The Scouting combine is over and free agency fast approaches. If you want to leave a question for next week's mailbag, go here.
From Kevin Campbell via azcardinals.com:
"Does this mock sound realistic Darren? My Dream draft: 1. Isaiah Simmons, LB, 2. Bradley Anae, Edge, 3. Brandon Aiyuk, WR, 4. Neville Gallimore, DT, 5. Calvin Throckmorton, OT."
Alas, Kevin, that doesn't sound realistic to me. I find a hard time seeing Simmons falling to 8, and I don't see Aiyuk lasting until the third round. I'm not sure Anae lasts until 40 either. Obviously, I think the Cardinals would be thrilled if this were to happen.
From Chad Johnson via azcardinals.com:
"If the CBA passes, am I understanding it correctly that players who have signed a contract for 16 games a year will essentially play the 17th game for league minimum? If 60% of players are on the league minimum, that helps, but for those big stars making a lot of money the risk/reward might not match. Could we see the dreaded 'load management' find its way into the NFL? I don't think players will sit just to sit, but I wonder if the injury report might a bit generous and high paid skill players taking a game or two off for 'health reasons.' "
If the CBA passes, the higher paid players are now in line to make what they normally make for an extra week. That was changed after the initial proposal. Now, we will see if there are any players who decide they don't want to play an extra game out of principal. I think that would be a fascinating possibility given that there are so many vocal opponents of an extra game. But the money has been adjusted.
From Nathan Palmer via azcardinals.com:
"Based on the combine, what players we were targeting you thought gained or lost stock? Also, what do you think about us taking defense in the first round and then getting Brandon Aiyuk in the second. (I am an ASU fan so this is also just a pipe dream to see him go play for my favorite NFL team). Having Fitz, Kirk, and Aiyuk with Andy Isabella hopefully coming into his own, along with KeeSean Johnson and Hakeem Butler back from injuries. That would be a young, powerful group. Thanks!"
I mean, that could be possible. Will Aiyuk be there at 40? I think it'll be close. Certainly adding an outside receiver with some speed would seem to be inevitable. When he might arrive is what we'll all be watching for.
From Niels Michaelis via azcardinals.com:
"Hey Darren! Thanks for your mailbag. My question may sound a bit nitpicking, but I thought it would be interesting to know how detailed NFL coaches work on their athletes throwing mechanics. Coming from a javelin throwing background, I tend to have an eye for throwing motions (as the base mechanics for every rotational athlete are almost identical) and watching Kyler's throws something drew my attention. I noticed that he lifts up his right foot (driving foot) early while throwing on a regular basis, partly to avoid hits it seems, but even with no immediate danger. ... Removing the ground contact before the ball leaves the hand leads to decreasing velocity. In theory, Kyler could have even more velocity on the ball while throwing from a clear pocket which would lead to faster ball and higher distances. My question is: Do the Cardinals QB coaches work on such small details in the offseason? Greetings from Germany, GO CARDS!"
Footwork is always something that is tinkered with in the offseason, and now that the coaches have had a full season in which to observe Murray in-game I would guess they will take a look at all the details. That said, it is true that he's had a lot of success doing it the way he already has been doing it, and the fine line to walk is making sure you don't take away from what makes him comfortable.
This is assuming Arik Armstead actually reaches free agency. Reportedly the Niners and Armstead are moving toward a new deal, even though the Niners have a bit of a cap squeeze. Armstead is from Sacramento and wants to stay in Northern California. To me, he is a solid player but might be better off within that defense where there are others to help him succeed. He had more sacks this season than in his first four seasons combined and that's concerning. If he were a middle-of-the-road-price guy I'd be a lot more enticing, but he is going to command large dollars.
From Tom Cowley via azcardinals.com:
"Thanks Darren. Do you expect some extensions to be offered this week and who might be the prime targets? Do you see a tag for anyone?"
I do not see anyone getting the tag. D.J. Humphries was a prime candidate for the franchise tag, but once he re-signed, that was taken out of play. As for extensions, I'm not ruling anything out but I have not yet heard anything. Part of the issue right now is the uncertainty of the collective bargaining agreement -- the rules for contracts and free agency will be affected whether it passes or not over the next week or so. That's impacting several teams, including I believe the Cardinals, in terms of executing things at the moment.
