The Cardinals are done for the season, and yes, it ended ugly. I'm sure you'll be surprised to see some of the questions reflect that emotion. The mailbags will continue through the offseason, so as always, you can send in a question for a future mailbag here.
From Cam Sanchez:
"Hi Darren! From my couch QB perspective, below are the biggest weaknesses/needs on our football team. Please rank them in order of greatest need. Mine are not in order, but I do think the DL is the biggest issue: DL1, DL2, Pass Rusher 1, Pass Rusher 2, RG, RT, WR."
It's interesting how you double up on defensive linemen and pass rushers. When we talk about such things, we're usually talking about higher-end adds; I assume if they got a second of any of these they would be depth pieces. If I am ranking your list, I'm going pass rusher, guard, wide receiver, defensive lineman, right tackle.
From Jackson Holt:
"What the heck was wrong with Kyler Murray? That was stunning. I've been watching him since college and have never once seen him that rattled and anxious out there. Which is why I was also Team Colt McCoy after the first quarter. It was clear Kyler didn't have it. That's fine, sit him. Roll with Colt. Then Kyler can try again next week vs Tampa. Darren, please explain this weird NFL philosophy where you never bench your starting QB. Because I don't get it. They do it in baseball all the time. It's just a reality sometimes your star doesn't have it."
Wait -- did you really try to make a parallel between benching a Pro Bowl starting quarterback in a playoff game and sitting a right fielder for a night or two during an 162-game season? Let's say you put McCoy in down 14-0, a QB who is not built for big comebacks and one who is even less likely to escape a fierce pass rush. No, Kyler didn't play well. But I wouldn't have made the change either, and definitely not that early. I like Colt and I think he's a fantastic backup. But he's not Kyler.
From Dwayne Graz:
"Kliff gets heaped on a lot, for many things he doesn't deserve. But I do think the one critical thing that Kliff did fail at is adjusting to life post-Hop. It doesn't seem the offense evolved one bit. They just plugged in Antoine Wesley to be the new Hop, and it wasn't even close. Ertz should've become the new No. 1 receiver (much like Mark Andrews in Balt or Kelce in KC). Quick slants should've been utilized more since our remaining receivers struggle to get open on longer routes."
Well, Zach Ertz really was the No. 1 receiver once Hop went down, if you go by targets. Wesley wasn't the new Hop as much as filling that spot. But they never looked at him as much as Hop. I do think they struggled to adjust once Hop went down for good.
From Brandon Butterfield:
"Something that was said by Russ Wilson on the 'Manningcast' broadcast caught my attention. He said he was bothered by Kyler's attitude during the game, and that given the situation he should've been working the sidelines hyping his guys up. Combined this with a veteran Seahawks player who gave an interview this week and had picked the Rams to win. When asked why he said our team's body language during the Seahawks game was awful and he just couldn't see a team with our mentality winning in the playoffs. It's seemed like a lot of sportswriters, and with respect, yourself included, have tried writing of Kyler's leadership/body language. Is it time to acknowledge it more? Especially when the active QB of a division rival is calling it out on national TV?"
OK, so I went back to watch Wilson on the 'Manningcast' and that's not exactly how it went. He never said he was bothered by Murray. He said when he's in such a situation, he did work the sidelines. For you to portray it like a was a direct criticism of Murray is disingenuous. When it was said, it was 31-11 with 10 minutes left in the game. I could only imagine how veteran pro players would respond to such hyping if Murray were to do that.
Every quarterback is different. And there were plenty of teammates of Wilson over the years that didn't like his approach, so there is no one right way. (I don't know the other interview, but I'd love to know if that also was how you describe.) I think his leadership and body language, as you said, has been brought up many times. It'll continue to be brought up until he wins playoff games, which is how quarterbacks are measured. But I don't think what he did was "called out" Murray. That's not Wilson's style.
From Ivan Dersi:
"I write from Italy after yet another sleepless night to see the game. For the second year in a row after a start as a contender for the title we melt like snow in the sun in the second half of the season. Could it be a physical preparation problem? Why when the others start getting serious we start to slide? Thanks for the space given to me. Let's go Cards."
Ivan, I'm sorry the lost sleep didn't pay off in being able to see a better performance. Like J.J. Watt said after the game, if I knew what it was, I'd let someone know. Personally, I don't think it's about physical prep -- I feel it has to be on the mental side of things. Exactly what I can't tell you. But it's going to be a cloud hovering over this team's collective head until they fix it.
