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You've Got Mail: March Arrives, And So Does J.J. Watt

Topics include a big-time free agent (and other stuff, but Watt's a big deal)

Watt mailbag plane

So, I don't know if you heard, but J.J. Watt is going to be playing for the Cardinals. And I apologize to all the mailbag readers who saw me say it probably wouldn't happen. I was blindsided with the news. But in a good way. To leave a question for a future mailbag, go here.

From Chris Rosenberg via azcardinals.com:

"Hey Darren, doesn't J.J. Watt play in a 4-3 D-line scheme? I know you always say it's fluid and we have multiple looks. But we do have a base. Are we going back to a 4-3? I'm OK if so. I like fitting scheme to players. If we have the horses for a 4-3, let's do it."

Actually, the Texans have used a 3-4 base in Watt's tenure and he fits very well into such a setup. Watt is going to be the kind of lineman where Vance Joseph can move him around. But all reports are that one of the reasons Watt came here was fit. I would've been surprised if he came to a team where he did not like what they were doing.

From Fitzwatch 2021 via azcardinals.com:

"J.J. Watt coming to Arizona. Does that help or hurt the odds of a Fitz return? On one hand, playing with Watt has to be enticing. See what this team can do. On the other, that payday to Watt dried the well. Will Fitz play for significantly less?"

I think those are fair points. We explored that on the Watt podcast we did. We don't know what Fitz is thinking, what it would take for him to return -- if anything -- and we didn't know that anyway, so it's tough to know if Watt's signing impacts his thought process. Watt's signing definitely takes away potential funds. Maybe this will speed up his decision process one way or the other.

From KLM X via azcardinals.com:

"I don't expect you to actually post this, but I just wanted you to know my feelings on the Watt deal. It feels like a desperation Hail Mary by a lame duck GM. We can't afford Watt, let's be honest. Now we will go into the season paper thin at several positions on defense. How will J.J. feel when in a year when the organization will be upturned in a rebuild when both Keim and Kliff are fired. Love Watt as a person. Amazing guy. This was a bad move."

I'm confused. It's a bad move for the team? For Watt? If all those things are going to happen anyway, what does the signing matter? I do not know yet how this contract is structured, so I don't know how it will impact the cap this year. I'm sure there will be naysayers, but I think the organization is aware they need other pieces (or keep other pieces.) I'll say this like I say every year -- how about we see how the rest of the roster building goes before we grade it on the very first signing of free agency. I'm sure if it isn't to your liking, you'll let it be known. And generally -- not just you, KLM X -- it'd be nice if criticism is to be levied, that the person put his or her name on it. I know that's unlikely, but I can slip into my dream world once in a while.

From Tom Cowley via azcaridnals.com:

"Hey Darren, what a way to begin the week! Would you say now that our free agent and/or draft selections will/must include a first-rate CB and WR to round out our 2021 picture?"

Well, I was kind of leaning that way anyway, so I don't know why Watt's signing would have changed anything. Those are positions that need attention.

From Robert Malicki via azcardinals.com:

"Hi, Darren. Could you give a Capology 101 lesson? Fans know NFL teams follow their own tune on how they spend money. Some spend money only up to CBA requirements for various reasons. Some offer only certain types of contracts, i.e. following in-house preferences on years, signing bonuses, front-end loading or voidable years. Others consistently renegotiate to give extensions and minimize that years cap hit. How do you see our Cardinals? I always thought it wise to minimize or eliminate dead money because it is a sign of bad accounting? Ownership had better have a plan to prepare for Kyler's upcoming big payday."

This doesn't feel like a capology 101 request as much as a request to evaluate how the Cardinals operate, which is fine. I think the Cards can be fairly flexible. Generally, they do not want to kick the can down the road as much as some teams (Saints, Steelers, for instance) but they will do it sometimes. The De'Vondre Campbell deal was going to leave them with dead money in 2021 regardless because of the way they set up what was basically a one-year contract (that voided.) They don't front-load a lot because that eats up a lot of current space -- teams usually have to roll over quite a bit of space over the years to be able to have the flexibility to do that. And yes, there is a plan. It's fluid because things change, but there is always a plan. Some fans may not always agree with it, but it's disingenuous to act or argue there isn't one.