From Greeney Small via azcardinals.com:
"I just read your article on Simmons and now I miss Daryl Washington :( You think he could come back? He's still younger than Karlos Dansby was when Karlos came back for us, and D-Wash doesn't have years of wear and tear on his body. You know if D-Wash came back, he'd be good. Maybe not all-pro D-Wash, but he'd be good."
Actually, I don't know that. Washington hasn't done anything football-related since offseason OTAs in 2014. Six years away tends to change a man, regardless of his age. Not that it matters. Washington's era is long passed. (Although I'm impressed I'm still getting D-Wash questions.)
From Steven Stardevant via azacardinals.com:
"We have heard and read much recently concerning the 'evolution' of the quarterback position from pocket passer to read-option and such. Transitions have also occurred in the running back/receiver position, receiver/jet sweep runner and hybrid defensive positions. However, on the offensive line the college to pro evolution has been a bit slower. We hear of college linemen who have never been in a three-point stance and centers who have rarely 'hiked' (or 'snapped' if your younger than 40) to a quarterback under center. Can you see a re-conversion of the center/long snapper position in the future? I realize the technique is a bit different snapping to a shotgun quarterback than to a punter or place holder but there appears to be similarities. 'Back in the day' the center was often the long snapper and today it would open up another position on the roster."
If you are asking if the starting center will ever become the long snapper, I guess it's always possible. But it feels like the importance of special teams has reached a point where a bad snap simply can't be accepted and teams prefer that specialist. Once, special teams was almost an afterthought (I was once told that the great Steelers teams of Chuck Noll rarely if ever practiced special teams, to the point it might have cost a couple of games for a team that was already dominant.) Usually too, you want a long snapper who is a bit more athletic, so he can go down the field and make tackles. A.Q. Shipley probably isn't that guy.
From Edson Sierra via azcardinals.com:
"Darren, I respect your opinion quite a lot. If you were the Cards' GM, how would you handle the offseason? Who would you bring back, acquire in FA and draft? Dying to see what your thoughts are on the matter, thanks!"
I'll admit, my initial thought on the matter would be that I wished I had access to a lot more information, because how the cap figures in to all this and the more advance scouting (for both free agents and the draft) is obviously crucial. But without that info, and generally in free agency, I'd want to see what I could get at defensive line and both linebacker (outside and inside) spots. I'd try to bring back Drake but I'd be cautious to what I'd want to give him -- I tend to side with the running backs-can-be-found mentality. I agree with the depth potential Justin Murray provides, but I'd look hard at free agency and the draft for right tackle. I'd leave wide receiver for this deep draft.
I've said for a while I think defense is the way I'd go at No. 8 -- but the right guy has to be there. If there is a guy at 8 you think can become a multi-time Pro Bowler, I'd take him. If that's a wide receiver, it's a wide receiver. If it's a tackle, it's a tackle. But I'd prefer a great defensive player. If he's there.
From Raine Voights via azcardinals.com:
"Hey Darren, not sure if you have already answered this question or not, but what do you think are the biggest reasons that our rookie receivers did not produce much this year? I know Butler was hurt, but what about Johnson and Isabella? I know Kliff explained it as 'they need to be more consistent' but I don't feel they were giving the fair opportunity to showcase their abilities. We heard almost everyday about Johnson's ability to run routes and catch the ball before the season. Then we saw flashes of that ability early in the season and then he just disappeared. Isabella is a flat out burner and he proved it in that game against the Niners. Why did we not try to get it in his hands more and use him as a deep ball threat? I know as fans we don't get to see how they practice and prepare everyday, but some part of me feels like we did not utilize them as well as we could have."
