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You've Got Mail: Free Agency Is Upon Us

Topics include right guard, the Nascar package and 12 personnel

Conner Kirk Chicago mailbag

Technically, free agency hasn't officially started. Yet it has. The Cardinals brought back a bunch of their own guys this week, although Christian Kirk and Chase Edmonds are already spoken for elsewhere (heck, Edmonds already changed his Twitter avatar.) Things will change quickly all week (and potentially make the a mailbag question or two outdated sooner rather than later.) Questions have been edited for length and clarity. As always, you can send in a question for a future mailbag here.

From Matthew Stroh:

"Hey Darren, thank you again for the mailbag. I like Chandler Jones, but personally, I think Vance Joseph does better with the Nascar package, and so I think we would be better or as good without Chandler Jones. Remember two years ago without Chandler Jones? The offenses won't know who's in coverage or who's rushing. Do you think the Nascar package could work full-time on third down without Chandler?"

This feels very much like a be careful what you wish for question. One of the reasons Nascar worked so well that season was because Haason Reddick had a breakout season (which Reddick, two years later, has turned into a payday playing for the Eagles close to home.) If Jones leaves, who fills that hole? I like the optimism, but without Jones, the Cardinals are going to need to make pass rusher priority one, in my opinion.

From Tyler Bateman:

"Hey Darren, with all the re-signs and few releases, how much cap space do we have, and who should we release to make some cap space? I have been eyeing D.J. Humphries for a while now, he doesn't seem to be pulling his weight considering what we are paying him."

It's impossible to know cap space because some deals have yet to be signed and so that's TBA. As for Humphries, I don't think he finished the season the way he wanted -- he seemed to struggle post-Covid -- but if you were to let him go, who exactly is replacing him at left tackle? Humphries has played well in 2019 and 2020 and the first part of 2021, in my opinion, and -- as much as this bugs people -- his salary and cap number is in line with the position.

From Suez Jako:

"What's the outlook on right guard? I suppose it could be Josh Jones but really wouldn't we like to upgrade there? Actually I see a lot of mocks that have us taking Zion Johnson in the first round. Not sure how I feel about taking a guard first until I remember playing vs Aaron Donald and then I'm all for it. We need to fix this OL. I think RG is that clear glaring hole. If we can add a Pro Bowl-type guy there I think our OL could be special."

I agree right guard will be a target here in the offseason. Now that Justin Pugh's contract is situated, the rest of the line will be intact -- Hump at LT, Pugh LG, Hudson C and either Beachum or Jones at RT. They see Jones as a tackle and not a guard, so I don't think they want Jones at guard. But it's a fallback if needed. I didn't see them going after a high-profile "Pro Bowl" guy like Scherff anyway. Whether they see what else is out there in free agency or draft (or both, given Pugh's age going into the last year of his deal), they need depth. They showed that last year. Justin Murray hopefully will return from his back problems.

From Brandon Marley:

"Why is it you think so many big-money free agents bust? The guy who get paid and get better seem to be the rarity. I'll point out our own D.J. Humphries as one of those rare cats who just got better and better. But for the vast majority, there's immense buyers remorse. Is it because success in one system doesn't guarantee success in the new system? Is it that guys get paid and become lazy? Is it a reevaluation of priorities?"

It can be any of those things. Players are people; they don't all react the same to the same environment. Maybe they are happy they got paid. Maybe they weren't that good to begin with. The thing about free agency is, the players that teams really want to keep, they make it happen with extensions. The guys who hit the market, their teams all have reasons for letting that happen -- too expensive for what they bring, flaws aren't worth it, there is a cheaper player in place who can give the team the same (or nearly the same) production. I don't think it's players being a bust as much as inflated expectations to what that player can do in the first place, just because he got a shiny contract in free agency.

From Nathan Palmer:

"Hey Darren, can you just break it down how cap space works? The Packers just signed Aaron Rodgers to 50 Mil/year and tagged Tae Adams and I'm pretty sure they were 40 million over in cap room. The Saints wanna sign Tyrann Mathieu and they are around $70M over. What does being negative in the cap room mean and how do these teams get penalized in free agency?"

To begin with, don't get bogged down with some of the agent numbers thrown out there. But let's take the Packers example. As of this writing, Rodgers still hasn't signed anything (and he has refuted that $50M number). Teams don't have the new year's cap hit until Wednesday at 1 p.m. -- so they have until then to get cap compliant. The Packers cut a handful of players Monday to help that cause. There is always a way to maneuver around the salary cap. It's impossible to add any players if you are going to break the cap; all contracts have to be approved by the league and they would be rejected.

From Ronny Red 1:

"$84M?! For Kirk?! I'm thrilled for the guy. I've always been a big supporter of players getting paid. But man alive. Respectfully, we saw last year when Hop went down the need for Kirk to step up and be that No. 1 WR, and he didn't. I saw your tweet; it looks like we get a third-round comp pick? Thats a win-win I say. Congrats to Kirk. Congrats to us."

If that's the contract Christian Kirk gets, yes, the Cardinals have a chance to get an extra 2023 third-round pick. Depends on what else happens in the rest of free agency. But in the end, this is how it's supposed to work for these players -- this is their job. If the market is willing to pay them $17M-$18M a year, they take it. Are they worth it? Yes, because someone paid it.

From Derek Cooper:

"Hi Darren! If a current player isn't released before free agency, does that mean we have a stack of offer sheets sitting on Mr. Keim's desk for the rest? The release of Jordan Hicks made me wonder."

