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You've Got Mail: The Bye Week

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The Cardinals have their late-in-the-season bye this weekend before finishing out their final five games. Doesn't mean there isn't a mailbag, and it doesn't mean you can't leave a question for next week's mailbag by going here. On to your questions:

From Juan via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren. I know you haven't begun the draft process of watching guys and writing articles for them, but in general, would you prioritize the OL or DL in this draft process? Reason I ask is there are two schools of thought: Our defense is horrible, we need to improve our defense and Kyler Murray is our future so we need to protect Kyler."

I like when you say I haven't begun the draft process, like I'm some sort of guru. Makes me feel good. As I have noted before, some of this has to be sorted out through free agency -- what they decide to do in that regard. But as of now, seeing how the current offensive line has done actually not bad, I would prioritize the defensive line. They definitely need a couple of pieces there. Now, if Humphries were to leave as a free agent, or they felt there was a great tackle on the board in the first round, then you take him. But all things being equal here in mid-November, I'm going defensive line.

From Jerry Soto Jr. via azcardinals.com:

"They put Zach Allen on IR, putting the kibosh on his season. I haven't heard the same finality spoken about Robert Alford's season yet. I know we can probably expect he's done for the year, but I haven't heard Steve Keim (or anyone) really say for sure yet 'He's done.' Is there any hope he comes back for a game or two? Purely just to get work in and roll into next season with a little bit of familiarity playing on this D?"

As a matter of fact, Jerry, I asked the question of Kingsbury Monday just because of this particular mailbag query. Kingsbury's answer, when I asked if the door was closed to Alford this season: "I wouldn’t say closed. He’s worked really hard in rehab, and he’d love to come back, but we also want to be smart, for his safety." Personally, I would be surprised at this point if he played. I understand getting a few reps in this defense, but he's a vet coming off a serious injury, and he already was in the defense all last offseason and most of training camp. I'm guessing the Cards will slow-play this and get him ready for 2020.

The players will have a bunch of days off including the weekend before returning for practice Monday. The coaches and front office will also likely take the weekend, but there is enough to do most of the rest of the week to prep not only for the Rams but beyond. As for the wins, it's so hard to tell. Those home games against the up-and-down Steelers and Browns could easily go either way. And maybe they can steal one or two of the the last couple NFC West games.

From Jan Miller via azcardinals.com:

"Question for Darren: There's been a lot of consternation about Vance Joseph's use of Chandler Jones as a coverage linebacker on that last touchdown. I understand on that play, the OLB is responsible for the RB. So my thought process is actually thinking about Haason Reddick. People are calling him a bust at ILB. Fine. But as a college DE, there have also been discussion that maybe OLB/pass rusher would be a better fit. Maybe this play failure is a sign that Reddick should be a OLB. That way if there is a coverage play he would be far more equipped to handle it than Chandler was, and also Reddick would just be a better contributor as a pass rusher where he's comfortable, rather than drag on this ILB experiment. Thank you."

A lot to unpack here. Having Chandler in coverage is probably not ideal, and we saw why. But one of Reddick's issues right now has been the quick diagnosis of what the play will be and, if in coverage, where his man will be going. I'm not sure why it is assumed Reddick would be better in that situation. But that play in particular can be analyzed a lot of different ways, with different paths just with the guys who had been on the field. And if Budda Baker gets there a half-second sooner, it may have worked. As for Reddick, he doesn't have the ideal size for an outside linebacker/pass rusher. The fear is that he would too regularly be swallowed up by the giant tackles NFL teams employ.

From Rod Reed via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren. I saw a report than said after the Cards re-signed Maxx Williams, that they've also began talks with D.J. Humphries and A.Q. Shipley. Humphries is expected. Will he be overpaid? Yes. But even mediocre left tackles get paid in this league. Hump is better than the alternative. My question is actually in regards to Shipley. Last week you touched on it a little bit, but this extension news seems to confirm they want to keep rolling with Shipley. I don't understand it. Mason Cole's deal expires in 2021. We need to know if he's the long-term center (or even Lamont Gaillard). By extending Shipley, we are hamstringing ourselves, right?"