We aren't going to get many specific examples of what players aren't doing. Kingsbury doesn't operate that way. But with Isabella, I just don't know if the individual trust was there yet in many facets -- getting off press coverage, making the play that needed to be made (I keep thinking back to the deep pass in Minnesota in the preseason that it looked like Isabella had a chance to get and didn't.) I think Johnson was hurt when the team morphed more into using 12 personnel than the four-wides early in the season. I think your point of not seeing practice can't be overlooked -- the coaches were seeing these guys every day and there was probably a reason for the hesitancy in using them more. It's a big offseason for all three guys, and it's undeniable the position remains in play for the draft.
From Sidney Sexson via azcardinals.com:
"Darren hope you had a good time in Indianapolis. Last week I think my question was a little late getting in so I will ask it for this week. Both parts pertain to the combine. In regards to Indianapolis hosting it for something like 30 years, given the financial impact I would think they would move it around like the Super Bowl and the draft; do you have any information on this for the coming years? Second part is in reference to expenses for transportation, rooms and meals for the players invited to the combine. Does the NFL have a fund that all teams contribute to? Also, Steve Keim mentioned in his interview with Craig and Mike that they had had formal interviews with six wide receivers; are you privy to the players they interview? If so can you give us the names?"
The Combine has a contract with Indianapolis through next year. There is a lot of chatter it could be moved to Los Angeles given the new building and it's proximity to NFL Network, but we will see. Moving the combine is much more difficult than the draft because it isn't a case where you just need a stage and hotel rooms. The combine needs medical facilities, interview areas and a place to run drills and also be able to accommodate a lot more league people than the draft. The league does pay for the players and yes, ultimately, it comes from a league fund that all teams have a part in (in the end, the entire league is always funded by the teams directly or indirectly.)
As for the receiver interviews, I don't know all six. Kingsbury acknowledged they met with Jeudy, Lamb and Ruggs.
From Bryan Olson via azcardinals.com:
"So, rumors are that Washington and Trent Williams are mending fences. However, please tell me why a trade of David Johnson for Trent Williams without any other compensation to either team does or doesn't make sense for both teams. My thought here is that both teams get a quality player in an area of need (Williams can play right tackle for the Cards) that might not otherwise play or get significant time if they remain on their current rosters. The wild card IMO is that Williams is a FA in 2021; while Johnson is in 2022. So, that is a risk for Washington if Johnson doesn't produce. This type of a trade would allow both teams to have more clarity of their respective holes ahead of the draft."
I have no idea why the Redskins would want Johnson at this point. They still get some production from Adrian Peterson and they have Derrius Guice (if he can stay healthy) and they are making a fraction of what Johnson makes. Running back isn't even on the radar of things Washington needs to improve first. I just don't see that as a path.
Who would I love to see in a Cardinals uniform? Chase Young, Isaiah Simmons, Derrick Brown, Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb. I'd think the Cardinals would be pretty good if you got all five of those guys. (Yes, they don't get all five, yes, they won't all be there at 8 and yes, I wouldn't rule out an offensive lineman. But you asked and I answered.)
From Kevin Miner via azcardinals.com:
"Regarding Humphries' contract. Kent Somers tweeted that the second year of the contract becomes guaranteed on 3/21/20. It seems a bit bizarre to guarantee the first year at signing and then the second year a mere month later. Any insight is appreciated."
That is an odd twist, but it had to do with the current rules of the CBA in the last year of the agreement. To do it another way would have messed with the salary cap implications. These things won't be an issue once a new CBA is in place.
From Red1Cards4Ever via azcardinals.com:
"Could you discuss please how much input Kliff has in personnel decisions? I know he was at the combine, looking at the prospects. It has always just made sense to me that the coach/play caller knows what he needs."
This question comes up a lot. I guess the key is how you define "input." Of course Kingsbury and his coaches get to have a say. They are the ones working with the players every day. For both free agency and the draft, the coaches are asked their opinions on players and they discuss how that particular player might work (obviously, with free agents, there is usually more first-person knowledge for guys who have been in the league and they know a much smaller group they will target.) The idea is that Kingsbury and the coaches will be on the same page as the front office. They usually can come to common ground. If you are asking if Kingsbury gets final say, he does not. It still comes down to the GM.
From Halee Kelo via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren! I'm nervous. I'm so happy everybody is starting to recognize the important of OL coach Sean Kugler, but that means poachers will too. Can we promote him to vice president or something? I'm so scared we're going to lose him and he's finally the OL-whisperer we've needed for the last 30 years."
