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You've Got Mail: What Will Free Agency Look Like?

Topics include J.J. Watt, Fitz's decision and need at cornerback

Mailbag Jordan Phillips celebrates fumble recovery in Dallas in 2020

It's time for another mailbag, everyone. As always, submit a potential question for a future mailbag by going here.

From Jen Pert via

"To your memory, what's the latest Larry has ever announced his return? I feel like we're getting deeper than usual. Perhaps that's because he is waiting for the salary cap number to come out? It actually came out ($180 million). We already knew the Larry salary talk was going to be a sticking point and that's not something any of us have knowledge of on the inside. But just in terms of time, is this later than usual? He's really making us sweat this one."

The latest Fitz has announced his return was Feb. 15, when coach Steve Wilks told the world during a radio interview. So we have gone past that point already, which means ... who knows. You can make the argument that taking longer means it's more likely he's coming back, but you can also make the argument it means he's more likely to retire. The salary could be a factor. Yes, the salary cap floor was announced to being raised to $180M, but that is not the final salary cap number. We are probably another 10 days to two weeks to hearing what that final number will be. Nevertheless, I am guessing the Cardinals already have a salary in mind what they want to pay Fitz. I think the ball is totally in Fitz's court right now.

From Bobo Fritz via

"Lol, bro you see what Philly got for Wentz? A third and a conditional second. Nobody berates Keim like me but credit where due, pulling a second for Rosen, in hindsight, was slick. What's the name for that concept? The lustre of the unknown is somehow more valuable than a known quantity, even when the known quantity is good. It's weird. Kinda goes hand in hand with the trade for Watson crowd. It's like nah, we don't want to trade for a top five QB because our current QB might be a top five QB someday. What is that?"

Don't know if I can recall the phrase, but I get what you are saying. Although I think, if you are talking about Kyler and Watson, there is nuance there. Kyler Murray not only is talented with a high ceiling, but his rookie contract also brings with it a value in team building, especially in 2021.

From jpr cards via

"If one of the top three corners (Surtain, Farley, Horn) are still on the board at No. 16 do you think the Cardinals should definitely take one? Without knowing who might fall and be available in the middle of the round I believe they should. I have difficulty believing that Patrick Peterson will be back at all so cornerback becomes even more of a need IMO. Would the team even consider selecting two corners in this draft or is that unlikely?"

Two cornerbacks is always possible. But would I say they should absolutely take one at 16 without knowing who else is there (or even if they like all three of those cornerbacks the same), I can't do that. I do think cornerback needs to be a major consideration in the first round, but I could also see interior offensive line. Free agency also has an impact on this.

From Cynthia Dobbins via

"Do you think we would, or should, go after JJ Watt?"

While Steve Keim didn't close the door on the possibility, I don't see it. I think Watt will be looking for a team in a better position to reach a Super Bowl, and I think he will also get more money than the Cards will be able to afford at this point. I will say, assuming he would be able to stay healthy, having him on a pass rush along with Chandler Jones would be tempting to chase.

From John M via

"Hey Darren. I really feel for Kyler Murray. Correct me if I am wrong. All he has done in his first two seasons was be a Pro Bowl alternate and made the all-rookie team,and then followed it up with being picked to the Pro Bowl his second year. Also he made one of the most thrilling throws to win a game in Cardinal history. And he brought the team within one game to making the playoffs. He accomplished this being handed the reigns of a struggling franchise from Day One. Yet, people are saying we should get rid of him. I think if you keep giving him good pieces to work with, he take us really far."

You have your facts correct, and you have made a strong and salient argument.

From Drew Holiday via

"Hey Darren. I'm happy for Adrian Wilson and Quentin Harris on their promotions. I guess I'm just curious what the promotions entail. A-Dub is going from Director of Pro Personnel to Vice President of Pro Personnel. I'm not bald, I shaved my head. What's the difference?"

The difference is a title that will make an impression across the league when teams look to see what the Cardinals thought of them in their respective positions. They hold a little more power internally. Oh, and promotions usually come with more money, which isn't a small thing. Are their jobs that different? No.

