In a little more than a week, the NFL draft arrives. This week, players are back for the voluntary offseason workouts -- the reason to have the mailbag post a day late this week. We'll be back to Tuesday next week. Questions have been edited for length and clarity. As always, you can send in a question for a future mailbag here.
From Caspian Russel:
"James Conner is an elite running back, a good No.1. Do you think Eno Benjamin will be the No. 2 back? From what we saw last year do you think he can be better this year? I watched him in his first start vs. the 49ers and I thought he was good but then he didn't produce much after that and I don't think he was used very much."
To clarify, Benjamin didn't start against the 49ers. It was still Conner/Edmonds. Edmonds got hurt on the first offensive play. Conner played the bulk of that game, although Eno had the Angry Run TD among other plays. He played well. His work was limited most of the season, yes. Right now, he seems like the probable pairing with Conner, but let's see a) what happens in the draft; b) what might happen with Darrel Williams; and c) what Jaylen Samuels might be like.
From Troy Ezeh:
"When it comes to mock drafts from so called NFL 'experts,' is there a particular NFL expert mock draft that you value and refer to each year? Also how much research do you think these NFL experts conduct for each team to determine who they will most likely select? I've lost ALL belief in mock drafts moving forward once I saw a recent draft having the Cardinals trade down in the first round to draft a FREAKING RB, totally disregarding our alarming need for a WR, pass rusher, and cornerback."
No, I don't value a mock draft. They are interesting to look at because you usually can get a sense of at least 25 or 26 of the 32 players that will drafted in the first round, even though it's unlikely most of the "where" will be right. I think it's tough to do "research." Teams aren't going to tell you what they really think. Nor should they. Most mock drafts are doing what you said -- connecting dots to need. It's entertainment. Nothing more.
From Greg Painter:
"It looks like there will not be an elite wide receiver or corner available at our pick, although I have seen mocks where Drake London or Trent McDuffie fall to us. Do you consider trading down even a couple of times to accumulate some mid-round picks which we don't have. I know it's a wait but David Ojabo would be great I think. I am an Okie from Miami don't hear much Cardinal news. What's the buzz on Kyler? I'm a big Sooner fan. I like Kyler, but I love my BIRDGANG! One last point! Again I am a SOONER fan when I say this but Steve Keim please take a look at Oklahoma State LB Malcolm Rodriguez. Amazing wrestler at one of the nation's top programs. Could be a steal in the 7th."
I think trading down is always an option, and it increases right where the Cardinals are picking at 23. We will see who is still around when they are on the clock, but if the right combo is off the board, I could see moving (of course, someone would have to want to move up too.) As for Kyler, we will see what happens. There is a lot of time between now and the start of training camp for different scenarios to play out, but I haven't changed my thought that Kyler will be the QB this season. There is a long time to resolve contract issues before camp. And I have a hard enough time with the guys that might go in the first round much less who might be there and the right pick in the seventh.
From Derek Milner:
"Hi Darren, I was listening to something you were saying on the radio and just wanted to chime in. That Daniel Jeremiah quote about 'the Cardinals don't have a gun to their head at any position.' For the record, I generally like Daniel and his work. If just for entertainment, the guy has solid content. That said, you have to understand the guy writes like 10 articles a week for various platforms, is on countless TV and radio shows for different networks and teams/local sports radio, and is probably neck deep in draft prep so that he can have his talking points come draft week. I say all of that to say this: He hasn't spent one second studying the Cardinals.How could he? He's too busy. So yes, he could not be more wrong (no fault of his own). We have multiple guns to our head at multiple positions."
I'll be honest, I certainly wouldn't have been as strong about the draft as Daniel. I am on record on multiple platforms about the needs on this roster in my opinion. It's an example of what I noted above -- everything spoken about the draft is interesting and entertaining, but in the end, I'm not sure it really means much. No one, with any story, really knows the whole story with almost everything in the offseason. So it's all guesswork.
