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You've Got Mail: Let's Trade On Speculation, Shall We?

Topics include: Dealing the fourth pick, free-agent contracts, and defensive scheme

Monti Mailbag 032624

Out here in Orlando for the NFL owners meetings and some time at the table with Jonathan Gannon Tuesday morning for the NFC coaches breakfast. Meanwhile, a mailbag ready to go. Questions have been edited for length and clarity. Don't forget to send a question for a future mailbag.

From Luke Strauss:

"Hi Darren. The Vikings acquiring another first-round pick has sent everyone into a frenzy about a potential haul for the Cards (if QBs go 1,2,3). You're the GM and Vikings offered you 11, 23 and a future first, do you give all that up for a Marvin Harrison Jr. knowing you'll have five first-round picks for two years?"

I'd have to think long and hard about that one. (So would the Vikings, since I don't know if that haul matches the "trade chart" to which we often refer.) It would probably partially hinge on what I think about Harrison. If I truly felt he was generational, that's a hard thing to pass upon. But to get, in theory, five high-level players instead of just two has to be considered. (The equation changes if it's two firsts and a certain veteran wide receiver who needs a new contract, but I don't see the Vikings doing that either. Doesn't make much sense to me.)

From JC Burk:

"Hi Darren. A comment from one of the 'Cardinals insiders' on twitter said that the Cardinals brass is well aware of the significance of drafting Marvin Harrison Jr. both on the field and off (referring to the fandom/community) and they would not get off No. 4 for anything less than a bounty. Do you agree with that? Not the trade part. Obviously everything has a price. But the comment about Marvin having reached Adrian Peterson-levels of hype and expectation from the fans that trading away from him is not to be taken lightly? I wouldn't say Marvin is Fitz, since Fitz was a Heisman candidate (and rightful winner). But Marvin is close. He would immediately be 'the guy' and sell a billion dollars in merch and tickets for us in a way no other player (other than a QB) can."

Here is how I feel about that notion. One, choosing a player because he sells tickets is a mistake. That doesn't mean a player can't be well worth the pick and sell tickets and merchandise, but I'm not making a move because of it. Two, if I am Monti, I am building the team how I see fit. That's why I got the job. Making moves because fans want something is a mistake. Again, if fans happen to be happy with a decision, that's excellent. But if they draft, for instance, Harrison, and Harrison is great yet the team doesn't win enough, fans are going to go after Monti anyway. So he needs to do what he thinks is right. (And if the team doesn't take MHJ and they win, fans will be fine.) 

From Tom Walcott:

"First time participant. Love the mailbag. With the prices being paid for guards this year in free agency and Jonah Williams skillset, is there an opportunity to move him to left guard and still look to draft a starting left tackle in this year's draft?"

I am not ruling anything out, although Williams has been a tackle the whole time. I would think a more realistic scenario is drafting a tackle and perhaps playing that guy at guard, at least for now. 

From Mike Maleck:

"In Dani's interview with Justin Jones he discussed why he's a good fit for this defense and he said multiple times '4-3 front' and '4-3 technique.' I have to imagine that was part of the pitch Monti sold him when recruiting him. It's also the first time I've heard a player state clearly we are a 4-3. I don't remember the press release announcing we switched from a long-time 3-4 front to now an announced 4-3. Can you confirm we are in fact a 4-3 base scheme now?"

There was no press release and there are not for such things, and I would hazard a guess that Jonathan Gannon isn't going to make any pronouncement. In reality, whether it is a 3-4 or 4-3 it rarely shows up on the field; My guess is that most of the time, there will be four guys on the line (two inside linemen, two edge guys), two linebackers and five defensive backs. That's how the game is often played these days. When I hear "4-3" I think of having an old-school thumper at middle linebacker, and that's not happening. As with a lot of things, it's a matter of nuance.

From Jay Harrington:

"What's your take on Marvin Harrison Jr. not doing the combine or pressers or pro day? I'll just say you better be the No. 1 player in the draft to pull that (which he is)."

