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You've Got Mail: OTAs Coming To An End

Topics include using cap space, trading tackles, and Hopkins finances

Mailbag Fenton 0606

The final week of OTAs. Where does the offseason go? Good thing we have these mailbags to mark the time. Questions have been edited for length and clarity. As always, you can send in a question for a future mailbag here.

From Douglas Graham:

"Hi Darren, we have some available cap space as it stands. Rather than spend it on short-term veteran contracts, is it possible to front load some of our other contracts on the books (maybe opposite of a restructuring) heavier in 2023, and save for the future in 2024? Thus utilizing the available cap space a bit more like an investment. It might be prudent if that is possible, so that we have less cap hit in 2024 or 2025 when we might be more competitive."

So the issue would be that once a contract is in place, the cap hits can't be pushed forward, only pushed back. If there was someone just signing now, yes, then it makes sense. But it doesn't work the other way with money that has leaked into future. As it is, I wouldn't be surprised if the Cardinals try to hold a good chunk of their current $20-plus million in cap space through the season and roll into into next season.

From Ian McMechan:

"Hello from Dubai. If you were to ask a representative sample of pundits and writers, do you think they would regard the release of DeAndre Hopkins as more reactive or proactive?"

I'd rather not speak for other writers. In the end, it would depend on what perspective they are looking from. The Cardinals tried to find a trade partner. That was proactive, IMO. When there was clearly going to be nothing available (and it's clear Hop is having some issues finding a new partner as a free agent thus far, because of the money he seeks) they were proactive again because a trade was never going to happen and to have it hanging over their collective heads as the weeks went by didn't make much sense.

From Bill Leyland:

"Hi Darren. I like the fact we used a high pick on a top O-lineman. I'm a huge advocate of winning the line of scrimmage, especially the O-line. My question is, now that we have three tackles other than Kelvin Beachum, do you think the front office has considered trading D.J. Humphries? I like him and I know he's pretty good, but Josh Jones actually graded out better last year at left tackle. What I don't know though is what financial gains we might obtain by a trade."

Having some veteran leaders in the locker room is important, and I think keeping Hump in place as one of those guys -- to at least have some continuity -- is important. Could it financially help them? Maybe. They might have to juggle some things cap-wise. But again, I think given the current makeup of the line, and the fact Jones and Beachum each are free agents after the season, I still see a big reason to keep Hump to anchor the line.

From Peter Kacmar:

"Hello Darren. With the release of D-Hop and the dead cap hit of $22.6 million, is this money actually paid or is it just for accounting purposes and cap calculation?"

The dead cap hit is a number charged against the Cardinals' cap for money already paid to Hop. It subtracts from their available cap space when it comes to signing more players, but there is no actual money (anymore) attached to it.

From Nathan K:

"How does the money work with the D-Hop situation? It was a contract, so do the Cardinals still have to pay him? I get that it counts toward the cap, but does Hop actually get any of the money? Does this change if/when he signs with another team? Thank you and please keep up the great work!"

One of the reasons the Cardinals released Hopkins was specifically so that they didn't have to pay Hopkins anything else. As I said on the last question, the dead money accounts for money the Cardinals had already paid Hopkins prior to 2023 in bonus money. But there is no more money he has coming. His salaries for 2023 (and 2024) had zero dollars in guarantees. When he signs with a new team, that will be a new contract with new parameters, a new salary and a new salary cap number, but it will only impact that team and have nothing to do with the Cardinals.

By Matthew Stroh:

"Hey Darren, do you think fan will be mad if we don't tank this year? Is there a way for fans not to be mad?"

Here's the deal. "Tank" is not something players do. It is not something coaches do. Jonathan Gannon doesn't even like the word "rebuild" and while it is fair to wonder about the roster and talent level, tanking implies a level of giving up that I don't see from NFL players. I can't tell fans how to feel.

From Kenyon Carlson:

"Hi Darren. Would you be able to clarify something for me as I've not been able to find a definitive answer? With respect to Hop's release on Friday before the June 1st deadline, There was no 'official' league transactions that could've happened until the following Tuesday. We were lead to believe that a trade for Hop could still, in theory, occur between the time he was released and that Tuesday. Is this accurate?"

Until a player is released officially through the league, yes, a trade is -- in theory -- possible. But given the particular circumstances, it was never going to happen. In 2021, when the Cardinals traded for Rodney Hudson, a similar thing happened. The news got out that Hudson would be cut, and before it was official, the Cardinals traded for him. Here is the major difference: The Hudson news only was leaked through "insiders." The Raiders never said anything. In the Hopkins case, the Cardinals themselves were the ones who put the news out there with an official press release. Once that happened, regardless of whether it was official, there was never going to be a trade. Had there still been a chance, the information may have leaked through or ESPN, but the team itself wouldn't have said anything.

