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You've Got Mail: Minicamp Has Arrived

Topics include Cameron Thomas, No. 24, and free-agency urgency

Cameron Thomas Mailbag 061022

The Cardinals are holding mandatory minicamp starting Tuesday, so we will post the mailbag a day early. Questions have been edited for length and clarity. As always, you can send in a question for a future mailbag here.

From Jay Strongman:

"Regarding your article about Williams wearing A-Dub's No. 24. Why is No. 24 not retired? What are we doing here, Darren, huh? A-Dub feels like one of the easier choices in terms of enshrinement. Yes, he is 100% deserving of the HOF (check his stats), but assuming them haters never let him in, he should at the very least be enshrined in Cards history. His names in the ROH but that number will forever be associated with one man."

"Them haters?" OK then. Let's start here: There are only 99 numbers for football players, and there are 90-man preseason rosters. As it is there already have to be some that double up. In season, there are 53, plus 16 on the practice squad, plus whoever might be on IR. The Cardinals only have five numbers retired: 8, 40, 77, 88, 99. Two are of star players who died during their playing careers, one from a WWII hero, one for Pat Tillman, and one for Larry Wilson -- who spent his entire professional life with the Cardinals. A-Dub might get to Canton someday, but the franchise already have a bunch of guys already in the Hall of Fame who haven't had their numbers retired.

From Arron Wren:

"Of all the rookie draft picks Cameron Thomas seems to be the most overlooked of the group. It's surprising because he arguably might be the most talented (per draft gurus). Is it just because he's injured and on the shelf at the moment, or is it because the others, such as Myjai, have more eye-popping traits? Cameron is more of a steady eddie type but I think he will be closer to what the team envisioned for Zach Allen."

To be honest, I don't know if there has been a lot said about any of the rookies. The injury did mean Thomas missed some time, but again, I don't think there has been a bunch of stuff said about, for instance, Sanders. Trey McBride has been mentioned the most, but I think that's a) because he was the first Cardinal picked and b) because with Maxx Williams' injury McBride may be needed sooner. I think the Cardinals are going to need something out of either Thomas or Sanders if not both right away.

From Max Secura:

"There is a trend with one of Steve Keim's reoccurring draft decisions: 'The flexible LB.' Deone Bucannon, Haason Reddick, Isaiah Simmons, Zaven Collins. Guys who can do a lot and nothing at the same time. Doesn't it seem like the Cardinals never have a clear plan for these guys? There's two clear-cut failures in Buc and Reddick, with Simmons on the fence. Zaven, in all honesty, is not looking great at the moment when you consider his draft peer Micah Parsons is all-world already. I don't think its fair to say 'oh well, busts happen.' True, however you keep making the same mistake over and over. Am I wrong? Thanks for the time."

You aren't the first to express concern for this. Now, I'd say Buc actually was a good starter for a team that went to an NFC Championship, although once the Bowles/Bettcher defense went away so did his role. And I hate the comparison of Parsons and Collins; I'd guess had Parsons been on the board at 16 the Cardinals would have taken him. All that said, I disagree there hasn't been a plan. There has always been a plan for all these guys. Whether the plan has ultimately worked is a different story.

From Bryant Harris:

"Hi Darren, you've been out to OTAs so you've seen these guys in person. Does Trey McBride look 6-foot-4, 250 pounds to you? In every photo and video I watch from practice he looks considerably lighter. Maybe in his 220s. Perhaps in fact he's shed some weight (prospects often pack it on for the combine). Or maybe he really is 250 but just carries it really well. What do you think?"

I think there is no way he weighs in the 220s. I don't know if he is 250, but no way he is 222, for instance. It is easy to get jaded by how big all these guys are and losing some perspective. The thing about McBride that really sticks with me? He looks like a thicker Josh McCown.

From Brent Sottamayer:

"Hi Darren. What's the delay with the Keim Time signings? Where's the DL help? Where's the CB help? Is he waiting for camp cuts? Getting guys in here sooner, rather than later, benefits us. Vibe with the team. More time to learn. And protects us from further injuries. What's the delay? Do you think we need to urgently start adding some bodies or no?"


I'm not sure how signing someone now "protects us from further injuries." How would that work? You are also missing the point of Keim Time signings, which are usually later on -- around training camp. Many veterans aren't into signing now anyway; they don't want to have to come to minicamp if they can help it -- training camp is soon enough. And maybe they don't want to take the contracts the Cardinals are offering, which is fine because if they are unsigned, no one else is offering them more either.

