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You've Got Mail: Minicamp Has Arrived

Topics include facing Julio Jones, the Collins-Simmons duo and the salary cap

Mailbag Simmons Collins 0607

It's guest mailbag time. Darren Urban is still easing back from vacation, so I'll be answering this week's questions, and the queries were so good we moved the mailbag up a day. Well, that, and because the rest of the week will be action-packed with mandatory minicamp. You can leave questions here for Darren's illustrious return next week.

From Bill Thompson:

"Darren, what will our chances be in Nashville now for Week 1? Tannehill, Henry, and now Julio Jones; our defense is going to be tested. We had better have our offense clicking, because nobody is going to shut down the Titans this year. Like you said in your article on Sunday at least Jones didn't go to the NFC West opponents and I was worried about those possibilities. Thanks for your articles and the mailbag; good stuff! Go Cardinals!"

I'm a little intimidated answering this question after all the love for Darren, but I'll try my best. The Titans unquestionably upgraded the offense with the addition of Jones, but they also lost Jonnu Smith, Corey Davis and offensive coordinator Arthur Smith this offseason. Despite a three-win difference – Tennessee went 11-5 last year -- the Titans and Cardinals had a similar point-differential in 2020. It seems like a pretty evenly-matched game, although the Titans do get a boost being at home.

From Adere Valencenes:

"Do you think Zaven/Simmons get extensive preseason reps despite being named starters already? Seems to be a nuance here. You don't want starters getting lots of PS reps because there's a long (extra-long) season ahead. But Simmons and Zaven probably need more reps than any player on this roster. So how do you think it works out? Normal starter reps or do they go a little deeper into the game than usual starters?"

It's always an interesting risk-reward conundrum due to the chance of injury, but I'd imagine they will remain on the field longer than the usual starters in the preseason. Both are still learning the position and will have a lot on their plate when the real action begins. It's important for Collins and Simmons to get those live snaps in order to help flatten the learning curve a bit.

From Paul Patterson:

"I'm sure you saw the report/rumor that the cap will jump up to $208M in 2022. While that's where it would've been in a non-Covid world, it's a gigantic leap from our current $182M cap this year. It's very big news for all-in teams like ourselves. We can now restructure a bunch of guys, kick a bunch of cash into that 2022 increased cap, and make win-now moves. What are your feelings on it? I think the Chiefs have demonstrated better than any team ever that EVERY year is a win now year. They don't seem to be subject to cap crunches or rebuilds. Now that we have a franchise QB, why cant we operate similarly? Make moves. Cut guys. Restructure. Go sign big-name FAs. Why not us? This cap leap looks like a good opportunity."

It's easy to circumvent the cap on a short-term basis, but eventually the bill will come due. We saw that in Atlanta with the trade of Jones to the Titans, and in personnel losses for teams like the Saints and Rams. Patrick Mahomes' salary cap number goes from $7.4 million this year to $35.8 and $45.8 million the next two seasons, so eventually the Chiefs will feel the cap crunch. The Cardinals can certainly make an all-in push over the next few seasons, but if that's the preferred route, there will be some shedding of talent at some point down the road. It's a decision every team must make.

From Sanjay Rajan:

"I have a question regarding the Cardinals' deals. I have been seeing lately that the Cardinals are using high cap when getting new players, for example, JJ Watt has 14.5 million year 1 + 12 million signing bonus. And Rodney Hudson has an annual salary of 10 million dollars. Shouldn't we be focusing on Kyler Murray's salary and contract because his rookie year is ending this year? Why are we spending so much?"

It's actually the opposite. Murray is on his rookie contract through 2022, and won't be eligible for an extension until after this season, so the Cardinals had the benefit of those savings heading into free agency. Over the past decade, teams have found success adding talent around their rookie-contract quarterback, so being aggressive was the logical thing to do. GM Steve Keim wasn't reckless, as all of the players added are on short-term deals, but it made sense to spend this offseason to fortify the roster around Murray.

From Mike Ullman:

"I'm very surprised that we didn't keep Hundley as a backup QB? Every time I've seen him play he looks like he could start for most teams, and certainly a backup for us? Where's his weakness, if any?"

Hundley has a career quarterback rating of 67.6, which is far below the level of a typical starter. He has physical tools, but has never turned that into consistent success, particularly with in-rhythm throws from the pocket. Hundley remains unsigned at a position where backups are of utmost importance, so it's not just the Cardinals that have looked elsewhere.

