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You've Got Mail: On To The 2021 Season

Topics include draft needs, Fitz's decision and the DL rookies

Mailbag at Patriots gang tackle

The Super Bowl is over, and congrats to Bruce Arians, Todd Bowles (what a coaching job Sunday and performance by that defense) and all the 20-plus former Cardinals coach, staff and players who are with the Buccaneers now. But as we all know, time marches on, and the 2021 season is really underway now. Let the speculation and rumors and actual moves of the offseason commence. And bring your questions for future mailbags right here.

From Thomas Krepelka via

"With 2021 finances looking like the they are, salary cap numbers are crazy. While it baffles me how a team with a QB on his rookie deal, the Cardinals sit with a tick over 9 million in cap space. But almost half the league will be over the cap number, some teams by a huge number. How do you think this plays out over the next month as the league year ends and the new league year starting in March? The Chiefs, for instance, are almost $26 million over the cap. How do the Cardinals expect to be active filling obvious needs with only six picks in the upcoming draft, especially when it seems this front office isn't having much overall success in the draft?"

I think most teams are going to be challenged in some way, although the teams that have been stockpiling cap space in recent years (like the Jaguars and Colts, for instance) will have a distinct advantage in the free agent market. I don't know exactly how it will play out specifically, but I expect the very high-end free agents to get their normal deals, and then that second wave to be slower and much cheaper (to the chagrin of players). I expect a bunch of one-year contracts as guys hope to have another shot at a big contract when the cap goes back up. And I expect a handful of "names" to end up released and on the open market. With the Cards themselves, the draft is an area with which they must hit. I agree there. And you are also in a situation where past draft picks, like tackle Josh Jones, better be ready to take a role if needed.

From Michael Schmorr via

"The Super Bowl brings back memories of our great run. A question that has come to mind is the rules on international grounding versus roughing the passer. I remember being so upset about the roughing calls the Cardinals got on their hits of Ben Roethlisberger. One in particular (and a Facebook memory jogged my memory) was when Ben was threw the ball away to avoid a sack I think in the pocket and the Cards got called for roughing. What takes precedence roughing or international grounding or are they offsetting penalties? I'd have to go back to watch the game again to see that play, but Dock played a beast game. We deserved to win. Man just tackle Harrison at halftime and we got it! See what typing this made me do? I was happy when I started typing this. Lol."

I went back and looked at the play. Pretty soft roughing call against Dansby, to be honest, and even Al Michaels said it at the time. And yes, he was still in the pocket and it looked like it should've been called intentional grounding. Had they thrown that flag too, they would have offset. But they did not. Life goes on.

From Joe Cardea via

"Darren, painting in broad strokes would you say the Cards' goal in 2021, personnel wise, would be to maintain 2020? Obviously some players are going and some are coming, but I don't see a great leap. Not enough money, too many of their own free agents etc. I'm not knocking it, but I think internal improvement and a rookie and maybe free-agent starter is the best we'll get. What do you think?"

I see what you are aiming at, and I can't argue it much. The cap room just won't be there. If you lose Patrick Peterson, whatever you feel about him as a fan, that's a pretty big hole to fill. You do get Chandler Jones back, which given how much time he missed, that's a significant "addition." But you have to have Fotu and Lawrence step up significantly on the defensive line, as well as Jordan Phillips. On offense, they have to add a skill guy who can make an impact next year, whether it's a rookie or not. It will not be easy to make some major roster upgrades, given the cap limitations. But they also will benefit if Kyler can make another giant step forward.

From Noe Elae via

"The team lost two back-to-back win-and-you're-in games at the end of the season. Doesn't that indicate a far deeper problem on this team beyond one or two pieces? I'm not remotely a romantic fan. So the word 'heartless' to describe a football team is lame to me. But I don't think the team has an identity. We don't have a culture. We don't have a Patriots/Ravens Way. I think that is critical to success/failure. I don't know how we get it without firing Kliff, because its not coming from him. All the other head coaches in the NFCW have big personalities. Shanahan probably the least of them, but notably Robert Salah had a gigantic personality, and it was reflected in his amazing defense."

I don't know about a "far deeper problem" or not. To me, if you have that kind of issue, then would winning one of those games really changed anything? I agree culture is important. But it doesn't win games. Players do. The Patriots were under .500, so the "Patriot Way" didn't mean jack squat this year. The Niners have done some nice things, but hey, you lose your good players, your "way" wins six games. The Cardinals won 13 games in 2015 because of their talented roster. The Bucs had the same "culture" and coaches last season and missed the playoffs. It was adding Brady that changed the equation. Again, I'm not arguing that this team seems to be searching for an identity, especially offensively. But I think a lot could be solved with another high-level wide receiver, moreso than culture. Just my opinion.

