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You've Got Mail: On To Strength And Conditioning

Topics include rookie contracts, backup running back and D-Hop's impact

Mailbag-Eno Benjamin in 2020 walkthrough in bubble in July

The Cardinals are complete right now, having passed the initial wave of COVID testing and embarking on their strength and conditioning work, along with some walkthroughs and meetings -- some of them virtual. This is all part of the gradual ramp-up to practice later this month. The mailbags continue, and if you want to send a question for next week, you can do it here.

From Edson Sierra via

"Hey Darren! Dumb question, can you explain rookie contracts? I was looking at once Isaiah Simmons signed his deal, but noticed the rest of the draft class were way close to the bottom. Not sure how position/experience/pick order factored into their contracts."

It's fairly simplistic -- basically, with a few exceptions (like with quarterbacks earlier in the draft) picks are "slotted" based on pick order. Experience doesn't matter. They are all rookies. Position doesn't matter save for the QBs once in a while. Players essentially get minimum salaries for four years (the first-round pick also has a fifth-year team option) and then bonus money adjusts to wherever they were picked. (High first-round picks won't necessarily have minimum salaries, and guarantees are usually part of a first-round contract.)

From Tom Cowley via

"Thanks Darren. What is the game plan involving the recently selected undrafted free agents? Do they fit in somewhere when practice finally begins on the field? Have some been evaluated already or will that happen through field trials as well? Do you see one or two sticking around for the upcoming camp, if so who?"

Yes, the undrafted rookies that are left -- eight of them were recently cut without ever seeing the field, thanks to the 80-man roster limit, and then three more Monday -- will get some practice reps. How many is to be determined, but there is little question the circumstances have hurt such players. Losing an offseason, some of the training camp practices and preseason games is a triple whammy. No, none have been evaluated, unless you want to talk about mental acuity in meetings. They have just gotten to the field for a couple of walkthroughs. You can't judge a player until you see him full speed. As for who might stick, it's impossible to tell. I haven't seen any of these guys either. I couldn't fathom a guess.

From @meek858 via Twitter:

"What kind of impact do you expect DeAndre Hopkins to have in his first year with the team?"

Am I being boring or obvious if I say it'll be a huge impact? It's been a few years since the Cardinals have had an outside receiver at this level -- Fitz has been excellent, but his game changed in 2013 when Bruce Arians showed up and also as he has gotten older. The idea of Hopkins stepping in after three straight All-Pro seasons is impressive enough. Add in the trickle-down effect it should have for Fitz and Christian Kirk, or how it helps a run game of Kyler and Kenyan Drake, and there's no reason Hopkins can't significantly accelerate the growth of this offense.

From Sam Thomas via

"Hey Darren, what happened to Michael Bidwill's mustache? OK,I know it's too early to tell how much media coverage there will be at camp. Since there won't be any fans at practice, do you think there will be more video coverage for the fans. Will Cards Camp highlights be shelved this year?"

We are still figuring out logistics about how we can and will be able to cover camp, both with numbers and what's allowed to be seen. I saw a memo on social media in early July that made it sound like the NFL was going to keep most of each training camp practice under wraps in terms of what we can report. If that's the case, I don't know if there is going to be more video coverage. Some things might not be allowed to the public. All I can promise is that we are going to bring the fans the absolute most we are allowed, because we understand what fans are missing with training camp being closed to the public.

From @mneely25 via Twitter:

"Do any Cardinals players plan on opting out this year?"

That's a good question. The deadline has not yet been reached, so the fact no Cardinals have yet to opt out doesn't mean someone will not. I'm sure this is a difficult thing to consider for any player. Every player is different, every situation is different. If a guy does opt out, I can't imagine it wouldn't be without significant thought. There are varying reports about when the opt-out deadline will come to pass, but right now it seems like they could have until the end of this week or into the weekend. We will see what happens over the next few days.

From Nathan Palmer via

"Is there any way to watch the Cardinals training camp live? Thanks."

We are working on the logistics about how we will handle camp, but again, we will bring you the best coverage we can under the circumstances.

From @JoeG463 via Twitter:

"Any info on what's up with TE Maxx Williams and T Marcus Gilbert?"

You are referring to the fact Williams and Gilbert were listed on the Non-Football Illness list over the weekend -- which in this day and age gives pause. But since there is a separate reserve list for COVID-19, I would think this is something different? The transactions list was put out there, but the team has not officially said anything. I'm guessing Kliff Kingsbury will be asked about it the next time he has a press conference.

From Jerry Brown via

"I keep hearing Eno Benjamin described as a small back. But according to the roster Eno and Chase Edmonds are of almost identical size, and both are very close to Kenyan Drake. Will they be interchangeable in the offense?"

Until they see Benjamin, you know, play football, I'm guessing there is a certain amount of wait-and-see. But you'd figure they weren't going to draft a running back who didn't fit into what Kliff Kingsbury is doing offensively. And we already saw what Edmonds did in his full game against the Giants last season. Ultimately, I expect Drake to get the vast majority of the work assuming he stays healthy.

From @Kyo_Nagashi via Twitter:

"How's Hakeem Butler doing?"

I can only assume he is taking in the meeting this entire offseason. What it means for him (or any player, for that matter) will be tough to analyze until they get on the field for practice later this month. He's healthy. I expect him to be hungry to make up for lost time.

From Michael Travers via

Hello Darren, appreciate the forum to opine about our favorite NFL team. Players have reported, draft picks are signed, and coaches are excited to start. Do you think they will keep the QBs apart so there is less of chance to spread COVID-19? Even keeping other position players apart (social distanced) during training camp? Also, do you think Kliff has any advantage with his experience coming from college where there are no preseason games?"