To be honest, and totally selfishly, I was disappointed he didn't talk to the media in Indy, because frankly, players all the time don't do the workouts. I get what his thought process is prepping to play a season of football, and certainly his father knows how to do that. The reality is that he's one of the best players, and none of this was going to change that. 

From Charles Hunt:

"Hi Darren. Exciting times to be a Cards fan! Seems like the Cardinals signed about four or five new starters and as much as I love MHJ, I'm loving the idea even more of trading back to infuse this roster with a plethora of good players! If we trade back, I would love to see IDL, OL, and WR in the first round. Stick and pick or try to spread the peanut butter as far as possible? Also, do you think it's realistic of Haason Reddick coming back in a trade with the Eagles?"

Again, and I know people hate when I say this, but I want more information. Monti said that the other day, that he'd take all the information he can get. Well I'm the same. Trading back would absolutely be in my discussions if I was GM, which I most certainly am not. But I need to know more -- I'd need to be in those discussions with MHJ and all the prospects. I need to know how they really feel about guys they could get at, say, 11, or 12, or 23 or wherever. There are strong points to be made for both from the outside looking in. I will also say it isn't one or the other. It could be the "right" move to do either. And it could turn out to be the "wrong" move to do either. It all depends on 21- and 22-year-old young men who have yet to prove what they will be in the NFL.

From David B:

"I just saw the contract that Kansas City offered Hollywood Brown, about $7 million with several million in production incentives. Why do you think the Cardinals couldn't exceed that given his talent and connection with Kyler?"

Couldn't or wouldn't? Because I'm sure they could. But I don't know why or even if. It's possible the Cardinals just felt like it was time to move on since they likely wouldn't extend him long-term anyway. It's also possible the Cardinals did match or even go a little higher, and Hollywood figured on a one-year prove-it it made more sense to play as the No. 1 receiver with Patrick Mahomes. I don't really know but I don't get the sense either party is unhappy about things.

From Tom Cowley:

"Hi Darren. Any idea why PFF would give Arizona's free-agent acquisitions only a C rating? Being objective I would have given them a B-plus, because of quantity and quality based on need and the number of re-signs from last season. Did they miss something or do their rating too soon? What is their basis and criteria used?"

You have to ask them about criteria. I know there has been some comments that a couple of the contracts were for too much money, although the whole point of free agency -- as M.O. has said multiple times -- is that players are going to be overpaid. Grade stuff doesn't mean a whole lot to me this soon, whether is is free agency or draft. It's something to talk about. 

From Robert Malicki:

"Hello, Darren. I would like your take on how a GM looks at draft capital. Do you sense that our GM sees himself as a talent evaluator or draft-day gambler? One would think that accumulating eleven picks, with six being in the first 90 selections, pointing to both approaches. He could decide on his best player when it's his turn or arrange a trade to target a certain player he likes. I do not see our roster as so devoid of talent to warrant 11 picks. And, here's another question, if you do trade out of No. 4 slot that could give you three first-round choices. Wouldn't that overwhelm your cap health with all of their original contracts coming up for renewal simultaneously?"

I don't think any GM sees themselves as a gambler, and frankly, I think any owner who found out their GM was operating that way would be horrified. Yes, the draft is about choices and some hit and some do not, but if you aren't making informed choices with whatever you are doing you have zero business running a franchise. I think 11 picks points to the reality that every single draft choice, no matter how thought out, is going to hit. Will some be used as capital to move around? Very possible, and yet another reason to accumulate. As for the contracts, if you let them all come up at the same time, yes, it could be an issue. But a) you are assuming all three would hit as players and b) you would take that into account, perhaps using a tag on one. Let's say you take a Harrison or Nabers at 4 and he hits big. I wouldn't be surprised if you are re-doing his deal after three seasons. I am sure that's what the player would expect. You could in theory do one after three seasons, one after four before his option, and the other following his option year. A good team could figure it out. 

