The regular season did not end the way the Cardinals had hoped, but the playoffs await. So too does this week's mailbag. As always, send in a question for a future mailbag here.
From Dan Roth:
"Does it seem unfair to anyone else that we have to play Monday night? This would apply to any team having to play Monday, because now aren't you on a short week for the second round? First things first, win Monday. But I'm speaking just in the general sense, that's kind of messed up that any round of the playoffs would result in a short week for the winner."
I understand what you're saying but there has been a Monday night playoff game planned all year. Everyone knew it was coming. You want to make it worse? If the Cowboys and Bucs both win, the winner of Rams-Cardinals not only have a short week, they have it playing in Green Bay against the Packers, who didn't play at all. But in the end, both teams put themselves in this position. What do you do with it now?
From Cy Fredrick:
"Hey Darren! Here we go. Don't care what anyone says, I will always take being in the playoffs vs. not being the playoffs. Biggest weakness of the Cardinals heading into the playoffs? Biggest strength of the Cardinals heading into the playoffs? Does the weakness concern you more than the strength encourages you or vice versa? Thanks! 'How 'bout that Urban kid.' "
I appreciate you listening to the pregame there, Cy. I'd say the biggest weakness right now is the inconsistency on offense. This team was built to be offense first. They haven't gone dormant by any means but the fits and starts and drying up in the red zone will become even more crucial going forward. Biggest strength? Probably that they know they can win. They've done it this season, and they've done it against the Rams. They need to play like it.
From Juan de la Peña:
"Hi Darren, nice to be on playoffs, big boys game coming! What would have been your best/worst case scenarios to play the Wild Card? I can say that I'm comfortable going into L.A. It looks like a great place for this team to start clicking in all cylinders. The Cardinals do looks better when they play as underdogs, don't you think? Rise Up Red Sea, stop the negativity! Thank you very much!"
I still would've preferred to end up with a home game, in part because if they would've played well enough to get a home game, then many of the concerns everyone has this week wouldn't be as pronounced. But I'll say this, even though it sounds disingenuous: I really do like them playing on the road, because I have seen how they perform away from home. Under the circumstances, it's probably best-case scenario.
From David Bieber:
"When will Steve Keim and Michael Bidwell realize that we are coaching deficient on both sides of the ball. Other than at Dallas, this team has been underprepared for the last five or six games. Granted the defensive secondary has been depleted, but the run D? Penny had 190 yards! And our heralded OL couldn't open holes for the RBs and allowed five sacks. Pathetic! Secondly, I'm starting to feel that while Kyler is good, he is not consistently good, thus preventing him from being one of the great ones. I slept on this, but still feel this way."
For starters, it's Bidwill. Not sure why that is so difficult for so many. Second, if you slept on this yet still have this much bile, that's a hard life. I'm not saying you wouldn't be upset, but after a night's sleep, you shouldn't -- no one should -- be this angry about anything. Anyway, you are basically saying, after 11 wins, they should blow out the coaching staff and start over. I suppose that's one way to do it. Starting over seems pretty reactionary to me.
From Les Martin:
"How substantial do you think the loss of Rondale Moore was? Because while watching these games post-Hopkins, and it being extremely apparent our WRs aren't getting open, I wonder if Rondale is the true catalyst of our struggles. Maybe I'm wrong. Antoine Wesley is a great for the occasional jump ball TD. Green the rare sideline catch. Kirk one big catch, if that. Note all three of those guys are possession WRs. Rondale is a weapon. We saw Kliff try to use Dortch a little bit. I think thats the real missing element here. Hopefully we can get him back for the playoffs, but it's also been radio silence as to what his injury is exactly."
It hasn't been radio silence. He has an ankle injury, and he practiced some last week. I expect him to be ready for the Rams. Has Moore's absence hurt? I'd agree with that idea. But his return won't be like if Hopkins came back, for instance. I think Moore has the skillset to be a playmaker, and right now, the Cardinals could use those kind of guys.
From Nick Sample:
"What is your assessment of Zach Allen? We have him for one more year before he hits free agency. I think he's grown al ot in these three years. I think he's a tremendous hustle player. The only thing I'm on the fence about is if he's a starter or a rotation guy. He does a great job with QB pressure, which is good as gold in this league. But I do think he contributes to the run defense troubles at times. I think his frame is maxed out in term of size. I'm curious if Allen has a long term future with us."
I think they like Allen as a defensive line piece. They have always seen him as a starter and he's playing those snaps now (55 of 58 against Seattle.) I don't think anything is going to be decided on Allen just yet. They have a lot of other guys they will need to immediately address contractually. I can see Allen being here long-term, but if he is looking for a huge payday, he'll probably need to test the market.
From John M:
"Hey Darren! Looks like the Cards are going to have a brutal schedule next season. I guess it will be a true measuring stick on how far they have come. I know it's a bit early, but do you think they have a chance of re-signing Ertz and Conner?"