From Jacob Lagang via

"Hello sir! I keep looking and I know that the Cardinals are in a tough cap situation and I know that it can hurt us. Would it be possible if we can restructure some of our players contracts to help us get some cap space for this busy offseason? One guy that I am eyeing is cornerback Jason Verrett and I know when he is healthy he is amazing. Also sir, if by chance, if we move Mason Cole to the right guard or make Justin Murray that starting right guard, could we be able to sign (Packers center) Corey Linsley? Is there going to be a tough decision whether we are going to sign Reddick or Golden? Could we be able to get Andre Roberts on a cheap deal then draft a wideout like Devonta Smith? Thank you and stay safe!"

  1. I won't be surprised if the Cardinals look at a free agent cornerback, especially if Patrick Peterson leaves.
  2. I don't know what the plan will be on the interior OL. I could see them trying to upgrade at center, but I am curious if Cole would fit as a guard, if Lamont Gaillard fits into the starting plans, and if they are going to look at Justin Pugh's contract.
  3. There are going to be a lot more tough decisions than just edge rusher. I still believe Reddick's market will push the direction of that position.
  4. I love Andre, but I don't see how he would fit. I don't know if Smith is there at 16. But do I think they need a wideout? Yes. Somewhere.

From John Dunne via

"Hey Darren, what do you think are the chances the Cardinals reach back in their history and make tight end a priority. Can you name a Cardinal tIght end worth mentioning since Jackie Smith? Fitz is more Clark Kent than Superman these days and the Big Fella may ride off in the sunset. Is it time to add fire power into a position that was mired in mediocrity for decades? Do you feel Steve Keim will be focusing in on the trenches? Cards can't stop the run nor run the ball without the aid of Kyler and it was painfully obvious. Do you think an emphasis on a more physical standard are being sought?"

That question was headed in an obvious direction and then you took a left turn. Or lost your train of thought. Anyway, you raise a point with tight end that is fair, but at the same time, I don't know if tight end should or is at the top of the wish list. Not when there are other much more important spots to fill and/or bolster. I do think they are going to try and upgrade both lines, although that happens most offseasons. To find again the running game they finished with in 2019 would be ideal. I think if they can have more passing consistency, that could also help the run game -- which brings us back to tight end. Whether it's a pass-catching tight end or an upgrade at No. 2 WR, that's an area where the Cards could use some help.

From Gary Quartney via

"On the topic of Patrick, I understand the aversion to overpaying guys. But we can't roll out a stack of money to play CB. A human has to walk out there. Yes, P2 has lost a step, yet he is still the best CB we have, and he would be the best FA CB we could sign. If PP leaves, we are worse, period. If you want to be mad, be mad at Keim for not putting us in a better position post-PP. As of now, PP is our best option. People take somebody else's paycheck so personally. I don't care what P2 is paid. I just care about winning. And if P2 leaves, we will lose. There is no opportunity cost. Who does paying P2 prevent us from signing? Nobody."

That's not necessarily true. Putting aside the argument of if he is the best solution, if they do re-sign him for the probable money it would take, it could very well prevent them from signing someone. The salary cap is real. And while you don't care about what a player is paid, it does impact things (and I'm not saying it means the Cards are "cheap," but less cap space does potentially prevent another signing.) I agree that keeping Peterson makes the most sense, but it isn't cut-and-dry because the other stuff does matter. Now, the Cardinals, beyond Byron Murphy, have at best a lot of unknowns at cornerback. It's a position that has to be addressed one way or the other.

From Sebastian Quiros via

"Hey Darren. During normal drafts (by that I mean no Covid), once a player is chosen and comes out, he receives a jersey of the team that selected him with his name on it. My question is, do teams have to say in advance who they'll pick so that the jersey can be made? Or does the NFL have a bunch of jerseys made with all names and all teams and etc? How do they work that out?"

By the time the player goes on to the stage, there is just enough time for the right name, because the name has to be inputted into the system and given to the Commissioner before he goes on stage to announce it. They have names for all the guys actually at the draft ready for every team, just in case. Here's a good story about it.