From Aiden Dern:

"Hey Darren, I've seen a bunch of articles that claim the Cardinals overpaid for Justin Jones. That's the nature of free agency. Second, I'm not so sure it was an overpay. Maybe its because we've had subpar DL play for some time, but looking at Jones' resume: 100 tackles 7.5 sacks, 24 quarterback hits, and 22 tackles for loss during his two years in Chicago, that's pretty good. Methinks this could be a Christian Kirk-type of acquisition. The Jaguars were lampooned for overpaying Kirk, and Kirk went on to be worth every penny."

Again, the contract is what it is. It fits what the Cardinals are trying to do and it fits their cap. If Jones plays well, it won't matter, if he doesn't, it wouldn't matter if he was being paid a little less. You're betting the guy can perform. Here at the meetings, I was talking to a fellow writer whose team lost a pass rusher and got paid elsewhere. This writer doesn't believe the player, while good, is worth the money he got. But the money is always what the market will bear, supply and demand, yada, yada, yada. 

From Juan Vidaurri:

"Greetings Darren. One player that I haven't heard much about lately is last year's fourth-round pick Jon Gaines II. Do you have any information as to how his injury rehabbing is coming along? Is he still being regarded by the Cardinals as a viable OL for this year?"

I think he'll be in the mix but there is little question they have made some additions on the line and will likely draft a guy or two. In a perfect world, Gaines returns and gives them what they want in some IOL role. But he will have to earn it, because his draft status won't play a part.

From Sebas Quiros:

"Hey Darren. Edge is still very barren and hasn't been addressed. Even if we address it at the draft I think you have to get at least one in free agency. Then I see Chase Young get a one-year, $13 million deal from a cap-strapped Saints team and I feel we missed out on a cheap (for an edge) edge player that could at least help us for one year while we are able to keep working on the position. Also, I want to give you a draft trade scenario to see what you would do. QBs go 1-2-3, Marvin Harrison is right there at four but you (in this hypothetical you are the GM) get a call from the Vikings saying they want to trade up and are willing to give picks 11 and 23 in this year's draft. Would you take that deal?"

I am sure you have seen by now that Chase Young has a neck injury that scuttled his FA value and indeed, a lot of his money -- "guaranteed" as it might be -- hinges on him being on the active roster. Remember everyone: There are always reasons a player isn't on his former team, or why he ended up where he was. Sometimes those reasons are public. Sometimes they aren't until after the fact. Sometimes they stay in the shadows. As for your scenario, I would need more than a 2-for-1 swap to make that trade. I can't speak for Monti, however (and I know darn well he wouldn't want me too.)

From Rob S:

"Hey Darren, thanks for giving us insights into some of these behind the scenes aspect of the franchise! It's always a fun read. Is it just me or does Monti Ossenfort just seem to be a better GM at handling things in a more professional way than the last regime? I first noticed and appreciated that Humphries release and thank yous were announced and posted BEFORE they announced the signing of Jonah Williams. Then reading how Monty described the cutting of D.J. as 'brutal' and the way he described the great person he was, what he meant to the franchise and the challenge of the timing of the injury and the cap just seemed all around well handled. Do you see noticeable operational changes between these regimes in this regard?"

I will be honest, I think the Hump move would've been executed the same way whether Monti or Keim were involved; I know some of the moves behind the scenes and it was understood as an organization what Hump meant and I don't think it would've been different (Keim drafted Hump and gave him multiple extensions after all.) The Williams stuff, frankly, is coincidence because with an agent you don't know when info might leak. I do think Monti handled it very well, but I also think that is who he is. 

From Israel Carlton:

"I've heard a couple analysts toss out the idea of the Cards doubling dipping on wide receiver in the first round, both in the scenario where we take MHJ at 4, or if we trade down with, oh, the Vikings, and have three picks in round one. How possible is this? Have you gotten the feeling that Monti/Gannon value some position groups more than others? KC just won two rings with a bottom-10 receiving corps, so maybe it's an unnecessary luxury in todays game."