Well, I'm not sure promoting him to a VP slot would do the trick. Kugler is under contract and unless someone is going to want him as a coordinator -- and in that case they would still need permission -- he won't be going anywhere. But I agree that Kugler has done a nice job. It helps any offensive line coach when his guys stay healthy.
From PJ Van Fleet via azcardinals.com:
"What are your thoughts on TE Dan Arnold? Kyler seemed notably enamored with him. He was caught on mic saying he's never had that tall of a target before, he just lobs it up and Dan grabs it. For a team that struggled with receiving the last few years, Dan seems like he can be a major addition. And it makes me think we might not be as bad off as we seem. Larry's back, Dan and Maxx Williams are both good receivers, Kirk, Pharaoh Cooper flashed, and we got three or four young guys and surely one of them will succeed. Do we really need to spend a first-round pick on a WR?"
Need to? No. Want to/Should? That's a different question. First, back to the Arnold thing. I like what little we saw from Dan Arnold and yes, I think he can be a weapon in this offense. Now, with the guys that catch passes on the whole, they could still use someone with speed on the outside. Given what will be available, I don't think I see a wide receiver picked in the first round. But again, if you see the best player on the board at that spot, a guy who can be a Pro Bowler and pick up the baton from Fitz when Fitz retires, you have to at least think about it.
From Irin Clark via azcardinals.com:
"Wouldn't it make more sense to hold free agency after the draft? You have more control over free agency. If you desperately need a guy, you can up the money offer. At some point he will say yes. Whereas in the draft, you have no control over who makes it to you. I know they are negotiating the CBA now. I just think it makes more sense for the players."
It's funny you say it makes more sense for the players because for me, I see exactly the opposite, especially in this sport. Yes, some teams might be more desperate for a guy, but the overall market will be depressed. Take the Cardinals for instance. Let's say the draft was first and they got Derrick Brown. Then that's a prime spot taken away from free agent defensive tackles on the high end, depressing their market. Part of this is also about allowing the veterans to be able to know where they are going to be playing sooner -- that takes precedence over rookies who have yet to arrive in the league.
From Fif Duwade via azcardinals.com:
"Reports are out that Vontaze Burfict wants to continue playing and hes been training at ASU. Understandably, Burfict is a loose cannon who needs to keep his emotions in check. But that said, hes been a very good NFL player for a long time. He's only 30. So what do you think about pursuing the hometown guy?"
I think he's one poor hit from being suspended for a season again, and it's not worth it.
From Boston Mike via azcardinals.com:
"Hey Darren, I know we covered this a few weeks ago but since it's combine week I feel its time to revisit the subject. I really can't stand the combine, at least the philosophy of it. I get the medicals and interviews, those are important. But what can a 40 tell you? What can a bench or a three-cone or a vertical tell you about a guy's football playing ability? Go over to the NFL Combine site and sort it by 'Best All-Time Performances.' You ain't gonna see Hall of Famers. You might be the most athletic freak in the world, but that doesn't make you a good football player. Make it make sense, Darren."
You can disagree with it but this is not something that needs next-level analysis. You say you get the medicals and the interviews, and that alone is why you have it. You can ignore the on-field stuff, and as I noted, it can be misleading. But there are reasons to pay attention -- not the least of which is you get a sense of who took it seriously and who did not. As Steve Keim likes to say, it's not the whole puzzle, but it's a piece of the puzzle.
From Joe Cardea via azcardinals.com:
"Darren, now that Fitz and Hump are done what do you see as the next priority, maybe not a signing but as far as resolving whether they will be signed -- Kenyan Drake, an offensive lineman? Two bonus questions: 1. Is Mason Cole the center of our future? Is he a guard? Seems that needs to be resolved shortly so we know what position to pursue in free agency and the draft. 2. Is Rodney Gunter well regarded by coaches? I've always liked him and while probably a long shot for the Hall of Fame, he seems like a good average piece. We need some of those!"
