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You've Got Mail: The Season Has Ended

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Yes, the season has ended -- but not the mailbag. We'll keep this going assuming I still collect questions every week. A long offseason is ahead. As always, you can send along your questions by going here.

Very early, yes. Nevertheless ... I think when you start to talk draft, you can't without figuring out who they end up with in free agency. I think on defense, they likely will have to mine both places. But if they are able to land, for instance, a good defensive lineman in free agency, that lessens the urgency early in the draft (but not completely). Also, that first pick to me is wide open. Who will be on the board? Kliff Kingsbury said Monday you need to take a player who will immediately help. So without knowing the first seven picks, it's hard to narrow down positions.

From Gary Shaw via azcardinals.com:

"Will the Cardinals target CeeDee Lamb in the first round if available or an offensive tackle?"

Again, way too early in the process. Part of the deal with draft picks -- especially the early ones -- is getting a chance to talk with them at the combine and/or workouts. Watching where the receivers and the tackles land in the first round will be fascinating. At this point I wouldn't rule out either -- or say it could be a pass rusher. Or a defensive tackle. Or an inside linebacker. Or a stud cornerback.

From Jerry Brown via azcardinals.com:

"How well has Cassius Marsh played, and how do you assess his future with the team?"

I think Marsh was fine. I think the Cardinals needed more of an overall pass rush most of the season, so I'm not sure where that might leave him. I could see a potential return, but if he is looking for a possible starting role, I'm not sure that would be here.

From Tom Cowley via azcardinals.com:

"Now that coaches are being trimmed, do you see trimming to the players as well and which in your opinion do you see to be the first to go? Any surprises, i.e. David Johnson, others. Thanks."

The Cardinals have a bunch of free agents that might end up leaving, but that wouldn't be until March. I don't know if there are a bunch of guys who I'd expect to be released. The David Johnson situation is complicated, so I don't know how quickly they'll figure that one out. But I don't see a purge of veterans who are currently under contract. It might be a while for much player movement (unless the Cardinals announce a couple of contract extensions.)

From Troy Ezeh via azcardinals.com:

"I noticed during the course of the season that whenever Kyler Murray is interviewed by you guys he seems so disinterested in some of his responses to the point where some of the interviews become cringeworthy. Just curious, is he being forced to do these interviews?"

I don't know if it's Kyler's favorite thing to do but I think he's gotten better during the season. And every guy is different. As for being forced, well, yes, all players are contractually obligated to give a couple of interviews during the week if asked, so I guess in that sense they are "forced." It's part of the gig. He understands that.

From Victor Godoy via azcardinals.com:

"Can you please explain why if the Cards trade David Johnson why he still counts toward a cap hit. Or how the cap hit actually goes up 2 million. Doesn't the new team take all his contract (cap hit, salary) with them? Thanks."

So this is a good time to touch on basic salary cap info, and we can use David Johnson's contract as an example. If a player gets a signing bonus at the outset of a deal, the team that signs him pays him that money up front and is on the hook cap-wise for the entire amount. They do get to spread that cap number through the length of the deal -- unless that player is cut or traded, in which case the balance of the bonus cap hit accelerates on to the current cap. So, in Johnson's case, he got a $12 million signing bonus spread over four seasons. So, with two years left on his contract, there is still $6 million of cap hit still to be accounted for (the money, as I said, has actually already been paid.) In Johnson's case, he still has a $10.2M salary (guaranteed) due for 2020, according to overthecap.com.

Because of the way the cap is figured, if you were to cut him, the Cards would absorb that entire $16.2M cap hit. If he remains on the team (because of the prorated bonuses, and a roster bonus and per-game bonuses) his cap hit for 2020 would be $2M less, because you would still be spreading out that signing bonus over two years. Now, if Johnson were to be traded with his contract as is, the new team would indeed take that current $10.2M salary, but the Cardinals would still take the $6M cap hit for the bonus. (This mechanism is true for any contract.)

No. There were no changes because the strength and conditioning coach, Buddy Morris, is the same coach the Cardinals have had since 2014. I get that sometimes that can matter, but mostly, football is a brutal game and guys get injured. Most of it is simply luck and/or genetics.