From Lou Painter via

"Hey Darren, my friend asked me a good question that I'd like your input on. We all know there are players who play because they were blessed with superior athleticism and they are able to make good money playing football; but they don't have any love for the game. Some of them hate football, but it doesn't terribly matter because many can have very long, successful careers regardless. Do you think any of these players are in the Hall of Fame? My thinking is that the HOF requires a different mindset. As a part 2 -- are there any Cardinals players you know first-hand who were that type? Just really talented, but not particularly fond of the game? You don't need to name names, we're all gentleman here."

I don't think anyone who hated the game is in the Hall of Fame. You can't be great that way. Now, do I think there might be some guys in the Hall who could've done more? I don't know if Randy Moss truly loved the game, but he was easily one of the best wideouts ever and deserves his spot in Canton. I just don't see how a guy who loved the game could've mailed it in the couple times in his career Moss did. I'd have to do a lot more research there. As far as the Cardinals, yes, I absolutely have seen Cardinals over the years that I'm not sure loved the game. I don't know if I was ever around anyone who hated it, but plenty who just saw it as a paycheck and that's why they played.

From Cris P via

"Good day Darren. Just read last week's mailbag and William Wootten's question regarding all the unnecessary roughness calls against Simmons and it got me thinking. There seemed to be a big uptick in helmet-to-helmet penalties leaguewide this season. Is this something that the NFL and owners will take a closer look at in the future? In my opinion (and I am sure most fans and maybe yours) a lot of the helmet-to-helmet calls were more so caused by the offense player, but the defense was flagged for the penalty. Case in point, Budda getting flagged for helmet-to-helmet, yet he was quite a bit shorter than the receiver he tackled. I know the league is trying to make the game safer, but the league needs to figure out a solution to get these calls right."

Every year the NFL is going through its penalties and how they are called to see if they want to adjust them. When it comes to helmet-to-helmet, I would agree there seems to be a number of times when the offensive player should be flagged instead of the defensive player (or should be when no flag is thrown at all.) It's a difficult issue -- especially when factored in the reality that sometimes, it's difficult not to have helmet to helmet during the circumstances of a particular play. I don't know if there are any easy answers.

From Joe Nunes via

"Hi Darren. Regarding Jalen Thompson, I feel like I'm missing something. You've mentioned how the team is very high on him, and I don't know why. It seems he been injured much of the time. When he has played it's not as if he's Budda Baker or anything. Usually when we have a breakout player, it's obvious, like Gardeck. But not so Jalen. Has he been very good and I'm just not noticing? Or is this more of a 'he has talent' type of thing?"

Well, to begin with, to compare him to Budda is an awfully high bar -- Budda is an NFL All-Pro. Not every good player is going to reach that level. I think Thompson's injury woes this season set him back. There is a level of potential to this evaluation to be sure. But he has flashed enough (especially in 2019) that there is reason to let this play out some more -- in part because if he can be a solid (and healthy) player, that's exactly what you crave out of a fifth-round pick. The Cardinals have so many other spots they need to upgrade, adding safety to that right now wouldn't be ideal.

From Lyn Kedin via

"Really feel we need to trade back in the draft. Here one example if we swapped our first-rounder with the Jags, for their first picks in rounds 2, 3, and 4 and their fifth-round pick (No. 26 that round). If they did it they would have 3 R1 picks and a R2. We would have eight picks in total. This is a deep draft at a number of key positions for us and this trade could deliver an accelerated rebuild. Any though? (And has the official Cardinal FB page been taken down?)"

To answer the last thing first, no, the Facebook page is where it always is. As far as the trade, I'll credit you in that you seem to have nailed the draft value chart close enough that the haul the Cards would get for the first rounder would indeed equate to about what you suggest. Now, I'm not sure why the Jaguars would give up so many picks at this point unless there was someone at 16 they were drooling about when the pick came up. Certainly there are pros and cons to such a move. I wouldn't be shocked if that was such a trade that could interest Steve Keim, but that doesn't make it any more likely.