I'm not sure what you're asking. A stack of offer sheets? Like trade offers? As any team tries to figure out it's cap and roster for the offseason, they look at contracts and what makes sense on the cap and who they really want to keep. Some players they will restructure, some they will ask to take a pay cut. If a player doesn't want to do the latter -- or if the team just wants to move on -- a player gets released.

From Bob Long:

"As of right now we have re-signed Ertz but not Maxx. Assuming we sign Maxx sometime do you think our base offense morphs into 12 personnel? Thats 2 TEs, 2 WRs and a RB for you newbs. I've said it for a long time the Cardinals underutilize the TE position. I would really hope an investment in Ertz and Maxx means we will start seeing TE become heavily involved in our offense."

If the Cardinals re-sign Williams, first he needs to be healthy from his knee injury. If he is, do I think there is a chance for more 12? Yes. Do I think it becomes the base offense? That's not what Kliff Kingsbury wants to do. Let's see who the No. 2 wide receiver will be, but if they get someone impressive, you're not going to want a lot of Hop-No. 2-Rondale?

From Glenn Monk:

"Any chance we get Calais back? Major need. Great player."

I don't expect Calais Campbell to sign, but never say never. It feels like they already have that veteran defensive lineman in J.J. Watt (and if they want another, Corey Peters.) I think it's more likely they draft a defensive lineman, or at least sign one who is a little younger than Calais. Don't get me wrong, though. I would love to see Calais back.

From Layton Tish:

"Hi Darren! Haven't heard this asked yet - do you think cornerback is a target in FA or the draft? We have Byron and Marco, but I'm not sure about the Alford situation. And actually I'm not sure about how they feel about Marco. I like Marco very much. For a rookie, I thought he was excellent, growing pains included. What is your views on the CB position? Thanks."

I think cornerback is a position that needs to be addressed. I think they like Wilson, and maybe he makes enough strides to be a solid No. 2 this season. Is Byron Murphy your No. 1 or just an excellent No. 2? Every team needs at least three good cornerbacks. So yeah, whether it's free agency or the draft -- or both -- the Cardinals will get someone.

From Fred Mccintosh:

"If Chandler and Kirk get big deals elsewhere does that mean we will get nice comp picks this year?"

Well, Kirk got his big deal. He would probably be a third. We will see on Jones. But since Jones is a 10-plus year veteran, the best comp pick you can get is a fifth-rounder.

From Casa Grande T:

"Hey Darren always love the mailbag! Just a curious post on here. I know every team is owned and operated differently but when it comes to the Cardinals we all know Mike (Bidwill) is the man upstairs. When it comes to upper management of the franchise does everything operate under the GM or are there other executives in other branches that answer to Mike and Mike only?"

I mean, the man upstairs, I thought that was God? But yes, there are many departments headed up by vice presidents and all those report to Michael. As GM, Keim is essentially the VP of the football side.

From Jerome Mathis:

"Hey Darren, I was reading the free agency breakdown article on the defensive line and I saw the need is 'medium.' Medium? I could not disagree more with that assertion. I would say the DL need is 'sky high.' There's no nice way to say this: our DL stinks. Our DL should be Watt.....and then 4 new starters not on the team yet. I'd say that categorizes as major need."

Safe to say I disagree, mostly because you are overly harsh in this assessment. Did they need better play? Yes. Can they use an upgrade? Yes. But if you believe they need a complete overhaul, a) that's not true and b) it's completely unrealistic.

From Mike Wikander:

"I know this might be a stupid question, but why does it seem like every time we only need 1 or 2 yards and the defense is all crammed tight at the line and we try to run it up the middle, it seems like if they ran outside where there always seems to be a ton of room we could make the first down."

Believe it or not, most NFL teams have the speed to chase you down. Running outside works -- as long as they don't see it coming.

From Joseph Fischer: to

"What is the story with Andy Isabella? He has speed, made some great touchdown catches early on yet it appears he has never been given a chance, at least to me anyway. Did he drop a lot of balls when he played that first year? Was he not a team player? I thought when the injuries in the wide receivers happened maybe he would finally get a chance. One target, 13 yards, and he now gets to seek a trade. Please let us know what the real story is for this guy. Thanks."

I know people seem to want a big conspiracy theory in cases like this. But Isabella, for whatever reason, just never clicked in the offense. He's a hard worker -- you can see that, and Kliff Kingsbury has said that. The real story is Isabella just hasn't worked out in Arizona. A fresh start elsewhere would make sense, although with the wide receiver room right now, they need him on the depth chart. We will see how/when that changes.

From Louis Frustaglio:

"I am a huge Cardinals fan going back to the days of when they were the St. Louis Cardinals, Charley Johnson, John David Crow. I am also a Canadian. I follow the Cards all year long, hoping waiting and supporting them. We have come close a few exciting times. Steve Keim has been GM for a long time. I was very surprised that Mr Bidwill signed Keim for another 5 years."

Michael Bidwill chose to go with stability. As I have said before, I understand where people are coming from, perhaps seeing a chance for change. But stability also means something, especially after an 11-win year and trending upward. Zach Ertz said this week having the extensions helped him make the choice to re-sign. Players usually don't want to be in the middle of a regime change if they can help it.

From John McGill:

"How goes it Darren? Hope things are going well for you and yours. Just a couple of quick questions. Were you surprise that Seattle traded Wilson? Was he unhappy or was it just that time for him and Seattle to part ways?"

I wasn't surprised because he has been making rumblings -- and there had been reports -- for more than a year that he wanted to go elsewhere. The Athletic had a good breakdown of how the relationship between Wilson and the Seahawks soured. It can happen. Part of the reason is that the Seahawks had bad drafts and cap issues eventually catch up with them.

From Matteo Chavez:

"Will the Cardinals be getting new jerseys?"

Someday. Don't know when.