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You've Got Mail: The Offseason Has Arrived

Topics include taking Conner's future, QB in the draft, and trading down

Pascal down punt Mailbag 010924

The season is finally over. The mailbag never stops. I may have been a little fiesty on this one. Questions have been edited for length and clarity. Don't forget to send a question for a future mailbag.

From Lauren Hoyt:

"Are we going to re-sign James Conner so that he retires a Cardinal? I hope so. Despite his age (28, which is young for a human, ancient for a running back), his running style shouldn't diminish whatsoever. He's a very patient, smart, tough runner. Amazing leader, and a wonderful guy to have around."

Conner's situation will be interesting this offseason since he only has a year left on his deal. The reality is a running back isn't getting some super-long extension. But you are right that the Cardinals need (and want) him around. He's everything you want on your team, and it was cool to see him get his statistical records this year. You can't help but root for the guy.

From Roger Drake:

"Twitter is what it is. I know you can't please everyone with debate between getting a higher draft pick and a culture-building win. But besides culture building, isn't a tangible benefit of the win over Eagles now knowing Kyler is the guy to lead this team moving forward (even though the team had pretty much already decided that) and also others like James Conner, hopefully Michael Carter and possibly Greg Dortch solidifying their roles on this team for 2024?"

A story. Long ago, back in my newspaper days, I covered the Coyotes for a season when Jim Schoenfeld was the coach. They had a great start that season ('98-'99) before falling into a malaise, and sometime in February or March a story came out that if the Coyotes didn't win the game that night, Schoenfeld could be fired. After morning skate, Schonefeld was not happy that such a story was leaked, and made the point to me and another reporter: If I am bad enough to fire, why would the result of one game make a difference one way or the other? (The Coyotes won that night, Schoney made it through the season before the Coyotes blew a 3-1 lead in the first round of the playoffs.)

That is a very very long way of me saying that the Eagles win was meaningful but it isn't the reason Kyler is the guy or why you'd want Conner and Carter to be your running back tandem. Those choices better be being made over a body of work, which includes practice and meeting rooms. I do think the Eagles win was meaningful in some intangible ways and was -- Cowboys win aside -- the signature game of the season.

From Maury Simpson:

"I like your article highlighting Roy Lopez. He's a keeper. Anyways, do you think it's possible that the Cardinals take a QB with our Houston pick? I'm sitting back watching the CFB playoffs, and boy are there some darn good QBs in this draft. Bo Nix and Michael Penix Jr look amazing. But we all understand that QB is a unique arrangement. Taking a QB early is seen as a betrayal and 'you're moving on.' Which I think is BS because all other positions face competition."

No. They won't take a first-round QB. It would be a waste of assets in the current situation. You mention other positions have competition. True. But if you are taking a player in the first round, you are expecting him to start even before he shows up. If a first-rounder isn't playing soon after being drafted, that's not about competition that's about potentially missing on the pick. And QB is absolutely a different animal than other positions. Taking a QB early is seen as "you're moving on" because taking a QB early means you're moving on. That's reality. 

From Michael Tuckman:

"Hi Darren, All this year the talk has been about who the Cards will pick at their assigned draft slot or if they will trade back to get more picks. But here's one I wanted your thoughts on: Monti moving UP in the draft. Let's say we finish with the No. 4 pick. If Harrison is still there at three, and the Patriots are listening to offers, why not toss two of our third rounders (the later ones) to move up a slot and get our man? Monti has six prime picks in the first three rounds. Seems like a great way to move up the board."

I don't believe there is any chance of this happening because of what I believe Ossenfort believes in doing. One, you are assuming Harrison is the pick even if he is there at 4, and I am still not 100 percent convinced of that. Two, I think Ossenfort would rather get a a great player at another position (a tackle?) at 4 and then keep those picks and take more bites at the apple at getting another good couple of players, rather than just one Harrison. You need a receiver, but you also need OL, DL, edge, and CB. Six prime picks would potentially help in that regard immensely.