From Peter Dillon via azcardinals.com:

"Should/will the Cards trade Patrick Peterson while he still has some value?"

No. Because he is going to be a free agent and isn't under contract. His future destination is in his own hands, wherever he ends up -- back in Arizona or elsewhere.

From Jacob Legang via azcardinals.com:

"Hello sir! I have noticed that Hopkins is trying to recruit JJ Watt over and it seems like there has been some Texans that can join us. Do you think we can sign him and Will Fuller to help us and restructure some players' contracts to help our situation? And if Larry Fitzgerald retires, do you think he can do what Larry Foote did and immediately be part of our coaching staff? I am really hoping we get Kenyan Drake back but if not I like Edmonds a lot. Have a good day sir!"

  1. Well, we know what happened with Watt, although had this mailbag come out Sunday, I would've said they wouldn't sign him, so there's that.
  2. I don't know what Fuller will command on the open market, but I would think (especially since he has to serve a suspension at the beginning of the year and has an injury history) they would be very careful. There will be a lot of potential FA WR targets to choose from.
  3. Fitz doesn't have any interest in coaching. Owning? Yes. Coaching? No.
  4. We'll see what happens with Drake, but if he doesn't re-sign, they'll bring in another running back.

From Danny Perkins via azcardinals.com:

"I'm about to get mad disrespectful but people get hurt when you have the important talks. What is the value of a Hall of Fame when players from 50 years ago who wouldn't even make the league in 2021? In my opinion, a true Hall of Famer is a player who could play in any era. Jim Brown could play today. Barry Sanders could play today. Reggie White, Deion Sanders, Dan Marino, Darrell Green. These guys could all play in 2021. Those are HOFrs to me. Timeless. You know who couldn't play today? Alot, if not most of the names in the HOF. Jimmy Hamhelmet from Hershey, Pennsylvania certainly couldn't, and yet he's one of the best players ever? C'mon now. I made that up but the point stands."

So I don't mean disrespectful to you, but it isn't called the Hall of the Best Players Ever. Fame does take some different paths. I do not know if Don Hutson could hold up against, say, Randy Moss or Fitz as a receiver. But check out his stats compared to all the receivers in his era. He belongs in Canton. You sound like you'd pull people out of Canton? I mean, someday, there are going to be players that get in now that will be surpassed. Athletes in every sport are bigger, stronger, faster than 50 years ago. You'd pull them all out? As a history guy that I am, it's disappointing you think it shouldn't matter.

From Frank Westman via azcardinals.com:

"Did you see the tweet that said the Cards were interested in Aaron Jones? He's the Packers FA running back. I have mixed feelings. I'll start with the negative. I hate paying RBs big money. I also hate saying that because these are guys with families like any other player. But if I'm being cold businessman, paying backs is bad business. Chase Edmonds proved himself to be starter worthy. We aren't a Titans-like team that is RB dependent either. On the flipside, this is a deeply saturated RB market, meaning big names will be going for cheaper than norm. If we could get a RB as talented as Aaron Jones for a little less on the dollar, shouldn't we?"

Let's start with the tweet about the "interest." There are tweets about speculating the Cards could have interest, but there isn't anything reporting interest via a source. That's a crucial piece people need to clarify this time of year, especially on Twitter. After what happened with David Johnson, I don't know if the Cards are going to be handing out big contracts to running backs. I don't know what Jones' market might be. Like I said earlier, if Drake leaves, I expect them to bring in someone. Not sure if it's the draft or free agency.

