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You've Got Mail: Free Agency Marches On

Topics include homegrown free agents, backup QBs, and defensive scheme


Another week, another mailbag. Lots of queries. Questions have been edited for length and clarity. As always, you can send in a question for a future mailbag here.

From Terence Roche:

"Darren, a question about losing Zach Allen and Byron Murphy in the first 48 hours of free agency. Were the Cardinals aware of the specifics of the offers from the other teams? Did they have a chance to match and see if they could keep them? In other words, assuming they are open to staying, do players let the incumbent team know the offers they have in hand? Can they? Thanks."

There are times when teams ask players to come back to them with their final offer to see if they will match. A lot of the time the new team would prefer that not to happen, and players are under no obligation to do so. I remember back to when Calais Campbell left the Cardinals and it was documented on video, and he wanted to go back to the Cards one more time because he wanted to stay. His agent (correctly) told him the Cards weren't going to match the offers that were out there though. Usually, by the time a guy gets an offer, he knows how far each team is willing to go.

From Roddy Pipah:

"Hi Darren. You mentioned in a reply to somebody that we are a 4-3 defensive scheme now? I know that was up in the air when Gannon came over, but did you get some official confirmation that yes we are a 4-3 we now 100 percent? Also I'm not super knowledgeable about alignments, is that going to be a big change for Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons? We finally got these two playing well and suddenly they have to learn a new system? I was going to ask about the DL but realized we have zero defensive linemen so it doesn't matter."

No one has said 4-3 specifically, so no, there has been no confirmation. The Eagles had a 4-3 on their online depth chart, but as you might imagine, it wasn't 100 percent. You are right, they are going to need more defensive linemen to make it work, although they are going to need more of a lot of things at this point. I don't know if it is going to be a huge adjustment for Collins but we don't yet know what role Simmons is going to have anyway. DC Nick Rallis (and Gannon) have made it clear they want to see these guys on the field before they make any decisions.

From Rob Scoresby:

"Hey Darren, I was disappointed to lose Zach Allen and Byron Murphy to free agency. Especially Allen as a good DL piece, seems like that's where we need to start. I know the Cardinals are resetting and trying to get out of their cap problems but it seems when we have drafted well we often don't re-sign some of those guys to second contracts. Do you think this wasn't a priority for them due to trying to reset and rebuild, was it money the Cards couldn't match, or were these guys trying to exit the franchise due to some issues with the team? Why not build by keeping some of these good pieces we have?"

I'll admit I don't know the exact answers to that. I thought they'd have a chance to keep Allen, but it's possible he got a bigger offer than the Cardinals were expecting. With Murphy, I know he was a big Vance Joseph fan, so maybe he has a different thought process if VJ had stayed, but at the same time, for the deal he signed -- which is basically a one-year prove-it given the structure -- I could see him wanting to do that in a different place. It sounded, based on his press conference, he had former teammates and coaches telling him Minnesota would be a good place to go. You aren't wrong about keeping some of their homegrown players. The reality has been that if you have a young player and he gets to the end of his deal, he's going to find a big payday somewhere. If you are going to re-up a guy, it probably needs to be sooner. That goes for all teams, not just the Cardinals.

From Ted Beck:

"Thank you for your work. It is much appreciated! As the Cardinals start making decisions on the backup quarterback position, do you think they would be better off acquiring a quarterback with similar skills as Kyler, or is it better to get a different type, such as a traditional dropback passer, which might give the opposing teams something different to defend? Or do you just get the best available guy and make it work?"

At this point we will have to see what direction they might go. It's possible they bring David Blough back and have him with Colt McCoy (and then at least one other arm for offseason and camp.) Obviously most of the "big" name backup quarterback free agents have gone elsewhere. There is also a possibility of optimism of Kyler's return, which might actually impact who would want to come given that it's about keeping a seat warm until he is healthy. As for the question of what kind? I am in favor of getting the best player and making that work. It's the adaptability Jonathan Gannon keeps talking about.

From Bob Kitsos:

"I haven't seen David Blough's name mentioned as a possible temporary fill-in for Kyler. Thought he looked fairly decent in his brief appearances last season. What are the plans for him?"

