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You've Got Mail: Spring Break Before Free Agency

Topics includes QB salaries, cap flexibility and Pat P's partners

Patrick at practice mailbag

In a week, teams will be allowed to start talking to other teams' free agents. This week could be eye-opening to see how many extra free agents might be out there as teams across the league release guys to clear cap space. In the meantime, here's a mailbag for the week. Leave a question for a future mailbag by going here.

From Amy Pierce via

"With the ever increasing salaries being demanded by QBs, including QBs without playoff wins, division wins or even own seasons without a winning record, I have a pertinent question regarding value. These new mega-contracts eat up so much of available cash/cap it can leave a team wanting for the other players that are oh so important for winning. How many QBs paid $30 million or more have taken their team to a Super Bowl? We all know how many Tom Brady has gone to and/or won and he was not paid that kind of money. It is confounding to hear some of these high dollar QBs complain about quality of their O-line, for example. Disconnect much?"

There is supply and demand working here. I don't know the exact stats for QBs and their contracts, but I am getting the impression you think there has to be a straight correlation between QB money and wins, and that doesn't work. Deshaun Watson was awesome this past season yet the Texans won four games. Should he have been paid a lot less then? If you have a cheap QB, he's either on his rookie deal or he isn't very good. And if your QB isn't very good, you're not going to win. Dak Prescott hasn't won a ton, but how good are the Cowboys if they had let him go? They were poor offensively once he got hurt. You have no chance in this league without a good quarterback. If the Cardinals don't win the Super Bowl next year, are you not paying Kyler? He's going to get paid. It's the market.

From Steve Holt via

"'Sup Urbz, maybe I'm reading too much into it but I feel like the team is trying to tell fans that Josh Jones is going to be a guard. Which is fine. If he's a good guard, then great. We need those too. But that also prompts the question who will be our right tackle? Specifically I want to get your thoughts on the draft. I know CB and WR are the popular choices, but this is a very good OT draft. Say at No. 16 the BPA is an tackle, would you be in favor of taking one?"

The fact both Sean Kugler and Steve Keim brought up the belief in Jones as a guard does make you think that can be a possibility. With J.R. Sweezy likely leaving as a free agent and Justin Murray the top option on the roster for now. I'm not ruling out a tackle at 16 or having Jones play right tackle, but what about the possibility the Cards re-sign Kelvin Beachum -- who had a solid season and is good in the locker room and for the culture -- and put Jones at right guard?

From Steve Kim via

"Hey Darren. Reddit doesn't understand capology. They are going nuts over there about the Watt deal and 'who do we sign next?!' Corey Linsley!? Alex Mack! Stephon Gilmore if the Pats release him! With what money? We have about $12 million in cap space. That barely covers resigning our own guys who we have even started signing yet. As I was writing this email, you dropped that Watt contract article. Dude, does no one else see the problem here? Kicking payments down the road is going to bite us SO HARD. In two years Kyler Murray is going to pull down $35M+ per year. And we are still going to be paying Watt and De'Vondre Campbell and who knows who else. We are truly in a window from the standpoint when Kylers payday is due, we are going to lose EVERYONE. Fire sale. Budda's gone. Don't know if we can afford to pay Isaiah (assuming he's good). Hump is gone. We are headed for baaad times with our cap future. But everything is cool right now! Woo 2021!"

Steve Keim talks all the time about looking at roster construct in a three-year rolling window. So yes, the Cardinals are taking into account what these choices to kick the can down the road will mean for the future. It will give the Cards less room to work with, of course. But there is a give-and-take with everything every team does. At some point, you have to be willing to pay a lot of guys. (Campbell, by the way, will be off the cap after 2021.) Under the cap, every team eventually will get bit, or they don't have any kind of extended success. The Chiefs are going to feel this pinch soon. The Saints and Steelers are right now. You can't have everything. You can keep a pretty clean cap with a decent amount of space, or you can pay to keep a lot of good players. I will say this. If Budda keeps going well, he's going to be here. If Simmons becomes a good player, he will be re-signed. And yes, Kyler, barring something unforeseen, is going to get paid.

