It's the final week of the NFL season, improbably reached through a pandemic, with the Bucs and Chiefs set to play the Super Bowl. The mailbag, meanwhile, rolls on. To send a question for a future installment, go right here.
From Simon from China via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren, plenty of former Cardinals were playing in the conference championship games: Tyrann Mathieu, Alex Okafor, Andre Roberts, Deone Bucannon, Matt Barkley, John Brown and Ricky Seals-Jones. Did I miss anyone? How do you feel when seeing those guys having success? Are your happy for them? Envious? Do you feel regret? Are you still in contact with a few of them? And who will you be rooting for in the Super Bowl: Bruce Arians or the Honey Badger?"
There were more than a few names there you missed but for the most part you got them, in addition to all the former coaches with Tampa. When they have success, there really isn't any reason to feel envious. Most leave because the Cardinals decided they didn't want them anymore for one reason or another. Regret? A little. I wish Tyrann and Smoke in particular had been able to stay healthy and been here. But that's the league. I don't really stay in touch, other than me trading a tweet here and there with Ty. As for the game, I don't really feel strongly either way. Obviously there are a lot of guys on the Bucs I know. Getting a first ring if you are Buc or Drew Stanton or Earl Watford would be cool. But if the Chiefs win, that would be fine with me too.
From Robert Malicki via azcardinals.com:
"The Spring of 2020 was quite a challenge of uncertainty and adjustment for NFL teams in so many ways. My question is about what our front office may have learned? From your vantage point, Darren, how will the pro and college scouting departments adjust to their player evaluations? To me, these behind-the-scenes evaluators may see an uptick in their importance and recommendations for Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim. I even sense that Coach Kingsbury and his recent enough connection to college players being quite helpful."
Well, one issue with scouting is that last year, while the draft was different, everything was normal until mid-March -- which means the bulk of the work, like the game scouting and the Scouting combine and all that entails -- all proceeded as usual. It was only the pro days, the visits and the meetings that changed. So this year, there is still a first-time-through feel when it comes to having seen a lot of these players, and certainly there have been no in-person meetings for the first time. Evaluations will be a little different for every team. But I don't know if evaluators will be any more or less important. They are still the boots on the ground (or in the film room, in this case) doing the bulk of the analysis.
From @faultylogic83 via Twitter:
"I'm seeing parallels between Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield. Do you think we could see a similar turnaround from Kyler in year three?"
Couple points to make here. One, Kyler had a pretty good season. I think Murray needs to improve in certain areas, but I don't see the need for a "turnaround." Not like from Mayfield was coming from. In fact, if you look at the numbers, Murray had a much better year than Mayfield in almost every category except touchdowns (same, at 26) and interceptions (Mayfield threw 8, Murray 12.) The other point here is trying to learn from a mistake many (including me) made last offseason, and that is making direct comparisons of Kyler to others. Everyone talked about him taking that second-year-MVP-type leap, and while Murray was good, he didn't get there this year -- and again, that doesn't mean he had a bad season. I reiterate, he needs to build on what he's already done, and the offense as a whole needs at least one more playmaker and a lot more consistency.
From @chad_johnson8 via Twitter:
"Is there such a thing as 'new' offensive plays? Seems that in the history of football, somebody somewhere would have done every possible combination with 11 players. Or are offensive teams successful because they choose the right plays for the right players at the right time?"
I mean, you can always tweak, and as the game evolves, different plays develop because you have different personnel on the field (I feel pretty confident there weren't a lot of four-wide plays in 1973). But generally, yes, within the rules, there are really only going to be a finite number of things you can do. That's why things like pre-snap motion has become more popular and more important, because it can fool the defense maybe just for a moment and gives the offense a potential edge. Still, you have to have the talent. And yes, you have to scheme to that talent and call things at the right time.
From Andy Anderson via azcardinals.com:
"Kyler Murray has incredible physical gifts, but is he progressing as he should, going into his third year, in reading defenses, recognizing coverages and leading the team? Also, this is the head coach's third year, is he making the needed progress with his 'in game' decisions and adjustments?"
All I can go by with Kyler is results and it seemed to me he played pretty well in 2020. I can only assume that would only come with increasing understanding of reading defenses and coverages. As for leading the team, his teammates say yes when we talk to them. That's all we can go by. As far as Kliff Kingsbury, I know what a lot of fans think, because they all let me know. I'll just say I think Kingsbury is smart and he understands what he is good at and what he needs to work on, and he knows some of those things with what he needs to work on will be under the microscope in 2021.
From John McGill via azcardinals.com:
"Hey Darren. How would you grade the Cardinals draft for last year? At the time I was hoping they would have get one of the wide receivers but I'm glad they took Simmons."
For me, way too early to grade a draft. I saw enough from Simmons that I am very optimistic he can be a difference-maker. I think Josh Jones needs to step up and fill that right tackle role, but it's too early to know if he can. I liked the initial impressions from DLs Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence. But if we are doing grades, it's an incomplete.
From @zoni623 via Twitter:
"Is that yellow line really on the field? If yes, how do they keep moving it?"
