The Cardinals looked like they have filled out their offensive line, adding Will Hernandez at guard. Beyond that? Still wait and see, with the draft about a month away. Questions have been edited for length and clarity. As always, you can send in a question for a future mailbag here.
From Chris Maxwell:
"I'm really happy with the Will Hernandez pickup. He was outstanding at UTEP. His career got sideways in NY, but a lot of guys get sideways in NY. I think Will reunited with Kugler could be major. Fingers crossed. However, while I am happy with the move, it's the second in a row now that seems to imply the Cardinals strategy is 'sign talented guys, let's hope we can fix them.' The other being Gladney. That's a boom or bust approach. Not sure how I feel about it. Tell me how to feel about it."
Chris, I would never tell anyone how to feel about something. How could I? Your feelings are your feelings. All free agents have flaws; otherwise their teams wouldn't let them walk. You try to come up with the best combination of talent/price for that particular player/pros v. cons. With Hernandez, it's a one-year deal, and if it doesn't work, you move on. The Cardinals needed a guard. But every year players have to play well. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes it doesn't.
From John McGill:
"Hey Darren. Love your mailbag. Keep up the good work. I have been reading where a lot of national press has been ripping the Cards about signing James Connor and not pursuing other high profile free agents. The way I look at it, they had too many free agents to re-sign all of them. So, Ertz and Connor said they really want to come back. Everyone else was saying we don't mind coming back if the price is right. So, why not lock up they people who wants to be here and was very effective in your scheme? Is there anyone you would like to see them pursue in free agency?"
Make no mistake: Conner and Ertz came back because they wanted to be here but the money was right for them too. The price just happened to be right in Arizona for them. When a player is a free agent, he has every right to make the best deal for himself. As for who they should pursue, I don't know what kind of money various free players want, and that absolutely has a bearing on any possibility. I really would like to see them sign a pass rusher, but who that could be, I'm not sure.
From Booker Fan:
"Hi Urbz, I'm confused by the national reporting that James Connor was overpaid. He's making $7M per. For perspective, that's 11th among running backs, with the top three being McCaffery, Kamara and Zeke making $16M and $15M respectively. Conner is a hard runner, and a first-down and TD machine. He is PFF's best pass blocking RB in the NFL and a very capable receiving threat. He's the heart and soul of our offense. He's the vocal leader of our O. Excuse me. I think $7M is perfectly reasonable. Worth every penny."
And your question is .... ?
From Tyler Batman:
"Now that we have signed Hernandez, how much do we have left in cap space? Also, thoughts on A.J. Green? Thanks for having me."
Prior to the Hernandez contract (which had not gone through the system yet), the Cardinals had $5.3M in cap space according to the NFLPA. It's hard to get a handle on it right now, but as always, there are ways to clear space if needed. As far as Green, could I see him returning? Yes, for the right price. But that's pretty much any player at this point. I will say if the Cardinals are going to sign an older receiver -- and I know someone linked them to interest with Julio Jones -- I'd prefer Green because he already knows the offense and the quarterback.
From Art Pozza:
"We all talk about the wide receiver room, and I realize we need help there. But no one says anything about Antoine Wesley. I thought he played fairly well, and I expect him to improve a lot this year."
Wesley had his moments, and I do think he can contribute. But I don't think they are counting on him to have a big role, and they will need to bolster the position.
From Ed Burmila:
"Are fans doing too deep of a discount on Eno Benjamin? He looked pretty damn solid when he saw the field last year and generating in-house replacements through the draft tends to be a lot more effective than chasing free-agent running backs."
I don't think they are going to chase any backs on the market, unless it is for dirt cheap. Eno is going to get his chance to be Conner's sidekick. He had his moments. Can he pick up blitzes when needed, or be that receiver? Perhaps. But they could draft a running back later too and there is nothing wrong with taking a flyer on a guy.
From Bill Thompson:
"Darren, thanks for your work on the mailbag (greatly appreciated and much needed). My questions pertain to A.J. Green. Why did he fall from grace with the Cards? Was it Kyler or was it Kliff? His great receptions far outweigh his mishaps! I sure hope that the Cards re-sign him!"
They might re-sign him. I don't think he "fell from grace." But they paid him $6 million last season and I don't think they see him as that receiver anymore. If he comes back, the number has to be OK with both sides. Until the Cardinals fill up that receivers room -- or until he signs elsewhere -- he's still an option.
