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You've Got Mail: Integrating The Rookies With The Vets

Topics include number of primetime games, Kyler as runner, and retired numbers

Mailbag MJH Kyler

The rookies are now practicing with the veterans, the schedule is out Wednesday, and the meat of the offseason is nearly here. The mailbag, of course, is always meaty with your queries. Questions have been edited for length and clarity. Don't forget to send a question for a future mailbag with at least a first name and last initial.

From Michael T:

"Hello Darren. Well we all know the who it's now the 'when.' Do you believe last year the league did the Cardinals a favor by not featuring them with any primetime games because Kyler was out and no one had any idea what to expect? This year's team has the makings of being real contenders, do you expect some primetime games?"

I don't know if they did the Cardinals a favor, but clearly the Cardinals -- especially early in the season sans Kyler -- was more about drawing eyeballs rather than no one knowing what to expect. It's not unfair to say the first-half-2023 Cardinals weren't really sexy when it comes to TV. As for this season we will know soon (the schedule is announced Wednesday at 5 p.m. Arizona time) but I would guess that after a year hiatus the Cardinals will play a Thursday game and -- as I said on last week's Cardinals Underground podcast -- I will guess a Monday game. I don't think they will be brought into the planned Sunday games yet. Just my guess.

From Derek Cooper:

"I think it's pretty cool that you talk about Tip at this point. I'm not sure but I think the only other player that came from the 'Black Mining Hills of Dakota' to make it in the NFL and stay there was Adam Vinatieri from Rapid City. I hope he shines. I will have just that more pride in my Cardinals. My question is will the NFL rethink who they keep for special teams because of the new rules? I think that means a lot when dealing with so many draft picks. Thanks, Darren."

My answer to this would be yes, but in the end I think special teams always plays a role in roster construction, so now it's just a different viewpoint from how you are doing that. What it means in terms of the kind of players, I don't know yet. Special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers acknowledged it'll make a difference -- having potentially 60 percent more kickoff returns, especially set up the way they will be set up, makes that inevitable.

From Travis M:

"Hi Darren, thanks for doing these every week. I was curious if there are any plans in the works to produce Cardinals Flight Plan again this year? Those behind-the-scenes videos are always so well made and incredibly informative!"

From Jason B:

"Is the team no longer doing the Arizona Cardinals Flight Plan? It is a video series I always looked forward to."

From Jason Allen:

"Hey Darren! Appreciate the mailbags as always. Just wanted to ask about the Cardinals Flight Plan series on the AZ Cardinals YouTube Channel. I've heard that the team hired a new podcast crew and that has impacted production. Will the series still be available in the near future? Me and a lot of other fans enjoy the show as it's very entertaining and displays a lot of what happens behind the scenes."

So many Flight Plan questions this week. Here's the deal -- we do not have a new "podcast crew" nor have we had a change in social media leadership (I saw that floated on social media somewhere.) What we do have is a new VP of content who is in the process of organizing the structure we have as well as our direction, and some of that takes time. To get to your root question, Flight Plan will return, although it likely won't look exactly the same. (Heck, it might have a new name for all I know.) I do not have a timeline for the next episode right now.

From Rob Ert:

"When the rookies are expected to bring food or whatever for the vets, do they pay out of their pocket or is there some kind of fund? Kinda simple question, but I always wondered. Seems like for the lower drafted or free agents could be tough. Or do they just hit the high picks?"

They pay out of their pocket, but yes, usually their income is taken into account when it comes to requests. Those super expensive dinners you see on social media are often a) not really the dinner and/or b) is offset with some veteran money.

From Danny Myers:

"Hi Darren, I was looking at Trey Benson's background and thought it was interesting that he had a torn ACL back in the day. I'm old enough to remember when a torn ACL was a death knell on an athlete's career, in any sport. Now, thankfully, it seems as though its normalized as being something that an athlete can come back 100 percent. I actually wanted to ask about Kyler and his recovery. Does he still have to do rehab for his knee or is he fine now? Also has there been any comments made about his running? He's not so special without his running so is Drew going to bring it back into the offensive fold, assuming Kyler is healed up?"

I will say the running/scrambling aspect can take Kyler's game to a level few have, but I do think he has the possibility of being a special passer as we go. Yes, Kyler is healed and has been healed, but I'm not sure he is going to be Lamar and gaining 1,000 rushing yards. I don't think that makes sense for who he is. Might he run more in certain situations? Yes. But again, I don't think he's going to be a main ballcarrier.

From Rob S.:

"With all these rookies it seems clear not all will make the roster. Monti talked about how they grade draft prospects as to what they are projected to be in two years. But it seems there may be veterans who are further progressed and better equipped to help them win now. Any insights into how GMs and the coaching staff balance who is best right now and holding on to a player to develop them?"

It's a fine line, sure. But the reality of needing so many picks and making these draft choices is because you don't think you have enough of those veterans. If there is something close -- even if a veteran is a little ahead -- you keep the young player, if a choice has to be made. Many of these first two day-picks are going to have to contribute right away regardless of their rookie status as it is. You'd be surprised how many hard decisions there aren't when it comes to something like this. Unless a draftee comes in and unexpectedly bombs.