From Jesus Maldonado via azcardinals.com:

"Hello Darren, thanks for taking my question. Do you know anyone who will be cut during this offseason with the Cardinals. Are we going to sign an extra tight end in free agency for Kyler Murray to feel really happy? Also, do you want Allen Robinson on this team. Thank you Darren, have a great day."

  1. There are some possibilities of guys as cap cuts or perhaps asked to take a pay cut. But at this point, I don't know anyone for sure.
  2. I don't know if Kyler would feel "really happy" with an extra tight end. They have to sign tight ends period -- they only have one under contract at this point.
  3. Of course I'd want Allen Robinson. Do I think they'll be able to sign a second No. 1 wideout for the money it would take? No I do not.

From Rick Marcelino via azcardinals.com:

"Since drafting Andy Isabella, we have not used him very much or wisely. We only throw the ball to him about once a week and sometimes not that often. I am confused. The kid lead the nation in yardage and caught over 100 passes in his senior year at UMass. He runs 4.31 and yet we run him on wind sprints in a game as a decoy to 'take the top off' the defense.' A decoy doesn't work if you don't throw to him? His 4.31 means that there are not five DBs that can run faster in the league.OK, he's only 5'9" and about 185, but he can take the beating. Let him catch targets more often per game and it will open up the other receivers and run game. Kliff knows that value. Is it the money to the other pass catchers or what?"

I appreciate you backing Isabella so strongly. I don't know if you know him personally -- not sure how you otherwise know what kind of punishment he can take on this level -- but trust me, the Cardinals want nothing more than for Isabella to emerge as a serious pass-catching threat. They are the ones who see him in training camp. I don't know how it will play out this year. Watching what happens wit Fitz and who else they sign/draft will say a lot. But one of the reasons Shawn Jefferson was brought in was to salvage Isabella and get him to the next level.

From Cory Daniels via azcardinals.com:

"Looking at overthecap.com to see what the team might do, I found a couple notables. As you already mentioned Chandler is the single biggest cap savings option we have, but no way he's going anywhere. But Robert Alford, you can save $6M, but can we really release a guy from the thinnest position on the roster? Devon Kennard, you can save $1M. Good dude, but it just seems like a bad fit. You think he stays? Maxx Williams. You can save $2.5M. I begrudgingly include him. There's some money to be found on this roster. Problem I see is who replaces these guys?"

In the offseason, only the top 51 cap numbers count, so you are limited on what you can do. The key is always about who you replace a player with. Money is only part of the equation. Some players might be asked to take a paycut, which would keep them on the roster but lower that cap figure. (Not saying it'll be these guys, because I do not know.)

From Simon from China via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren, just wanted to tell you how much I love the Cards Underground podcast. Hearing the banter between you, Paul and Kyle is always great entertainment, especially during the offseason when you guys drift off to more exotic topics such as the fate of former Cardinals long snapper Kam Canaday (who was horrendous with us, but now is a Pro Bowler for the Steelers.) Keep up the great work!"

Thanks. And I hope you catch the Watt-centric pod we just did.

From Cameron Coulter via azcardinals.com:

"What would be your thoughts on the team drafting a QB? Truth be told, I don't much care what Kyler thinks. Every player on this team should be constantly nervous of being supplanted. QB is no exception. I have a specific player in mind: Mac Jones. The Heisman candidate from Alabama. In any other year, he might be a first-round QB. This is a deep QB draft, and teams love athletic QBs these days, but Mac is a throwback to a pocket-only type. Yet he's very good and a rare opportunity to grab a 'just in case' later in the draft than usually available. Thoughts?"

From what I have seen so far, Mac Jones could very well go in the first round, and I don't expect him to be around by the time the Cards pick in the second round. I wouldn't have an issue with a QB picked, but I wouldn't spend an early pick this year. I get what you are saying about pushing the starter, but you look at the two teams that spent early picks on backup QBs this year and the Eagles imploded and the Packers, while getting a great year from Aaron Rodgers, seemed to put him at odds with the team at times.