From Jerry Brown:
"What is the scoop on Victor Dimukeje? Is he a potential starter with Chandler Jones gone? Or is he strictly a special teams/backup guy?"
I don't know if he's ready to start yet. He's a version of Markus Golden in a lot of ways. Can he turn into as an effective of a pass rusher? Perhaps. He's a smart guy. But this is a key offseason, and I'd like to see what he looks like in training camp before guessing at his probable role.
From John Staszkiewicz:
"Darren, I am a Cardinal fan from St. Louis and I wanted to know if you think that the Cardinals need any upgrades on the offensive line and what do you think they will do to replace Chandler Jones. Thank you and I am hoping for a further run in the playoffs next year."
This question came in before the Hernandez signing, so there is that. With Max Garcia gone, they need to find a backup center, but barring a draft pick from nowhere, I think the starting offensive line is likely set for this season. As for replacing Jones, that's one I don't have an answer to that right now. It's clear they will need to draft a pass rusher, but I'd also expect them to add a veteran too, if at all possible.
From Chosen Rosen:
"What do you think of the Kliff/Keim extension and what do you want to see from them this next season? I didn't mind the extensions but would've wanted them to be for less time. I like Kliff and I feel like you can't really blame it all on him for the end of season struggles since our roster also fell apart. As for Keim I like him a lot. He has built a contending roster twice in the 10 or so years he's been here which is not an easy feat. Although his drafting is subpar he has gotten it done and the thing the Cardinals franchise needs most is stability."
I wasn't sure there would be an extension but at the same time, it's a risky move for a team to have a coach and GM to go into a lame duck situation. Michael Bidwill avoided that. I too didn't expect the deals to be that long, but again, I think the stability is what is the end goal here. I understand there are a lot of fans who disagree with your analysis and that's fine. This season is going to be interesting to watch. This was a playoff team and I am sure, especially with Kyler at QB, that goal isn't going away anytime soon.
From Joachim Ploug:
"Hi Darren! Thanks for the mailbag and thanks for the shoutout on Cardinals Underground a couple weeks ago. I have some questions this time around:
- If you had to guess, do you think Kyler Murray will have a new contract done before the draft, after the draft, or will he play out his fourth season without a new extension?
- Which current player on the team would you most like to do a big profile on?
- Loved the 'How I Got Here' w/ Dennis Gardeck series (what a great guy!) and those little Friday videos, where the players debated some type of question. Really a great way to show the players' personalities. Do you guys have more of that type of stuff planned for the season? And will Flight Plan return for a new season?"
I have some answers:
- This is an incredibly hard one to answer right now. If I had to guess -- and it's a pure, pull-from-the-sky guess, it would be post-draft.
- If he would let me in, I'd love to do one of Kyler, but he's a private guy and I don't see that happening. Watt is also fascinating to me. Budda's story, about his late brother, would also be something I'd love to do. But I'm not sure that's something he would have any interest in doing.
- Flight Plan will be back (first episode in mid-April, hopefully) and yes, we are always trying to find videos that show some under-the-helmet-type personality.
From Orin Went:
"What is the answer to our glaring hole at No. 1 pass rusher? I hope you don't say Golden or Kennard. Good guys, but neither is a premier pass rusher. I'm reasonable enough to know premier pass rushers dont grow on trees. But I think the fans' restlessness is fairly justified because there appears to be no good options left. We MUST get a No. 1 pass rusher or this season is chalked. We may as well trade Kyler because we won't win with or without him. Please Darren, lay out the plan (if one exists)."
That's a pretty dim view of things. When Chandler Jones went down in 2020, the Cardinals didn't even have Golden and the pass rush was OK. I don't know the plan right now (they don't let me into those meetings, and if they did, methinks they'd frown on me outlining it in a mailbag) but is there a chance that yes, Golden could be the main guy. I am sure there will be a pass rusher drafted. There are still a couple of potential pass rushers that could be signed, but are they better than Golden at this point?