This worked out well (Except for me, who had an answer written here and now must change it up). Monday the Cardinals came to an agreement to bring Blough back. He joins Colt McCoy in the QB room. We will see if they add another. If they do, I wouldn't be surprised if it is a rookie of some kind.

From Simon May:

"Hi Darren. The fact they didn't sign Jacoby Brissett to fill-in at QB doesn't mean we are trying to lose in 2023, but it certainly implies winning isn't the goal. In fact most of this free agency period implies winning isn't our goal in 2023. How are you digesting the moves (or lack thereof) made this week?Just curious since you're an insider."

I'm not sure how you make the leap on Brissett in particular; I'm not saying they did or didn't try, but I think Brissett has a much better chance starting all season in Washington than Arizona and he knows that too. But I suppose I am digesting it all, as you put it, as a reset being executed by GM Monti Ossenfort. Having not been around him for an offseason, I am still trying to get a sense of what direction he will go to build the roster and what that means both short- and long-term.

From Quincy Grey:

"Spring has sprung Darren. Rapid fire questions to save multiple emails:

  1. What are your thoughts on re-signing Kelvin Beachum after his Kyler comments. I'm happy to have Beach back and feel his comments were justified. But you never know how a player reacts to public criticism (we saw Marquise's response.)
  2. Does training camp and fan fest at the stadium change with the new leadership, or is that an ownership decision? Please keep everything as-is. I think we have one of the best summer practice access in the NFL. It's nice grabbing lunch and sitting in the stadium watching football.
  3. When are you going on your vacation, and are you going to have a guest mailbagger for that week? Those are always fun.
  4. I noticed Quentin Harris on the Flight Plan episode. He's sticking around? Also Josh Scobey strikes me as a guy with a bright future at the executive level. He's a sharp dude.
  5. Monti said they will be evaluation all aspects of the team trying to improve. UNIFORMS? DARREN, UNIFORMS? Or is that an ownership decision?"

Here are some rapid fire answers.

  1. I think the Cardinals can use a guy like Beachum in the locker room. He's smart and he's wise. I don't know for sure, but I would expect that Beachum had talked to Kyler about this subject before. And I think Beachum is the type of guy to make sure the relationship between the two will be straight.
  2. Ultimately everything is an ownership decision. If you are asking if camp will be at the stadium, yes it will be. Will the timing potentially change? Yes. That's something the coach decides. So I don't know what days will be public nor what time open practice will be, but it'll be at the stadium.
  3. Potentially we will have a guest mailbagger. Maybe Craig Grialou? Dani Sureck? We'll have to see.
  4. I agree on Scobey, who I have known since the Cardinals drafted him once upon a time. Yes, Harris is still part of the front office. They would have kept Adrian Wilson too had the Carolina opportunity not come about.
  5. Uniforms are definitely an ownership decision. We'll see what happens there.

From Brad Williams:

"Why don't more teams use the non-exclusive franchise tag like the Ravens have done with Lamar? It seems to me that Zach Allen and Byron Murphy would have been good candidates this year and Haason Reddick in the past. If we had put it on Allen we could have either got another year to evaluate him at a cheaper price than the exclusive franchise tag or a pick from the Broncos this year to use now instead of waiting for the compensatory pick."

They don't use it more because of the money. For most positions and players, it doesn't make sense to pay a guy that much for one season. If you tag Allen or Murphy, no one is signing them away. There would be no picks for Allen or Murphy. So yeah, you get them -- Allen for one season at $19.7 million and/or Murphy at $18.1M. And they would have matching cap numbers. That's not happening. Non-exclusive is cheaper than exclusive, but not by much.

From John Turilli:

"Do you know the Cards' cap number before free agency? That is the magic number allowing Monti tools to sign players. I think and will ask you that championship teams are built through the draft? Do you think it wise to draft a quarterback in round three to bring in maybe a solid back up to Kyler?"