From Jeremy Heathcote via

"Hey Darren, a couple of questions for you. First, is this the first time the club has put someone in charge of Diversity and Inclusion? Working in the space for the last 15 years I've seen all the national sports codes here in Australia have it embedded -- but good to see it's on the agenda there. Second, do you think with vaccines happening now that the games will open up for fans? I usually travel over each year from here (Sydney) to watch at least one game but COVID has stopped any travel for us outside of the country. Hoping that I'll be able to come."

Yes, this is the first time there has been an official position for diversity, although the Cardinals have one of the better track records in the NFL when it comes to that anyway. As for the season and fans, way too early to know right now. I would anticipate fans being allowed on some scale, but like with anything, the fewer the amount of tickets out there, the more difficult (and perhaps expensive) they will be to get. Unless you get season tickets, of course.

From Jason Verretti via

"What's the plan at kicker? I thought THE NUGE did pretty good. Although the grass isn't always greener. I looked up his career stats, and he has some rough patches too. So perhaps we don't completely give up on Zane yet? I'm sure they will bring in some more competition, but do you think they at least have Zane and Mike in the building? Id like to see a four-kicker competition. Whoever is most consistent in camp wins it. And if that guy stumbles in the regular season, we have three more on speed dial."

I don't know if I love "THE NUGE" for a nickname. But hey, to each his own. Mike Nugent is going to be 39 next month, is a free agent, and he's not going to be the answer. Veteran Brett Maher was signed already as an option. I don't see a four-kicker competition in camp. It'll likely be Maher and Gonzalez if he re-signs, or someone else besides Gonzalez. It'll be interesting to see what market Gonzalez has, and what kind of contract he'll eventually get, either here or somewhere else.

From Nat Henly via

"Darren! Just watched your podcast with Paul and Kyle. Why did you not say Paul is such a draft nut? We love draft talk! If you get tired of draft questions on the mailbag, send Paul over. Would love to have a chat with him. I agree cornerback has to be priority one in the draft. I hate drafting on need, but for crying out loud, we are destined to have a scarecrow on a stick playing CB at this rate. We MUST go get some players at that position. It's a result of Keim not investing more in the position. Byron Murphy was the only high round CB pick made since 2011. Furthermore, looking at the blue chip positions of QB, pass rusher, LT and CB, Keims first-round choices are concerning: G, S($LB), ILB, LT (good), DT, QB, QB (good), ILB. Good finding Kyler and DJ but otherwise those positional choices are awful. The first round should be spent on the blue chip positions that I noted."

I'm sure Paul will get teary-eyed for all the love. As for drafting cornerbacks, I can appreciate the concern, and not addressing the position per se is notable. I'd have to go back and look at what they may have passed up on in the first three rounds, however, and see who was there at the time (in context, of course, I'm sure you can find cornerbacks that have panned out lower in every draft.) And while I agree you should generally look for some positions over others, I disagree when it comes to individual situations. If Haason Reddick would have become on the inside another Luke Kuechly, that pick would've been just fine.

From Jebby Johnson via

"Curious about our running back situation in 2021. I know it's a hot topic. The unfortunate situation with Kenyan Drake is that he would likely have to settle for less than his tag $ last year, if he wants to return. That's just the nature of the RB position, the reduced cap, and the saturated RB market. Fans and I assume the team is fond of Chase Edmonds (who is turning into a pretty notable draft gem). And don't get me started on Eno Benjamin! I just don't really see a clear path for Drake. He might be the first veteran cap casualty (of many, possibly)."

You can't be a cap casualty if you are not under contract. As a free agent, however, you are right , he might not be re-signed. I think running back is important to the Cardinals but I also think they have a lot more options there than at many other spots that are as important. That gives them a little breathing room. Benjamin is a curious case; they like the little they have seen out of their other undrafted rookie, Jonathan Ward. How this all plays out will be fascinating.

From Mark B via

"Any chance Cardinals upgrade their uniforms? And their helmets are so outdated."

I don't expect anything right now. And I shudder to think what they mailbag will be like if the Cards ever do make a change. What will my walkoff mailbag topic be about?

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