From Parker North:

"Hey Darren. Not a question, just a talking point. I think the focus on 'leadership' is wildly overrated. To reach this level, as a pro, requires immense talent and dedication. Sure there are some washouts when they get that first paycheck, but otherwise we see every year during the rookie introduction pressers that these are very intelligent, hard-working young men. They need teachers, not parents on the field. For whatever reason Patrick Peterson was demonized in his last years here, but I was always so impressed by the time he took teaching. That's the type of leadership we need. Not the rah-rah guys. Watt is one of the best rah rah guys in the NFL and even he couldn't save us from collapsing last year, so clearly that wasn't the issue. We just need talent among the rookies, and teachers among the veterans."

Well, Watt was injured for the last 10 regular-season games, so he was really unable to do anything to help. As far as leadership, I agree that pros should be self-motivated, but not all are. Some do need to be a follower to a leader. When it is brought up in terms of quarterbacks, I happen to agree -- the best QBs over time are leaders. There are others in the locker room, but the main guy on the team needs to galvanize his locker room.

From Mason Nuzman:

"Hi Darren! In the time that you've been covering the Cardinals, have you ever seen an undrafted rookie QB make the roster and/or make any impact at all? Just wondering if the rookie we added this year is purely a camp arm or if he has any realistic shot to make the roster. Thanks!"

In my 20-plus years, there is one obvious answer, and that was Max Hall in 2010, who in camp jumped Matt Leinart on the depth chart, Leinart getting cut. Hall ended up starting a couple of games -- even winning his debut, although he didn't play all that well -- that season. Technically Chris Streveler was an undrafted rookie when he was on the team in 2020, even though he had played a couple years in the CFL. The other two UDFAs to spend time on the roster since I've been covering the team were Drew Anderson in 2019 and Preston Parsons at the end of the Jake Plummer era. As for Jarrett Guarantano, I'd expect Trace McSorley with a much better chance to be the third QB, but you never know. Let's see how preseason goes.

From Matthew Stroh:

"Hey Darren. Thank you for reading my questions. With people on the team like D.J. Humphries and J.J. Watt, does it make it easier for you because they make the interviewing so funny? For example I laughed with D.J.'s surprise to learn J.J. was going to have a kid. Also have you ever seen the show 'Hot Ones?' Out of the people on the Cardinals Underground podcast who would be able to handle 'Hot Ones' and who wouldn't?"

Whenever an interview subject is willing to go beyond bland cliches and offer something up with their personality or insight, those make the best interviews. Humor is good, for sure, but it isn't the only emotion I'll take in such a setting. As far as "Hot Ones," I'm not sure Paul would do well -- he has a delicate palate. I'm competitive enough that I'd think I could do if I had to, but at what cost, Matthew? At what cost? So maybe I'll defer to Dani.

From Lai Nguyen:

"Is size an issue at WR you think? Hollywood and Moore are great players but on the shorter side. We have A.J. Green but it's not as if he was skying last year?"

No, the Cardinals don't have a ton of size at receiver. It's one of the reasons they want to keep developing Antoine Wesley. If the wideouts can get separation, no, it's not an issue. But they have to get that separation.

From William Falmand:

"Hi, Darren! As of now, the cornerback position needs to be addressed. I was looking at all the cornerbacks the Cardinals had on their roster last season, and Rasul Douglas' name came up. He had a pretty good year for the Packers during his limited time. I was wondering why a guy like him (who had enough success with his new team to sign a three-year deal) couldn't even get on the field with the Cardinals. He wasn't even a backup, just a practice squad player. I'm pretty sure that the Cardinals would love to have him right now. Is it only a question of defensive schemes?"

I would assume scheme matters. All I know is that a) Douglas didn't do enough with the Cardinals to get on the roster; b) Antonio Hamilton was also on the practice squad at the same time and it was Hamilton who earned the weekend call-ups before being elevated to the 53-man; and c) Douglas was let go by the Eagles and then the Texans before the Cardinals had him, so they weren't the only team that essentially passed on him. It obviously hurts when you have a chance to have a guy at a position of need, let him go, and he excels elsewhere. But good for Douglas that he was able to spark his career when he went to Green Bay.

From The Guy Who For Some Reason Won't Use A Name:

"Hi Urb, bunch of OTA questions.

  1. Is Lecitus Smith a candidate for backup center? I was reading draft profiles and they all say he projects good for a center in the NFL.
  2. Marquis Hayes had a second-round projection. Any ideas why he fell so far?
  3. I read something very interesting that Jesse Luketa was moved around a lot due to injuries at Penn State but his best and most natural position is ILB. Is there any chance Isiah Simmons gets moved to pass rusher?"