From Owen Nash via

"Hi Darren. Draft question that's a little outside the box, but I saw a recent mock draft that got the wheels turning. While I'm in complete agreement that we don't want to spend a fourth 1st-round pick on a LB in seven years, ultimately the goal is to make the team better with the BPA. And LB factory Penn St. has a top 10 fella by the name of Micah Parsons. He's not a convert or a project. He is a prototype 2021 ILB. Fast, intelligent, experienced. ILB to his core. The guy he would replace is actually Hicks. I like Hicks. You like Hicks. Everyone likes Hicks. But the fact is he's slow footed, ageing and a bit of a liability. And assuming Parsons would be a significant upgrade over him, would that not make us better? He looks like the next Kuechly."

I mean, if you knew for sure you were getting Kuechly, of course you don't pass on him. Is he that guy? I don't know. I know this -- I would be incredibly hesitant to take that position in the first round. I would look at the lines and at cornerback first. That isn't to say I'd rule it out, because who know what would be there at the 16th pick. But inside linebacker would be down the priority list for me.

From Jerome Paige via

"How do you or the team view positional misses in the draft? Rather than go through the overdrawn argument of Andy Isabella over DK Metcalf again, I actually want to look back at 2017 when we drafted Reddick. Because rarely mentioned, the Cardinals had a shot at another linebacker named TJ Watt. That's a heck of a miss. It's at the same position. Although Reddick has proven to be a very good pass rusher as of late, Watt is on an early HOF trajectory. How does that happen? When you have millions of dollars, hundreds of hours and dozens of 'well-informed' scouts making these decisions. How do you miss that badly with guys like Andy/DK and Reddick/Watt?"

I thought you said you weren't going back to Metcalf/Isabella? First of all, Watt and Reddick weren't the same position. Not at the time. The Cardinals drafted Reddick to play inside linebacker, not pass rusher. In 2017, they had Chandler Jones whom they had just signed to a giant extension, and Markus Golden was still on his rookie deal and coming off a 12-sack season. Also, there were enough questions about Watt that he fell all the way to 30th. He would've gone top five if all these "well-informed scouts" had thought he was going to become what he has become. Even Aaron Donald wasn't top 10. First-rounders, every year, don't become "first-round talents" in the NFL. It's not just a Cardinals' thing. As for how the team views them, I mean, they go over their process yearly. They know when they have made mistakes, and they try to fix them.

From BDUB Wooten via

"Darren, I saw in your last mailbag that you said you liked what you saw in regards to rookies Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence. I'm pretty sure I saw an article where Pro Football Focus had both of them ranked near the very bottom of defensive lineman based on their play/PFF scores. Was curious if you could confirm as I couldn't find the article again and maybe what you liked about them. Just curious, not knocking your opinion. Thanks for the mailbag!"

I don't have the PFF article, but I'll take your word that their scores were less than excellent. I'll be honest, it's not like I have broken down the video of those two in particular. But I did see enough flashes -- and heard enough things internally -- that I have optimism for them going forward. It doesn't mean that both (or either) will eventually become starter material. But the defensive line, even if you have a stud, is about depth. The Cards needed it, and I think they have a chance to build that with those two.

From Dylan St. Chris via

"In seeing LA and SF swing for the fences on franchise QBs, that got me wondering, what's the biggest swing Arizona has ever taken? I'm aware that signing Edge was a big deal at the time, but to be honest I was too young, and thus don't remember it. So in my fanship lifetime, I've never seen a big swing of any kind. This franchise seems pretty risk averse. I suppose drafting Kyler Murray would be it. But otherwise are there any others in Cards history that I don't know about? A Herschel Walker trade of sorts?"

After the signing of Edgerrin James, the mindset shifted a little with free agency, with the knowledge (and the data) backing the idea that many free agents don't pay off for the price provided, and the Cards head into that period most years with that in mind. I know Hopkins was a great price in trade, but that was a pretty big "swing." If you are asking about a scary risk move, there are not a lot of them. Drafting Eric Swann sixth back in the early 1990s? They chased Joe Montana when he was a free agent in the early 1990s, but he eventually signed with the Chiefs. And of course, they pursued hard Peyton Manning in 2012, and Manning visited the facility and had a good relationship with Ken Whisenhunt, but that went in a different direction. Fairly big swing , though.