I'm going to take this question at face value. No, it's not on the field. It is technology from the networks, so it's pretty easy to move.
From Joseph Cammiso via azcardinals.com:
"Do you think that Steve Keim as the General Manager tends to be stuck in some version of win now with half a mind on the future? It seems like we always go after that 'veteran guy' who has played a lot of ball but is past being a starter. Examples include: Alford, Kirkpatrick, Maxx Williams, Corey Peters (this one was good), Marcus Gilbert, and please let us not ever forget Sam Bradford. I know that you need guys to rely on year to year that are going to be veterans, but I feel like we as a team rely on these type of signings too frequent and we draft poorly which leads us to this perpetual cycle of not that great teams with roster holes."
I think it's fair to think if the overall drafts had been better the Cardinals wouldn't have as many holes to fill. But I do think you are not necessarily comparing apples to apples with your examples. Kirkpatrick was absolutely a fill-in, but it was necessitated only because of Alford's injury (which, while I know he's been hurt a lot, he isn't suffering the same maladies every time, but back-to-back freak accidents in his two years -- not something you can plan for.) Peters was in his prime when the Cards originally signed him. Gilbert was a fill-in, yes. Bradford it can be argued shouldn't have been the QB choice, but pickings were slim after Palmer retired and at the point Sam signed, you didn't know for sure if you were going to be able to draft a QB. Overall, yes, Keim is split between win now and the future. Name a GM who isn't, and I'll show you a GM who either isn't doing it right or isn't going to last long. That's how you have to operate in this league.
From Bob Kitsos via azcardinals.com:
"I realize the Cardinals have numerous positional needs and I understand how a kicker might be considered a 'wasted pick,' but is it a position that they might consider in the upcoming draft? If not, what will the kicking game look like next season?"
In terms of drafting a kicker, I find it very unlikely. It's too easy to find a kicker otherwise, especially when you can never be sure how a great college kicker will respond in the NFL (see Aguayo, Roberto.) Beyond that, we will have to see. Zane Gonzalez is an unrestricted free agent. I don't know if they will try to re-sign him, but even if they do, I'd think there would be some sort of competition there.
From Wyatt Holland via azcardinals.com:
"Now that we have an extra game on the schedule going forward do you think the Mexico games will become more recurrent? I wouldn't mind having one home game in Mexico every year. Have the Cardinals become Mexico's favorite team."
Assuming the NFL gets to a 17-game season, which is likely in 2021, I do expect a regular game in Mexico from the league, if not more. I do not think it will be one particular team. The Cowboys, Steelers and Raiders, all of whom have a decent footprint in Mexico, I do not think would like the idea of another team being granted that kind of natural fanbase-building access. But we will see how that goes.
From Mark Logan via azcardinals.com:
"It bothered me to hear about the Rams and 49ers discussing trades for Stafford and Watson and Rodgers because that should be us. Fact that nobody seems to realize: we have the single greatest trade chip in the NFL. Kyler Murray. Go ahead, who else has a 23-year-old, cheap, probably franchise QB in his 3rd year? Nobody. If we want Watson, it's done. Kyler+a pick. If we want Aaron. Its done. Kyler+a pick. LA and SF cant match that. Nobody can. It bothers me we aren't considering options. Now Darren Urban is going to say 'why would you trade a 23-year-old, cheap, probably franchise QB in his 3rd year?" Because 'Probably.' Probably a franchise QB."
Actually, I understand the argument. But I also think the same argument is why I am not so sure Watson won't be worth more in trade. (And you are also assuming Watson, with a no-trade clause, would be OK being dealt to such a powerful division.) The Rams, by the way, don't have the assets to make a move like that work. The Niners maybe, but there are teams with more attractive assets. Finally, I have seen no reports on what teams might be inquiring on Watson, so how do you know what teams have and haven't? I don't recall a whole lot of mailbag questions last year about the Cardinals talks about trading for D-Hop, right?
From Larry Pearlman via azcardinals.com:
"What happened to Larry? I don't hear it discussed much. I don't see much film but often when I do, I see Larry wide open (well, wide open for him) and yet Kyler barely looks his way. He'd rather throw to Hop in double coverage. I get it that Hop can still come down with it when double covered but maybe he'd get less coverage if Larry got more attention. Seems like every week we hear Kliff say 'We need to get Larry more involved." but I just didn't see it happening."
This question seems to come across the mailbag inbox every week so I definitely feel like it's being discussed. At least by me. Are there times when Fitz has been open and Murray hasn't looked his way? Of course. I feel confident in saying every receiver is missed a few times when open. On every team. I do think the Cardinals could have gotten Fitz more involved at times. But I would have to actually look at the all-22 video and not just TV views to know what exactly Kyler might've been seeing. As I've noted before, had Fitz not missed those three games late in the season, he likely still would've had the second-most targets on the team.
From Jake T via azcardinals.com:
"Hi! I don't have a question but I'd like to shoutout my teacher Mr. Bruso from CGMS. He is a huge Cardinals fan and has worked really hard to help us during the pandemic."