From Maddy Ross:

"Please ask Kyle to explain his Twitter banner."

Those are my dogs making an appearance at my wedding. As you can see, they were dressed up for the occasion.

From Garth Short:

"Possibly by the time you receive this question, the team will have provided the answer. But, maybe not. I've read that the team has reduced their OTAs from 10 to three, with no dates announced. I'm sure this makes the veterans happy because it gives the rookies less time to learn the NFL game and possibly take away a job from one of the vets. But I'm not sure it helps the team end up with their best 53. So my two-fold question is do you think that three OTAs are enough and when are they scheduled for?"

The three OTAs wrapped up last week. Mandatory minicamp is this week, and that will be it for offseason work. The rookies have actually been with the team for much longer than the veterans this offseason, so if anything, it has given them a leg up in preparation. In the end, I don't think it will matter much when the roster is finalized. The most talented players will make the team, per usual.

From Jeremy Fehr:

"I have been wondering why I haven't seen any backlash after Kyler Murray joined Faze clan. Doesn't anyone out there think this move should raise some red flags over Kyler's level of commitment to his team? Cheers."

Soapbox tiiiime. There are 24 hours in a day, and even if football takes up 10 of them, there is always going to be time for leisure and decompression. Some players will spend that time with their families, or outdoors, or doing puzzles. Murray happens to like video games. If it became so bad that Murray was missing meetings or skipping workouts, then sure, that would be an issue. But no player's level of commitment should be questioned for having interests outside of football. It's unhealthy to spend all of your time focused on one thing.

From Dean Bell:

"As much as I disagree with it from a purely traditional standpoint, I realize that single digit numbers have been made available to several different position groups. But how is Zaven Collins able to wear No. 25 as an inside linebacker? I know Deone Bucannon wore No. 36 and No. 20 in his time as a Cardinal. But I believe that's because as a 'moneybacker' he was basically looked at as a dual LB/S. I haven't seen or heard anything about Collins being looked at as a safety in any way."

Linebackers can now choose any number from 1-59 and 90-99. It's definitely a new era with jersey numbers. While I don't personally care that much about the number on a uniform, it's clear in talking to the players that there is some serious passion behind it. Many have taken advantage of the new rules.

From JoAnn Canez:

"Nothing has been mention about Larry Fitzgerald? Is he coming back or are we still waiting or have they forgotten about him already? The best of the best."

We are all definitely still waiting. He hasn't made an announcement either way, and when he does, it will be prominent on and elsewhere. Don't worry. You won't miss it.

From Kevin P:

"Is there a date a player needs to announce to the league office they are retiring to start the clock for entry into 2026 Hall Of Fame? I'm asking for a friend."

Does your friend's name rhyme with Farry Litzgerald? From what I understand, regardless of when he officially files the paperwork, Fitzgerald would be eligible five years after he was last on an active roster.

From Cayetano Charley:

"Cards play a lot of good running backs this season. They play almost all the top 10 guys in the league. Zaven has a learning curve to beat, and this seems like baptism by fire. If Hicks is traded, do the Cards have options for veterans in free agency or keeping Hicks to help the rookie curve a better option?"

It certainly seems like the Cardinals plan to sink or swim with Collins and Isaiah Simmons at inside linebacker this season. They may have rough patches, but Keim likes the idea of pairing up the two playmakers in the middle of the field and letting them grow together. If there are serious struggles, then maybe an alternate plan is constructed. But any veteran addition would be a pure depth play at this point in the offseason.

From Peter Kacmar:

"I was impressed when reading the Bidwill family is ranked third of the whole league in terms of ownership within the same family. I definitely wish current owner Mr. Michael Bidwill a very long life in perfect health but was just wondering if he has some children on who he could pass his ownership in the future. My second question relates to the notice in recent podcasts where one of you said my neighbouring country Austria sky rocketed to top five in podcasts downloads. I would guess of course USA and Mexico sitting atop the list but can you share the other countries? I might be the only one in Slovakia. Thank you for your effort."

Michael Bidwill does not have children but it's safe to say there are no plans for the Cardinals to leave the family's hands any time soon. You are correct that the United States tops the most-downloaded-podcasts list, but it's followed by the U.K., Germany, Australia and Canada. Austria is sixth and rising, while Mexico is ninth. Slovakia is not top-10 yet, but I'll see if Keim can sign a Slovakian cornerback to increase the interest. In any event, thanks for listening.