From Drew Day via

"What is going on with Corey Peters? Is he going to retire? Can we bring him back? Even with signing Watt I feel like losing Peters would be one step forward, one step back. Our DL situation is up in the air. We have Phillips and Blackson as the vets. Watt. And then there's Allen, Leki and Lawrence who can't necessarily be depended on to be the caliber of player we need at this stage in their young career. Also, do you think Watt will have the best influence on Allen most of all? Obviously he looks like a baby Watt. As long as the work ethic is there do you think this could be a real opportune moment for Allen?"

Peters has made it clear he wants to keep playing. I would think, given his history and where he is in his career, it makes sense for both sides to bring him back. He is coming off a serious injury, however. Blackson is a free agent, so he may or may not return. Phillips bouncing back will be crucial, IMO. As for Watt and Allen, I don't think it's fair to compare he and Watt because there really is no comparison. But obviously, whatever Allen can glean from a guy like Watt can only help.

From Zen Cardsfan via

"Despite how we're told Kyler is an amazing quarterback who many are expecting an MVP-type leap, why is it do you think he hasn't had a prolific four- or five-touchdown passing game yet? Generally speaking, four TD games are an elite QB benchmark. Quick look at this past season: Josh Allen - 4 (4TD games), Aaron Rodgers - 7, Deshaun Watson -2, Russ Wilson - 3 (but also two 5 TD games), Dak Prescott - 1 (he only played 4 games), Ryan Tannehill - 2 (and he's not necessarily an 'elite QB' many think of). And just for lulz: 2018 Pat Mahomes - 5 (4TDs), 2 (6TDs). So you can see that while they aren't 'common', they happen. And they happen more than once. Kyler is two full years into his career, and he has none. Are my expectations too high? Is Kyler overhyped? Is Kyler underperforming his talent or being held back by the scheme?"

Honestly, that feels like so random of a stat that really doesn't mean anything. I mean, there is zero context there. If Murray threw four touchdowns in a game but two were inside the 5 that easily could have been, say, Drake rushes, what exactly does that prove? There were three games last season where Murray ran in a TD and threw for three -- Seattle win, Miami and Philly -- and so unless those QBs with 4 throwing TDs in a game ran in a fifth, isn't that the same?

From Erin Murphy via

"To your knowledge, has Patrick Peterson ever had a No. 2 CB across from him for any consistent length of time? Or has it been a new guy for every year of his career? The only guy I can think of is maybe Jerraud Powers? It's really been a travesty how our No. 2 CB position has been managed for the last long while. Of all of them, Tramon Williams was probably the best. The Bethel project went on for a long time. Brandon Williams too. Remember when we got Marcus Cooper and he was this INT machine his first couple games? That was cool. Then there was Antoine Cason and Antonio Cromartie. Actually I might be wrong about Tramon being the best. Antonio's season with us was pretty phenomenal. He parlayed that into a good deal with the Jets."

Given that I've been around since Peterson showed up, yes, I feel like I have knowledge on the subject. And yes, it's been a new guy every year. The list:

  • 2011: A.J. Jefferson, Richard Marshall
  • 2012: William Gay
  • 2013: Jerraud Powers
  • 2014: Antonio Cromartie
  • 2015: Jerraud Powers
  • 2016: Marcus Cooper
  • 2017: Tramon Williams, Justin Bethel
  • 2018: Bene Benwikere, Jamar Taylor, David Amerson
  • 2019: Byron Murphy
  • 2020: Dre Kirkpatrick

From Tommy 602 via

"ESPN is talking about how (this) week is going to be a massacre of cap casualties and startling top tier veteran cuts. I think we knew it was coming, with the cap situation and all. The Cardinals went the opposite direction and paid big money to a veteran FA. But we will have our own cuts. Is there anyone you can think of who might be a surprise cut? The guy I keep coming back to is Justin Pugh. Love the guy, he's destined to be a commentator someday, such a talented talker. He played so well last year. But he's an expensive guard, and those are somewhat replaceable. I hope it's not Pugh but he seems to stand out as an option. Also, maybe Hicks? Love Hicks, but he's noticeably slow these days."

