QB Brian St. Pierre, TE Jerame Tuman, DT Bryan Robinson, DE/OLB Travis LaBoy, OLB Clark Haggans, ILB Matt Stewart, P Dirk Johnson, LS Nathan Hode.
RBTim Hightower, WR Early Doucet, OT Brandon Keith, DE Calais Campbell, DE/OLB Chris Harrington, DE/OLB Kenny Iwebema, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
QB Tim Rattay, QB Tim Hasselbeck, RB Marcel Shipp, WR Bryant Johnson, OT Oliver Ross, G Keydrick Vincent, DE Ross Kolodziej, DE/OLB Bo Schobel, DT Rodney Bailey, DT Chris Cooper, DE/OLB Calvin Pace, OLB Darryl Blackstock, FS Terrence Holt.
2008 Arizona Cardinals Offense:
Beer bongs. Hot tubs. Bikini-clad women. This was Arizona's offseason. Hey, there's nothing wrong with that. If you give me those three things, I won't care about winning a Super Bowl either. But I guess that's the concern Cardinals fans have. Matt Leinart was terrible last year. While he's throwing these crazy parties, he could be studying film. Then again, it is Leinart's life, and he's entitled to a good time just like everyone else. I can see it from both sides.
It doesn't really help Leinart's cause that Kurt Warner performed so well in relief last season. Warner compiled 3,417 yards, 27 touchdowns and 17 picks, which completely kills Leinart's 647 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. Leinart, who started five games before suffering a season-ending injury, was such a huge disappointment because he looked really good as a rookie the year before. In 2006, Leinart notched 2,547 yards, 11 touchdowns and 12 picks in 11 starts.
Helping Warner look good were a much-improved offensive line and a prolific receiving corps. If Warner has time to throw, he can absolutely destroy opposing secondaries, as he's proven over the years. That's exactly what he had last season, as Warner was sacked just 20 times. Anchoring the front is Levi Brown, the fifth-overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft. Brown will be at right tackle if the left-handed Leinart is under center. Should Warner replace Leinart, Brown will once again switch to left tackle. Ken Whisenhunt and offensive line coach Russ Grimm did a masterful job whipping the rest of the young front into shape. Guards Reggie Wells and Deuce Lutui, and center Al Johnson have all improved immensely under their tutelage. The weak link on the line is left tackle Mike Gandy, but he's not terrible by any means.
Arizona has the top receiving duo in the NFL. So why all the talk about trading them away this offseason? Larry Fitzgerlad had his second 100-catch season of his four-year career in 2007, as he also registered 1,409 yards and 10 touchdowns. Anquan Boldin, who also has a pair of 100-reception campaigns, had only 853 yards last season because he missed four games. No. 3 target Bryant Johnson is gone, but who really cares? I felt Johnson was one of the more overrated free agents on the market; he was given multiple opportunities to start when either Fitzgerald or Boldin missed time, but never really was dominant. Rookie wide out Early Doucet comes from LSU, a school that has produced numerous receivers who have thrived as rookies in the NFL (i.e. Michael Clayton, Dwayne Bowe). It's conceivable that Doucet could be more productive than Johnson was in 2007.
A guy who needs to keep his production up if the Cardinals are to make the playoffs is Edgerrin James. James was given up for dead when he gained just 3.4 yards per carry in 2006. He rebounded, however, as he registered 1,222 yards and seven touchdowns at a more respectable average (3.8) last season. James turns 30 in August, but has a lot of wear and tear on his body. If he regresses back to 2006 form, the Cardinals will regret not addressing the running back position until the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
2008 Arizona Cardinals Defense:
If you want to know why the Cardinals failed to qualify for the postseason in 2007, you can blame a secondary that allowed Matt Hasselbeck and Drew Brees to go a combined 48-of-63, 587 yards and six touchdowns in consecutive weeks down the stretch. In summary, that's only 15 incompletions in two contests!
So, has Arizona done enough to rectify this problem? Well, let's look at the team's offseason moves in this department. The Cardinals drafted Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie with the 16th pick in the draft, and... uhh... that's about it. DRC figures to be a very talented player in the NFL, but rookie corners seldom thrive at the next level. DRC is currently behind Rod Hood on the depth chart, but I don't expect that to last long. Luckily for him, there's only one top-notch wide out in the entire NFC West (Torry Holt).
Starting across from DRC or Hood will be Eric Green, the team's top corner. Green suffered a torn groin in late November, which ended his season. It's no coincidence that the team really struggled against opposing aerial attacks once Green went on injured reserve. Last year's other starting corner, Antrel Rolle, has moved to free safety, where he's more likely to succeed. Meanwhile, strong safety Adrian Wilson is one of the best players at his position in the NFL, ruptured his Achilles' tendon the same week Green went on the IR. Wilson is expected back for training camp, though it's unclear if he'll be 100 percent at any point in 2008.
If Wilson can't revert back to his former self, the Cardinals will need to do a better job pressuring opposing quarterbacks. Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett led the team with nine sacks, but the guy tied for second on the team with six (Calvin Pace) signed with the Jets. To counteract this, Arizona signed Travis LaBoy, and drafted Kenny Iwebema and Chris Harrington in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively. LaBoy had six sacks with the Titans, though he managed that number with opposing offenses concerned about Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch. Arizona also received a boost with the return of Chike Okeafor. Okeafor missed all of 2007 with a torn bicep. He had 9.5 sacks the year before.