From Aleksi Koskinen:
"First of all, please be OK Budda. Second of all let's not forget Akers' antics the next time he plays against the Cardinals. In the game, what was that effort we just saw? That loss was embarrassing. Mr. Bidwill needs to take a long hard look at people working from him and make this team accountable again. Bloated contracts on some part-time players, top draft picks being outplayed by journeymen and that tells something about coaching. To be honest I saw some cases throughout the last third/quarter of the whole season where the players gave up on plays. There are numerous top professionals putting their best effort every time they step on the field, so the contrast is glaring. Management can't keep accepting half-hearted efforts.
So now that the inevitable rant is out of the way I also have a question. What is now the roadmap with key dates to offseason with signings before free agency, actual free agency, draft etc?"
The Cardinals -- and any team -- can re-sign any of their own free agents at any point, but usually, if a player gets through the season and he has any potential value, he will wait to see what the market might bring. The Scouting combine runs from March 1-7. Any franchise tags must be assigned by March 8. On March 14, teams can begin talking to free agents from other teams, and on March 16, free agency officially starts. The draft runs from April 28-30.
From Kristine Frailey:
"Growing up near St. Louis, I have been a Cardinals fan for over 50 years! Love my Birds! I want to thank all the guys on the team for their play this season. You gave us something to cheer about for once: A great and promising START to the season. What happened? Why did the wheels come off the bus? My feeling is that if Coach Kliff can't rally his 'troops' and get them ready for the big-time, he needs to seek employment elsewhere! What a shame that such a talented group of players regressed! This can only be laid at the feet of the coach."
I think if things were so cut and dried the NFL would be a lot easier. It is not, and it is not black and white. I'll disagree. Obviously, some blame goes to the head coach and coaching staff. But when I watched that game, it sure didn't look to me that coaching was the only issue. It's cliche, but coaches don't throw ill-advised passes out of the end zone or miss needed tackles or choose not to follow blockers when they have the ball.
From MIchael Schmorr:
"Just disgusted. But it's the small things that drive you nuts. On the punt before the pick-6 why didn't Kirk fair catch the ball? It bounced on the 13-yard line that single play killed that whole drive. If he catches that we aren't in that position backed up at the 1. Do we now own the longest pick-6 (Harrison) and shortest pick-6 in playoff history? I thought it was going to be a special year eight weeks ago and now it's just a long long offseason with even more questions and head scratchers."
Well Michael, let me put your mind at ease. While the play Monday night was indeed the shortest pick-6 in postseason history, James Harrison's 100-yarder against the Cardinals was not the longest -- there have been a pair of 101-yarders. And I don't know why the punt wasn't fair-caught, but it was one of many things that went wrong Monday.
From Caspian Russel:
"Do you think the huge loss was because they're a really young team? Also I'm glad they targeted Rondale Moore more times. I feel like he can do so much more than just catch from the line of scrimmage. And one more question, I'm not sure how this works, but Kirk's pass to James Conner was illegal forward pass, how? He was still behind the line of scrimmage. Thanks for everything."
With the double-pass, Kyler Murray's initial pass to Kirk was forward. Regardless of where the ball is thrown, you can only throw the ball forward one time during a play even if you are behind the line of scrimmage. As for why the Cardinals played like that, I'm not a fan of going toward the "young team" thing. There were plenty of veterans on this squad.
From Juan de la Peña:
"Hello Darren. That´s a sad way to end the season, it was a letdown in all sort of ways. But we live and die Cardinals. If you were Steve Keim what changes would you make in the offseason? I'm guessing you don't even consider firing KK. I wouldn't either. Who would be your priorities to re-sign? What position do you focus on draft/free agency? Do you make any coaching staff change at all? Thank you as always, I really enjoyed reading you and interacting with you all year, since I'm from Argentina. This is a great way to talk about this passion that we share with someone who knows a lot about the NFL and our beloved Cardinals."
I, like the coaches and front office, am just shifting my attention to these offseason questions. But off the top of my head, what they do with Chandler Jones and pass rusher, to me, is the biggest and most important question. If Jones isn't here, they absolutely need to find a pass rusher (and they probably need to think about it even if Jones stays). I think it'd be good to keep both Conner and Edmonds, but that would depend on how much they cost; it's very difficult to spend money on running backs.I also think they need to get some more help at wide receiver beyond Hop, I'd like to see if there is a way to keep both Ertz and Maxx Williams, and I absolutely think Colt McCoy is the right guy at backup QB and they have to find a way to keep him.
