts contribute to the calculation of the salary cap, so this number is huge. If the league splits that money 50/50, then distributes it evenly among 32 teams that's a whopping $156 million per year per team? If that's the case, what realistically is the future of the league's cap moving forward? Again I love reading the questions/comments/and replies each week, you do a great job. Even when fielding the daunting UNIFORM CHANGE questions? Thank you sir."

I very much appreciate the compliment, Thomas. Trying to do right by my Cronkite diploma. So after looking it up, you were a tiny bit low. When the new TV contracts kick in (I believe in 2023) each team collects $321 million apiece. Before anything from sponsors, tickets, etc. So yeah, a nice chunk of change. I don't know what the exact numbers will be yet -- we still have to see what financial hit the cap will take in 2022, for instance, because the full weight of the hit didn't come on this year's cap -- and when the new TV contracts will count, but rest assured the NFL is in a very good spot for the next decade and the cap sooner rather than later will continue to move up at a dizzying pace.

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