We will see how this all plays out this week. I wouldn't be shocked if the Cardinals -- like most teams given the cap constraints -- ask players to take a paycut first before outright letting them go. Everyone who gets cut has to be replaced, and Pugh is a good example -- coaches have said he had an excellent year, so you hate to lose that. How every team will deal with that is as much of the free-agent anticipation as the free agent period itself.

From Jake North via

"Hi Darren. I'm reading Carson Palmer's Wikipedia page and I forgot how the end of his career concluded. It says "on December 1, Palmer said he feels 'pretty good' about returning" and then on Jan. 2 he retired. So was it a surprise?"

The "pretty good about returning" quote was about him returning during that season from his broken arm. He obviously never did. His retirement was not a surprise. I know I had a pretty good idea he was going to step away, especially once it was clear Bruce Arians was leaving. But even if Arians had stayed, I think Palmer would have retired.

From Kyle S via

"Hi Darren. Last week I sent in a criticism of the JJ Watt deal. Which I didn't expect you to publish but to your credit you did. You also called me out for not using my name. Fair enough. My name is Kyle. I live in Stetson Valley, just outside of Hackberry. I'm a lifelong Cardinals fan. Was this a good deal? That's a flawed question and perspective. Is J.J. Watt a great player? Absolutely. If he can stay healthy he is going to be a major factor on the defensive line play. His talent isn't debatable. Was this a good deal? No. You often get questions about free agents on this mailbag and typically you remind fans that the salary cap determines much. Part of the reason the Cardinals signing Watt was such a shock was because our cap situation seemed to naturally eliminate us from contention. And yet somehow here he is. The core component of my criticism is this feels like a Hail Mary swing by a desperate GM trying to save himself. At the cost of losing other players that we can no longer afford to re-sign. Prior to the deal you yourself would've dismissed Watt questions due to the cap. Yet now somehow everything is magically going to work out? No."

I'll be honest, I didn't even know there was a place called Hackberry, and I've lived in Arizona since 1976. But I appreciate you following up (with your name.) I guess I don't understand how that can be a flawed question and then have you answer it. I don't think you know yet. Did I think the Cards would sign him, for the cap reasons you noted? No. But they did get his cap number under $5 million. Yes, he has to stay healthy, but that goes for every player. I guess the other question is, what players is this costing them -- and is it really costing them? They are trying to make this team as good as they can, especially in the short-term Kyler Murray-rookie contract window. How about we see where the roster is June 1?

From French Toast via

"Hey Darren, the gang over on Reddit is actively trying to figure out how we can free up more cap space, and the No. 1 option is far and away extending Chandler. Do you see that coming soon? Over the moon about Mr. Watt but I'm nervous about our depth and ability to sign others. Not even stars, just clubhouse guys like Dan (Arnold.)"

Well, Mr. Toast -- can I call you French? -- I haven't heard anything about a Jones extension at this point, but it does make a lot of sense if the two sides can make it work. The one issue is that he's coming off an injury and is over 30, so coming to an agreement might be a little more complicated than in the past. When it comes to the Watt signing, the Cards held his 2021 cap number down pretty well, and they didn't go into it blind. They have a plan to account for such things.

From Shravaka via

"Hey Darren, to your knowledge (or anyone else's) has the NFL ever had a team owner fly his own aircraft to pick up a new player? Is this not a first in NFL HISTORY! This is demonstrative of the evolving lore and authenticity of this organization throughout the league. Mr. Bidwill is again to be honored and recognized. Arizona is blessed to have him."

Not to my knowledge. I, however, do not have all the statistics on the history of owner/pilot combos in the NFL, or all the trips Michael has made.

