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You've Got Mail - Scouting Combine Week

Topics include the Scouting combine, taking a tackle early, and O-line


INDIANAPOLIS -- This is when the new NFL season really feel like it begins, with the Scouting combine and the teams starting to get in-depth with the potential players they could draft. We'll have all our normal combine week content on, but we can't forget about a mailbag. If you have a question for next week's version, go here and send one along.

From Sidney Sexson via

"Darren I have some questions on the NFL Combine. It is my understanding that the combine has been in Indianapolis for 30-plus years; given the revenue it brings in to an area do you know why it hasn't moved around like the Super Bowl? Second question involves the college players that are invited to attend; may I assume that their expenses are covered by a fund paid by the 32 teams?"

Yes, the league pays the expenses to attend the combine. As for the location, it is (generally) centrally located and more importantly, the logistics once there are impeccable. A bunch of nice hotels all in a small area, next to the convention center and stadium so everything is walkable, and that includes a ton of restaurants. And the hospital for medical tests is a short drive away. Most cities can't come up with such a setup.

From Jesse Arrieta via

"So one of the questions (in a mailbag) asked you in regards to position/player we should take with our No. 8 pick. You replied defense. Don't you think the top defensive players will be gone by our pick? Are any of the remaining defensive players worthy of the No. 8 pick? I am thinking that we would take either O-line, defense or WR. I just mentioned why I don't think we will take defense (all the No. 8 worthy defensive players will be gone). We just signed Humphries. Does that decrease the possibility of us drafting an O-line player? What does that leave? WR? Many of the mock drafts out there have us taking O-line or WR for the majority. Check this Mock Draft Database and you will see that drafting a defensive player on any of them is in the minority. Your choice for us taking defense is in the minority. Any debate here?"

Debate about what? That I thought it could be defense? Mock drafts are mock drafts, and they are rarely accurate, they are even less accurate pre-combine and many of those picking have absolutely no ties to the Cardinals -- they are selecting from afar, with no information. So mocks are what they are -- entertainment. Maybe the top defensive players will all be gone by 8, but I have never suggested they take a defensive player just to take a defensive player. That'd be foolish. I think Humphries staying greatly reduces the chance of taking an OL there. I think they need defensive playmakers. But if those guys are off the board, then you consider other positions.

From Chris Minton via

"I love the mailbag, and I love your work on the podcasts, being the voice of reason while trying to keep Paul and Kyle in line. My question is sort of a nature vs. nurture thing: Regarding A.Q. Shipley, who is still unsigned as of this submission, and given that the team has drafted Mason Cole and Lamont Gaillard in the last two seasons, what do you see as the ideal scenario here? Let Shipley walk and see what you have in Cole and/or Gaillard? Or re-sign Shipley while knowing that it potentially hinders development of those two? Personally, I'd like to see them roll with youth, but there's also the caveat that neither Cole (who may be better suited as a guard) nor Gaillard was able to unseat Shipley when he's healthy."

It feels like you have a pretty good handle on the situation without my intrusion. The ideal situation is to get younger. But as you noted, it isn't clear where that will leave you as a team. Shipley knows at this point in his career every year will be a battle to show he needs to stick around, but I thought he did a nice job of that last season. If Shipley re-signs, I figure it'll be seen as a competition, at least initially. We will have to see the kind of progress Cole and/or Gaillard can make.

From Trench Hog via

"Hello Darren thanks for the mailbag, always a good read. I've read some people saying that the Cards won't/shouldn't draft an OT with No. 8 now that we've re-signed Humphries (to a relatively short pact). I don't think it would have been ideal to plan on starting a rookie LT next year. So it was a good idea to secure a veteran for that spot (while crossing fingers on health). But I believe if the Cards like one of the top OT's at No. 8, they should take him and let him compete for the RT spot with Justin Murray after he is re-signed. Over the next 2-to-3 years we could coach and groom that player to be a replacement for Hump when his deal runs out. At worst, if the Cards scouting is relatively accurate, one of these guys could at least be a starting right tackle (or guard) for 5+ years. Stabilizing and stocking our line with talent, make it a strength of the team for once! What do you think of this strategy?"

A similar scenario was posed last week. It sounds realistic. And I'm not saying it won't happen -- I just don't think it's happening with the No. 8 overall pick. It'll depend on who is available of course, but that guy you take that high can't be someone who will "compete for the RT spot." That guy has to play immediately and have an impact. And if Humphries is your left tackle, it makes more sense to be to get a defensive playmaker -- or a receiver you believe can be great -- at that draft spot.

From Chad Johnson via

"I'm not too familiar with the NBA cap rules, but I hear 'max contract' a lot. I'm assuming there is a maximum amount a team can pay a player. Do you think something like that will ever come into the NFL to maintain parity? It seems that if market value gives a QB a significant amount of the cap then the team is restricted on the quality of the other positions thereby having a few good/great players on an otherwise weak team. A max contract would limit the amount of funds directed towards one player and help insulate teams from mistakes thereby allowing franchises to bounce back quicker for missed draft picks, bad contracts, or unexpected retirements."

