The Combine is over, free agency is coming quickly and the roster is going to have some movement soon. The mailbag? That's always a mover and a shaker. Questions have been edited for length and clarity. As always, you can send in a question for a future mailbag here.
From Noah S:
"Hey Darren, read the primer about special teams and got me thinking about our punter situation. Lee isn't as good as he used to be, and there's a kid out of San Diego State who kicks absolute bombs. Matt Araiza. The guy set NCAA records and personally I wouldn't mind spending a draft pick on him. Do you think we would spend a pick on a punter? And if so how early of a pick? Watch his punt from his own end zone against San Jose State that was downed at the opponent's 3-yard line if you haven't seen it already, that guy is a game changer."
Araiza is a special talent, I will acknowledge that, and things can always be done for special talents. But I've never gotten a sense Steve Keim or this personnel department are fans on spending a draft pick on a kicker or punter. Lee might not be quite as good as he used to be but he remains one of the better punters in the league. It'll be interesting to see what they do with he and long snapper Aaron Brewer.
From Sebastian Quiros:
"Hey Darren. I'm curious about something. Do players have a say in trades? Or do they just have to comply and go play for the team they were traded to? I guess in the end they can always hold out but are they able to break down a trade say because they don't want to play for their new team?"
In general, no. Unless they have a no-trade clause in their deal (Fitz had one at one point, for example) that would force a team to get permission, there isn't anything a player can do to stop a trade. Now, can they make it a pain in the butt by refusing to report? Yes. But there is a risk there too. It's definitely not like the NBA in that regard. And as always, the better the player, the more power he may hold in the overall scheme of the transaction.
From Rise Up Red Sea:
"Hi Darren. I personally believe that in the first round of the draft, or potentially free agency, that the Cards should address a position that has been lacking for years: interior defensive line. Since Calais left it's been a glaring weakness on defense. Now I get why people say we should focus on OL or CB or WR instead and those are all things that need to be addressed. That being said, D-line needs to be improved and I'm not just talking about for the run defense, but for some pass defense as well. a perfect example, the second meeting against the Rams. The Rams secondary was decimated and we just got D-Hop back. Our offense should have been thriving through the air, but it didn't. Why? Because Aaron Donald and company up front kept harassing Kyler all night long."
Not sure the second Rams game was exactly a mess; Yes, Donald was excellent but Murray threw for 383 yards and the Cardinals only lost by a touchdown. It was two bad picks that turned that game. Nevertheless, we have talked about the interior DL for a long time. To say the Cardinals haven't addressed it is incorrect; they spent big free-agent dollars on J.J. Watt and Jordan Phillips and spent draft picks on Zach Allen, Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence. Have they found a Donald? Of course not. Does it need to get better? I do believe that is a spot Steve Keim will look into this offseason. But again, they have made moves to try and get it fixed.
From Danny Peet:
"I didn't think it was possible to have this many 4.2-4.3 guys in one class. And now I'm seeing the official times, and despite being a very fast class, it's not a league changing fast class. How much do Combine measurables influence teams? Fans go gaga over big measurables. But are teams the same? It's hard in hindsight to see how 32 teams could pass on DK Metcalf like they did. It suggests maybe they don't fall in love with the combine freaks like fans do. But then again, there's guy like Dontari Poe who jumped up about 20 spots. Ohio State Chris Olave is definitely on the Cardinals draft board and he ran a blistering 4.26 which would have eliminated him from falling to us. But this morning his official time is 'only' 4.39. Suddenly he's available again."
Let's be clear - Metcalf probably was more attractive to teams post-combine because of his workouts. He might've gone lower given teams' concerns about his ability to run routes crisply and stay healthy. Obviously everyone was wrong on him. But again, I don't think measurables impact draft status as much as you think. If Olave has a chance to be there at 23, I don't think his 40 time ever impacted that. The idea of "risers" and "fallers" is a creation of draft media moreso than anything like that actually happening. It's impossible, for instance, for the Combine to have raised anyone up the Cardinals' draft board because there isn't a draft board. They don't put that together until April. After all the pro days, and all the interviews, and all the video watching from games. And, as part of it, the measureables.
From Mark Hogan:
"Hi Darren, do you think the Kyler Murray negotiations, and the rumors along with them, will make Arizona less attractive to offensive veterans in free agency? Separately, does the NFL's updated Covid policy mean the return of journalists to the locker room?"
Those are two very different subjects. I suppose if there was a chance Kyler wouldn't be here, that could be a factor, but I don't think there is a chance of that. Ultimately, for the vast majority of free agents, they pick a team because of 1) money and 2) playing time, which they hope will translate into money. How good a team is could be a tiebreaker, but usually, guys aren't given a lot of options and there is usually one team that is willing to pay. As for the locker room, God I hope so.
From John Staszkiewicz:
"Darren, I have been a Cardinal fan since I was a kid in St Louis and I was encouraged by their progress last season. They need to improve and make sure that they can win all season. I am confident that they will continue to improve. What do you think are the biggest needs for next season. Thanks."
As they move toward free agency, there are several positions that need to be addressed simply because the incumbents may or may not be here: pass rusher, tight end, running back, wide receiver. They need pieces at cornerback and the offensive line too. They also, as has been said many times, have to find offensive consistency from the coaching and quarterback on down, so that they don't slide on that side of the ball down the stretch.
From Osiris Brown Jr.:
"Hey Darren, I know you mentioned the team might be looking at the draft for RBs, but is that necessary under the assumption we will have Conner and Eno? As discussed already its important to keep your RBs fresh and healthy, so a rotation is necessary, but Conner is very much a bellcow by today's standards. And Eno serves that changeup role."
