Free agency is slowing to a crawl -- the Cardinals probably don't have many more pre-draft moves on tap -- and the Cards' front office. scouts and coaches are finding a new way to have draft meetings and interview players in this time of social distancing. Meanwhile, it's the weekly mailbag as usual. If you want to leave a question for next week's mailbag, go here.
From Tom Nelson via azcardinals.com:
"I was surprised to hear Devon Kennard say he had not seen a playbook or video of the Cardinals' defensive scheme and that he was waiting to be able to go to the facility when allowed to do so to start learning their system. Is this not something the Cardinals can send to new players at this stage of the offseason?"
That is correct. COVID-19 or not, players on teams with a returning head coach are not allowed to have "football" contact with coaches until April 20, and that includes being sent playbooks and the like. That'll change in a few weeks -- and obviously, it'll be different than a normal offseason -- but until then, nothing besides "we're glad you're on the team."
From Michael Travers via azcardinals.com:
"Hello Darren, hope you and your family are well during these most unusual times. Our Cardinals have done by all measures a great job so far with trades and free agents. It seems in the NFL today the teams with the most success are usually dominate on one side of the ball or the other, for example, offense for KC, defense for SF and so on. Teams need to be better than average on the other side of their dominance. The Cards are developing a dominance on offense and plugging holes on defense which brings me to draft. Do you think drafting an offensive tackle would add to their building a dominate offense? Second question, do you think we would draft the top CB prospect (Okudah) as future leverage against Pat P? My third and last question, If the freak athlete Simmons is there would the Cards take him? Thank you."
I mean, depending on the tackle, sure it could help the offense. But again, at 8, they need to take the best player, IMO. Second, I'd take Okudah, assuming you see him as a transcendent talent, not as leverage but because he's the best player. You can figure out later if that means long-term pairing with Patrick or not, but that shouldn't be the deciding factor. Third, I don't know how they feel about Simmons. But it makes sense to me.
Again, and I have said this many times, I think -- especially after re-signing Marcus Gilbert -- that the Cardinals have set themselves up perfectly to do whatever they want in the draft. Trade back to add picks, take a receiver, take Simmons, take Brown, take a lineman. There is nothing they have to have at No. 8 overall if they don't feel the player is worth it. (I'm not saying, for instance, that Gilbert or Murray is the right tackle answer and they shouldn't take a lineman. But if you see the linemen on the board, at 8, as say, another Levi Brown, and you see Simmons as another Darius Leonard or a receiver as another Julio Jones, you have to take the guy you think will be better.)
From Sidney Sexson via azcardinals.com:
"Reading about the Rams being able to retain Michael Brockers due to medical concerns by the Ravens, who had a local medical exam performed, I wondered whether you knew if the Cardinals have had any medical exams performed on the free agents they signed? Also, looking at the one-year salary of $1.21 million that Pharoh Cooper signed with Carolina, I wish we would have retained him as he is one of the best return players in the league and able to fill in occasionally as a wide receiver."
I don't have the details on the medical exams, but in the case of Brockers, he had a pre-exisiting ankle issue that became part of the problem. I do not believe any of the new players the Cardinals acquired are in a similar situation. As for Cooper, my guess is, even at that number, it was more than they wanted to spend. Besides, the Cardinals want to see growth and get production from the receivers they already have on the roster, in particular the 2019 draftees. Cooper knows he'll have more of an opportunity in Carolina.
From Kyle Curtis via azcardinals.com:
"Is there any way the Cards could reunite with Markus Golden?"
I guess I wouldn't rule anything out. But the Cardinals gave a decent deal to Devon Kennard, more money than I would think you'd give to a third OLB, so I don't see Golden returning making sense at this point. I am sure Golden expected to have a better market at this point -- I'm surprised he is unsigned -- and I'd love to see him come back. But I don't think there is really a spot for him at this time.
From C.P. O'Neil via azcardinals.com:
"I see all the mock drafts but in reality they mean nothing. Why don't we see some grades on last year's draft? How do you grade last years Cardinals draft? How many of that draft class will be on this year's roster?"