Kliff Kingsbury addressed both those things last week. They have talked about keeping the QBs separate, and Kliff said they've talked about doing that at other positions too. We will see -- the idea is that there are going to be some virtual meetings anyway, so that helps. As for Kingsbury coming from college, he made that parallel too -- and while he's been through it more recently than most guys, that still doesn't help when it comes to having an unknown about the opponent, like the 49ers in Week One. I wouldn't think the advantage would be sizable.

From @Monsterdemo3 via Twitter:

"How is Alford doing? That cornerback position looks shaky after this year."

He's healthy. Judging by Patrick Peterson's Instagram account, he's in shape. But again, these guys haven't been on the field, so it's impossible to know how he will play. As for the future at cornerback, there are decisions to be made next year, but I think you'll find there is going to be a lot of uncertainty for a lot of teams in a lot of roster spots next year depending on what happens with the salary cap.

From Floyd Kemp via

"Do you think it would benefit the Cardinals to snatch up Jadeveon Clowney from the Seahawks?"

Would it benefit them? Sure. Clowney would benefit anyone. Is it going to happen? I don't expect so, in part because I am guessing Clowney remains a free agent because he is asking for more money than anyone is willing to pay him. It was interesting because there was a report late last week the 49ers might have inquired about Clowney. That would be an unbelievable add for a defensive line that already is pretty good.

From Gary Shaw via

"Are the Cardinals going to get one more veteran player for the very thin defensive line?"

I don't know if I'd call it very thin. It's relatively inexperienced, yes. I'm not ruling out some late free-agent addition, but right now, I think they want to see what they have in front of them, and especially what rookies Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence might be able to bring to the table.

From @TheoSalaun via Twitter::

"Any expectations for WR snap and target distribution? More specifically, does Nuk's role eat into Fitz or Kirk's, or do they eat into his and the attack is balanced sans clear No. 1 guy?"

I wish I could tell you. No way to really know right now, when you can't see any of it in action. You're going to want to get it into your No. 1 receiver's hands, and right now, that is Hopkins. It'll depend how defenses handle that trio. It'll depend on the chemistry Kyler Murray develops with Hopkins (and the trust even if the window is tighter throwing to D-Hop.) I'd like to see some of practice and see how they deploy Hopkins as well.

From Mike Cardsfan88 via

"Not a question, I just want to take a second to applaud what Larry is doing. We are all excited when he comes back on these one- deals, and we all hope he continues doing so. But $11M per is not cheap. In fact, it makes him one of the highest paid wide receivers in the league. And these one-year $11M deals are ADDING UP. He's got $44.5M in the last four years. Way back in his prime he signed a seven-year, $115M deal with $58M guaranteed. If he plays just one more year, he'll essentially get another $58M but this time it only took him five years, and at the age of 38. Wild."

Couple clarifications here. That seven-year deal had only $27M truly guaranteed, although he made much more because they weren't cutting him. And it ended up only a five-year deal, because he had too high of a cap number in 2015 and they renegotiated the last two years. Also, let's consider what he has played in since 2017 -- when the one-year deals started. Carson Palmer was hurt half of 2017, with Blaine Gabbert and Drew Stanton as QB. The next year was Josh Rosen and a terrible offense. Last year, a rookie QB again. His numbers aren't spectacular, but how much is that who is throwing the ball? Fitz also brings to the franchise a lot more than just catches and yards, and everyone knows that. You can debate the impact it has on the cap, but to say he shouldn't be getting that money ignores everything he means to the organization

From @zaqari_moore via Twitter:

"What is the biggest game changer of the upcoming season then any other Cardinals season in the past? Will we see another Super Bowl in the future or will it be trash?"

There really isn't any middle ground for you, is there? I'd think there would be a wide spectrum between reaching the Super Bowl or "trash." Obviously they are hoping to win a Super Bowl. Is it this year, in a loaded division (and with all these coronavirus hurdles?) Maybe not. I'm not sure what you mean by the "biggest game changer." Kyler Murray would have to make the jump everyone is hoping he'll make. The defense needs to stay healthy and take a significant step forward. They have pieces to be a good team if everything happens as they hope.

From @MattMiskas via Twitter:

"How is the punter situation looking?"

It's looking like it always did -- you have a veteran in Andy Lee who has been one of the best in the league since he showed up in Arizona and he's joining college teammate Larry Fitzgerald for a 17th season in the NFL. They have Ryan Winslow and they actually like Winslow, but Lee is the guy barring something unforeseen.

From Chris Minton via

"I read where the New Jersey governor stated that no fans are allowed in attendance at any sporting events in the state, which obviously affects both the Giants and Jets. Given this, and given how much every club tries to gain or nullify even the most minute advantage, has there been any discussion within the league to prohibit fans for every game, regardless of state? For instance, the Ravens, who have already said they'll have significantly fewer fans in the stands, would seem to have a huge home-field advantage over the Giants/Jets with zero fans. I'm not sure how much stock the players even put in playing in front of a home crowd, other than the luxury of not having to travel, but the potential fan energy over the course of eight games doesn't seem like something to scoff at."

I would be surprised if the NFL unilaterally declared no fans. But we will see where things go -- the Raiders have already announced they will not have fans this season as well. I think fans can make an impact, but a) I think it's different if you are talking for instance a stadium 20 percent full compared to full, and b) this is a season where there will be competitive inbalance in places. Maybe it's a crowd or not. Maybe it's that the quarterback on one team has to sit a week because of COVID and the other team is at full strength. Maybe it's flying in the day of a game. Who knows. This was always going to be a season out of the ordinary.