Assuming Conner returns maybe not. But until he is signed, that seems like a big assumption, right? If Conner is back and Edmonds leaves, yes, I can see Benjamin filling the Edmonds role. But injuries happen and you need bodies too.
From Jack Burnett:
"Hi Darren, love your work! Just wondered why so many people (particularly affiliated with Cardinals-specific journalism) seem so against the Keim/Kingsbury contract extensions? What am I missing here?"
That is a question best asked of them, to be honest. I understand some of the skepticism. I understand the frustrations of, for Keim, some draft misses, and for Kliff, some of the down-the-stretch struggles by the team the last couple of years. But I also see the reasons why Michael Bidwill made the decision. Not everyone is comfortable with that, and they make that clear.
From Eric Northman:
"Hi Darren. Something nobody seems to be talking about, and I don't want to be a pessimist, but aren't we bound to have a major step back in 2022? We're losing Kirk, losing Chase, losing Maxx or Ertz, very probably losing Chandler. Unless we nail the draft, its a near certainty we don't experience a gain in wins like we have the last three years. I think in part that's why they extended Keim and Kliff. Because they know there is a down year coming."
I don't know if that was the reason for extensions. In fact, I'd argue the opposite -- if Michael Bidwill thought a down year was to be expected, I don't know if he's handing out new deals. We haven't even hit free agency yet. I have no idea what this roster will look like or what it could produce. You have what you believe is an elite-level QB, and if that is so, teams don't really have down years.
From Joachim Ploug:
"Hi Darren! Love listening to you guys on Cardinals Underground - also Dani has been a great addition. I know this is not a question, but can you please correct Paul Calvisi on his old trope of receivers not panning out in the first round and relieve him of his fears. The last two first rounds:
- Ja'Marr Chase: historical rookie season
- Jaylen Waddle: very good
- Devonta Smith: very good
- Kadarius Toney: injured rookie season, but showed serious flashes
- Rashod Bateman: looks poised to become Baltimore's No. 1
- Henry Ruggs: yeah...
- Jerry Jeudy: solid, but have had subpar QB play and dealt with injuries
- CeeDee Lamb: Pro Bowler
- Jalen Reagor: bad
- Justin Jefferson: top 5 WR
- Brandon Aiyuk: good
Just some ammunition for you the next time he brings it up on the podcast. That's a pretty good hit rate IMO. And don't get me wrong, I love Paul, he just needs to evolve a little bit here 😃"
I get where Paul is coming from. But you are right -- the hit rate has risen. For me, it's less about the hit rate and more about finding a receiver in round two or three to do the job and use round one for a position harder to find.
From Russ McNeill:
"What are the chances of getting Colt McCoy back this season? His salary is minimal but the offense sure clicked when he was driving the bus. With Kyler's style of play, a backup QB is crucial. The last two seasons sure support this observation."
I agree that backup QB is crucial, and that McCoy is a very good person to be manning that role, both when he has to play and when he is not playing. But the Cardinals got him for very cheap. Could there be a QB-needy team that is willing to give him a shot to start? That could change the equation.
From Ash Grozier:
"I had an epiphany. Wanted to share since I think most Valley sports fan could relate. I want the Cardinals to win a championship for me. I'm such a huge football fan. I follow the draft and free agency to an obscene level. I even pay attention to non-Cardinals league moves regarding other teams. It's a sickness I tell you. And the Cardinals winning a Super Bowl would just feel out-of-body immense joy, for me, 100% selfishly. With that said, I want the Suns to win a championship for them. I want CP3 to get a ring so badly. I want Booker, whos been so patience and professional in his career, to win a ring more than anyone. Like Larry Fitz levels of deserving of a ring for the crap teams he dealt with for so long like a true pro. Never complained once.
So that puts me in a conundrum. If I can only pick one, who do I want to see win a ring more? Golly that's like choosing between my non-existent children. I'm leaning Suns. I love this team so much and I think their window is smaller. Whereas it appears the Cards are on the verge of a long-time lockup of Kyler. So we should (hopefully) have some opportunities in years to come. I know you're a big basketball fan too. Ignoring your employment to the Cardinals, which franchise would you like to see a ring more?"
Ignoring my job seems ... impractical. I've covered this team since 2000 and been here since 2007 and I know people on a personal level. I know people like VP Lisa Manning who showed up about the same time I started covering this team and has been through all the bad stuff. Bottom line, I benefit more tangibly and intangibly with a Cardinals' title. I can't ignore that.
But here's the best part -- the choice doesn't have to be made. What does it say about the beaten-up fan base here in the Valley that would make you feel like if there is one, you can't have the other. I get it, which is scary. But it can be both. I have rooted for the Suns since I moved to Arizona in 1976. Of course I want them to win, and they are on a good trajectory. But after being around for the end of Super Bowl XLIII, I very much would like to feel the other side of a Super Bowl outcome.
From Kort Post:
"Suggestion! You've been in this game a long time. Seen a lot. Had a lot of conversations and interactions behind the scenes that you might think are forgettable, but I think most fans would find highly entertaining. How about this, a weekly article (sort of like the mailbag) where you just tell a story. Doesn't have to be long. Just something you experienced. A funny interaction between players. A running bet. The moment everyone knew this new guy was bad news. Worst flight. Worst weather. Even stories about non-players, like team office workers if it's interesting. Worst/best/memorable whatevers from your 20+ year journalism career. Call it 'Urban Legends.' "
Kort, this is a fascinating (and good) suggestion. I will give it some thought.