From Robert Malicki:

"Hello, Darren, we out-of-state fans rely on your observations and are thankful for them. The scheduled gatherings of rookies and veterans in June can begin to show coach Gannon's process in building a team. Would you pass along to us the how and what you observe? I see him trying to build a team to compete in the opening month of the season against known opponents. However the new rule regarding the kicking game works out, do you see Coach Rodgers as valuable in adapting to it and helping the team exploit this one-year experiment? Specifically, is it true that a squib-like kick must be returned and cannot be fair caught?"

It's seriously difficult to make any determinations with what we are watching right now. For starters, we are only allowed to report on the first 25 minutes of work, which does not include team work. Besides, there is no contact right now so even the 11-on-11 feels more like glorified walkthrough. That also doesn't take into account the players not around because of the voluntary part of all this. The part that is easier to decipher is who is practicing where, and the highlights have been touched upon -- Froholdt as top center, Collins at OLB, Simmons at S, for example. As for the kickoffs, I believe you are correct that squib kicks must be returned, but you have to make sure a squib kick isn't coming out past the 25, because then it isn't worth it for the kicking team.

From Martin K:

"I have to say I am happy Hopkins is gone now. The guy took PEDs and destroyed last season before it even started. If that wasn't enough, his attitude in demanding a trade completely ruined the Cardinals' ability to get a fair return for their investment, or good value in a trade. When is the NFL going to restrict contracts to prevent teams from irrationally satisfying demands for guaranteed money by players who are not willing to act in good faith and serve out their contracts? This is not a question of demand, supply, and free negotiation. Signing a contract without intent to satisfy its terms is a breach of contract for the rest of the world."

OK, so if signing a contract "without intent to satisfy its terms is a breach of contract" for players, does that mean it's a breach for teams too? Because the Cardinals releasing Hopkins could be viewed in that light as well, since he had two years left on his deal. Again, and I have said it many times, I understand why fans get upset when players/teams mess with contracts and have "business" ruin what might be good for the roster or a fan-favorite player. In the end, though, the team is going to do what they think is best regardless of what the player or fans think, and the player is going to do what he thinks is best regardless of what the team or fans think.

From Armando Sierra:

"It's very clear that the Cardinals (notice I didn't say we) are cleaning up Keim's horrendous mess, but what's the latest with Mexico mistaken identity?"

Not sure why you would say we in the first place -- I don't recall you working in the organization. And I probably shouldn't give your question oxygen, but I will -- there was never any "mistaken identity." It might be one of the dumbest conspiracy theories I've ever heard.

From Greg Painter:

"Where do we go from here? With the likely possibility of K1 playing 3/4, 1/2, sparingly, or at all this season, is there any possibility of trading Kyler? Without much play after injury I can't see much trade value myself. I keep hearing Caleb Williams to the Cards at No. 1. Williams is an elite talent but you have heard my questions about K1's leadership and the same questions arise about this young man To be fair I am from Oklahoma and not many were happy with he and Lincoln bolted to USC. Let's be real, Monti is killing it! He is building for the future to win a title, not for next year to get a couple extra wins. Do you agree with that process?"

Kyler Murray is going to play quarterback at some point this season. Beyond that, I don't think anyone knows what will happen. Williams has a whole season to play in college, so we will see what his situation by 2024 is too. As for the timeline to win games, I don't rule anything out in the process of the NFL. If Murray is back healthy, they add a couple of free agents and they draft well, why can't they win in 2024.

From Steve Drumm:

"Hi Darren, The landscape for college athletes has changed dramatically from the days of getting a free education in return for universities profiting off their talents. Now college athletes can potentially make millions promoting businesses and their own brands. Do you think NIL money is bad for college sports and that getting a college scholarship should be enough or are you of the opinion that college athletes deserve compensation? Might you feel differently about it if your son/s were able to make NIL money playing college sports?"

I understand NIL and I think some kind of compensation was necessary. I don't love the transfer portal as it stands; personally, I think you should be allowed only one transfer without having to sit out (unless your head coach leaves). But NIL isn't going anywhere. I think it's good to remember the vast majority of kids aren't making huge NIL money. Let's face it -- many big-time college athletes were getting money before. It was just illegal and hidden from public view.

From Art Pozza:

"I have seen predictions that have the 2023 Cardinals winning four games. The 2022 team won four games and was one of the worst teams I have seen in 50 years. They were last in many offensive and defensive categories. C'mon, we have to be better than last year's team."

That is certainly the hope.

From Sol Man:

"What do you think about the hiring of Frank Vogel?"

Wasn't expecting it. Thought it would be Nurse or Kevin Young. The fact they get Vogel and keep Young on staff I think is impressive. But with the NBA, to me, the roster is so much more important than coaching. Who surrounds Booker and Durant? That will be ultimately what drives the Suns' success -- or lack thereof -- next season.

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