From David Wetlink:

"What in the heck is going on with Kei'Trel Clark? Benched for the final three games. Darren, we fans may be over-emotional, but we aren't dumb. Our eyes can see that he's a very good player and he has been all year. This ongoing saga of him being benched is insane. Here we are with a need at CB, and here's a young CB who's looked good in his limited appearances. Why on earth is he on the bench? If in fact it's because he's late to meetings (or anything off-field) then please just say so. This lie of 'performance reasons' is BS, and it's a rot creating distrust in this otherwise optimistic organization going forward."

Gotta say David, you sure know a lot without knowing anything, especially when you call someone a liar without knowing if in fact that has happened. Let's focus on what we know: One, he didn't have a defensive snap in the last five games. He was still playing special teams all season. He started early in the season when Garrett Williams was still coming back and went to the bench when Garrett Williams finally was able to play. Antonio Hamilton, by any measure, was their best cornerback. So the only argument you might have in the moment is that Clark should be ahead of Starling Thomas, and given that they see Clark and Thomas daily -- and you do not -- I'll stick with that evaluation. If Clark was an off-field problem, this staff has shown they let players like that go. He is a good kid and good in the locker room. He needs to get better, and that's all it is. Finally, I think you let your over-emotional get into your question. 

From Fred Guerrero:

"Will the Cards draft Michael Penix out of Washington. They need a QB."

No, and they don't. 

From Nigel Green:

"Hi Darren, given the impressive nature of the Cardinals' run game these past few games, what do you think needs adding to the offense to make it truly potent? Also, do you think the early picks in the draft will concentrate on the defense?"

I think the first pick needs to go to a difference-maker. That can be on either side of the ball. Clearly, there needs to be a lot added to the defense to help the unit, and I do think a lot of picks will go that way -- but let's see what happens in free agency. As for the offense, they could use a No. 1 wide receiver and they could use an upgrade at left guard. But in the end, getting more practice time for Kyler Murray and converting in the red zone will be most important.

From Ford Burrow:

"Hi Darren. Can you explain the philosophy of trading back for more picks? I don't get it. In my view, players play. Taking the best players possible supports that effort. Furthermore, the Hall of Fame is heavily skewed in favor of 'the higher pick, the better.' I understand more bites at the apple. But again, statistically speaking, your No. 4 player will be better than your two late-teen players. I would've hoped we would've learned that lesson, since once upon a time we took two bites at the apple, at the cost of Terrell Suggs. Moving back 1 pick (a la PJJ?) that's fine. Moving back 10 picks? No. Stay at 4, take the BPA (likely Marvin or one of the two OTs, fortunately both are dire needs.)"

If you understands more bites at the apple I have no idea what you are asking me to explain. The Cardinals moved back nine picks last year -- but then they moved back to six. The Suggs thing was a mistake, although that was 2003 and it's probably time to move on from something from 20 years ago. Also, when you need to upgrade several spots on the roster, how much will BPA help if you are woefully lacking in many other places? We will see if they stay at 4. They might. I can say this -- the vast majority of top 10 picks are not Hall of Famers. Not sure that argument is why you stay.

From John Ingram:

"Happy New Year Darren! Truly enjoy the work you do covering the Cards. I grew up just outside of Chicago and was a diehard Bears fan going back to the time of George Halas, Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers. We moved here in 1984 before the Cardinals moved out here and everything was about the Dallas Cowboys. Since we like to support local teams we have been Cardinals fans for many years. My questions are: Have you seen evidence of changes made to the facilities after the grades they were given and also, what have you seen or heard that gives you a feeling that this culture change we hear so much about is the real deal?"

