Still thinking of Damar Hamlin, and the risks these guys take every game -- every day -- to play this sport that so many watch.
(Questions have been edited for length and clarity. As always, you can send in a question for a future mailbag here.)
From Justin Nathy:
"Hi Darren, I want to talk about two massive in-house free agents in Zach Allen and Byron Murphy. What are your thoughts on them, who do you think is more valuable, and who is more likely to get re-signed (if either)? I think Zach Allen is the priority, however I am very concerned about his injury history. My issue with Byron Murphy is he is a good cornerback who will be paid like an elite cornerback, and we can't afford that. That's just how markets work. Look at Kirk last year. It'll be painful, but we should let him walk and collect that third-round comp."
I think you are correct in the assertion that both are going to take large contracts to keep around. I don't know if I can answer who is more valuable, because you leave a large hole in either place if they are not around. If I had to pick one? It might be Allen, because with J.J. Watt out of the equation your defensive line would be ultra-thin. But again, not having Murphy will make that same issue come in at cornerback. Yes, you need to hit on these positions in the draft, but man, you can't draft a potential starter at all the positions the Cardinals need. Some spot will be left out.
From jpr cards:
"It is generally believed that it takes between 8-to-12 months after surgery to recover from a torn ACL. That is quite a range and I assume that the team has to plan with both ends of that spectrum in mind. What do you think the team will do relating to the QB position? The job will ultimately be Kyler Murray's but what do you suppose they might do in the interim? I wouldn't expect them to draft a QB but I don't know. If Murray can return close to the eight-month mark there isn't as much of an issue but if it is the 12-month mark that changes things considerably."
After what happens with the choices about the decision makers, figuring out Kyler's timeline -- and the decisions that cascade off of that -- are the most important ones of this offseason. Because we don't have a handle on it yet (and according to the NBC report, Murray's surgery is the day this posts), I don't think those things can be answered yet. The one thing that I think benefits them is that by the earliest they would need to know, which will be free agency in mid-March, Murray's recovery should be in a better place to know how it might play out.
From Kennith Katt:
"There's a lot of chatter about our suspect defense, but is our O-Line in deep trouble too? We've had injuries this year, but looking at 2023, all our starters save D.J. Humphries have their contracts expiring, and of those four, three of them will be at least years 33 next season. I think it's likely we re-sign Hernandez for a few years, but where do we go from there? Josh Jones has ironically been our best lineman this year, so he should start in 2023, but then who fills in when our injury-prone players inevitably collapse? The future seems grim Darren, give us some hope."
I'm not sure if the future is grim, but man, Kennith, you seem to be. I mean, let's take Josh Jones. He has played well (although there is no irony in that situation) and hopefully he can slide in to start if Beachum isn't around. It doesn't make sense to me to say, let's keep Jones on the bench just for depth if he is playing that well. I expect Hudson to retire and it seems likely that Justin Pugh, who said he considered it last season, might do the same. They will take a look at Marquis Hayes and Lecitus Smith, they will absolutely need to consider draft picks, and yes, there will be a free agent or two I'd think. Honestly, I think the offensive line has been OK given its many injuries. It needs reinforcements, but I'd have other more major concerns elsewhere.
From John McGill:
"Hey Darren. Keep up the good work. I was so disappointed at the reaction of some of the fans on what Trace McSorley did in the Tampa Bay game. It wasn't great but under the circumstances he was a third-string quarterback who was playing with a patched up offensive line. Yet for most of the game he matched Tom Brady in stats and gave us a great chance of winning the game. (A game I thought we did not have a prayer of winning). I want to give the guy kudos for the effort he gave the team and almost getting what would have been and unbelievable upset. Am I just looking at things through rose-tinted glasses?"
A little bit. I think, while the Falcons defense isn't as good as the Bucs, I did think David Blough performed better than McSorley and at this point deserves to be ahead of him on the depth chart. The fact the Cardinals were willing to swap QBs after the Tampa game probably gives you an idea of where McSorley stands with the current coaches and front office. But in the Bucs game itself? Yes, he had them in a good place. The defense played out of its mind most of that game, though, and to me deserves the bulk of the credit.
From Spencer Reid:
"How exactly do cap casualties work? Someone told me that Robbie Anderson is going to be $12M against our cap hit next year! With D-Hop, Hollywood, and Ertz all in the top five for contracts, it seems insane to pay our sixth- or seventh-best receiver this much. What do we save if we cut him? Do we have options to restructure? Are there any other players we're overpaying?"
Generally, I'm not a fan of the term "cap casualty" because it implies the only reason a guy might be released is his cap number and the reality is if a guy is a good enough player, the team will find a way to keep him around. Let's take Anderson as an example. His cap number for 2023, as it stands, is $12M, yes. But none of the money is guaranteed, so if he is released, he counts nothing against the cap. The team could go to him and ask him to take a paycut (restructuring means spreading money out that the player will still ultimately get). He could decline and force them to release him so he could become an unrestricted free agent. I'll say this: I will be stunned if Anderson is on the roster next season with a $12M cap number. Beyond that, we will see how it plays out.
From Kevin Parham:
"Do you know what the average number of unrestricted free agents per team is for the NFL? The Cardinals number I believe is 28. Sounds like that would be a good time to bring in a new GM since the roster, I assume, is a lot more flexible that most other teams right now. Do you agree? Happy New Year?"
The number of free agents per team is not readily figured out, especially right now when so many guys could still re-sign before the FA period starts. (The number of UFAs the Cardinals have will be 32, including J.J. Watt, who is retiring) .As far as roster flexibility, yes, you'll have a natural turnover of the roster for whomever is building it. But the salary cap also plays a role. And props to sticking with the Burgundy bit there.