Some answers:

  1. I do think Smith is a candidate for backup center. I think that is a position the Cardinals have to think about in the future. I haven't seen Smith's draft profiles, however.
  2. Draft "projections" are a tricky thing. If multiple people are saying it it might be one thing but if just one outlet is guessing such a thing, well, how would they know? I am very leery about a player who was supposedly going to go in the second round and ended up lasting until the comp picks of the seventh? That makes no sense to me.
  3. They took Luketa probably in part because of his makeup and his special teams ability. He was a seventh-round pick. They are working with him on the outside for now. As for Simmons, he is too undersized to play OLB all the time. Will he have some moments as a pass rusher? Yes. But if you want to use him all the time, he can't be an OLB.

From Steve Symons:

"Darren. Love the mailbag and appreciate the honesty. One of the many things I love about football is the salary cap and how it levels the playing field for all teams. But I have to be honest, I don't understand it fully. Specifically, as a Cardinals fan, it baffles me how the Rams in particular (and other teams too for that matter) seem to work contracts that allow them to satisfy many big stars (Matthew Stafford, Jalen Ramsey, Bobby Wagner, Aaron Donald, etc.) and still stay under the salary cap while we seem to struggle with that kind of flexibility and imagination. Again, I admit I don't understand the nuances of the cap and how extensions and bonuses work so forgive me. Why can't we seem to get to that place? Thank you as always for your insight."

It's impossible to get into every nuance, but the Rams this year, for instance, aren't as harsh on the cap because of the way they have structured deals. Yes, Aaron Donald has a $27 million cap number and Jalen Ramsey is at $23M. Cooper Kupp is at $17.8M. But Matthew Stafford, for 2022, is only $13.5M, a very low number for a QB. Wagner is only $2.5M and Allen Robinson $4.3M. In a lot of ways, it's set up the way the Cardinals were a season ago, when they had low numbers for Watt, Hudson and Hop.

But as the Cardinals have found and the Rams will find, the bill will come due. If you do it right, you can find replacements for the lower two-thirds of the roster in the draft to fill holes of the guys that have left. But they couldn't afford to keep Robert Woods, or Von Miller, and there are always going to be a give and take. Plus, when you are good, you might be able to draw a player for a little less (like Wagner.)

From Art Pozza:

"Were you able to see or hear enough to form an opinion of new defensive line coach Matt Burke? Coming into a DL room that has played most of their under former Brentson Buckner, I think he has his work cut out for him."

He's a defensive line coach and J.J. Watt praised him, but other than that, no, I can't give you much of an opinion. I'm not out there being coached. I do think he is intelligent enough to figure out a solid transition.

From Nathan Palmer:

"Morning Darren! My question regards your job, I myself want to be an NFL/sports analyst. I'm curious as to the process and the best way to help set me up for success attaining my dream job. I've heard ASU is a great journalism school. But can you break down the how you get a job like yours? What classes and majors you would take in college and other things you can do to get noticed by 'recruiters' for sports writing companies?"

Getting a job like mine not only is about learning in school but learning in real life situations and also catching some breaks along the way. I majored in journalism at ASU, but I worked as a writer in newspapers for 15 years before this opportunity arose. My best advice? Get experience where you can as a writer. Write often -- reps matter. And read good writing. That also helps your own writing.

From Matt S:

"Darren, I'm a little disappointed. Last week you said "if you are one of the best in the world at your job, you make a lot of money." That is absolutely not true. As a career military member I can unequivocally claim that we have the absolutely best pilots, divers, snipers, ship drivers, etc, etc in the world. In professional sports it might all be about the greens but there are many thousands of Americans whom are the best at our professions whom do our jobs out of commitment to serve others or because we love our work.

Also, did Bill Bidwill ever do any interviews about his military service? I feel like people are always taking shots at him for being 'cheap.' Was curious to see if his 'cheapness' came from a different perspective."

First of all, it goes without saying that military members, like many key members of society, are underpaid. But you actually make my point -- "there are many thousands of americans who are the best at our professions." I mean, what is the cutoff for best? I can be an excellent writer. But am I one of the best? That's a much smaller number, and I don't see how "thousands" can be the best. When we are talking quarterback in the NFL (and the ability to do it at a very high level) we are talking -- maximum -- 10 guys in the world? Maybe 15? I guarantee in the military alone you can find many, many more that are elite pilots or elite snipers. (God I hope so.)

As for Mr. B, I've never seen an interview on that topic. But given when Bill Bidwill grew up and the time that it was in pro sports -- before free agency, when players in all sports were tied to one team with no free agency or ability to leverage their talent -- his was not an odd stance. But times change, and they are a lot different now.

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