Yes, there have been upgrades and that remains work that is ongoing as the organization grows bigger, both on the football side and the business side. I'm sure this year's player report, whenever it comes out, will be anticipated. As far as the culture, yes, Jonathan Gannon has, to me, brought noticeable change. It's been said a few times but the feeling here at 4-13 after 2023 is so much different than the 4-13 after 2022. That's because of the culture, and it's manifested itself for one with Kyler Murray, who is in a much different space now.

From Kay Jordan:

"Darren. As we enter the offseason, I have a content suggestion. You've heard of 'Where are they now?' I think you should do a 'What went wrong?' with some notable Cardinal misses. What went wrong with Cody Brown? Slightly before my time, but a top college pass rusher getting cut 16 months after being second-round pick is memorable. What went wrong with Andy Isabella? He was a dominant college WR, with elite speed. So what was it about the NFL that didn't click? What went wrong with Jonathan Cooper? A dominant college guard. Kudos to Steve Keim for at least trying to invest in the OL. He breaks his leg and is never the same again. Did he catch the yips? What went wrong with David Johnson? Guy was Christian Mccaffrey-esque. MVP candidate. One day his football ability evaporates. Poof! Like a light switch. What happened? All of these are purely your opinion, from a sideline observer (with sprinkle of insider...)"

I'll try to give you what I can. Cody Brown was a reach from the start, a guy the Cardinals overdrafted because they were so desperate for an edge rusher and that's who was available at that point. He got hurt as a rookie and simply never showed any real promise. Isabella struggled to get away from being a body-catcher, and while he was fast he wasn't necessarily quick and that's why he was drafted to be a slot guy he wasn't really built for (and he was too small to be an outside guy.) I would've liked to see what Cooper could've been if he hadn't broken his leg -- I do think he lost confidence after that -- but at least he was worthy enough to help get Chandler Jones in trade. And as for David Johnson, he was great in 2015 and great in 2016. But once he got hurt in 2017 -- and then got a big contract after that season despite missing the year -- he wasn't the same. Part of that was playing in a terrible offense in 2018, part of that was losing the Arians offense in which he was so good. 

Just my two cents. 

From JV:

"What draft position would the Cards have if we won that game ? Conspiracy theory: How much did they pay Matt Prater to miss those two field goals?"

That's a dumb conspiracy theory, and that's coming from someone who sees almost all conspiracy theories as pretty stupid. They only would've dropped from 4 to 5. And if you had been in the postgame locker room, and seen Prater talk and his teammates reactions to a close loss -- one was getting angry (a la Justin Pugh) that reporters were surrounding Prater and wanted them to leave Prater alone -- you'd know they all wanted to win.

From Nick O'Brien:

"Did you know that in terms of the PHOENIX/ARIZONA CARDINALS, the team leader in career rushing yards is David Johnson. With all due respect to Ottis Anderson, St Louis (or Chicago) records don't count. The first ARIZONA Cardinal is David Johnson. James Conner is 554 yards (1 season) away from overtaking him as the all-time leader in career rush yards. I think that's a big deal and should be recognized.

Also, postgame you asked Conner about his early buy-in to coach JG. I don't know about you, but I felt his response was strange. When you ask about JG he shrugs and says 'Well, he was hired as the HC... there's nothing you can do about it.' It certainly wasn't a rave review. I thought it was a weird reaction to your question."

Props to David, who indeed is 10th on the franchise's all-time rushing list with 3,128 yards. But no, other than a note, I don't expect some to-do for Conner, just like Johnson didn't get one when he passed Edgerrin James. If Conner gets to Anderson's 7,999 yards -- which very much do count for a franchise that treasures its long history -- then it'll be a thing. As for Conner's postgame comments, I didn't interpret that the same way at all. To me, it was Conner downplaying that he should be recognized for jumping on board early and instead making it sound that he wasn't special -- that he was just doing what he should have done. 