From John M:
"Darren, I hope you and your family are doing well. The Bills are up by 30 points in the 4th quarter. Why are the Bills offensive starters still in the game? Why are they still passing the ball? What happened to sports? You would never see a team with a 30-point lead in the fourth quarter still passing trying to drive up the score. It really bothered me seeing Josh Allen passing with that big of a lead in the fourth quarter. Maybe I'm just a dinosaur living in the past. Thanks for listening."
I get what you're saying, but especially in pro sports, I am a big proponent that if you don't like it, stop your opponent from doing it. This isn't middle-school basketball where the superior team is pressing up 40. The Patriots can't complain -- they scored a TD to go up 50-3 against Jacksonville in Week 17 and they were throwing.
From T Goodymane:
"I thought this would be a fun one to ask since you have seen so many great games in person. Out of these three plays what one was your most favorite? DRC's 99-yard pick-6 to seal the division title against the Rams in 2008, Pat P's 99-yard punt return in overtime against the Rams or when Kerry Rhodes absolutely destroyed Michael Vick on 3rd-and-goal and James Sanders ran the fumble back to the house in 2012? Thanks Darren!"
Those are an eclectic group of choices there. If those are my three choices, I'd have to say Patrick's OT punt return. He had a magical year returning punts that season, and it showed what a great draft pick he turned out to be. The DRC play was cool but the Cardinals were rolling in that game regardless. The Rhodes-Sanders play was cool in the moment, but that season got ugly soon after.
From Keith Williams:
"Why don't they have Kyler Murray roll out if pocket more often. He would be great if he would do it almost every play."
That feels like a Madden kind of comment. I mean, if you do anything play after play, the defenses are going to figure it out. Could they do it more often? Sure. But again, Murray has no desire to run often and rolling out not only puts you in a position to run and it most certainly takes you away from at least half your pass protectors.
From Joe Holst:
"Hello Darren. It appears letting Rasul Douglas and his five interceptions plus two touchdowns being plucked off the practice squad by the Packers has been a huge mistake or oversight. I wonder how this could happen and who would be held accountable for what amounts to a player the Cards could really use now and is putting up astounding numbers in a short period of time. Cheers."
This feels like tremendous hindsight. I didn't see anybody -- literally -- tweet at me or ask why the Cardinals let Douglas go off the practice squad when the Packers signed him, nor did anyone question why he wasn't playing. And yes, I get the next statement, which is "the team is supposed to know." It's a great story what Douglas has done. But let's not do any revisionist history here. Douglas was cut by the Packers, allowed to leave as a free agent by the Panthers, and cut by the Raiders and Texans in the 13 months before the Cards signed him. The trio of Murphy, Wilson and Alford were doing well at the time the Packers took him, and Antonio Hamilton had basically beaten him out as the cornerback coming up on the practice squad. I'd also argue that if Douglas hadn't made the pick against the Cards -- again, one that wouldn't have been made if A.J. Green turns around -- the lamenting of his absence wouldn't be there right now.
From Scott Baily:
"Vance Joseph appears to be more of a problem than an asset for this team. In the Seattle game, while getting two turnovers (great) the defense still managed to give up 38 points. I know the offense can keep pace at times, but Joseph's style of defense does not work. I don't know if the other team has him figured out over the years, but having seen multiple years of Vance's 30 games lends me to state they need a change at DC immediately. Rather than going into all the X's and O's I see being played wrong play after play I'll ask your thoughts on what you've seen."
I get the frustration when a team has a tough day. But the defense just had a good day in Dallas -- a great day, really -- and this was a top-10 defense most of the season. I just feel like calling for coaching changes often feels like a crutch. Vance Joseph wasn't the reason not one but two Seahawks receivers essentially caught touchdowns without being covered. His scheme wasn't the reason players were out of position on the Penny 62-yard TD run. His scheme isn't the reason J.J. Watt got hurt. I think this team has benefitted from stability at defensive coordinator. I don't know if he might get a head coaching job, but if he doesn't, I think it'd be a major mistake to make a change.
From Brad Cain:
"Hi Darren, quick question, I thought that you couldn't interview personal on a team that's in the playoffs until they were eliminated from the playoffs, so I'm wondering how the Giants already got to interview Adrian Wilson?"
The Giants got to interview both Wilson and Quentin Harris, but both were virtual meetings and that was allowed. It's the in-person interviews that have to wait.
From Michael Tuckman:
"Hi Darren. Can we just let Kyler cook? So much talk about how the offense sputtered since Hopkins injury (and Conner). That can't be denied, but missing from the conversation is how little Kyler ran the ball. Plain and simple, when Kyler runs more, defenses have to keep a spy on him and take a defender away from receivers. THAT is what opens this offense."