From John McGill:

"Outside of MHJ who do you think was the steal of the Cardinals' draft? Maybe someone they got that they did not think would be there in the later rounds?"

It's all a guessing game at this point, because players that go "later than expected" are usually going where they are supposed to -- it's the mock draft guys that missed on their prospects. But when you say steal, I'm going to go with Christian Jones, who was a fifth-round pick but has the frame and the athleticism to be something good -- and finding a solid fifth-round long-term tackle wouldn't be a shock. I like the attitude he brings to the table too.

From Ken D:

"Can you walk us through the contract process for the draftees? When do they get any money, only after a contact is inked or is there an interim allowance? Does Monti actually negotiate with players/agents or is that delegated, and he and Bidwill are final approvals."

These days, draftees are essentially "slotted" with their money. There are a couple of small things that can be tweaked (usually in the third round, and also with QBs) but generally, it's already known. That's why rookie deals get done so quickly now. So the Cardinals usually are doing the negotiations with director of football administration Matt Harriss rather than Monti, even on most free agents. Monti is in the loop of course, as is Michael Bidwill, but these are steps that are turnkey and can be executed easily.

From Dan Graham:

"Hi Darren. In some of your recent responses to questions, you talked about receivers on the team and also about our left guard options. In those comments, you failed to mention Chris Moore in the receiver room and also Evan Brown as a potential left guard. Could you tell me a bit more about these players? From what I have read, Moore would be a viable option for Kyler and Evan Brown started several games for Seattle."

I don't mean to ignore the other options. It's just that I see those guys as likely depth. Brown can play guard, but I also wonder if he is there as center depth too; Moore can play special teams and after Zay Jones signed, I don't see Moore being over he or Michael Wilson or Marvin Harrison Jr. on the depth chart. They have done a nice job bringing in numbers at both receiver and offensive line; not everyone is going to be on the roster come the opener.

From Garth Short:

"Darren, I always enjoy reading the articles, videos, etc. on the official Cardinals site. And I know you write most of them. But, who assigns you to which article, and does he/she determine the stories to be covered?"

He/she is me, in this case. I am the director of editorial content, and when it comes to the written word, I am coming up with most of the ideas and assigning the stories, either to myself or to the talented Zach Gershman. I am now covering this team in my 25th season, so I have a lot of experience to understand what needs to be covered. Maybe I should wear a patch on my suit on game day.

From Jaxson Blake:

"This is a sticky topic and I understand if you don't want to discuss it. This is in regards to the retired jersey numbers, particularly No. 77 (Stan Mauldin) and No. 88 (J.V. Cain). I don't mean to be rude or disrespectful but I don't understand why these numbers were retired for these guys. Yes, they both died in the midst of their careers, tragically. But so did Cardinals cornerback Jeff Gladney. It wouldn't be an issue if those were highly sought after numbers, but they are. No. 77 often goes to elite left tackles, while No. 88 is famously a top wide receiver number. Under level heads, can we just unring that bell or no?"


I don't know anything about you, Jaxson, but I am guessing with the spelling of your name you likely skew younger. And that's fine. But I would encourage you look to up the stories of Mauldin and Cain and check out how they died (both died actually playing the sport, as opposed to Gladney, who had been with the team for a month.) I'm not sure what the actual digits should have anything to do with it; a player's uniform number can only be retired if it is one that might not be popular? That's missing the point.

From Jerry Ward:

"Darius Robinson looks huge even in just t-shirt and shorts. The only guy I've ever seen who looks like he's wearing pads all the time is J.J. Watt. So this is a question a 10-year old might ask, but I don't care. Who seems bigger in person? D-Rob or Watt?"

I haven't spent enough time with Robinson to be honest. But they are both huge. Watt was a specimen. So was Leonard Davis. When you have been around NFL players for 25 years, there have been a few over time.

From Neirman Coy:

"Happy Tuesday Darren (although it's a Friday as a write this, even happier!)

  1. The DL room feels really packed, which is a good thing, but you never want to cut good talent. I was wondering if they'll thin it by moving Darius Robinson to the OLB room?
  2. Tip Reiman is really painting himself into a corner in addition to the team putting him in a spot of immense pressure. The vast opinion is he was overdrafted. It seems the only thing to absolve that perception is Tip is the most dominant blocking TE we've ever seen. Because that's all we hear from analysts and now Tip himself.
  3. Do we have a hard answer yet on Jonah and PJJ? Who is left tackle, who is right tackle?
  4. Christian Jones is a career right tackle and has huge upside. I would just think he would have a shot at right tackle in competition with Jonah Williams.
  5. Max Melton is a press-man specialist. Is that subtle big news in terms of our defensive plans this year? Are we about to see more island CBs? No more zone?
  6. Important question, so please don't breeze by it: what was your first impression of each new player you met?"

Here are some answers.