From Joy Brooks via azcardinals.com:

"I'm curious why Steve Keim is waiting to sign Kenyan Drake to a long-term deal. I get we won't really have the money until March, but surely they can come to terms before that. He's already signed a couple of players to extensions and I'm not sure it'd be a good idea to let him test the open market. I love David Johnson but we need to keep Drake. And Pharoh Cooper. Don't know why we cut him before, but he's the best kick returner we've had in ages, as well as a good receiver. They need to hang on to him this time."

We are only a couple days into the offseason, so I'm not sure anyone is waiting. Also, we don't know where this stands. The Cardinals may have already offered him a contract. Maybe they are talking terms. Maybe Drake is waiting to see what else might be out there. At this point, if Drake is determined to test the market, there is no way to really stop that from happening. The Cardinals want to make sure it's the right deal. As does Drake. I think both sides know this is a good place for him. I think something will get done. As for Cooper, I agree that he fit well here as well, and I'd think he'd be back.

From Kenyon Carlson via azcardinals.com:

"I've got a burning question to ask of you which I acknowledge would only reflect your personal preference. The Cards O-line could stand for an upgrade, in spite of playing better (and remaining healthier) than what most fans anticipated. My question to you, in your opinion, is do you think the Cards would be better off signing an expensive top-notch FA O-lineman or would you think that the Cards are better off signing a cheaper O-lineman (as a starter) and using that money saved to invest in a quality backup. Remember that it's not uncommon for a franchise's starting O-lineman to incur an injury by season's end. So, would you rather gamble on the health of a high-priced quality O-lineman or would you rather have two guys where there isn't a steep drop-off in talent should the starter be injured?"

In my opinion, there is a flaw in the argument for the simple reason that, given the dearth of quality offensive linemen in the league, I'd say it'd be tough to find someone who is starter-quality who is available and/or willing to be a backup. But in the Cardinals' case, let's say they had Mason Cole remain the top backup center/guard and ended up with, say, Justin Murray (or Jordan Mills) as the top backup tackle. I just think it's hard enough to find starters on the offensive line before you start thinking you can throw extra money at backups.

From Tom Ward via azcardinals.com:

"David Johnson two years ago was seen as the premiere running back in the NFL. The Cardinals rewarded him with a huge contract. Now Drake seems to be in that same position. Do you think it would be a mistake to go 'all in' financially on a Drake signing? Running backs seems to be a position where there is a lot of depth to choose from. Would it be better to go all in on a premiere tackle or pass rusher or cornerback?"

With all due respect to how well Drake has played, there isn't anyone who is expecting Drake to end up with a Johnson-like contract. That won't happen. He's going to do better than he was going to had he stayed in Miami, for sure. But it won't be the same. The Cardinals, I'm sure, are going to be particularly smart about it for that very reason, with what has happened in the Johnson situation. But I do believe there is a happy medium for the Cards and Drake. And yes, if you go "all in," as you say, a tackle (on either side of the ball) or pass rusher or cornerback makes more sense to me.

Always privileged to be able to post a question from the legendary Clue. But Kliff Kingsbury did say as he wrapped up the season that the Cardinals needed to be better in situational football -- including coaches -- and yes, I think the late-half drills are definitely on the work-to-do lists. I do think part of that will naturally improve as Kyler Murray gains experience. He did a good job of it against Detroit and Cincy, not so good against Tampa, Pittsburgh and the Rams.

From Halee Kleo via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren. Now that the season is over, and we can look back on the preseason storylines, the mystery of the offense was easily the biggest. Now we've seen it. Is it really that new and revolutionary? Maybe I'm missing something. I'd say the Ravens offense is far more dynamic and tricky than ours. So I just wanted to get your impression of this whole 'K.K.'s super-secret offense' thing. Its a good offense, but not at all unique."

Is it unique? Not really, but again, the offense did morph quite a bit from where it was going to be and into the first few games to where it ended up. I'd argue that even Baltimore isn't really tricky as much as they have a quarterback being uses as a main running component, which jacks up your plans as a defense pretty good. Look, they wanted to make people wonder about the offense last offseason. The fans were the collateral damage. It was the rest of the league they were hoping to make think twice. It was interesting to talk about. This offseason will be a lot more straight-forward.