From Bob Haines:
"Darren, I am confused about the Malcolm Butler situation. He signed a deal with the Cardinals last season and then decided to retire for personal reasons, which were not disclosed. Now, he decided to come out of retirement and signs a reasonable two-year contract with the Patriots. Did something happen? Why isn't he playing for Arizona? Also, do you think the Cardinals would entertain the thought of bringing back Pat P. on a realistic short-term contract so he could spend the final years playing in the desert?"
With Patrick Peterson, I wouldn't expect a return. Never say never, but I don't see it right now. As far as Butler goes, I don't think he was thrilled with where he was on the depth chart when he left. Not sure how/if he'll be in any better position in New England, but had the Cardinals wanted him to return they didn't have to release him from the reserve/retired list. I don't think they are upset about moving on.
From The Chosen One:
"Hi Darren, I know you don't like these, but please, I'm a draft junky and need to vocalize this for both fans and the Cards front office: Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis is the best pass rusher in this draft. And he will be available. I will be beyond crushed if the Cardinals pay him no mind. If we don't draft him, fine. But I NEED the team to spend hours on this guy when building their draft boards, I guarantee they'll find he is the pick. He's what Zach Allen was suppose to be. Karlaftis isn't Watt, but he's special."
I am curious, Chosen, why as a draft junky you wouldn't attach your name to this analysis. How will we send the flowers to revive your crushed spirits if we don't even know your name? I chuckle in this idea that a team -- any team -- wouldn't do due diligence on a guy most believe will be a first-round pick. We will see where he ends up.
From Michael Tuckman:
"Hi Darren. First I'd like to tip my hat to the re-signings and contract restructures that Steve Keim has done. This team needs an explosive offense and he did a great job of locking up key pieces for that (Conner + Ertz) while not overpaying for others (Kirk). And a great job and creating more cap space with the restructures. Can we please go sign Jadaveon Clowney? I know the draft has been discussing for addressing edge, but edge at No. 23 is not immediate impact like edge at No. 2 (Bosa). However, WR at No. 23 has sure proven to be an immediate impact with the right pick. Thank you."
Clowney is still out there but he's likely going to again sign a one-year deal and how much does he want? I don't know how well he fits what the Cardinals do, either. I don't disagree that it is much more difficult to get a stud edge rusher at 23 than a good receiver but there is a simple reason, and that's supply and demand. There are way more good receivers out there.
From Shane Richardson:
"How did Malcom Butler manage to keep the money the Cardinals paid him? How can a player sign a contract then retire and keep the signing bonus? And now he 'un-retires' and signs a 2-year deal with the Patriots?"
He didn't keep the money. There are mechanisms in place to make sure that doesn't happen if you "retire." But again, the Cardinals let him off the reserve list, knowing he could end up elsewhere, so the fact he is playing for another team doesn't bother the Cardinals at this point.
From Burt Garrison:
"Hi Darren, why can't we talk about trading Kyler? That seems like such taboo subject, and I don't understand why. We have a disgruntled player, threatening holdout or trade. OK then, let's review the trade option then. That's fine, it's not personal. Both sides benefit from it. I'm watching around the league as QBs are being dealt like Pokemon cards."
You're allowed to talk about whatever you want to talk about. But let's get the facts straight too. Does Kyler want a new contract? Yes, that was made clear by his agent. But neither he (nor his agent) has ever threatened to hold out or have asked for a trade. That's conjecture from outside people. The Cardinals don't want to give up their franchise QB. And yeah, QBs are being dealt like trading cards, but teams (Seahawks, looking at you specifically) are going to see what life is like if you have a good QB and you dump him, because replacing that is a very difficult task.
From Joey Cammiso:
"Concerned as a fan. I would say we were missing some depth pieces last year and arguably a DT and RG (RT wasn't great either; I love Beachum but didn't play like 2020). Now we don't have Kirk or Jones. Both important pieces. Green is gone. Need depth. We aren't drafting all these missing pieces. If we do that likely isn't good considering Keim's draft history overall. The free agents left don't seem to be the answer. I fear 2022 is a step back the way it seems thus far."
Again, missing a question here. Your points are valid in terms of what has been lost. It's March. I would guess there will be more free agents signed between now and training camp. What that means, who they might be, I don't know. And I'm not saying they are going to find the perfect replacement to Chandler Jones. But I'm also not one to worry about a "step back" in March.
From Robert Yonis:
"Why did you choke in the NFL playoffs?"
I did no such thing. My game story was spot on that night.