  1. No. Robinson will be a D-lineman who can work multiple spots. He might be the edge once in a while, but I think his main pass rush job will be to provide interior pressure.
  2. I asked Reiman and he said he got drafted right about where he expected -- which means that's where the league was saying he would go, which means anyone saying "overdrafted" are the people on the outside who don't really know what is really going on anyway. As for pressure, never heard he or the team saying he was "the most dominant blocking tight end ever." They said he is a great blocker. He'll be fine.
  3. Gannon said he wasn't going to say anything until the regular season. I am guessing it'll come out before then, but no.
  4. Jones I am guessing will work at right tackle and maybe guard. But I would be shocked if Williams -- for the deal he signed -- isn't the 2024 starter.
  5. If they improve the CB room, it would stand to reason there might be more man-to-man, but no, I do not expect some giant sea change.
  6. This isn't me breezing, but I'm not about to break down all the new players the Cardinals have added in part 6 of all these questions. Most of the players who have come in seem to have good personalities but to be honest, other than a press conference for most, I haven't interacted with them at all.

From Matthew Stroh:

"Hey Darren. I remember back when Bruce Arians was the coach and yes I think interviews were better because he was very blunt but he didn't really play a lot of rookies. We have a new coaching staff that plays a lot of rookies. As a business side do you think it's better to not play rookies and let them slowly learn or to throw them out there and let him learn trial by fire? Also, is it hard to guess the bottom third of the 53-man roster? I feel in the past years it was easier to guess around 40 or 45 players of the 53-man roster, even in the offseason. How many players can you guess are guaranteed to be on the 53-man roster as of today?"

Guaranteed? That's a strong word, but I would think I could come up with at least 40, and maybe 43 or 44 that I feel pretty, pretty good (*Larry David voice*) about being on the 53 come opening week. I don't think it's gotten harder. It's the same. As for the rookies, it depends on the rookie. Out of necessity, Arians did trial by fire for cornerback Brandon Williams once upon a time, and it may have cost them that opener against the Brady-less Patriots. But generally I believe in the adage that you only get better by playing. Doesn't mean a player can't benefit from being slow-rolled out there, but reps are reps no matter what you do. The best way to get better is by doing.

From Randy Gooden:

"I've been a fan for a very long time and it seems that there is a real plan in place regarding involving the entire coaching staff in all aspects of the team. Do you see a difference from other staff the Cardinals have had? It feels like they are preparing for the eventual departure of some of our very impressive coordinators, as they move into head coaching opportunities. Has there been any discussion, or can you share any knowledge you have, about the plan for promoting within as the expected success of the team brings teams to poach our coaches."

I think we're getting a little ahead of ourselves if we are talking about either Drew Petzing or Nick Rallis being poached. Not saying it won't happen at some point, but both are going into their second years as coordinators and their team won four games, so there is some momentum that needs to be created first. But is it something Jonathan Gannon has pondered when and if it does happen? I am sure. Does he talk about it publicly? No, and I don't know why he would.

From John Turilli:

"What draft picks over the last two years have a chance to start in the NFL? If the Cardinals keep all 21, what does that mean for existing veterans with higher salaries? I just hope we can be around .500 and show improvement. I just feel the more players we keep from a losing team including the nine (picks) from last year will only keep us at four or five wins. Hopefully I'm wrong with Kyler having a full healthy offseason with the new regime. Go Cards!"

This team didn't have its QB for half the season last year; I doubt they win just four games if Kyler had been healthy. And if you are already bailing on the 2023 draft picks, I don't even know what to say.

From Grant Harrison:

"How are ya Darren? Full disclosure: this is not criticism. I think its a healthy conversation. I notice all on the Cardinals website and twitter the articles linking this or that draft pundit lauding the team's great draft. Compliments, hype, good stuff. Love to hear it as a fan. However, if we're being fair and consistent, why is it we ignore the chatter when it's not compliments? If those same pundits were criticizing our draft and picking it apart, the response would be 'what do they know? Give it time and we'll see' but we certainly wouldn't be linking their videos or articles on the website. What is your philosophy on that since you're the arbiter of what gets posted."

My first response is, other than a couple of videos that came from NFL Network that the league sends us, I am curious what posts of which you speak? I never refer to grades positive or negative, not specifically. I might randomly mention people think they have had a good draft but anyone who has paid attention to what I have done over the years knows I see no sense in assessing what a draft class might be in the first year. I say "give it time" every year. So again, I'd need some examples.

From Buddy Newsom:

"Hi Darren. I just wanted to take the opportunity to mark an important moment in Cardinals history and recognize Xavier Thomas as the last Cardinals draftee born in the 20th century. Going forward it will be extremely unlikely to see a 1999 birthday ever again amongst our draft classes. So, if y'all weren't feeling old before ..."

Well gosh Buddy, aren't you the bringer of rainbows and unicorns.

Rest assured, once this team started drafting guys younger than my oldest son, that was a wrap. (For the record, that was Rondale Moore in 2021.) MHJ is younger than my youngest son, so yeah. I shall take the Thomas addition only as a gift.

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