From Mike Jones via

"What's the revisionist history of Deone Bucannon's Cardinals career? For the first three years, he was phenomenal. In 2015 he peaked. And in 2016 he would've outpaced 2015 had he not gotten injured. From 2017 on, it was a steady march out the door. Why? I've never understood when someone tries to argue 'he was too small.' He wasn't any bigger from 2014-2016, how come he was great then, but now he's suddenly too small? Loved his attitude. He was a tone-setter."

So Bucannon still started every game he played in 2017, so I am not sure why you think things changed then. In 2018, definitely. He never fit what Steve Wilks/Al Holcomb wanted to do on defense. To be honest, what he did was fit in the Todd Bowles/James Bettcher defense, and once the defensive concepts changed (even after Vance Joseph showed), the Cards were ready to move on. Unfortunately, Buc hasn't been able to find that spot where he fits so well, bouncing from team to team. But at least he got a ring with Tampa.

From Edson Sierra via

"Now that we have Watt, I've seen some fans rehash the old 'let's get Deshaun Watson' debate. I just can't understand the impatience or logic in wanting this trade. In your mind, how do you think this works out? Do we make K1 the reserve? Watson? Just humor us for a sec, thanks."

Let me start by saying that a big reason you want Kyler is his rookie contract and the flexibility it provides for now, which you lose if you trade for Watson. Let me say that if you traded for Watson, Murray would inevitably be part of the deal, so no, he wouldn't be a backup. Let me also say that given everything, I don't make that trade (again, because of reason No. 1.) I get why it comes up, given Murray's Texas ties, Watson's situation and the need this time of year to speculate about everything and anything. One thing I don't understand is the concept that it has flared up because of another Texan coming to Arizona in Watt. Watt wasn't a Texan when he picked Arizona; he was a free agent. It wasn't like Houston had anything to do with Watt becoming a Cardinal, unlike the D-Hop trade.

From Michael Stofko via

"Hi, Darren. I must admit I am a bit baffled by the signing of JJ Watt. I love the guy, but it seems like a lot of money to spend on a position that is already fairly well-stocked. What really has me bummed is that the Cards may move on from a younger, healthier Haason Reddick just when he seems to have found his niche and became a star. Full disclosure, I am a Temple alum so I naturally have a soft spot for Haason. Is there any chance they use Chandler and Reddick as edge rushers and maybe plug Watt in the DL as an inside run stopper? That would be a dominant DL nucleus."

The thing is, that position wasn't well-stocked. Until Watt signed, your main non-FA DL are Zach Allen, Jordan Phillips, Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence. I do think they very much needed a good piece there and Watt could be a great piece. I think Reddick would flourish big-time in a lineup with Jones and Watt. But is that possible? My gut says one team will make a fabulous offer to Reddick, and he'll have to take it. That's how these things go.

From Billy Portsman via

"Now that we signed Watt, is it a foregone conclusion that we're getting picked for Hard Knocks? Who was it that didn't like Hard Knocks? Was it Mike (Bidwill)? I know somebody said they don't like it because it's distracting."

It is not a foregone conclusion. All we know is if the Cardinals are asked to do it, they can't turn it down. Of course, everyone involved would like the team doing it to be on board. Bruce Arians didn't want to do it. I don't recall if Kliff Kingsbury has ever been asked, but I am willing to wager a decent sum he would not want to be on Hard Knocks. We'll see how this plays out.

From BDUB Wooten via

"Darren, I know this year is not a great year to try to spend extra money but I think the Cards really need to consider spending some extra money to bring in a really good backup QB. Maybe a Teddy Bridgewater or an Alex Smith even. Someone like that."

Bridgewater is currently starting in Carolina, so not sure how that would happen. Smith is actually available and I would love the idea of him working with Kyler every day. But I am not sure you want a backup QB who had suffered a catastrophic leg injury to be the backup in an offense that uses the QB in the run game. Backup QB will be interesting, with Hundley a free agent and questions about Streveler.

