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You've Got Mail: Here Comes Free Agency

Topics include positions to target, Fitz's chase of Rice, and OL in the draft

AZC_CardinalsMailbag

In less than a week, the free agency "tampering" period will be underway, and the roster building for 2020 begins in earnest. In the meantime, the questions don't stop. As always, you can send a question for next week's mailbag here.

From Joe Cardea via azcardinals.com:

"Darren, I think I've made your mind up. In free agency the Cards need a top inside LB and the best DL they can get. I think Kenyan Drake is a cap casualty. In the draft go OT, WR in the first two rounds (either order) although I'd grab a top tackle at #8 and get a RB in the third round. Then next year I'd let David Johnson go, unless he's an all-pro, and use that cap space for whatever weakness becomes apparent. Also I'd use some cap space for QB Brett Hundley and DL Rodney Gunter. And grab an OLB in free agency that is average. Maybe that would be Cassius Marsh?"

Well, Joe, I appreciate you making my mind up for me. One less thing on my to-do list. I do have a couple of questions. You said Drake was a cap casualty -- I am assuming you just mean he would cost too much to re-sign? Because he's a free agent-to-be. Your 2020 offeason plan is possible, going defense in free agency and offense in the draft. I agree they need to get Hundley back, although who knows -- maybe they go in a different direction. I'd also say that, with all due respect to Marsh, I'd like to upgrade there at OLB if at all possible.

It was interesting to me that in a series of interviews around the combine -- a one-on-one with me, his annual February stop on the "Doug and Wolf" show, his time at the podium in Indianapolis and a spot with Cards Cover 2 -- GM Steve Keim noted that the Cardinals' analytics crew had found that the NFL success rate of players that teams signed for free-agent contracts of $5 million or more a year of about 40 percent (he wasn't specific on how "success" was defined). That's not a big number, and it makes me think the Cardinals will be leery of high-dollar guys. That said, they have some very specific needs. If they were to target someone high-profile, I wouldn't expect many of them. I guess it depends on the definition of "high profile." I assume you mean the guys who will get the biggest deals? Because there are guys who are going to get big deals that I wouldn't necessarily consider high-profile.

From Conrad Nall via azcardinals.com:

"Hey sir, thanks for keeping fans informed. Last year during the Patrick Peterson suspension, it seemed the defense played a lot of zone. Once Peterson came back and got his legs back and he was covering the other teams No. 1 WR, the team went back to some man coverage and played better. What is the scheme philosophy for free agency and the draft for the defense, specifically LBs, CBs and safeties? How heavy is the weight of cover skills in the evaluation of LBs, 10%, 20%, 50%? Thank you sir, have a great day and be safe!"

The idea, before Peterson was suspended and before Robert Alford was injured, was that Vance Joseph was going to be able to use those guys in man, on an island at times, so he could be aggressive in the way the rest of the unit played. Now, what does that mean for the philosophy going forward? I would anticipate more man, but again, you have to coach to the talent you have. And as we learned last season, where the Cardinals thought they were in April was a lot different than where they were in September.

From Hebe Miller via azcardinals.com:

"Hey Darren. Larry Fitzgerald is a big stats guy. He is exactly 171 catches behind Jerry Rice for the all-time catch crown. That's 86 catches a year over two seasons. A big number, but very very doable. He had 75 last season. So we know Larry is playing in 2020. If he's within striking distance of Jerry's catch record (and he will be) does he come back for 2021? And this is not a run of the mill 'Does Larry come back' type question. This a whole new ballgame if history is on the line and one more season means he's No. 1 all-time in catches. I don't think he could possibly NOT return for 2021 at that point. What do you think?"

I think we are getting a little ahead of ourselves. However, you make some salient points. At the same time, if he has 75 catches again, that leaves him 97 receptions short, and that -- at this point in his career -- might not be something doable in one season. Something else to keep in mind: This is all assuming Fitz stays healthy and doesn't have some severe drop in play. I don't expect the latter, but Peyton Manning went into the 2015 season looking normal and suddenly age caught up and he dropped off a cliff. When you start getting older, those things can happen too.

From Steve Drumm via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren. The Cards only have six picks going into the draft as of now. Do you expect to see Steve Keim move back at some point to add more selections during the draft, possibly even in the first round?"