I may regret saying this with so much certainty because I don't (and won't) know the draft board, but the Cardinals aren't going to spend two first-round picks on wideouts. It simply makes no sense. One, sure, but not two. You've got other holes. (My one caveat: Let's say they take Harrison at 4 and Nabers or Odunze somehow drops to 27. I would change my tune then.) And when you talk about position groups, I think they both love the trenches -- OL and DL -- and want to build those up as their main priority. You don't blow off great players at other spots, but if there was a generational defensive lineman that made sense at four, or edge guy, I think that's who we would be talking about more than who we have been talking about.

From Rin Tempest:

"Bit of a darker topic, but following the news of Cam Sutton being released from the Lions, how do legal allegations affect a players eligibility for football? Obviously if you're in jail, you're not competing on any team, but there are a lot of players (and staff) who get speeding tickets, DUIs, etc. In a pure business sense, do you just factor a possible suspension into a contract?"

We see instances of this all the time. The league often waits until there is some sort of legal decision, although that doesn't mean a team has to have the guy on the roster. Sutton was released; I don't see him signing anywhere else until this thing completely plays out (if ever.) Guys have been suspended by the league for violating laws. A player can get fined for a smaller offense. But there is also reality -- you wouldn't lose part of your salary if you got a regular speeding ticket. Not sure why a player would. 

From K Meu:

"Just watched and interview with JG and Monti on YouTube, and they talked about how they look for players who fit the scheme, in both FA and the draft, rather that just grabbing good football players. Is this a common approach? And what sort of things make a player fit the Arizona scheme or not?"

Couple of things here: Scheme isn't just football scheme, some of it is finding guys that, as Gannon loves to say, "pay the price of admission." Neither one want to get into the details of that secret sauce, but you can guess in general terms -- a we-over-me guy, someone who sacrifices, someone who is physical. I know all the coaches and GMs say that, but when you pick players, how married are you to it? I think this regime is lockdown-we'll-have-a-50th-anniversary married to it. Ossenfort understands that not every guy like that is good enough to help the roster. That can't be everything you base your decisions upon. There is also regular football scheme -- some guys will thrive in a certain situation where they will not elsewhere. Yes, coaches must adapt to help players, but there is a fine line between that and taking a guy who doesn't make sense for what you do.

From Gabe Newhart:

"Hi Darren. Quick comment and a question. First, Mack Wilson seems like he's going to be an immediate fan favorite. Guys been here 5 minutes and he's already lobbying Monti to sign players on the twitter. He'll be a great interview all year I can tell. My question: There has been talk that we might trade out of No. 4. More picks are good to a point. You don't want 10 rookies. You do want one absolute megastar and that's what Marvin appears to be. I'm getting a worried feeling this could be Suggs again. I'm not trading out of 4 for anything less than three firsts. That's what Marvin is worth to us fans anyways."

I gotta get one thing off my chest: Let's move on from Suggs. Has nothing to do with this. When Suggs happened, my oldest son was not even 4, I was 50-plus pounds heavier, the Cardinals had been in the NFC West for one season, and they still had three seasons left at Sun Devil Stadium. Rod Graves, who wasn't even officially called GM, was in his first draft as the shot-caller, three GMs ago, and it was seven coaches ago. It was a mistake. It's time to move on, unless you also want to chat about Steve Pisarkiewicz too. (And let me be clear, this isn't just about you, Gabe. I have heard this repeatedly. I'll just say this isn't the same situation and while I understand the PTSD, everyone needs to find a new parallel. Or let this play out.) 

I get what Marvin does to (most of) the fan base. But this is a nice full circle moment of the mailbag. If I'm Monti, I'm doing what I think is the right thing. I am not listening to the fans. Because if I do something and it doesn't work out, I'm the one in hot water, whether the fans wanted it or not. So I'm doing what I think is best. We will see what that is in late April.

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