From Bob Haines via

"Year 3 of Kyler's contract is a big year for the Cardinals. They need to be all in now before they have to pay him as a top tier QB. According to the schedule, the Cardinals will be playing at least five teams with a new QB: Lions, Texans, Jaguars, Rams and Colts. The 49ers could also move on from their current QB. I believe this will give the Cardinals an advantage when they play. In order to remain competitive, the Cardinals need to restructure Chandler Jones' contract to lower the cap hit and re-sign Reddick and Golden. If Larry Fitzgerald decides to return for another season, it must be at a reduced salary so we can pay Pat P. as our No. 1 corner. In addition, they should draft a cornerback in the first round to play opposite him. I believe there are three top corners entering the draft this year. Byron needs to stay in the slot where he is most effective. Your thoughts Darren?"

I'm not sure it means anything if you play a team with a new QB -- I mean, in theory, the Rams upgraded at QB so they will be better, right? Anyway, pass rush is always crucial. You can't really "restructure" Jones' deal without an extension. What are you willing to give him since he will be on the other side of 30? And Peterson also will have big demands, at least at first. I don't know if the Cards will be willing to pay him what another team might. I do agree drafting a cornerback in the first round makes a lot of sense, however.

From Deno Mulls via

"When are you due to abandon us for your 'vacation?' (where the heck ya goin? Nowhere. Like the rest of us!). When you do, is Kyle gonna get mail duties? I enjoy his guest spots."

I think vacation or not, I'll try to get Kyle on a couple more mailbags just so you guys can get a different voice. It's tough in season to switch because we all have specific duties. As for my vacation, we will see. You are correct, when you can't really go anywhere, it's not that big of a deal.

From John Dunne via

"Hey Darren, my question is before the season does Kliff or a inspirational speaker talk to the Cardinal players about winning a Super Bowl? I'm not talking about the obvious this is what we all play for yada yada. I'm talking about maybe Michael Bidwill talking about what it would mean to bring a championship to one of the league's oldest franchises. How these players names would go down as legend if they were to win a Super Bowl? When BA was coach he preached to the choir. From the outside looking in, the Cardinals seem robotic to me. Professionals going to work. The team looked soulless. Yes a few players shined but it appeared to me no cohesiveness. I know there is Covid and no fans, but it felt soulless to me. This team looked like a bunch of hired hands with a professional approach, not a hungry wanna-prove-the-world-wrong team."

To me, this goes back to the above answer I gave about the culture and the talent. What do you think an NFL team is? It's professionals, going to work. They are paid a handsome sum to do their jobs. Yes, emotional plays into it, and there are emotional players and emotional plays. But this is not a Disney movie. It can be packaged that way by NFL Films after the fact. But most days, it's just life for these guys. That's all. I come to this facility and I write about football. It's a job. These guys come to the facility and play football, study football. You're just seeing three hours on a game day. There's a lot more to this, and if you expected these players to be, for lack of a better term, soulful, every day they are at work, they'd burn out by the end of training camp.

From Steve D via

"Hey Darren, While we wait for Larry Fitzgerald to make his decision about returning for another season with the Cardinals, it's been my impression that Larry not only expects to start if he comes back but wants to feel wanted by the team. Say the team welcomes him back but does not guarantee him a starting spot amongst the WR group, do you think that would be an acceptable arrangement for Larry at this point or do you feel he would just retire? Also, I feel bad for ex-Cardinal Josh Rosen seeing how his career has not panned out the way we all thought it would. Would you say Josh was probably overrated coming out of UCLA or just the victim of bad circumstances?"

Rosen first -- I think he's been put in a terrible situation, trying to figure out all these different offenses. He just re-signed with the 49ers, which is is fourth team in less than three seasons. He may have been overrated, but it's so hard to know. He's never really been in a spot to succeed. When it comes to Fitzgerald, I would think it unlikely he'd return if they weren't going to give him significant playing time and besides, a receiver who is active on game day that isn't a big part of the offense has to play special teams, and Fitz isn't doing that. But this is all stuff that is discussed, and if they already had decided he wasn't part of the offensive plans, I'd think he would've retired by now. I think this will come down to what Larry wants to do, and what he think his body can take.