The Cardinals had about $33 million in cap space going into free agency. That is a "magic number" but only to an extent; because it also goes to what direction the Cardinals are trying to go with this part of the roster building in the Ossenfort era. As for championship teams, I do think you need solid drafts not necessarily to build the entire roster but to at least create the depth you need to be a good team. Finally, I don't know about drafting a QB right now. There are so many other holes, I'd rather see picks spent on someone who can give you immediate results.

From Mark Mason:

"With Hopkins out the first six games of last season and then the injury to Murray, how do the Cardinals improve over last season with Hopkins possibly being traded and no sure start date for Murray on the horizon? In addition, how desperate are the Cardinals going to be to take Will Andersen Jr. when Monti Ossenfort has reportedly been interested in trading down for draft capital?"

The first point is a great question. It would be difficult, although to me the Murray part is much more important, since Hopkins ultimately missed eight games all told. If he wasn't around, well, the Cardinals have a sense of what that could mean. (Not knowing what the Drew Petzing offense will look like also throws a wrench into the analysis since we don't know what that's going to look like either.) The reality is no matter who you have at QB it will be by definition less until Murray returns, since you believe Murray is your best QB. As for Anderson or a trade down, I think that'll come down to when the Cardinals are on the clock. It'll depend on what QB is there and how anxious the Colts are or afraid of missing out to the Colts from someone else. If Anthony Richardson goes to the Panthers and either Young or Stroud is there, there will be a temptation to deal.

From Brandon H:

"What's your outlook for the next one to two years? It's clear to me this a reset year. We can probably bank on a top three pick next year. In my opinion, I think it's better optics for the team to acknowledge it (similar to The Timeline or Trust The Process in the NBA) rather than pretend this is a Super Bowl contending season. It's not. I think the biggest storyline forecast for 2024 is if we have the No. 1 pick."

Anyone who has read me over the years knows I am hesitant to make predictions this time of year. That said, it does seem right now that there will be a reset this season, given the current path of free agency, the rehab Kyler Murray is going through, and the reality DeAndre Hopkins could be moved. I want to see what the roster looks like in August, and the schedule too.

From Andy Debrie:

"This may be heresy, but do you think they may try to get off Budda Baker's contract in the near future? We are full-on rebuild mode (if this free agency period has confirmed anything) and highly paid safeties tend to be luxuries. Budda will be 28 at the start of 2024. Young by human standards, but nearing 30 for a defensive back. When do we (and most importantly, HE) start thinking about what's best for Budda and his chances at a ring? We aren't winning a ring anytime soon. Budda will be here in 2023. But I'm just wondering if we should start really cherishing every remaining game he has left in Arizona."

If I have learned anything over the years covering the NFL, it's that looking too far in the future is foolish. He's here this season, which you note. Who knows what happens next season? If Murray returns and is healthy and his level of play jumps with new coaches, that changes the equation big-time. I understand what you are saying, and Budda might be looking for an extension at that point because he'll be going into the final year of his deal. But it's impossible to make that prediction right now, in my opinion.

From William Flamand:

"Hi, Darren! When I look at the current roster, I'm kind of shocked by the numbers of free agents we have. I can probably guess that it's kind of normal to have a few free agents each year, but that much seems a little off. Am I wrong? Also, fans can't help themselves and wonder if there's a problem with Kyler Murray. Every fan who actually watch him play know how much of a talent he is. Us fans don't know what's going on with everything related to game preparation, leadership, etc. Is the off the field stuff really that bad? Thank you so much for reading my questions."

The Cardinals did have a significant amount of free agents. The reasons for this are yes, the drafting over the years had left certain spots needing short-term fixes. It also came from the reality the Cardinals had more than their fair share of injuries and guys were signed in-season to fill those holes and they were always just stop gap. In some ways, it's better this is the current situation, because Monti Ossenfort has an easier way to overhaul the roster with this kind of flexibility. As for Kyler, I'm not in the locker room, I'm not around him enough. I know he was good enough to be pretty good for good stretches of his first three seasons. Last year wasn't good for anyone. I know what Kelvin Beachum said -- and I listened to it, rather than just read selected quotes -- and listening to Beach, I understand what he was trying to say. I have been curious to see Murray with a different coaching staff and perhaps a different approach. This season -- once Murray returns to the field -- I think will give everyone much more clarity. And that includes Kyler himself.