From Kmore Jones via azcardinals.com:

"Hey Darren, I want to ask about Robert Alford. You gotta feel for the guy, to have two years stolen from him. I remember watching him in camp in 2019 and he was legitimately the best cornerback on the roster. By virtue of our lack of CB depth, wouldn't you assume he is STILL penciled in as a starter? I don't know if he's disillusioned by all the injuries and is ready to retire or if he's still all-in to actually suit up for the cardinals. But what do you think his status is on the team?"

From what I can gather from social media, I think Alford still very much wants to play and show he can still be a viable player even after these injuries. But he was banged up in 2018 and now has lost two full seasons. Alford is a player that the Cardinals perhaps could look at to fill one of those cornerback spots, but I also would not be surprised if they try to adjust his contract; his salary is scheduled to be $7.5 million this season and he is 33 years old having missed the past two seasons.

From Terry Gomez via azcardinals.com:

"What happened with Kerry Rhodes? Among unsung Cardinal greats, Kerry ranks pretty high. I think he's a name many forget about. But he had a two-year stretch where he may have been the best safety in football. I remember he had that three-pick game vs the Jets. Why did we cut him? In hindsight he was quite young at the time."

Rhodes had two interceptions in that game against the Jets, or what I like to refer to as the worst game I have ever attended (although that had nothing to do with Rhodes.) He played three years with the Cardinals and could've played a fourth in Bruce Arians' first season, but the Cards asked him to take a pay cut and he declined. For whatever reason, no team signed him and he didn't play again.

From Jace Heffield via azcardinals.com:

"Hey Darren, you and Larry have mentioned in the past how little he ultimately cares about passing Jerry Rice. My question is why? If you're in shouting distance of something historic, why not go for it? You've got one life to live. As far as I know he doesn't have any super young kids. Nepal or Peru or wherever he's traveling to isn't going anywhere. He plays and practices in a way that preserves his health. I just don't get it. The record is yours man, go claim it officially. I understand this isn't a fair question for you to answer, since you're not Larry. But you know the real Larry a heck of a lot better than any fan. I imagine your view of him is much different than ours."

Caring little doesn't mean not caring at all. But there are other factors at play here. (Actually, he does have young kids, so there is that.) He needs 118 catches to surpass Rice in catches (he's not going to get the yards mark) and unless his usage jumps up, that's another two seasons away at least. I haven't ruled out Fitz coming back, but if he does, it'll be for a playoff chance, or playing with Watt, or even a hefty paycheck. The record would just be a bonus.

From GG Yonkers via azcardinals.com:

"I liked your article about Mike Bidwill discussing the team. I like Mike. I really do think he cares a heck of alot of about football and winning, in comparison to Cardinals' ASU days. Could you ever see Mike going full Jerry Jones and making himself GM as well as Owner? I'll be honest, give me a billion dollars and a football team and I would absolutely make myself GM. How can you not? I guess I appreciate he keeps his nose out, for the most part."

No, I think Michael operates now how he is comfortable. He's got a lot of other non-football things he is involved with around the state and with the league; he knows the team needs football people to run the day-to-day. Other than Jones, to be honest, I don't see any other owner doing something like that.

From Chloe Valentine via azcardinals.com:

"Miss these unis so much! You know who else misses them? Adrian Wilson. You forget how long he's been with the team. He wore these CLASSICS and looked amazing in them! The last time you brought up unis to Mike Bidwill, when was it and what did he say?"

Let's just say I have not forgotten how long Adrian has been with the team. I was around covering the team when he showed up, so I am well aware of his tenure. He's never said a word to me about the uniforms, however. As for Michael Bidwill, I have not brought up uniforms with him. Usually when I get the chance to talk to him, there are more pressing things I want to ask him about.

From Stephen B via azcardinals.com:

"If the uniforms ever get updated, and they desperately need an upgrade, I’m sure we can find something to ask about
*coughDaryl coughWashington*"

Lovely.

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