I'm hesitant to say I expect it, because frankly, there is no way to know given that you need a trade partner. With everything in play right now, I feel confident in saying the Cardinals would love to trade back -- because they could get more picks, and because for what they are looking at, they could probably slide down a few spots and still get what they are looking for. But as always, it depends on what is on the board when their pick arrives at No. 8, both for their sake and for the sake of whomever may want to trade up.

There is nothing wrong with that. Not sure anyone has said it's wrong. I agree the offensive line needs improvement. But I am in the camp that it isn't the disaster that so many seem to want to portray it. I will bring it up again -- I think you need to take at 8 the player you think has the best chance to become a star/make multiple Pro Bowls. If that's an offensive lineman, then I think you need to take him. If you think it's a wide receiver, then I say take the wide receiver. Or whatever position.

From Jesse L via azcardinals.com:

"If Okudah falls to 8, can you envision the Cards picking him? I personally don't buy that Alford is the answer across from Patrick Peterson, but I haven't seen any scenario where that has been brought up as an option."

If you are suggesting no one has brought up the option of Jeff Okudah being the pick at No. 8, I'd say it's mostly because no one sees any scenario where Okudah isn't already off the board at No. 8. If Okudah is truly the shutdown corner people say -- and I've seen comparisons to Peterson coming out of college -- then yes, I can absolutely see the Cardinals selecting him. Keim likes to note that the four premium positions are franchise quarterback, long-term left tackle, stud pass rusher and shutdown corner. If he's that guy, you don't pass on him.

From Simon from China via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren. Could you give us some insight on the role of WR coach David Raih during games? It looked like he was always standing next to Kliff and discussing plays with him. I was more expecting Tom Clements in this role. Also, there were rumors when he left the Packers about him not connecting to the Packers' WR room. What's your take on his track record so far? Maybe the lack of development of the rookie WRs can be attributed to him? Thank you!"

In a passing offense -- and with a coach who really was the only one with a history with Kliff before last season -- it doesn't surprise me Raih, as a wide receivers coach, would be in the mix on game days. But make no mistake, Kliff is the guy running the show out there. As for Raih as a receivers coach, I can't speak to anything that happened before Arizona, although when I tried to google these "rumors" I noticed that the tweet they originally came from has been deleted, so there's that. (Also, it's notable that the Packers receivers who struggled when Raih was there still have not emerged even with other coaches, so that probably says something too.) I think Raih's energy and passion helps that room, and don't forget that he works in tandem with Jerry Sullivan, who has a long resume of success. When it comes to the 2019 rookies, they need to improve their games in different ways, and I do not think their struggles are as a result of coaching.

From Jason Beckum via azcardinals,com:

"Since teams are built with players from the Rounds 3 through 7 of the draft. Who are some late-round players the Cardinals should target in the upcoming draft?"

Jason, it's a decent premise but to be honest, I'm just happy knowing about the top 50 players so I might be able to get into who could be around in the second round for the Cardinals. Beyond that, I have zero idea about names, who is realistically going to be there at that point or what makes sense. Heck, the Cardinals couldn't even really tell you, since we haven't gotten to the point where all these guys are graded.

From Bob Kitsos via azcardinals.com:

"I know the roster is far from being solidified at this point, but do you foresee more use of our tight ends next season?"

At this point, I don't know, and for the very reason you note -- the roster is far from being solidified. If they draft a Lamb or a Jeudy, for instance, and your top three receivers are Fitz, Kirk and the rookie, those are the guys I'm trying to get the ball to. Generally, I think the tight end usage will be about the same, depending on the strides made by Dan Arnold. I think Maxx Williams can get you a couple catches a game and Arnold can be a talented red-zone and/or seam target. But if you are headed toward the idea that someone could emerge like a Kittle or Kelce, I don't see that happening.