It would not surprise me if there have been discussions with Humphries and Shipley, although I don't know for sure and I don't know how deep they might be into those talks. I think Humphries has been fine this season, and he has stayed healthy. People probably should get over the "overpaid" thing -- players are paid what the market says they should be paid. As for Shipley, he's a veteran who is good in the locker room and is smart. It probably wouldn't cost a ton. The reality also is that just because he'd sign an extension wouldn't guarantee he'd be the starter next season either. I'm guessing Cole's future is likely at guard. They like Gaillard at center. But you get the guys who are going to be the best for your team, and you evaluate that not only in games but in practice every day. They've seen all those guys a lot.

From James Peach via azcardinals.com:

"Wanted to talk a little about Hakeem Butler. I know he wasn't great in the bit we saw in preseason, but he does seem to be a unique weapon that we could've used this year. With his height he provides that red-zone high-point guy. Just wanted to get your thoughts on Butler and his role in this offense next year. Thanks!"

Butler is a physical specimen. When you watch him at times -- like the practice when he pulled down three in a row of those red-zone, high-point scores -- it's easy to drool at the thought of what he could be. But he dropped far too many, and he's got a ways to go to learn really good route-running. Losing this season, just in practice, hurt. I don't know how much he would've played -- I would guess it wouldn't have been more than Andy Isabella. Next offseason will be big for Butler and if he can take a big step forward.

From Andreas via azcardinals.com:

"Dear Darren: First, I want to express that I am not wishing anybody to be fired (be it GM or DC or anyone else) and that I appreciate the effort the team shows on every snap. That being said, I still suggest that we should not call the unit Vance Joseph is responsible for 'Defense' anymore until they manage to actually stop opposing offenses. Instead, we should try to find a suitable name for that unit. Steel Curtain or Purple People Eaters are less fitting, but what about 'Tight End’s Delight' or 'QB-Career-Day Makers?' Couldn't you start a competition for the most fitting name? Signed, a cautiously optimistic fan from Germany."

I'll give you credit for the most entertaining way to back into criticism. And people know I love my sarcasm. Also, I obviously got a lot of versions of questions this week complaining about the defense and Vance Joseph. I get it. I have said it before and I will say it again -- I wasn't sure exactly what this defense was going to be in the summer, and that was with all the pieces they were supposed to have. And we've had the laundry list before, losing/not getting good play for extended time (or permanently) for various reasons Patrick Peterson, Darius Philon, Robert Alford, Zach Allen and D.J. Swearinger was pretty brutal. I don't know how you are supposed to truly evaluate Joseph given those circumstances. I don't know what will happen, but I think anyone believing a DC change would suddenly make this defense infinitely better is mistaken.

Again, there are things that need to be fixed. There seem to be too many times when miscommunication in coverage -- especially when the Cardinals go to zone -- is a problem. But the expectations for the unit, for me, just weren't that high because of the reasons I gave in the previous answer.

From Boogie Simmons via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren, I understand from past chats you don't like talking about firing coaches or cutting players. But, since you're being inundated with Vance questions, can I please get your thoughts on Ray Horton? Fans forget that prior to the arrival of BA and Bowles, Ray was a very good DC for us. Players were lobbying for him to get the head coaching job. And when he didn't, he departed.Is there bad blood? And for the sake of speculation, is there any chance we'd ever bring him back to be DC again (assuming he wanted to)?"

I don't believe there is any bad blood, just like I don't believe there is any bad blood between James Bettcher and the Cardinals when Bettch had the same exact scenario when B.A. retired. Like Horton, Bettch had an interview for the head coaching job. I think it's interesting that I've had about three or four people ask me about Horton this week -- I am assuming there is a thread on a message board or reddit somewhere. I would never say never. But I don't expect Joseph to be going anywhere, so it feels like a moot point.

From Steve Drumm via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren, Pat P has struggled to make any kind of impact these last few games and with him hitting age 30 next season as well as his cap number climbing to $13 million, do you see the arrow trending up more than ever that the Cardinals will at least entertain trade requests for his services from teams this offseason?"

I'm not sure what is going to happen with Peterson. The points you raise are valid ones, although again, finding top cover corners are difficult to find in this league. I know I'm going to hear from people say, "But he's not." I'll disagree. The sample size from a few games is still not big enough for me. But I could see the defense being overhauled in the offseason, so we'd have to watch what that might entail.