From Garth Short via azcardinals.com:

"For the second time Kyler has had problems with his hamstring. Is this a type of injury that should heal completely over the offseason or is it an injury that shows that he will have it 'develop' from time to time. Thanks Darren."

I have no reason to believe he won't be fine with a little time to rest and heal. The first time he had an issue it didn't cost him any time and it didn't impact him in a game. There isn't really any evidence that this is going to be chronic.

From Bob Haines via azcardinals.com:

"Darren, really enjoy listening to your podcast with Kyle & Paul. I live in NJ but have been an avid Cardinal fan for nearly 50 yrs. I think the Cardinals have a solid core of players to build around including Kyler, Christian, Kenyan on offense and Chandler, Pat P, Budda and Jordan on defense. Mr. Bidwill needs to open up his checkbook and let Steve Keim go out and fill in the holes to make Arizona a championship team. It is also important that Mr Keim hits on the upcoming draft especially on defense where the cardinals could not get off the field on third down & were torched by every tight end in the league! Time is running out to get a ring for the man with the best hands in the NFL, LARRY!"

Your points are all noted, Bob. Although I'll say that Michael Bidwill and the Cardinals have spent plenty of money over the last decade, they use up the cap and have big-money players. You can argue they sometimes haven't given it to the right guys, but you can't say they haven't spent the money.

The big question of the offseason, right? Chase Edmonds will be here. That I do not doubt. I think Kenyan Drake fits well with the Cardinals and I think the team knows that. It'll come down to money and the two sides agreeing what he's worth. David Johnson is the tricky one, right? Judging by the way he was held out of the finale despite being healthy, that didn't seem like a positive sign for an Arizona future. Johnson has made it pretty clear that while he isn't making waves, he isn't happy with the current situation. Now, how it develops from here, that's hard to say. I'm sure there will be speculation about a trade. But who knows. (And a trade, if it were to happen, can't go down until mid-March.)

From Adam Ross via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren, hope you had a nice holiday. My question is about our receiver room. Do we have too many slot receivers? Larry moved to the slot when BA came to town and got the Reggie Wayne/Hines Ward role, Kirk is another slot guy and I believe that was the plan for Isabella to play out of the slot as well. That leaves our outside guys as KeeSean Johnson, Pharoh Cooper and Damiere Byrd with Hakeem Butler coming back from injury. It seems as though all of our star power is inside. What can we do outside the numbers?"

That is an excellent breakdown. I do think Kirk has shown the ability to be outside, and all this conversation about taking potentially another wide receiver early in the draft would be finding someone on the outside. In a perfect world, yes, I could see Kirk inside. And Fitz, as you mentioned, works better in there these days. And Isabella's best spot would indeed be inside. So there are things that must be sorted out in that regard, and with the reality that the Cards could use an outside threat. Maybe Butler develops, but I think it would behoove them to find someone else as well.

From Jesse via azcardinals.com:

"Was there any push to retain Markus Golden? Obviously we have the benefit of hindsight, but resigning him on a 'prove-it' deal would have seemingly made more sense that one for Terrell Suggs."

The timing for Markus Golden and the Cardinals I think ended up being unfortunate. When Suggs first signed, I think Golden was still hoping for a bigger, long-term deal that wasn't coming from the Cardinals. Had the Cardinals and Golden both known what Golden ultimately signed for in New York, I think it could've changed the course of that relationship. That said, Markus played well for the Giants and should be able to get his long-term money now. Selfishly, I think it'd be cool if he would end up back here. I don't know if that's realistic.

From Chad Johnson via azcardinals.com:

"How much access do Cardinals player have to the stadium on a regular basis? What about during a bowl game? Could Mr Bidwill stroll down on the sidelines if he wanted?"

My guess is Michael Bidwill does have enough pull to go where he'd want. But at a bowl game, that isn't being run by the Cardinals and the Cardinals don't completely run the stadium either. So if a player wanted to pop by the stadium for a college game, he'd still have to work out the right credentials ahead of time. I'm sure they could stop by otherwise, but again, it's not like they have a key card in which they could just drop by whenever they want.

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