You are not wrong in any of those assessments when it comes to a rule of "max contract" -- except that it's not real fair to the player. The one thing the NBA has over the NFL is the guaranteed money (and how much more each player gets, since there are much fewer of them than NFL players). NFL players don't get guaranteed money. The salary cap is supposed to be the restraint. If you give your QB a ton, then yes, you have to figure out how to distribute the rest. It's why it's so important for teams to succeed when their QB is in his rookie deal. I don't see the rules changing.

From Hewidar Hasso via

"Hey Darren, so I had this Idea and want to hear you opinion. I think we have around $35 million in cap space after re-signing D.J Humphries? Let's say we can find a good trade for David Johnson and we end up with around $41M. My next move would be to give Kenyan Drake a two-year, $18M deal. From that point we would have $32M in space. My first big signing would be OLB Shaquill Barrett with a contract that would pay him $17.5-18M a year. From there I need your help to continue. We have $14M left and I think we can get one more signing I'm thinking of OL Bryan Bulaga at approximately $7M or Cory Littleton for $7M a year. The rest is for the rest of the roster, rookies, etc. In the draft we could go receiver first round and OT in the second if we sign Bulaga but if we sign Littleton I think we should go OL and then WR. That would be my offseason plan. Greetings from Germany, sorry for my grammar :)."

That's an exceptionally detailed plan. I don't know how realistic it is, however. We can go step by step. Drake might return, but I don't see any scenario where he gets $9M a season. The Cardinals are not signing Barrett -- they aren't paying two edge rushers high-end dollars. I would think Bulaga is getting much more than $7M a season. And as I have stated earlier, I would think they would look places other than OL in the first round.

There isn't a team out there that doesn't say the drills are a distant third with the most important parts of the combine, behind the interviews and the medical tests in some order. First, different drills will be more important for different positions. And frankly, I don't think any actually translate into a tell -- otherwise you'd just draft off combine results, and we all know how mistaken that can be.

From Robert Malicki via

"With six veteran NFL QBs set to be free agents and arguably four first-round QBs poised to be rookie starters, Cardinal fans should be glad we won't be part of that over-critiqued scenario this offseason. Does Steve Keim's staff principally use the combine, which includes the interviews, to reinforce or reject prospects prior to the draft? Without us needing to pay attention to QBs, we can focus on lineman and other positions in case there's a draft day trade opportunity, either because of someone unexpected falling to us or us not liking who is available at No.8. I think Joe Burrow's intention of going to Indy is more designed to heighten interest of other teams who have the 'capital' to entice the Bengals in a trade. Keim may have been open to this possibility last year but I see it more likely this year. With Humphries signed our picture is in better focus."

Burrow is going to Indy because every player goes to Indy. Not sure why it would be about a trade. Kyler Murray went to Indy. And Cam Newton and I could go on and on. As for the Cardinals and what the combine is for, I don't know if I would make it as black and white as a reinforce/reject situation. With some of these guys, this is the first time they ever get to talk to them. It's definitely a piece of the evaluation puzzle, but how much can vary.

From Steven Stardevant via

"A quick comment before my question. I surely enjoy the 'Underground' (podcast) and look forward to it immensely each week. Your insight, patience and sanity with 'Paulie Pencil Neck' and the 'Professor of Analytics' is noteworthy. Two questions: First, are there any plans in the future to provide visual viewing on the Cardinal's app for the 'Underground' and second, for the many of us who do not have HBO, do you know, if the Cardinals are on 'Hard Knocks' this year, if it will be available on or the app each week?"

If the Cardinals happen to be on "Hard Knocks," I believe you'd have to have HBO access (or, down the road, NFL Network, when they play reruns.) It wouldn't be available to put on the site, just like we couldn't post "All or Nothing." As for the podcast, thank you for the kind words. We have discussed having video with it, but at this point, there are manpower and logistical issues we would have to sort through.

From Michael McQueary via

"Why is David Johnson not in the lineup and why is there a question as to how he can contribute to the Cardinals? He is the next-best receiver on the team after Larry Fitzgerald. As a running back he is one of the best, making him a threat under all offensive conditions. Why are we not using proven veteran Fitzgerald more and proven player Johnson? We have a coach who insists on using players who mimick how they played in college and have not evolved into NFL quality players -- this is mostly directed at the newest receivers on the team. I have seen them on several occasions end their route because they are covered or pull up because they may get hit by the opposing defense. They drop passes or they bounce off their bodies. They play like college receivers in the NFL and look like it. We won 5 games and should have won more. The question should be how are we (the Cardinals) going to keep fitting in coach Kingsbury. Have you noticed what coaches win the Super Bowl? Are the Cardinals really serious about fielding a winning team? Then use Fitzgerald and Johnson."