From Daniel Crews:

"I'm worried about Simmons. Sure he has one year under his belt, but in most minds he's essentially a redshirt rookie. And they expect him to start Week 1 AND help Zaven? Zaven's development will probably suffer if Simmons is expected to teach him. Its the blind leading the blind. It's not fair to anyone. It should be a red flag in that article you posted that he said this current situation is strange and challenging. Of course he will say he's up for it, but I don't believe that for a second. I think his world's spinning and he doesn't feel comfortable saying 'I need more help.' I truly believe Simmons is getting badly left in the dust here. He's probably not ready, and all this responsibility is being thrown on him way too fast. We need to keep Hicks, big time. We know Hicks isn't thrilled, but ultimately he's a pro. He's the guy we need for Simmons and Zaven to learn from."

That is a sensible argument. It's always going to be a risk putting two young players in the middle of a defense, but the Cardinals clearly feel like the upside is too great to ignore. Simmons did progress nicely last season. By its end, he was making his mark on a weekly basis. It would be naïve to expect completely smooth sailing, but Keim has a lot of conviction behind the decision. Only time will tell how it works out.

From John Tharp:

"I know I am in the majority who thinks that cornerback may be the weak link in the defense this year. Robert Alford has not played the last two years, Malcolm Butler has never been a great corner, Byron Murphy is better suited for the slot. Two day three picks and some UDFAs. I'm sure Steve Keim always looks at all the options and maybe he is planning on signing a vet or two if they get released. But, what about Richard Sherman? I know, older and declining skills, but he may be better than what the Cards have starting right now, and he can pass on a wealth of knowledge to the new guys."

This question was sent in before Darqueze Dennard was signed. It seemed inevitable that the Cardinals would add a veteran, and he was the choice. Sherman certainly would have been intriguing, but his age, injury history and zone coverage background seemed to make it a bit of a longshot. This cornerback group is going to be watched closely. The defense has been upgraded in plenty of areas, but teams that can't slow down the pass won't fare well during the season. The cornerbacks will be tested right out of the gate with A.J. Brown and Julio Jones on the outside for the Titans.

From Jacob Lagang:

"Hello sir. I know lots of people are wanting Julio to join Hop and Green and I know that would be a crazy havoc for everyone but that trade probably wouldn't happen. If Robby Anderson would be out there like the Panthers are searching for would it be nice for Cardinals because he knows Shawn Jefferson and he's cheaper than Julio with lots of speed? Someone that is still a free agent that I want would be Bashaud Breeland. He has visited here in 2018 but our team is better now, would it be a nice fit for us? Would Geno Atkins be good for us? Would a Jordan Hicks for Ertz trade be win win? Thank you sir."

So Julio is in Tennessee now, and Robby Anderson isn't on the trade block. The Cardinals addressed the cornerback spot with Dennard, so I'll boil your question down to Atkins and Ertz. Even though he is 33 and coming off an injury, Atkins is still a talented interior defensive lineman, so there will likely be teams interested when he is physically cleared. However, the Cardinals have Jordan Phillips, J.J. Watt and three youngsters -- and they just signed Xavier Williams -- so it seems unlikely he lands in Arizona.

Tight end, to me, is the thinnest position remaining on the roster, so any player that is available would likely get a close look. However, if trading Hicks for Ertz was a win-win, it probably would have happened by now. The base salaries transfer in trades, which could be a sticking point.

From Landon Day:

"Do you listen to P2's podcast? It's pretty good. You get lots of little insights to the locker room and the thought process of the pros. Notably, he talked up Eno Benjamin this last week. He was speaking to Coach Herm, and they got on the topic of Eno. And Patrick said Eno is very impressive in practice and that he just needs an opportunity to play Sunday. So do you think we finally see Eno this year? Connor seems to be our big back. And as excited as I am about Chase, Eno might be the most talented RB on the roster."

With all due respect to Eno, both Edmonds and Conner have a stronger body of work at the NFL level. If Benjamin is the most talented running back, he should be able to move up the depth chart by proving that in practice. We will see how it plays out, but the expectation is for Edmonds and Conner to get the bulk of the work in 2021.

From John Lombardi:

"If you see Rondale Moore tell him #9 jersey is available now that Cards cut QB McDonald."

No longer. Isaiah Simmons snatched it.

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