One year in is too early to truly grade a draft class in my opinion. And it's actually too early to know how many in that draft class will be on the roster. Do you count safety Jalen Thompson, who was picked in the supplemental draft last summer and cost the Cards their fifth-round pick this year, in last year's class or this? If you count Thompson last year, the Cards still have 11 of their 12 draft picks around, plus three of their original UDFAs.
From Joe Cardea via azcardinals.com:
"Darren, I solved another problem you didn't know you had. Here's my proposal: Make the preseason two scrimmages and one game. Regular season is 17 games, with eight playoff teams per conference. The first four-seeded teams are division winners. Next four are wild cards. Only division games count towards division winners. The next four are selected based on overall record. But you only get a home game if you win your division. The first four regular season games are non-division and the rosters start at 75 men cutting down to 53 or whatever the new limit is by the first division game. Sprinkle the other three non-division games throughout the rest of the season and a team could treat it like a bye for dinged-up players. Adds value to division games and gives players a chance to rest. What do you think?"
My first thought is a 6-10 team could be 6-0 in division and win the No. 1 seed? That doesn't seem right to me. And the other issue is the unbalanced schedule -- you could randomly play your hardest non-division games with a much bigger roster. That doesn't seem like it'll come out fair. You're right, this is not a problem, whether I knew about it or not. I don't even particularly like adding one playoff team per conference, much less making this dramatic of a change.
Seems like the general consensus is Ohio State CB Jeff Okudah, and it makes sense to me (although I won't sit here and say I have studied enough to know about Okudah or Isaiah Simmons or Derrick Brown enough to say who is the best given different positions. I do think cornerback is a premium position that I think you can work around at the other two spots.)
From Dan Marks via azcardinals.com:
"I'm hearing there is still a chance the Cardinals work out a long-term deal with Kenyan Drake. Seeing as how the transition tag will pay around $8.5 million for one year, is the incentive for him to sign a longer-deal based on more guaranteed money over multiple years? And with that, does that mean the Cardinals can lower his cap hit? One more: in your opinion, should they try to sign him to a longer deal, or with top-end running backs falling off a cliff, should they stick with the tag and see how it goes?"
It is complicated with Drake, in part because the tag (of a little more than $8.4M) is above what most backs would get for one year these days. Yes, the incentive would be for him to up his guaranteed money on a long-term deal. But he has to weigh whatever deal that would be against $8.4M plus hitting the free-agent market again next year. The reality is that the Cardinals are probably not going to give him a deal that gives him a ton more guaranteed money. Because of all the reasons you noted, for both sides, I think it's likely he plays on a one-year deal. But the option for a longer deal is still there.
From Sam Hoffman via azcardinals.com:
"With the addition of Devon Kennard and De'Vondre Campbell, where does that leave Haason Reddick?"
Same place where he was at the end of last season. Campbell doesn't impact him much because they have moved on from the idea of playing him inside. It hasn't worked and it won't. He will have the chance to be the depth on the outside and they still think he could help some there, but unfortunately Reddick has some physical shortcomings when he plays as an edge rusher that have to be taken into consideration.
So hard to really make a good guess. At this point, I am guessing a lineman, either on offense or defense. But I don't really know. So much still must be discussed, and who is on the board makes a difference. A trade down is something that is very possible.
From Robert Malicki via azcardinals.com:
"Of all the moves Steve Keim has made early in free agency, his first, the trade for Hopkins, is to me the most intriguing. With a week's worth of commentary on the trade how does it appear to you? Critique ranges from it opening the door to a playoff run to it being an Antonio Brown 'do over.' Though the trade came together unexpectedly and quickly I have confidence SK and staff did their homework. Can my confidence be justified in the Cardinal's having in Larry Fitzgerald a locker-room and practice field 'ace in the hole' the Texans lacked?"
So this is the second straight week someone has implied Hopkins is some kind of diva. I get there were some things leaked from Houston after the trade, but that seemed like CYA stuff to me and, unlike Brown, there has never been any kind of chatter about Hopkins like that the entire time he's been in the NFL. I don't think he's like that at all. I don't know about a playoff run, but I think to get a player in his prime like Hopkins, for the price the Cards paid, was unbelievable in a good way. I don't see how anyone could view it any different.