From Drew House:
"Lamar Jackson, who has an MVP and .750 career winning percentage, is willing to play under franchise tags; meanwhile Kyler is threatening to sit out if he doesn't get paid. Sincere question Darren, why do we put up with this? It shouldn't even be a question that Kyler isn't a franchise QB at this point. I know you're a big 'pay Kyler' guy and I just can't understand why."
Why? Anderson. Skelton, Hall. Kolb. Lindley. Gabbert to an extent. That's why. I'm a big "you have zero chance in the NFL without a QB" guy, to be more precise. Here's the deal: Lamar is apples to oranges. He's not necessarily willing to play under tags. He wants to max out his contract and apparently thinks playing out his rookie deal would do that. I don't know that Kyler is willing to sit out; maybe he is and maybe he isn't. But I'd like for he or his agent to say it publicly before I see it as real. There is a long time to get something done and I believe -- without knowing anything -- that he'll get a new deal done at some point. I get that many fans are frustrated with his play at times and apparently want to move on, but just like you don't necessarily understand my stance, I don't understand that point of view. Murray can play. You can argue what level he can be at/will be at. But if you move on, you are just another team tanking for a quarterback you may or may not be able to find.
From Jason B:
"Why don't teams, including the Cardinals, spend more time looking at players from HBCUs? If players like Jerry Rice, Jackie Slater, Walter Payton, Shannon Sharpe, Michael Strahan, Deacon Jones, Art Shell, Richard Dent, Robert Mathis, Nate Newton and one of the greatest Cardinal players, Aeneas Williams, come from schools like these why ignore them? I know we drafted Chad Williams a few years ago, but I don't expect to strike gold on every player. I have looked at Will Adams from Virginia State and Marquis McClain from Southern who almost reminds me of Anquan Boldin. I think too many teams spend too much time on the Power 5 conferences and a lot of overrated players get drafted and flop in the NFL because they never really wanted it or loved it."
I think the players that need to be noticed will be noticed. Adams will be drafted. McClain started his career at Auburn before transferring; we will see if he has shown enough but I'd be shocked if teams haven't already done due diligence. I don't think these players are ignored in this day and age. I mean, Mathis is the most recent example you are giving, and he was drafted 19 years ago. I don't disagree that some players flop because they don't have the drive to success.
From Carl Johnson:
"I for one am happy to have A.J. back, but I cannot understate just how underwhelming and disappointing this free agency period has been. What happened to the Super Bowl push? Even if Kyler got his extension it wouldn't kick in until next year, so this year would still be the last year of 'the window.' I don't understand and I think a lot of fans are confused and disappointed by how conservative we have been. When Kyler is paid the window closes."
I am disagree that the window closes. It might get smaller, but if the window closes that means paying a QB ends your chance to win a title. I am guessing the Browns/Packers/Buccaneers/Chiefs all wholly disagree. Does it get more difficult? Yes. With Steve Keim and Kliff Kingsbury speaking soon with their pre-draft press conference, that'll be the first time to ask them about free agency. I don't disagree that fans have been frustrated -- I've heard from many of them. Trying not to blow up the cap for the future (yes, in part because of what Murray will make) is part of it, I am sure.
From Mark Hag:
"Hello Darren. How about trading Andy Isabella straight up for N'Keal Harry? Neither are valuable for their current team but might just need a change of scenery. Good players are sometimes poorly coached, their talent does not shine. For example, Kenyan Drake was lost at the end of Miami's bench before being traded to the Cardinals. He thrived here."
You aren't wrong that sometimes players need fresh starts. But you are also assuming the Cardinals think it's worth taking a flyer on Harry and/or the Patriots think it's worth taking a flyer on Isabella. We don't know what either player's shortcomings might be in a different setting.Plus, Harry might be making a bit much for a guy who you are only taking a flyer on.
From Joachim Ploug:
"Hi Darren. Thanks for doing the mailbag. Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com reported that Devonte Wyatt is off of some teams draft boards because off-field issues. How do you think the Cardinals view that? Also, there's been some connecting Jahan Dotson to the Cardinals. Just looking at his measurables, 5'11" and 184 lbs, I immediately wonder about it, because he seems like the type of receiver we've drafted a lot of recently. I would think we would be looking for more size at the position this time like a Treylon Burks, George Pickens or Drake London. What are your thoughts on that?"