The next priority of note is probably Drake, although I could see a scenario where he reaches the open market and still finds his way back to Arizona. We will see. It'll all come down to the money (which is how it usually works). Cole is still seen as a potential center, and I would think he'd have a good chance to win that job this offseason. Do the Cardinals bring back A.Q. Shipley to battle for the spot? That's what we need to see. I think they see Gunter as a depth piece, if he were to return. Rodney would like to find a bigger contract than the ones he saw on the market last offseason.
From Bruce Leroy via azcardinals.com:
"Hey Darren, I've got no other way to send this to you, so I'm sending it via mailbag. An ASU journalism kid on twitter posted a pretty interesting little combine story. Is this true that the first NFL combine was in Tempe? Do you have any memory of this event? I'm fairly shocked I've never heard this story before."
So I did know that the first NFL Scouting combine (that included the whole NFL) was held in Phoenix in the mid-1980s. I don't recall it, in part because I'm not sure it got a lot of publicity and more importantly, I was about 14 years old and in those days, the NFL offseason didn't hold a lot of attention (especially growing up here, where there was not an NFL team at the time.) There were separate combines in the couple of years previous, because in those days, the league was actually split into multiple scouting groups dating back a couple of decades. But Phoenix brought them all together at ASU (and Ron Wolfley was one of the players to take part.) It was in Phoenix in 1985, New Orleans in 1986 and then moved to Indianapolis in 1987.
From Troy Z via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren. Always appreciate the mailbag. Now retired DE Chris Long has a youtube show (Chalk Talk)and this week he interviewed now retired Haloti Ngata. They were discussing Tongan NFL players and Haloti said the guy that most Tongans looked up to was a WR named Vai Sikahema. I wasn't old enough at the time to have seen him, so I googled the name, and this fella was a two-time Pro Bowler for our Cardinals. I know he was only with us for one season, but I would assume inheriting a Pro Bowler was exciting for Phoenix at the time. I might be stretching you here a bit, but do you have any memories of him? I found him to be very fascinating after reading up on him. You don't often seen Tongan skill position players, and he was a darn good one. Thanks."
Actually, Sikahema played five seasons with the Cardinals -- they were the team that drafted him out of BYU in 1986 and he played with the Cards, through the move from St. Louis to Arizona, until 1990. Fortuitous for him, since Sikahema is actually from the Valley and went to Mesa High School. And he made his two Pro Bowls as a kick return man for the Cardinals. Ask Ron Wolfley about Vai sometime -- he loves his former teammate.
From Simon from China via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren, without any bias I really think Dave Pasch is one of the best at his business. He is already calling some high-profile college games for TV right? When do you think he'll be promoted to national TV for NFL as well? And do you know which hit he was referring to in his "and what a hit! Oh my goodness" from the cards underground podcast intro? Thanks and greetings from China!"
I mean, Simon, if Dave is ever promoted by ESPN to national TV for the NFL, he wouldn't be able to call the Cardinals games, so let's not hurry anything like that along. We like Dave around here. As for the call, it is from a 2003 game in which Adrian Wilson drilled 49ers tight end Jed Weaver (and is shown in the outset of this clip).
From Will Lester via azcardinals.com:
"Darren, lots of questions so choose whichever you'd like:
- With the history of the Cardinals drafting an OL in the first round being overwhelmingly negative (L.J. Shelton, Levi Brown, and Leonard Davis), beside Humphries last year, do you think it would be wise wait for an offensive lineman in the later rounds?
- How do you feel about taking Isaiah Simmons with our first-round pick? While he is projected to be valued later in the first-round he may be a dynamic player that could fit.
- I'm worried that David Johnson may turn into a Honey Badger-like scenario. He leaves and goes back to his usual self somewhere else. I think I remember a similar situation happening with Thomas Jones as well. What can the Cardinals do to help motivate or support him to run with the aggression and passion that he did in 2016?
I'm a Zonie native now living in Japan and your mailbag is great at keeping me up-to-date about the Cardinals future. Keep it up!"