From Bob Kitsos:
"Thanks for your work on the mailbag. It's a fun read. I need clarification on the pass interference rule. I thought one of the tenets of the rule is that it has to be a catchable ball before a flag is thrown. I've seen the rule called on out-of-bounds passes and passes that the late NBA center Manute Bol couldn't haul in. What am I not understanding about this infraction?"
First of all, any question that mentions Manute is a friend of mine. Loved Manute Bol. But I digress. Yes, the ball has to be deemed catchable. But usually officials give a lot of leeway to what that means, and I guess I understand it to a point. The way some guys can go get the ball, even uncatchable balls can be caught these days. And if the contact prevents a guy from leaping especially, it's tough to argue. Out of bounds throws are a bit different, but they will always err on the side of the offense.
From George Scott:
"Trace McSorley is going to be brought along by somebody. Why not a Cardinals coach? Did they not see the flashes of greatness and fantastic effort and teamwork? Why would a coach say he wants to get a QB (an older one) that will calm things down? Cards are gonna need someone until at least October and I think this kid could do it. Or, they could trade him to a team that sees in him what I see. What do you think about his future?"
I don't see McSorley having much trade value. He and David Blough came into the league in the same year (2019), so Blough isn't any older. As I mentioned earlier, it feels like Blough has moved ahead of McSorley. McSorley is an unrestricted free agent-to-be, so he will have the ability to find a team that "sees in him what I see." Ultimately, the Cardinals will need at least three non-Murray QBs around this offseason and training camp. One will be Colt McCoy. I think otherwise, it's TBD.
From Bobby Fair:
"Time for an adult conversation because it bugs me when you act flabbergasted when fans talk about draft picks. I know you love telling the story about how beating the Vikings led to Arizona landing Larry Fitzgerald but the main crux of that story should still be 'Arizona was in position to draft a Hall of Fame player at No. 3 because they had the No. 3 pick.' If we picked 7th Larry would've had a legendary career elsewhere. Winning a remaining game hurts us. It means less winning in the future. One more win this season might equate to 30 fewer wins over the next 10 years. I'm not exaggerating. Spare me the 'it's their job to try and win at all times.' They failed miserably. Now is time to be SMART and STRATEGIC not IDIOTICALLY EGOTISTICAL SELF-SABOTAGING."
Well, if we are truly having an adult conversation -- real adults here -- then you should understand exactly why I am making the argument. You definitely shouldn't get angry about it. I don't understand why people don't understand why players and coaches want to win and not tank. I've never once said I don't understand why fans might want to lose, but that has nothing to do with the players or coaches involved.
I'll give you this, that in theory -- *in theory* -- having a higher pick helps. But why don't we go over some of the No. 3 picks over the last 15 or 20 years that weren't Fitz: Trey Lance, Sam Darnold, Solomon Thomas, Blake Bortles, Dion Jordan, Trent Richardson. I'd have to say, Bobby, those picks probably didn't give those teams 30 extra wins over the next however many years. So yeah, you're exaggerating. Here's some more adult convo. Losing and playing poorly does not benefit the coaches or players in the games. How do you not comprehend that? Fans complain all the time -- and they should -- if they feel like coaches and players don't give effort. Now you want to tell them not to? GTFO.
If you want to truly adult here, do the research that backs up the claim about 30 fewer wins over 10 years based on one more win now, and if you do, I'll make the it lead question and give you a public apology. By the way, it's funny you use the Cards-Vikings 2003 game as a good example for your argument. You know the Cardinals won that game, right?
From John Turelli:
"Do you have everyone you know on Earth send in the softball questions I see every week?"
No. I restrict it to my peeps on Mars only.
I keep hoping for more questions like "Everybody should be fired and they are all terrible and this team doesn't win and they don't lose the right way either. Thoughts?" But a man can dream.
From Neil Bowie:
"Have you ever asked Kliff a challenging question at a press conference or is that a no-go area? Just curious."
I don't have a specific example off the top of my head, but over four years, I'm sure I have a few times.
From BDUB Wooten:
"Darren. I once wrote into this mailbag earlier this preseason and said I thought Zaven Collins was a likely bust. I'd like to admit that I think I was wrong. I've been impressed with what he's done this year. Second thing; I brought this up once before too but I would love to see a video or even picture tour of the inside of the Cards new plane I believe they got last year. Could be an off-season piece. I think myself and the fans would find it interesting to see how the team travels and where specifically where the owner and digital team and players sit. Thanks!"
Collins has had a solid season. Considering the concerns of where he was after his rookie year, it was important. As for the plane, that is something I can bring up, although to be honest, the inside of the plane looks like the regular inside of a plane, to be honest.
From Greg Painter:
"Sorry for the yelling and frustration last week, but I am passionate about my teams, and where I live I am surrounded by two of the biggest fan bases, who remind me of their success and our failure (cowgirls and Chiefs). What are the major needs coming out of free agency and the draft? I think a lot but it starts with both lines and like I screamed last year, cornerback. Again, I am a Thunder fan. NO CONTRACT IS UNTRADEABLE! Thanks again Darren for all you do and work for free as a therapist to get us CARDS fans through the season. Happy New Year to you and all of the Red Sea."
As of this moment, knowing who are free agents and what holes there might be, I think my position priority would be:
- Edge rusher
- Defensive line
- Offensive line
From Robert Williams:
"Darren, I always enjoy the mailbag. Thank you for your insight. Can you tell me what Ray Horton, Coach Whisenhunt, and D-Wash are all doing now? Have a Happy New Year!"
Ken Whisenhunt is an offensive analyst on the Penn State coaching staff. Ray Horton last coached in the NFL in 2019; he is now part of the lawsuit against the NFL with Brian Flores and Steve Wilks about minority coaching opportunities. I have no idea what Daryl Washington is up to these days.