From Jones Vasoss via

"Seattle is always in the playoffs. The Niners are always respectable and team plays extremely hard. The Rams just made a big move to land Stafford. What are the Cardinals doing? Watson's out there. He's better than Kyler. He always will be. He has personality traits that Kyler will never have, and we know it. So why are Keim and Mike sitting silently, watching while this coming fourth in the division season charges at us? Do something, anything. Just publicly mention you called Houston to at least pretend we care about being competitive."

See, there were a couple of question marks there, but they didn't feel like questions.

From Drew Stoops via

"It's the first week of February. You know what that means. Is Larry returning? Although the question is much different this year, isn't it? We have no way to know what Mike and Steve think on this situation, but common sense would assume the normal $11 million per year standing offer may not still be standing. There will require a lengthier phone call than just 'I'm back' this time around."

I would anticipate the salary would be an important topic in the context of will he or won't he. The longer this goes, in my opinion, the more he is wrestling with what to do.

From James Bradberry via

"If you could, what would you say is the warmth of Steve's seat? We are feeling the effects of long term bad draft classes. Aside from Murray and Budda (IMO, you should never brag about having the #1 pick), we haven't hit on the number of star players we need to stay competitive. We have a real youth problem."

We've hit on this multiple times across multiple mailbags and other platforms. You would of course like to see more of an impact from the draft picks, especially the first couple of rounds. Keim knows this. But I know that Keim and Michael Bidwill have a good working relationship, and the expectation is that the Cards will make another jump in the win column next season. It's always about the wins and the path to get there.

From Jake The Snake via

"Do you think Mason Cole has the center position locked up, or could the team be looking to upgrade? I'd say of the five spots on the OL, center is the weak link at the moment."

I'd say that with most positions, the team would like to upgrade every year. Whether it is feasible or possible is another question. There are only so many draft picks, and it'll depend on who is on the board. Free agency, given the money crunch, is going to look different. The reality is, especially in this climate, if you feel like Cole can hold up, he's a cost-effective piece. But that's the kind of decision that has to be made.

From Nada Guadalajara via

"Hi Darren, I want to talk about this idea that Dennis Gardeck is too small to be a full-time starter. Did we not just learn how wrong that sentiment was with Reddick? So why is Gardeck getting the same flawed treatment? Here's what I think: Being an elite pass rusher is one of the hardest thing in pro sports. It's why pass rushers are paid second only to QBs. So if a guy can figure out how to be a great pass rusher, what makes you think he can't also learn how to be at least a serviceable run defender? In order to be run blocked, the OL needs to get their hands on you. Has Gardeck not proven he's amazingly skilled at snaking his way past blockers? All I'm saying is give him a shot."

Sometimes, defending the run isn't just about getting past the blocker but also setting the edge. Nevertheless, you raise a fair point, although I'd argue Reddick is probably closer to the exception than the rule. We'll see. If Reddick and Golden leave as free agents, the Cardinals will need a starter in that spot. (I do not expect it to be Gardeck, however.)

From Chad Johnson via

"I started paying attention to NFL football around the time Larry Fitzgerald was drafted. I can't remember being a fan of the NFL without Larry being present. And, honestly, it will be weird looking at the Cardinals without Larry (whenever he chooses to retire) since he has been the face of the franchise for so long and dearly loved by so many. I know Kyler is the present, and the future, but when Fitz retires it will definitely be a major identity shift for fans. What have been some of those identity shifting moments in the past where the team moved from one era to another era? Which time periods were your favorite to cover?"

Chad, I'm older but I'm not old. I only covered the team for four seasons before Fitz showed up. But truthfully, as short as it pretty much was, I think there was the Jake Plummer era before Fitz. And early Fitz wasn't so much the Fitz era as much as a sea change from "new stadium" era to "finally competitive" era. Of course, once Fitz dominated the 2008 playoffs -- and by that point, Anquan Boldin was unhappy and let it be known -- we moved into the Fitz era, in one way, shape or form. It was hard to enjoy any era more than the high points of the Bruce Arians stretch, mostly because Arians was so fun to cover and was willing to say anything.

From Vincent Petroniero via

"I give up on you, Darren. Sent in questions last four times that were never answered. Not wasting my time anymore on this below-average team that you constantly defend. Weak GM, coaches, draft picks, and average or below players except for four or five. GOOD LUCK."

You probably could've done that without sending this message, but consider me informed, Vincent. Godspeed.

From Chris Cavin via

"Please let Michael Bidwill know that his Cardinal fans would LOVE to see our cards in some new uniforms next year. Thanks."

I feel like I've heard this somewhere before.