The opponents look daunting right now but next season is so far away. You don't know what these teams will look like next year, or even what they will look like by the time they land on the schedule for the Cardinals. As for Ertz and Conner, I'd bet they want both back. Both are good fits for this team and in the offense. But as always, it comes down to money. I think both guys like it here, but they won't stay and give up a much better deal. Nor should they.
From Andy Parrish:
"Hey Darren! A couple of comments and a question. Coach Sean Kugler must be one of the sharpest offensive minds and motivators the game has ever seen. Save for the mental mistakes that lead to needless penalties, these offensive linemen appear to be way more 'plug and play' than other OL units. Also, what's the possibility Jeff Rodgers leaves for a HC somewhere? Dude is a ST beast! Last, I feel for Isabella. Why can't he break through? Every time I see an image of him, he looks sad and lost."
I do think Kugler does a great job (although this question came in pre-Seahawks and D.J. Humphries in particular didn't have his best game.) The offensive line is going to have to play better overall in the postseason -- especially when it comes to penalties. I think Rodgers would love a chance to be a head coach, but I have not heard his name mentioned in this cycle. As for Isabella, I think we have come to the spot where he would benefit from a fresh start.
From Joy Brooks:
"This is more my opinion rather than a question but I'm hoping Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim read your mailbag along with the rest of us. Whatever it takes and however much it costs, they need to sign James Conner to a long-term deal. After Kyler and with Hopkins out, he's without a doubt the best offensive player we've got. And if they're a little short on money, they can make all the offensive linemen take pay cuts. Whatever they're currently making, they sure didn't earn it against the Seahawks. It's amazing they didn't get Kyler killed out there. Probably the worst game they've played all year."
That last part feels a little harsh, Joy. There were multiple issues at times with the offense Sunday, and that included Kyler holding the ball to long a time or two. As for Conner, as I mentioned earlier, I think the Cardinals would love to have him back. But a running back "long-term deal" is up for interpretation. It'll come down to what Conner wants, as usual. Given that Chase Edmonds is also a free-agent-to-be, running back is going to be a fascinating position to watch this offseason.
From Dave Thompson:
"Lots of NFL records were set week 17. Most this. Most that. Records tied. In your opinion, is there an asterisk? One extra game. Notably T.J. Watt's record tying 22.5 sacks is legit because he only played in 15 games. Which is incredible (great bloodlines there Watts. Save some for the rest of us will ya?). But all the others, do you think those are sorta because of the extra game? In time, 17 games will be the norm. But right now, it's brand new. Having an extra game to set records feels flimsy. Just saying."
So you are suggesting, what -- asterisks now but when it becomes "normal" they go away? That doesn't make a lot of sense to me. The records are what they are. The rules are way different now than when 16 games came into existence in 1978 -- way way more passing now. We don't have an asterisk for that. So no, No asterisks. By the way, Detroit's Al Baker (who later played for the Cardinals) actually had 23 sacks as a rookie in 1978 but since sacks weren't made an "official" stat until 1982, he doesn't own the record. That feels like an asterisk situation itself.
From Benny Cardsfan:
"Hi Darren! Not necessarily a question, per se, but more of a topic to chew on. On Dave Pasch's recent podcast he had Adrian Wilson on as a guest. One of the questions Pasch asked was 'How do you and Steve Keim make decisions in regards to player personnel?' A-Dub gave a very professional team non-answer. However, if you pay attention, he said a lot. This may be no surprise, but the bottom line was that Keim is a big draft/player development guy and A-Dub is moreso the trade-for-veterans guy. Of course. A-Dub being the former player/Pro Bowler absolutely would feel that way (prioritizing proven guys over draft picks). Neither approach is best.
Yes, you absolutely should build through the draft. But adding veterans when possible is valuable too. If I can my 2 cents, as a fan, I agree moreso with Wilson. If you look at our team, many of its best players came from trades/FA. Chandler. Hop. Watt. Connor. Hudson. Alford (when healthy). Hicks. Golden (in a roundabout way). That's not to say our homegrown talent isn't important. Budda, Murphy, Hump, Kyler. But the scales would lean to say our player acquisition process has been much more successful than our draft prowess. Good talk! Thanks."
I mean, you're right because both are needed. Vets are fine, but usually, you're not getting a lot of vets in their prime. You better hit on some young guys. Clearly though, there is no one way to do it, not with rosters so big. On that note, I look forward to the day Dub is a GM. It'll be fun to see how he puts together a team when he has final say.
From Art Renois:
"Could DeAndre Hopkins come back off IR for the playoffs?"
Can he? Yes. Will he? Highly doubt it, and the only reason I have any reservation in saying absolutely not is because they won't say officially. But Hop was on crutches this weekend. He is very far away from being able to play NFL football.