From Neil Hudson via azcardinals.com:

"Born and raised in Arizona and spent 24 years in the military after leaving the AZ in 1981. Always proud of the way Arizona natives represent themselves in the military. Curious why immediately after Pat Tillman's birthday the Cards were sans 40 and wore crucial catch (colors) in Tampa while the rest of NFL saluted service?"

  1. The Bucs never were home in October so that was their Crucial Catch game.
  2. The Cardinals weren't home in November, so Dec. 1 will be their Salute to Service game.

That's a good question. Screens usually work when the defense is being ultra-aggressive, and I do think in the haste to try and make things happen (given all the defensive flaws) the Cardinals can be overaggressive. The other problem is tackling. Too often the Cardinals have been sloppy with tackles, and that allows big plays. But definitely the screen game has hurt them badly over the past few games.

From Jalen Harden via azcardinals.com:

"What do you think is preventing the Cardinals from winning these close games? What's the most concerning reason?"

It sounds simple, but I guess the most concerning reason would be the defense's inability to get that one key stop at the end of games. It would help if the offense came up with a game-sealing drive for sure, but sometimes it comes down to the defense getting that series of plays -- including a fourth down, because that's what would happen -- in which they just don't allow the other team anything. Easier said than done, but that's what pops to mind.

From Michael Schmorr via azcardinals.com:

"Two questions: Do you think the time Chris Johnson and David Johnson worked together after his injury affected his running style? I distinctly remember reading that DJ was raving how CJ had taught him ways to run that would prolong his body for the long haul. In a way it seems he runs more similar to CJ now in that he shimmies and then looks for the home run lane to use his speed instead of attacking the hole like he did in the earlier part of his career. Now I know CJ was with the Cards even when DJ was most successful but it was after DJ got hurt when I remember reading how CJ was mentoring him. It's too bad because DJ seems like such an upstanding young man and a team player you'd like to see succeed."

"Also, Zane Gonzalez was drafted by Cleveland in 2017 I believe, he had a good rookie season on an 0-16 Cleveland team then the next year he really struggles out of the gate and gets released and we snag him up. Who was the special teams coordinator for Cleveland in 2018? None other than Amos Jones, who proved with us he couldn't get our kicker ever comfortable with his schemes. Jones messing up Gonzalez may have been the best thing he ever did for the Cardinals ever because he looks to be solid (and young). What are you thoughts? Am I just looking for a way to pick on Amos Jones again or is it a valid point?"

Those are some involved questions. 1) No, I don't think David's time with Chris Johnson has any impact on what David is going through right now. I'm not exactly sure what David is dealing with right now, but again, I don't think it has much to do with anything that happened three years ago. As for Gonzalez, he struggled in Cleveland because he was hurt, and he couldn't kick very well. I don't know if that had much to do with Jones. But however it happened, the Cardinals are happy Gonzalez ended up here.

From Robert Malicki via azcardinals.com:

"Yes, this team has issues and their variety is head-scratching. I want to address WR and the talk swirling around Fitz and acquiring a 'true No.1' WR. A head coach is charged with fixing all kinds of problems and David Johnson is not producing. Whatever is going on with him or the scheme or RB competition, could we not get him work at WR? Having DJ spread out most of the time and, yet, still be a backfield threat could drive other teams batty. He's being paid No.1 WR money. Why not give him the job?"

Because just because you say a guy is a No. 1 receiver doesn't make him a No. 1 receiver. What's lost in everybody who brings up the idea that David Johnson should move to receiver loses sight of the fact that one of the reasons he's a good receiver right now is because he is a running back. He can catch the ball yes, but his strength comes out of getting mismatches with linebackers or maybe a box safety. As good as Johnson is, if you made him a "No. 1" receiver being covered by a No. 1 cornerback, it would not end well.

From Cris P via azcardinals.com:

"I saw an article about what the Cards could do this off season with their leadership. One of the ideas was bringing (NFL.com draft analyst) Daniel Jeremiah to be the GM. Regardless of what the cards do this offseason with the leadership, I thought bringing in Jeremiah even in some type of support role would be smart, given how point on he has been with previous drafts. So my question is what are your thoughts on bringing in people like DJ, not specifically as GM, but whatever role the Cards might want him or other draft gurus in."