From Sam Clips via

"I have a question about Watt's comment about having a lot left in the tank. What does that mean for his time in Arizona? Is he truly just a two-year rental? If he has, say, six years left, how many of those will be with Arizona? I think the whole bunch of planting roots in Arizona type of questions he gets are weird when you consider it's only two years. If he stays healthy and is his normal great self on the field for the next two year, do we extend him? We know Keim hates old guys and can't wait to cut them, so what's that mean for 35-year old JJ?"

I'm all for discussing hypotheticals, but man, between the teeth gnashing about cap issues in 2023 or Watt's future or whatever, there is a lot of concern. In the NFL, two years is an eternity. You don't know who will be calling the shots, what Watt will have done, what the landscape of the cap or the league might be. So in short, who knows what it means for Watt beyond two years?

From William Wootten via

"The Cardinals have had a history of signing players who are on the tail end of their careers. Some have done really well and some have not been much of a factor (Terrell Suggs comes to mind). Which side do you believe J.J. Watt will fall on? Another thing, do you think this signing changes the Cardinals approach in the draft? For example instead of drafting a defensive player first round they maybe go offense and get an OL or WR?"

I can't tell you exactly how Watt will fall. He's not the guy who wins Defensive Player of the Year anymore, but if healthy, I don't see why he can't have a Carson Palmer-like impact. He's not Suggs or Emmitt Smith. He has a chance to be a step up from Edgerrin James when Edge showed up, IMO. As far as the draft, I don't think he changes anything. They still need cornerbacks, and OL or WR might be in play (although the WR class is very deep.)

From Beau Sheridan via

"Hello Darren, I have a question better suited for the Phoenix Suns, but unlike the Cardinals, they don't have an intrepid beat writer who engages fan questions. I know you're a basketball fan, and also I suppose this question can be applicable to football in some regards. In college basketball, the norm is one-and-dones, with 18-year-old kids who go from high school, play college ball for one year, then jump to the pros. Those guys are the premiere players, usually. The entire first-round might be freshmen. If a guy were to stay til his senior year, he's almost viewed as damaged goods. Why is that? I do understand a player in either sport has a shelf life of ~12 years (if he can make it). That extra one-to-two early years helps. But in my mind, play on the court (or field) should be top priority. Yeah, the kid is young. And he stinks as a result. No disrespect but you're a child, competing against grown men. Only in pro sports do we say a 24-year-old is old. I understand Lebron and Tom and Larry are outliers, but hasn't technology and medical science made it so 30 isn't a death knell to your career anymore?"

Pretty heavy topic this deep into the mailbag. I am a basketball guy, I'd like to think. I disagree that a player who stays until his senior year is seen as damaged goods in the NBA. I do think he's seen as a guy with a limited ceiling, because otherwise he would've gotten out and started his money-making clock. I don't blame that -- if you are going to go pro, nothing wrong with starting the clock on your locked-in rookie money to get to the big money ASAP. It's not always one and done. Saben Lee went to high school with my son, and went to Vanderbilt. Left after his junior year. Could've stayed as a senior but a) knew the school had other good players coming in and after injuries forced Lee to have a huge junior year, he likely wouldn't have the opportunity to top it; and b) while he wasn't going to be a first-round pick, he was never going to climb into the first round after another year. So he went pro, was a second-round pick, yet it's working out for him with the Pistons.

Younger NBA players -- and to an extent, younger NFL players -- can be in over their head when they show up. D.J. Humphries, for instance. But for these guys, it's not about (directly) making the fans happy. It's about making a living and maximizing their earnings in their short shelf life. Medical science has gotten better. You might go longer. But that doesn't mean you'll make top dollar longer. That will still be reserved for the studs in their prime, and that remains 24, 25, 26 years old in most cases, in every sport.

From Jason Allen via

"Hey Darren. I have been reading your mailbags the last couple of weeks and I am curious to know your insight on some questions I have about this franchise. As the Cardinals have had many flashes this 2020 season, we were one game short from the playoffs. Part of this is due to questionable playcalling. What is your opinion of Kliff Kingsbury? Do you think Patrick Peterson and Hasson Reddick will get re-signed (or in PP's case, a contract restructure)? Should we trade our first-round draft pick for a playmaker like Allen Robinson? If not, who do you think should be our main target in the draft? I'm curious to hear your insight. Thank you for your time."