From Parker Daniels:
"We are far out from Darren's Free Agency Primer, but I think it's OK to ask about our own guys. Particularly Zach Ertz. He seems happy here. Hes getting fed the ball more than he did in Philly. You could say it comes down to money, but realistically he is 32 so it's not as if we are talking bank-busting amounts. I think it comes down to do the 2 sides want to continue together? No idea how Ertz feels. How does AZ feel? Are they banking on re-signing Maxx Williams? Heck why can we have both guys? Need a full TE rundown Darren."
I do think Ertz would love to stay and that the Cardinals would love to keep both he and Maxx. But again, Williams is coming off a major injury and as you said, Ertz is on the wrong side of 30. I think Kyler and Ertz have already clicked. This offseason is going to be fascinating to watch play out.
From Charles Oliver:
"Hello Darren, have you noticed and have it been asked why on some passing down I see Chandler Jones or Zach Allen dropping back trying to cover a receiver or back? I can not recall either ever making a play when in coverage on the guy they were covering. Why take away what they do best (rushing the quarterback) to do something they're just not getting the job done (in my opinion). Happy New Year!"
The answer is simple. Sometimes, Vance Joseph is trying to confuse the opposing quarterback, and to be frank, it doesn't seem very often the QB is going to the pass catcher being covered by a lineman. Many teams do fire zones and things of that nature. If you never do anything but rush Chandler Jones, he becomes that much easier with which to deal.
From Rob Ert:
"What is the chance they extend A.J. Green? I sure hope not. He has been very inconsistent through the year, either dropping passes, running the wrong route or just not making much effort. I was really excited when we signed him for what he was. For somebody with his credentials, I've been pretty disappointed. Thanks."
As with all the free agents, they will go through the post-season process of evaluating all those guys. I wouldn't rule out a return; he's been valuable at times. I do think he's better served as an extra weapon when Hop is healthy rather than a top target for the offense to lean upon.
From Mike Neagle:
"Hi Darren. Where is Jack Crawford, defensive end? The Cardinals got him from Pittsburgh I believe in free agency. This guy played a little in preseason and has disappeared. He was going to be this big stud but is not around."
Crawford got hurt in preseason and has been on IR all year. I don't know if I'd say he was going to be a stud -- he was one of a handful of vet defensive linemen signed when the unit had a rash of injuries early.
From Patrick Wagner:
"How much does Kyler Murray get paid?"
This season, he'll make a little less than $4 million in salary and bonuses. It's going to go up sooner rather than later, however.
From Jerry Shugars:
"When does the time for eligibility for the Hall of Fame begin? Is it from the last game played, the end of the season, the player's announcement of his retirement? How are the finalists and entrants determined? As always, thanks for making Tuesdays special with the mailbag."
The five years begins once the player doesn't appear in any other games. Retirement announcements don't mean anything to the process. Right now, for instance, Larry Fitzgerald has already gotten through one year of his five-year wait. If he came back in 2022 -- even for one game -- the clock would start over. As for the finalists and entrants, pretty much anyone can nominate a player for the Hall. The voters then take that list and vote for 25 players, and the voters then pare the list from there.
From Jerry Atwell:
"Was Kyler Murray sending a message to management by wearing an A's cap at the postgame interview after the Cowboys game?. Testing your mind reading powers."
Yeah, it was that he likes that hat.
Are we still doing this?
From Sebas Quiros:
"Do you have any idea how it works for teams that share stadiums? I mean in terms of the look of the stadium. Say SoFi stadium. Do they repaint the field to put the logo of either the Rams or the Chargers? Or do they have different 'fields' and they just change them depending on who plays?"
Pretty sure they just repaint. And obviously there is some work to be done each game to hang the proper colors in certain places, but it is made easier in spots because of all the digital signage these days.
From Cards Follower:
"Darren, on uniform selection for any game, who selects the color combination? What is the player role in selection? And can OL Justin Murray come off of IR at the end of the regular season or due the rules apply until after the Super Bowl?"
The uniform decisions for games comes down to Michael Bidwill (although it has to work on away games with what the home team is doing.) Players aren't part of it the vast majority of the time. As for Murray, they opened his 21-day window a while back and he had a setback, and once you open the window and it closes without activation, you are on IR for the balance of the season.
From Kevin P:
"Roof open or closed? Who has the final say? And when Kurt Warner was around, didn't he always request the roof to stay closed to make the atmosphere better/louder? Do you know the team's W/L totals for both scenarios?"
The Cardinals are 21-24 now with the roof open all-time. The final say ultimately is made by ownership, but with a retractable roof (that cost millions) the plan since the building was built that if the weather allowed it (so as long as the heat wasn't terrible and no rain), the roof would be open for games. Yes, Warner lobbied against it because he felt better playing indoors.