From Wendy Larson:

"I was reading an article breaking down Kelvin Beachum's new contract, and it included 'not-likely-to-be earned bonuses.' Will you please explain what that means. Thanks."

In any contract, there can be Likely To Be Earned bonuses and Not Likely To Be Earned. All it means is that LTBE are incentives that the player had already reached the year before -- for example, with Beachum, playing 90 percent of the snaps. A NLTBE is an incentive the player did not reach -- for example, Beachum playing 100 percent of the snaps. (That's an example, that would be a worthless bonus.) Sometimes an NLTBE is easily reachable it just wasn't reached for some reason the year before. The difference comes with the salary cap -- a LTBE counts against that year's cap, because it is "expected." A NLTBE, if it is reached, isn't counted against the salary cap until the following season.

From Richard Scott:

"Hey Darren, thanks for doing such a great job with the mailbag all these years. My question is (and I understand these things can be an inexact science) but how do we make mistake after mistake in not retaining players where the arrow is obviously pointing up? Christian Kirk, last year, Murph and Allen this offseason. We could've locked all of these guys up for pennies on the dollar the offseason before their contract seasons instead of waiting and losing them for reasonable offers. Apathy is a very dangerous word when describing a fan base, and I'm confident that I think I speak for a large portion of us in saying that's where we're headed."

It's a fair question about potentially locking players up. You are right, it's inexact. They were proactive with Kyler and there are a lot of people upset about that. I think it's clear that the issues the front office had at the end with Steve Keim likely impacted the business side of the team. Whether that would've changed things with Allen and Murphy, I don't know. Christian Kirk was a guy who had been solid, but I think with his injuries before his last season the Cardinals had questions and then the market far surpassed what they (or many, to be honest) thought Kirk would get.

From Robert Malicki:

"Hi, Darren, so many topics, so many questions. Does Monti have the green light to upend the roster? Also, the Hopkins issue is quite a distraction. He lost his trade clause but we don't know his commitment to the Cardinals. What an asset for our QB he would be! On the draft, I think the staff should stand pat and get the best defensive player on the board and not trade out."

Ossenfort doesn't really have to upend the roster because it kind of already is, given the number of free agents. We will see what happens as the offseason progresses but this is feeling like a reset kind of year. I don't know yet what will happen with Hopkins but I think it's clear a potential trade is in play. The wide receiver trade market has not been hot, however, and I am wondering what kind of value Hop would bring and if it would be worth a deal. Finally, I get what you are saying about the draft, but for me there are no absolutes. Let me hear what my options are when I'm on the clock. I know what I'll do if I keep the pick. What else might I get?

From Ren Yaolin:

"This goes along with some of Gannon's comments about Kyler better get comfortable under center. Would you be surprised if his patty cake clap snap went away, and he actually has to vocally call for the snap? I've always felt that was a huge missing part of our offense."

If Kyler is under center, he won't have an option. Whether it changes in the shotgun, we will see -- out of all the things that I think could be tweaked with how Kyler operates, the snap clap is way down on my list to be honest.

From Donna O'Connell:

"Hi. Any idea when training camp 2023 is being held. My two younger grandsons are coming to visit me from New York and I really want to bring them to a game and to see the stadium. We are planning their trip around the dates of training camp, Any info would be appreciated so we can book their tickets. Thank you and GO Cards!"

We won't have an official schedule for camp dates until much later in the summer, but you can work backwards for a ballpark figure. The first regular-season Sunday is Sept. 10. That would mean the last preseason game is the weekend of Aug. 26, the second preseason game the weekend of Aug. 19, the opening preseason weekend Aug. 12. That should make training camp beginning around July 28. Now, there are only so many open practices usually (and those are usually at the front end of camp.) Hopefully that helps.

From Richard M:

"Hello Darren, I love the great job you continue to do! I asked maybe about a year ago regarding a studio being built for future Cardinals interviews and game analysis and it looks like it has become a reality! Are there any other future additions to the training facility being planned?"

Yes, the new studio is finally done after many many months of planning and construction. Beyond that, I do not know. The studio I knew was coming, but that is within my department.

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