  1. I think Kliff Kingsbury has brought some good concepts to the team and remains a coach still learning the NFL game.
  2. Peterson can't get restructured; his contract is up. Right now, it feels like a longshot that both will return, and it might be tough to bring either back, but this market has the chance to be weird so I wouldn't rule anything out.
  3. A trade for Robinson would mean the Bears have to franchise tag him first (he is scheduled to be a free agent), but even then, the cost of a pick and the money for his new contract does not make sense to me.

From Chad Johnson via

"I'm not too familiar with the NBA cap situation, but it seems like there are allowances made that players can make more money by staying on their original team and teams can go over the cap to sign veteran players. Might it make sense to do the same for the NFL so teams can retain their 'face of the franchise' guys? When a team has a star players that has lost a step or two, injured more often, less effective on the field BUT is extremely meaningful to the team for their locker room leadership, mentorship, team legacy, etc."

I see where you are going, but if a star player has lost a step or two, teams usually want to pay them less anyway. Ultimately, your argument is to pay a player extra for non-on-the-field things, and that's not allowed. I don't see that changing.

From Nolle O via

"Hi Darren. As far as you know, is Larry a big Pitt guy? I know everybody is different. You still see Kyler promoting OU on Twitter, Taylor Lewan (AZ product) is still a vocal supporter of Michigan, whereas fellas like myself, an ASU grad, honestly doesn't much care what ASU does. Perhaps I'm petty because of the multiple loans and kidney they took required for tuition. But I digress.I've never heard Larry speak about Pitt. He speaks more about working for the Vikings than he does Pitt."

To be fair, he's asked questions about the Vikings way more than Pitt. He had his number retired and I think he sees his couple years there with a fond perspective. He cares -- just ask Ron Wolfley about that.

From Simply Sagacious via

"I'm hoping to see the coaching staff unleash the freak in Isaiah Simmons and let him get some snaps at his true position, slot receiver (was just watching random highlights and saw some from his high school). Do coaches/GMs look to the other side of the ball if they have a good fit in certain situations or is it a contract thing or endurance thing or why don't why see more it?"

Mostly, it's because these guys have a hard enough time mastering their main job to have a sidelight gig. They don't practice it enough to be worth playing at that spot over, say Larry Fitzgerald or Christian Kirk, in this instance. Makes no sense. It's fun, but not always rational. And the injury possibility is a real risk -- if Simmons is one of your key defenders next year at linebacker, how would you feel if he tore an ACL on a low hit following an 8-yard catch?

From Michael Egan via

"Is now not the time to re-issue all retired numbers except for Pat Tillman? Put all those other players in the Ring of Honor or a small memorial park, but start to re-issue those numbers. The time has come."

Curious why you would allow Pat's number to stay retired but no one else's? Some of those retired numbers are also of guys who died an early death. I mean, Tillman died in battle. J.V. Cain literally gave his life while on the field playing. So all I can say is I whole-heartedly disagree.

From Victor Molina via

"Hi Darren, great segment every week! My question is about the draft. I've used the mock draft simulator of PFF and realised we draft BEFORE the Raiders in the first round (we have pick 16 versus their pick 17) but draft AFTER them in Round two ( they draft at 48 and we do a 49)? Why is this?"

Because the Raiders also finished 8-8 last season. The way the draft works is that the first round ties are broken by easiest strength of schedule (the easier your schedule, the better it is because the argument is with an easier schedule you should've done better and therefore you must be a worse team.) But if you had the same record, the teams -- whether it is two or three or four -- rotate from there. So in the second round, the Raiders and Cards flip flop. Then in the third round they flip-flop back, and so on.

From Daniel Ruhe via

"Hey Darren. Greetings from Germany. Is there a new season of 'Flight Plan' and if so, when does it start?"

There will be a new season of "Flight Plan." We are still working through some of the same issues as last offseason, so I don't know how many episodes. But the first will be out in April sometime.