The Cardinals are always looking at players both what they did on the field and off and take that into account before the draft. I have no idea what Wyatt has done or not, but be assured teams do the due diligence. As for receiver, yes, Dotson seems on the slight side and I would think they'd want a bigger wide receiver. But Dotson has speed and who knows how they might want to play that? I'm not ruling anything out.
From Sebas Quiros:
"What's your honest take on the Kyler contract? I don't really know what to think, because I agree with arguments from both sides. I think it's rational to want to get Kyler to earn the extension by giving a great season, no injuries and a good postseason (which is what I think the team is doing but I may be wrong) but on the other hand, I do believe that not giving him the extension when he wanted it may bite them back because man, so many QBs have gotten big extensions. That'll just make the market higher for Kyler."
My honest take is, and I don't know anything, is that it'll get done at some point. I understand the reasoning from both sides. Quarterback contracts are scary things -- they can impact a roster once they kick in. That is undeniable. I am sure the team was hoping Murray was going to finish stronger last season. Heck, I know Kyler hoped he had finished stronger. But you've got to have a good quarterback. I've been doing this for so long, my true feelings are a) something will happen and b) I will cover it. I have no control over either side, and I've gotten to the point where I just don't worry about it because there will be news regardless.
From Dave Davidson:
"How are incentives treated under the salary cap?"
Long story short, there are two kinds of incentives. Ones rated "likely to be earned" and ones rated "unlikely to be earned." If you have a LTBE, it's factored into the current cap. If it is UTBE, you don't have to account for it until it is reached. (Likely to be earned is usually a trigger that you have already reached in your career.)
From Clarence B:
"Did you see the numbers on the Calais Campbell contract with Baltimore? We could've offered CC that, assuming we were trying to win a Super Bowl while in the window. It's really flabbergasting at this point. From your point of view, what's going on? Why waste Kyler's last rookie contract year? Are we returning to the Cards of the 1990s where we are content to just collect those NFL revenue share checks while fielding a non-competitive team? You can be snarky but the eyeball test sure backs it up."
Clarence, you're trying to head me off on being "snarky" yet you are the one who is saying this team will be non-competitive (false, and I'll assume you've just blocked out 2018 in your head) or that this is like the 1990s, which is hyperbole of the highest order. But I am guessing you know that. Again, I get frustration. Let's look at Calais. What if he only wanted to go back to Baltimore? What if the Cardinals saw his tape and decided it wasn't what they needed? What if they thought, "Man, the Ravens are way overpaying at this point." (I don't know the answers to these.) Steve Keim will have a press conference soon.
From Duce Schlatt:
"How come you didn't cover Kylie Fitts' retirement? He had a game winning goal line stand vs I forget who but it was phenomenal. It makes me sad concussions have ended his career early. Just want to see some acknowledgement. He was a solid depth player."
I did, and you are thinking of Tanner Vallejo, not Kylie Fitts.
From Ian McMechan:
"Hello from the Middle East. Typically, how often, if at all, would a star player or head coach receive media training? What format would it usually take (i.e. is it done individually, in a seminar, online or whatnot?) and who delivers it? Is it something more driven by the league or the individual's club? Thank you."
There are a lot of it depends on this subject. It isn't usually a reoccurring thing. A team might have someone go over basics with a player (or get a pre-interview talk in certain situations) and a coach does as well. But I am assuming you're talking more like a class or way of being taught, and usually it's not that structured. Many of these players have been meeting the media for a while since thye have been good for years; and it's kind of a natural progression.
From Karlaftis Klub:
"Hey Darren. Can you do a Reddit AMA Draft edition soon? Would love to have you. Also, if you could do it at a time where folks are actually home and online would be great. I remember Kyle did one at like 1 p.m. on a Wednesday once. Appreciate the effort but whos home to even participate?"
If someone set it up I could probably do that.