From Will Tharp via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren. Who are you most excited about between our three new defensive free-agent pickups (Campbell, Kennard, Phillips) and why? Who do you think will make the most impact immediately? Side question: Where can we find the Cardinals Flight Plan schedule? I remember last year there was an article that said when each new episode was scheduled to air but I can seem to find that this year."
Given the circumstances under which we are all working now, there won't be any announced schedule for Flight Plan. I know people are anxious to see episodes, but obviously they are much harder to do now, both working remotely and gathering content. I know they hope to have one soon, and in a perfect world there will be a couple between now and the draft.
As for the defensive free agents, all are intriguing, but it'd be Phillips. He got the biggest contract, and he's the one I think the Cardinals needed most of all to shore up the defensive line. Plus he had one big season -- this one -- going into free agency, and I, like everyone, want to see if he truly turned the corner in his career.
From Steve Stardevant via azcardinals.com:
"As is so often with your mailbag I wish to make more of a comment than have a question. With the draft the new player 'comes on the cheap', however they always seem to be a hit or miss, perhaps more often a miss. I believe there is more of an upside to free agency with consideration given to age and cost. With the signing of a new player under free agency you are more often than not, getting a player with a somewhat known history. Take De'Vonte Campbell and Devon Kennard for example. These individuals had very productive seasons last year and with their signing comes the question; can they repeat? The simple fact to me is that they will perform at the same level as last year, outperform this coming year or not be what the GM hoped they would be. In any case there is a 67% chance that they will be equal or better and for a reasonable price."
I see what you are saying -- clearly with existing players there is a body of work within which to judge. However, these players often are benefiting from the leverage of being a free agent. Their play may or may not correspond directly to their new contract, because they have the ability to shop their services. Yes, the draft is still more of a crapshoot, but it is also the best way to get a good overall roster, simply because the salary cap dictates it to be such.
From Kevin Elswick via azcardinals.com:
"How are the Cards going to address the offensive line? Do you think they are in the works to sign a veteran lineman as well as take an OT in the first round?"
Kevin, you sent this in before Marcus Gilbert returned, so that's part of your answer. But even then, I don't think it precludes them from drafting an offensive tackle. I do think it gives them options. And if they don't take a lineman in the first round, I will be stunned if they don't get one at some point in the draft.
You are going to need to add a back at some point, if not two, at least for training camp. Whether it is in the draft will depend on who is there and what they are thinking at the time. Could I see one in the later rounds? Sure. They have two fourth-round picks. But if they go with Drake and Edmonds and try and find an undrafted guy, I wouldn't be shocked.
From Don P via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren. Two questions. In one of the many Hopkins stories I have read one made mention of Larry being a mentor to Hopkins in the past. I've looked but can't find any thing to support that. Do you know anything about a long-term friendship? Also, I have said that the only player I would want more than Isaiah Simmons in the draft would be Chase Young. Not going to happen but if Simmons was there at 8 along with the best WR and best OL which do you think would have the biggest impact towards our win column?"
Assuming that first-round pick is starting from day one? I probably wouldn't say the WR because of Hopkins/Fitz/Kirk. Assuming Simmons is what people think he is, he is the guy I would guess. But that's just a guess. As for Fitz and Hopkins, I could be wrong, but I don't know if Fitz is necessarily super-close with Hopkins. But Fitz tends to have good relationships with a lot of the elite receivers, and I believe Hopkins falls into that category.
From Brandon Ching via azcardinals.com:
Hi Darren, with the acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins and building on the momentum of Kyler Murray and the Kliff Kingsbury era, do you foresee the Cardinals updating their uniforms? I know a bunch of teams are updating their uniforms for the upcoming season. With all the excitement they're generating, I think they could use a fresh look for the 2020 season. Thank you."
A bunch of teams? The Bucs are changing, and the Falcons. The Rams just got a new logo, but not new uniforms. So ...
From Isaac U.K. Fair via azcardinals.com:
"Knowing what we know now about the offseason disruption, can you tell Michael Bidwill he was wise to keep consistency by not changing kits? Clearly has much better foresight than us fans!"
First of all, love it when the uniforms are called kits. Makes it feel so European. I know, I know, Brandon from the question above isn't the only one banging the change-the-uni drumbeat. I got a bunch of tweets this week. Again. Trust me, if there is anything to report, I'll let you know.