You can argue about Johnson's usage, but the idea that the Cardinals only won five games because he didn't play more doesn't seem rational to me. The Cards also improved offensively immensely in 2019, so I don't really understand the Kingsbury hate.

I mean, I feel like I've made this pretty clear in earlier mailbags. I would lean defense with the first pick, and probably DL or LB. But it would depend on who is there and how my grades stack up. If I think one of those receivers is seriously the second coming of Fitz, I'm taking the receiver.

From Tom Cowley via

"With players starting to be released prior to FA, do you think we will want to talk to Josh Norman, Tony Jefferson and others who would upgrade our DL/LB spots---any names jump out with you? Thanks."

With Norman and Jefferson in particular, I don't see why you'd look at Norman -- you have your top three CBs in P2, Alford and Murphy. Norman's play hasn't exactly been great recently. With Jefferson, I've said before I wouldn't be shocked if the Cards considered adding a veteran safety, but we will see what Jefferson's asking price and/or health will be. Budda Baker is headed for extension talks at some point and they have two young safeties so I wouldn't expect a break-the-bank move. As for other guys that are released, of course, they will consider them. Any help you can get in free agency -- whether the guy is released or just has a contract running out -- gives you more flexibility in the draft.

From Bob Kitsos via

"Were the Cardinals' pleased with Kyler's arm strength in his first season? With a year of experience, what will his focus be this offseason?"

I think the Cardinals were just fine with his arm strength. Not sure why that would even be considered an issue. As for his focus, I think it'll be just more of the same -- the first full offseason for any player is his most important, and one in which he can make his biggest jump. That might be even more crucial for a QB given everything he has to do on the field. He now knows what it takes to study and lead and run this offense. This is where you can start to fine-tune that stuff.

From Chad Johnson via

"The Steve Wilks era didn't go well, and I think we can say it was a complete misstep. It feels like there was perhaps something missed in the vetting process or lack of quality candidates. Or maybe it was just a miss like sometimes you miss on draft picks. A year removed from his time here, what do you think was the reason this hire went awry?"

I don't know if it was any one thing. It was a tough position to be in, to come in after the B.A. era. The quarterback situation was not good and the roster took a step back. I think there were also a few things that Wilks tried to do as the head coach that, if you're winning, it's no big deal, but when you are struggling on the field, it just makes things tougher. I think when you say it was a miss, that's a fair assessment. I think they realized that sooner rather than later, and why they were willing to make a move so quickly.

From Artie Bratton via

"I didn't hear Mr. Bidwill's interview about a home game in Mexico City, I only read about it. From reading, it seemed like his tone was that he would be willing to play a game there if he had to but he didn't seem like he really wanted to. I thought he should be excited to play in Mexico trying to expand the brand. Was it just a case of him not counting his chickens before they hatch or is there really some reasons why he wouldn't want to do it. I mean they still make money off of ticket sales and concessions from the venue in Mexico City, don't they?"

The money wouldn't be an issue -- international teams work that out with the league. And it isn't as if the Cards have a choice, whether they are picked for Mexico or elsewhere, because the rules are that if you get a Super Bowl, you have to give up a home game. I think it's more of your other suggestion, that Michael wasn't going to talk much about something that hasn't been announced and/or decided.

From Don P via

"Hi Darren. I have recently heard a few people stating that the Cardinals use Pro Football Focus for their analytics. I know they have their own people/department and from their staff page it shows Charlie Adkins as being in charge. I'm wondering if you can tell us a little more about it, the number of people, has it grown under Kingsbury, etc., and also lay to rest the PFF rumor."

Well, in PFF's own Twitter bio they note they provide information to all 32 NFL teams, so that's not a rumor. But I would doubt teams -- including the Cardinals -- are using, for instance, the grades they place on players. They are probably using more factual portions of what PFF can provide, and it's only a part of what teams use when it comes to analytics. As for the growth of the department, Kyle wrote about it here. It's been a natural progression, and Kingsbury is the kind of coach that has embraced it so it is a factor in some decisions.

Do they like him? I'm sure they do. Do they like him more than Lamb? I have no idea. It's not like they have not studied both a ton, and I'm willing to be there is no "right" answer at this point -- it'll be about preference.

From Blaine Pierce via

"Enough already with the new uniforms! Red face masks when wearing red, black face masks when wearing black, problem solved! Now for my question, do you believe that Bidwill and Keim spending $26 million on Fitzgerald and Humphries made the team better? Signing Humphries tells me they are going defense with the number 8 pick. I like Javon Kinlaw. Would make our defense better day one. Thoughts?"

I supposed I can't say signing Fitz and Hump made them better because they were already on the roster. I think the team could have very well been worse off if you didn't sign them. For now, Fitzgerald is probably still your best receiver, although Christian Kirk is close. And I have said a few times I think they would go defense with the first pick -- depending on who is there, of course. Kinlaw is intriguing. At this early stage in the process, that pick would be OK with me.