Since my wife is a teacher and I know exactly how difficult it has been for those trying to do that job during the pandemic, I'm going to give this airtime. Consider Mr. Bruso shouted out.
From Jason Beckum via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren, I would like to know what could be done better as an organization when it comes to drafting players? Since Steve Keim has been GM he has drafted 53 players and only about 25 percent have made some kind of impact in the NFL. In hindsight we seem to pass up up on a lot of talented players. Is the real issue or drafting or our coaching?"
I will begin by saying Steve Keim would be the first to say the Cards could have drafted better over the last eight drafts he has been GM. He has drafted 59 players. And by my count, about 35 of them have "made some kind of impact in the NFL" assuming it can be elsewhere and it includes special teams (which it should by your definition.) I mean, the washout class of 2016 actually has three players who are active and who have all played in more than 50 NFL games in Marqui Christian, Evan Boehm and Brandon Williams. This is about the time many of you are rolling your eyes and saying, "C'mon Darren," and I get it. Yes, they have passed up some talented players. Hindsight has a way of showing that for every team, pretty much. Some of it is coaching. Some of it is luck. Even the GMs that have had fabulous drafts in a single year usually have a terrible one along the timeline too.
From Red1 CardsFan via azcardinals.com:
"When do you think we'll start getting answers regarding P2's future and Haason Reddick and the like? We just heard the big Matthew Stafford news come down. So I'm wondering when we might get an inkling of what might happen with some of our own notables."
There were certain circumstances that pushed the urgency of the Stafford trade. It can't even be official until mid-March. When it comes to the Cards' own free agents, there is still some time to go, I'd think. Again, whether it is Peterson or Reddick or any free agent, they want the best deal. At this point, as a player, your value can't be hurt by an injury, so it's worth it for most -- unless they are wowed by a Cardinals' offer -- to wait to see what the market might bring. That doesn't mean they won't return, but I would be a little surprised at this point if anything were to happen before early March at the earliest. I could be wrong. Again, if the Cards present a deal that a player likes, we'll get an extension.
From @davidword12 via Twtter:
"I'm a little confused about the Cardinals. The team has few players under contract, the QB isn't making a ton of money, the team doesn't have a lot of cap space. Am I correct? And, if so, how did the team get in such shabby shape? How do they get in better shape?"
If the salary cap would've been the projected $210 million it was once expected to be this year instead of the pandemic-ravaged $180M or so it will likely land upon, not only would have some of the decisions been a little different last offseason but the Cardinals would have around $38 million in cap space this year. So, yeah, the cap dropping when teams have planned for it otherwise is a big deal.The Seahawks will actually have only about $150,000 in cap space after they get to their top 51 on the cap this offseason. The Chiefs are going to be $26M over the cap. The Rams $30M over. The Eagles $53M over. There are a lot of teams in shabbier shape.
From Cynthia Dobbins via azcardinals.com:
"Darren, it seems like many fans want to move on from Kliff. I don't agree but I wonder about some of the calls. Does Kyler how the freedom to change plays at the line? If so, do you know the approximate percentage? Maybe fans are yelling at the wrong guy. Thanks for the opportunity for fans to ask questions. Fan since '88."
I would guess at this point in his career he does not have that freedom, other than a built-in run-pass option. I don't know for sure. Ultimately, when things go wrong on offense and the head coach is the playcaller, the first two people that are going to be blamed are the coach and the QB. They understand that.
From Captain Lou via Twitter:
"What's an ideal offseason weekend for Darren Urban?"
Ideal now, or ideal when there isn't a pandemic? Because I would certainly love to take a real, normal vacation in here somewhere, and that doesn't seem like it's feasible. Honestly, I don't need/want much. I like the winter/early spring weather, where I might be able to go for a run without heatstroke, or drive in my car without AC. Maybe watch a Suns game when they aren't being maddeningly inconsistent. Take my wife to dinner (although after living through an NFL season where I felt like I could screw up a team if I got sick, I'm still very leery about going out for any length of time.) But truthfully, the most ideal offseason weekend would come in an offseason that didn't begin until Feb. 10 or so.
From Mike Lynch via azcardinals.com:
"Were the original uniform colors burgundy and white? Seem to recall much darker red tops in the 1950s and 1960s. Thanks."
The Cardinals were actually named not for the bird but for the Cardinal red hue of the hand-me-down jerseys they got from the University of Chicago in 1901. So the jerseys have never been burgundy. That said, looking at video or photos from the 50s and 60s, it does seem to be a little darker than the jerseys the team has now.
From Derek Johnson via azcardinals.com:
"Hey Darren. Not sure if you can answer this or not, but I'm curious why fans always ask you about uniform changes? It seems like every week this comes up and I am not sure if I missed something but uniform changes aren't that common, so why and how did this become a hot topic and an ongoing subject for the Cards? Thanks!"
I suppose that would be a question for those who ask. Yes, everyone keeps asking, but in the end I suppose it's no different than the multiple weekly questions I get about Fitz not getting the ball enough or Kliff's playcalling. I know there are a chunk of fans who just want a new look. I, however, do not hold any sway in making that happen.