From Dan Marks:

"A few questions:

  1. More of a content request. I believe when Monti was hired he said something about re-tooling the scouting process. I'm curious what that looks like. Maybe you could corner Monti in the break room and get some answers over reheated leftovers?
  2. It seemed like the Cardinals had a lot of players that went on IR and then returned this year. I know there have been changes to the IR rules in the last few years, but it seemed like the front office was leveraging those changes more than in the past. Do you think that was a byproduct of the lack of talent on the roster, or just a philosophy of this front office?
  3. It seems reasonable to say that Hollywood Brown is heading towards a 'prove-it deal.' Assuming offers are equal, would it make sense for Hollywood to come back, or is there a situation that would be more beneficial for him?"

A few answers:

  1. A big part of what they changed is timing. They have already completed the bulk of their free-agent meetings and are well underway about draft prospects. As for details, maybe Monti would talk about those, but I'd have to ask.
  2. If you are referring to the guys that were on IR and then returned, I think that has more to do with a) the nature of the injuries, so guys could return and b) the rule changes that allow so many guys to come back. Also don't forget Kyler and Garrett Williams don't really count because they were on the PUP list not IR.
  3. I think Hollywood can click with Kyler. But if they end up drafting a No. 1 receiver, it may be something Brown wants to consider if the option is there to return. He'll have to share with that guy, Wilson, McBride and the running game.

From Lukas Lombardo:

"What are your hot Pro Bowl takes? I think it's nothing at this point. The game itself is a non-event. I think everybody would much rather see a skills-challenge type thing, but even better, player challenges, where two guys who been yapping at each other can have a 100 meter race or something. But really the bigger issue is the selections themselves. Its a name-recognition contest, and nothing more. How do you fix that? I think you must remove fan voting. Pro Bowl still have has very real impact on money and career. It's not a small thing for these players or organizations. So the current setup is absolute garbage."

I'll be honest, I don't think about it that much. At least the voting is only one-third fans, added in with players and coaches. So if you are mad at who gets picked, you have to blame coaches and players too.

From Matthew Stroh:

"Hey Darren. Thank you for a great season of the mailbag and for everything you do. I think the season went pretty good. The game was tough, but before the game I thought winning or losing the last game had pros and cons. Matt Prater had an off game but I still think he is the kicker for the future. Here are my questions. Do you think we need to make NFL referees full-time? Do you think the Philadelphia Eagles are not doing good this year because J.G. and Nick Rallis left to the Cardinals or do you think it's because we hired Zach Gershman?"

I'm still not sure how making referees full-time changes how they might make a split-second call in real time. If they didn't know the rules, maybe, but full time doesn't help in the moment. And the Eagles just seem to be going through what the 2021 Cardinals did.

From John Tharp:

"A disappointing loss, it happens. After the game I went on to pretty quick and you had already published an article about the game. It made me think, what is it like for you to watch a game? As fans we get to jump, cheer, get wrapped in the emotion and be in the moment. You are working though, you have articles to write, notes to take, etc. Where do you watch the games, and what is a typical game like for you?"

I sit in the press box, and watch from there, taking notes and tweeting. I get a quick story up immediately when the game ends -- on the road, I go down to the bowels of the stadium to finish writing because things are so sped up on away games because we fly out soon after the game -- and then go to the locker room to get quotes. I then write my full game story with quotes and update that original story (so if you read it right away after the game, there is a newer, better version about 90 minutes later) and then write my Aftermath post. It's a lot of work especially as the game ends and the immediate time after, but I've been doing it so long I know the expectations. 

From Philly Steve:

"Are you going to do your player of the year awards breakdown again? If so, Dante Stills needs to win something. That guy was a delight all season. Didn't fill up the stat sheet, but he was a consistent force on a defensive line that perpetually lacked consistency. Certified Monti gem."

We will be having our staff awards (next week is the plan) and while we will see if Stills shows up, you are right -- he is a sixth-round find, I love what he can be and I love that Stills wants to become that guy.

From Art Pozza:

"I think James Conner's nickname should be 'Bone' because he's bad to the bone. James 'Bone' Conner. What do you think?"

No. Just no.

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