Guys tend to go "off the radar" once they are on IR. That's nothing out of the ordinary. Marcus Gilbert was off the radar too. So as a refresher, it'll depend on the player and especially his future, but generally, yes, guys on IR stick around to rehab and attend meetings and interact as much as they can with teammates. Butler was around all last season, he attended meetings, he worked out daily. I haven't seen him of late, but that doesn't mean much; I'm guessing his hand is healthy and he was due some time off. As for what the Cardinals saw, I mean, they already saw potential. That's why they drafted him. I still think Hakeem has strides he has to make; I don't know how involved he really would've been in 2019 even if he had stayed healthy. As with most second-year players and in particular the rookie WR trio, this is a huge offseason. There is no question Butler's progress was hurt by his inability to practice all year. Now he has to try and make that up as best he can.

From Michael Travers via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren, first let me thank you for this ongoing opportunity to talk about our team. After watching the combine and listening to all the draft experts it is clear that many believe that the Cards have two areas that need help; offense and defense. On offense many have suggested wide receivers and offensive line are our needs. But it will be running back where the team will have to consider drafting when Kenyan Drake leaves the team for more money. He showed us last year what the right type of back can do in Kingsbury's offense. So consider drafting a RB in second or third round a possibility? Recent mock drafts for example have us drafting OL with the top pick. As Cardinal fans we know our GM has been trying to build our OL for years without a lot of success, so drafting an offensive tackle is not a bad strategy. A stronger line would only help Kyler and David Johnson. As for the defense, that most likely will be for free agents with such a young offense a veteran defense just might be what is needed in year 2 of Murray's team."

That's a lot of words to drop in a question about drafting a running back. Narrowing the needs down to offense and defense ... is one way to analyze it. Anyway, I do not think it is out of the realm of possibility that Drake will leave for a larger contract elsewhere. We will see on that. If he does, however, David Johnson remains and if he's the guy that makes sense in the offense, you don't have to make a move. Chase Edmonds also looked good in the offense the few times he was given a chance. I am not going to rule out a running back drafted high (especially if both Drake and Johnson happen to move on) but I just don't see it as probable. We have so much time before the draft -- including a month-plus of free agency and an open trade window -- that we need to see how things play out.

I wouldn't be surprised if some of them watch but I have no specific proof of that (or their reactions). I wouldn't think they'd get as excited as the fans, because they lived through it already. It's different for fans.

From Big Time via azcardinals.com:

"What do you think about this offseason game plan: What if in free agency the Cardinals target some combination of: a D-lineman, an OLB, an ILB, and a Safety? (DJ Reader/Michael Brokers, Marcus Golden, Kamalei Correa, Tony Jefferson). If they can secure 2-4 veterans in those positions, they would be free to snag one of the limited number of elite offensive tackles to solidify right tackle at No. 8, grab one of the many talented receivers in round 2 or 3, and go for defense the rest of the draft. I think this is a good approach as there are only a limited number of defensive players worthy of the #8 pick (and I. Simmons will probably be gone by #8). I like Derrick Brown and Javon Kinlaw but I think defensive line is not as hard of a position to find in free agency as a legit offensive tackle."

It is as good of a plan as any. It wouldn't be that surprising. I still think it'll depend, at No. 8, on how you see those players at the top of round one. Just because you are one of the top offensive tackles available in the draft does not necessarily mean you are elite. That's something that must be analyzed.

Always enjoy a good Clue question. I can't say it's excessive to make two Mexico City trips per se, but then again, I don't know what your reputation is in Mexico these days. I am guessing, however, the date and opponent for the Mexico game will likely be announced when the full schedule is released in mid-April. I am not expecting a separate announcement now that we already know the Cardinals will be playing there. But we will see -- I suppose it could still come from whatever team they might play.

From Steve Drumm via azcardinals.com:

"Hey Darren, Rich Eisen clocked a 5.98 40 yd time for his 'Run Rich Run' cause to benefit St. Jude Children's Hospital. Do you think you could ever be talked into running a 40 for charity?"

Could I be talked into running a 40 for charity -- sure. It's for charity. I'd prefer not to run in a suit, but I'm picky that way. Also, I'd have to temper all expectations. Once upon a time, in my latter years of playing baseball as a teenager, maybe when I was 14 or so, we opened in the first practice with the coach timing us running the bases. By the time I got around, he made sure to let me know "We could've timed you with a sun dial." You know, coaching via encouragement. That also lets you know that with my age these days being ... um, *not 14* ... I'm not sure how good of a time I would post. I'd have to train. A lot.

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