It is a fair point. I think there are a lot of things involved here. Contrary to some who think this is simply a result of playcalling, Kyler has made it clear multiple times over the years he doesn't really want to run that much. He understands the idea of self-preservation. That said, I agree with the idea that one of the things that makes Murray so special is his ability to run. Also, you are assuming most teams aren't already putting a spy on Kyler as it is.
From James M:
"HOLD THE PHONE! Buddy Morris was the strength coach at Pitt with young Larry Fitz and Andy Lee? How am I just learning this now?"
Oh, it gets better.
From Keith Southern:
"With other teams having success moving a wide receiver to the running back slot, i.e. San Francisco and Atlanta, do you think the team has thought of moving Rondale Moore to running back next year? It would give us another dynamic in the backfield to compliment our roster now. What is your thoughts on a possible move?"
To begin with, yeah, I'd say Cordarrelle Patterson was moved to running back by the Falcons, but Deebo Samuel is a wide receiver who just runs the ball a lot more than most. (Samuel ran it 59 times, he was targeted as a receiver 121 times.) But no, I don't see Moore as a running back. He's not built to hold up like that. He's in a good role, although I'd like to see him targeted more down the field and not just along the line of scrimmage (if Christian Kirk were to leave, we'll see if Moore ends up as the main slot guy.)
From Tom Cowley:
"Hi Darren. The CB room, as usual, is and looks to be our ACHILLES now and future. Any chance for a Butler, Breeland, present taxi squad CB in our future or are we draft-reliant? Running back, defensive line, same question."
I think they definitely need to look at cornerback both in free agency and the draft. What is out there is TBD, but it's a position of need, even if they decide Murphy and Wilson makes sense as their top two. I could see them drafting a defensive lineman. Running back is harder to know. If they keep Conner and Edmonds, they are more than OK there in my opinion.
From Julie O:
"Does the Fitz Hall of Fame clock start when he stopped playing (this year) or when he puts in retirement papers?"
Retirement papers has nothing to do with the Hall eligibility. It's five years from the season he last played. So if Fitz doesn't play again, they will be voting on him for the first time for the Class of 2026.
From M.C. Jones:
"Hi Darren. With the season over, all I want to know is, does Cardinals Underground continue through the offseason? I need my weekly fix!"
Yes, we will be podcasting all offseason, save for a handful of dates that could get vacation-interrupted. The same goes for the mailbag. Tuesdays for both (normally; obviously the mailbag was Wednesday this week.)
From Matias Bushe:
"No Dub to NY. He stays. He has to know he's the heir apparent at GM in AZ. And most importantly he will be given a country mile in AZ vs anywhere else. In this day and age of the NFL where you need to win NOW, you can't feel safe in any position with an NFL team. Player or staff. With that said, Dub's name is on the building. He will be afforded more time for success here. As far as critical factors, that's No. 1, I think. Right?"
First, trying to figure out what building Adrian Wilson's name is on, unless you are referring to the Ring of Honor. Second, you have to weigh your opportunities very carefully in this league because you might only get one shot and you don't want to miss your chance (thanks Eminem). That said, there is something about making it be the right situation. As far as I know, Wilson isn't promised anything here. Steve Keim isn't going anywhere for the time being. Also, I don't know if he's been told what his future would be here. I know this, Adrian himself said the process for him has to start with him doing GM interviews. He needed that experience (as did Quentin Harris). Beyond that, we'll see.
From Aaron Fox:
"Hi Darren. Maybe a strange question for a football mailbag, but myself being an office worker, I'm just curious, who do you work for? And by that I mean 'the office staff.' Because I think it's easy to conflate personnel departments. Like if we were to get a new GM you think 'There's a new boss in town.' But not really for you, because you don't answer to the GM. I'm just trying to figure out how many degrees of separation there are between you and Michael Bidwill. Is it like you, then Mark Dalton, and then Mike? Do you ever personally have sit-down meetings with Mike?"
Technically I am in the marketing department, but on a daily basis I work under VP of Digital and Broadcast Tim DeLaney. I work closely with Mark Dalton and the media relations staff, of course. I interact with Michael Bidwill sometimes. Am I having meetings with him? No. But I'll interview him and I see him around often. As for the GM "new boss in town," make no mistake if there is a new coach or GM, I have to cultivate that relationship. I've been lucky in that regard, since the team has only had three GMs since I originally started covering the franchise -- Bob Ferguson, Rod Graves and Steve Keim.