Why choose when I can quick-hit them all? Here goes:
- Leonard Davis became an all-pro guard, just not with the Cardinals. Levi Brown, while a guy who never lived up to his draft status, did start in a Super Bowl. So I'd quibble with those examples. But no, I wouldn't wait, not if you think the OL at 8 is going to be great.
- I'd love Simmons at 8. He won't be there at 8. Not sure why you think he's valued later in the first round. He's going early, methinks.
- I think the Cardinals have tried to motivate him. I don't think they can operate in fear of him being great somewhere else. If he is here, they have to hope he plays the way everyone has seen before. If they decide to move on, you move on and don't look back.
From Mike Weber via azcardinals.com:
"Hey Darren, first I want to thank you for your great mailbag. I'm looking forward to it every week. As a Cardinals fan from Germany I'm not used to writing in English, so please forgive me, if there are some mistakes. My question is: Do you have any new information about the injury of Kyler Murray? I saw him walking up the stairs when he won the OROY and he seemed to limp. After he played the last game of the season I thought the injury wasn't that bad."
Kyler is fine. I have noticed his gait when he's just walking around can look a little off, but that's just the way he walks. He'll be fine when the offseason stuff starts in April.
From Norm Neerit via azcardinals.com:
"Whats the plan at right tackle? Justin Murray did a solid job, I would hope we can keep him as a backup. I know you had an article on Gilbert hoping to come back. I think we'd all be happy to have him back, so long as he can stay healthy, but that's a big ask. You've mentioned the unlikely big splash of someone like Jack Conklin. That puts us in limbo. Can't really rely on the guys we got. Can't expect a big money dude to come in. So what do we do?"
I suppose I'd argue with your points post-limbo. Obviously they have a plan. Perhaps they feel differently than you on one of those final two points. I don't see them spending for someone like Conklin (who is expected to have a robust market) after paying what they did for Humphries. But I guess never say never. While I absolutely think they will look to upgrade the spot, either in free agency or the draft, I am not ruling out them relying on Murray if it came to that. I do think they want to have some competition there. Gilbert thinks he can return at a high level; if he were to take a lesser deal and the Cards couldn't come up with a better option, he could return in the mix.
From Nikas Schmitt via azcardinals.com:
"Hey, greetings from Germany. I follow the league since 2011 and fell immediately in love with the Cardinals, watching every game since (basically every NFL game, although that often confuses the rest of my life as primetime games start at around 2:20 a.m. over here). I am still recovering from the magic run in 2015 and the eventual collapse. However, I love watching Kyler play and hopefully a new era has begun! This year in August, I will finally realize a dream of mine and visit the USA for the first time in my life, mainly the West Coast. Obviously, I will also have to visit State Farm Stadium. My questions are: Do the Cardinals offer some kind of access to the stadium or even guided tours for visitors? Secondly, watching a game (even though just a preseason game) at State Farm would be incredible. But the schedule is usually unveiled in April which is very late for my plannings. Do you have some hints about when the home preseason games will be played? And how easy is it for foreigners to get preseason tickets?"
First of all, it's cool to have so many German fans out there, as represented in this mailbag. Yes, the stadium does do tours -- you can find that information at StateFarmStadium.com. I wish I could help you with the preseason schedule but I cannot. I don't have any inkling. Last year, the first two of the four were at home. My only realistic guess would be that final preseason game figures to be at home, although that's also the least interesting of the preseason games. Finally, you should not have any issues -- as a foreign fan or otherwise -- obtaining tickets to a preseason game.
From Mike Johnson via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren. I know you get a bunch of questions about the uniforms every week, but I'm just curious what the players think of them. I'm sure they don't care as long as the check comes, but I'm just curious how the lifers feel. Larry, Chandler, P2, now Kyler. Fans obviously want new uniforms but I've never heard the players mention anything publicly. Have you heard any rumblings?"
This was one of the many uniform questions this week, and one of the more pleasant ones. I know some people want new unis but let's stay civil about it. As for the players, no, I haven't heard a peep and yes, I'm of the opinion they really don't care much. Fitz has been around long enough that he's been here for the last uniform change plus the introduction of the black jerseys plus the introduction of the color rush uniforms. Again, I do not know of any plans for an update.