I think Jeremiah is very smart. I think there are a handful of TV guys out there that are pretty smart. Obviously Mike Mayock is GM in Oakland. But all these guys usually worked for a team previous -- that's how they landed their current roles. It doesn't mean they can't grow, or should have been let go in the first place, but their spot on TV doesn't make them a foolproof hire. Jeremiah has a nice (well-paying) gig right now. He's already been a scout for three teams. If he ever did want to do that, it'd have to be the right situation. As for the Cardinals, Steve Keim is always looking at ways he can improve the front office.

There was definitely some frustration right after Sunday's game. But yes, they see the progress. I don't see anything fracturing. That happens usually when things have gone to hell. That's not this team. They are competitive. They want to win. But I don't see it getting ugly.

From Boon Johnson via azcardinals.com:

"Hey Darren is there any encouragement in this organization to at least know we have our QB of the future? Because in years past, say the Rosen season, it felt like we were a bad team who was also directionless. We lose games, but I've never felt like we're a bad team. This entire season has felt like we're one play away from being 7-3-1. So the future is bright. I know the players themselves aren't happy, but is the vibe in the office or Mike Bidwill or Steve Keim or the scouts happy? Just knowing the future is for sure brighter than its been?"

I don't know if happy is the right word, because they are 3-7-1 and you are what your record says you are. However, there is no more important piece of the offense than the quarterback, and yes, there is definitely a feeling that the Cardinals have found their long-term quarterback within an offense that has a chance to be special as they add more pieces. So maybe, instead of happy, optimistic is a better word.

From Chad Johnson via azcardinals.com:

"At the beginning of the season, Coach Kingsbury took a lot of heat for his college record at Texas Tech, never calling plays in NFL, trying to 'revolutionize' football, and the 'pretty boy offense.' I appreciate the way he didn't get all defensive and just went to work, takes responsibility for decisions, and continues to adapt to personnel and the NFL game. Has the perception of Coach Kingsbury changed around the league? Has he done enough to garner some respect?"

I'm not around the rest of the league enough to know if their perception of Kingsbury has changed. In the end, the one thing that will ultimately do that is winning, which the Cards have not yet. But I agree with your points above, and again, I think the Cards have found their quarterback and what can be a successful offense in this league.

David Johnson's contract guarantees enough in salary (and initial bonuses) that releasing him would be more than $16 million in dead cap money. I would think that alone would mean Johnson would be here next season. His skill set it something this offense can use when Johnson is right. I would expect, looking at it right now, that the Cardinals will try to make sure Johnson is right for 2020.

From Fannie Tosh via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren! I have 3 questions this week:

  1. The last two weeks Jalen Thompson has gotten every snap at safety, and Deionte Thompson has only gotten a few. Is it pretty well settled that Jalen Thompson has claimed the job?
  2. Do you think Marcus Gilbert returns next year as our RT?
  3. Any thoughts to the Ray Horton return as DC rumors?
  4. Bonus! I just thought of it. Does Jordan Hicks have the ability to audible playcalls? I'm not trying to attack Vance but I'd assume the players themselves know that Chandler being in coverage is a bad idea."
  1. It does look like Jalen has stepped up to earn at least the majority of the other safety spot. And he's doing a nice job. To be fair, Deionte was hurt -- he sat out the Tampa game with a knee issue, and that might have stunted his standing.
  2. I think they will try to find a younger solution to right tackle, although, depending on what Gilbert is willing to sign for, perhaps he could return to battle for the job.
  3. There's that Horton stuff again. See my answer earlier in the mailbag.
  4. Usually the defense isn't changing things like that. On offense, those audibles are usually a two-way decision on the play that is built in. You're basically suggesting mutiny.

From Steve Drumm via azcardinals.com:

"Hey Darren, here's a non-football related question: If you could write an Oscar-winning screenplay for a big-budget Hollywood movie what genre would you prefer? Love story, comedy, sci-fi thriller, sports movie, drama or action-drama?"

First of all, usually the big-budget Hollywood movie isn't getting an Oscar. But that'd be cool. It'd probably be the drama. Or Batman. Could I win an Oscar with Batman?"

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