The Cardinals were much better against the run (ninth) than they were versus aerial attacks (28th). That's because they're very solid up front with Dockett, Antonio Smith and nose tackle Gabe Watson. They drafted Calais Campbell in the second round, who initially should at least provide decent depth at defensive end in the 3-4. Campbell has work-ethic issues, so I don't see him becoming a great player, but he could be a solid reserve.
Right behind Dockett, Smith and Watson (sounds like a lawfirm) are Gerald Hayes and Karlos Dansby. Hayes is a solid player, but Dansby has emerged as one of the better linebackers in the league. After registering eight sacks in 2006, Dansby had 98 tackles, four sacks and three picks in 2007.
Let me return to the question I asked a few paragraphs ago that I've yet to answer. Has Arizona done enough to rectify its problems against the pass? I think as long as Wilson and Okeafor can play close to 100 percent and the team doesn't suffer any major injuries, things will be OK.
2008 Arizona Cardinals Schedule and Intangibles:
One sign of an emerging team is its ability to establish a dominant homefield advantage. The Cardinals were just 3-5 in their new facility two seasons ago, but they finished 6-2 as hosts in 2007, beating quality opponents like the Seahawks, Steelers, Lions (when they were 6-2) and Browns. Now they just have to learn how to win on the road.
Since 1999, Arizona has surrendered nine punt or kickoffs for touchdowns, while scoring only three of its own. Opponents were also able to block four of the team's punts or kicks since 2006. That's ridiculous. How does all that happen? The good news is Steve Breaston is the team's first solid return specialist in a very long time.
Neil Rackers struggled in 2006, hitting on just 8-of-17 attempts from 40-plus yards. Rackers rebounded last year, nailing 5-of-6 kicks from 40-49 yards. He was 3-of-9 from 50-plus, so he didn't exactly set the league on fire.
The Cardinals had punting problems in 2007, which is why they signed Dirk Johnson. Johnson is the epitome of mediocrity when it comes to punting, but he's much better than Mike Barr and Mitch Berger.
Arizona has a knack for playing close contests. Two years ago, five of its 11 losses were decided by a touchdown or less. Last season, that figure was six of eight. The Cardinals need to start closing out games.
Believe it or not, the Cardinals have a shot of starting 5-0. They open with the 49ers, Dolphins, Redskins, Jets and Bills (at home). Following a tough battle against Dallas, Arizona has Carolina, St. Louis and San Francisco before going up against the Seahawks, Giants and Eagles. The Cardinals' final three games are versus the Vikings, Patriots and Seahawks. Ouch.
2008 Arizona Cardinals Analysis: Believe me, I want to declare that the Cardinals are going to shock everyone and win the NFC West. But I've learned over the years that picking Arizona to be an upstart team will only make you look foolish. If the Cardinals weren't the Cardinals, I'd give them a 10-6 or 11-5 record.
That said, they'll find a way to screw up. They always do.
Projection: 8-8 (2nd in NFC West)
2008 Fantasy Football Rankings:
Matt Leinart: I can see why people think the Matt Leinart party scandal was overblown, but I can also see the other side of it. After a solid rookie campaign, Leinart regressed in 2007, looking unprepared as he stared down his receivers like a drunk leering at a hot woman at a bar. Was he studying any game film at all? Will he better in 2008? I'm not so sure, so I'd stay away from him.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 2,200 passing yards. 12 passing TDs. 125 rushing yards. 1 rushing TD.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 200.
Kurt Warner: Kurt Warner's definitely worth taking late in your draft. If (and when) he gets a chance to start, he'll put up monstrous statistics. He and Brian Westbrook carried one of my fantasy teams to a championship last season, and I'd be more than happy having Warner on my bench until Matt Leinart either gets injured or benched.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 2,100 passing yards. 14 passing TDs. 8 rushing yards. 0 rushing TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 189.
Edgerrin James: Edgerrin James disappointed fantasy owners in 2006 when he ran for only 3.4 yards per carry. James bounced back and gained 1,222 yards and seven touchdowns last season, thanks to upgrades on the offensive line, and coaches Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm. James turns 30 in August, so he has at least two more years of solid production. There is some risk, however, as James has a lot of wear and tear on his body.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,200 rushing yards. 200 receiving yards. 6 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 176.
Leonard Pope: Leonard Pope got into the end zone five times in 2007, but he's not much of a factor from a statistical standpoint. Look elsewhere.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 360 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 54.
Larry Fitzgerald: If you draft Larry Fitzgerald and he gets off to a poor start, don't get too concerned. Fitzgerald scored 10 touchdowns in 2007, but didn't get into the end zone until Week 5. That's because his production was limited with Matt Leinart at the helm. If Leinart struggles yet again and Ken Whisenhunt decides to stick with him for some reason, Fitzgerald's production will suffer. Fitzgerald owners: Prepare your hate mail for Whisenhunt.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,225 receiving yards. 8 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 170.
Anquan Boldin: Read what I wrote about Larry Fitzgerald. Same applies to Anquan Boldin. Boldin had 853 yards and nine touchdowns, but missed four games.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,100 receiving yards. 8 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 158.
Early Doucet: LSU receivers have thrived as rookies in the past, so Early Doucet wouldn't be a bad late-round pick. If he's available as a free agent, and either Anquan Boldin or Larry Fitzgerald go down with an injury, make sure you pick up Doucet.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 450 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 57.
Neil Rackers: Neil Rackers missed two kicks inside 40 yards, but he nailed three from 50-plus. Arizona's offense is pretty solid, so Rackers should once again get plenty of opportunities.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 23-30 FG (2-7 50+). 44 XP.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 124.
Arizona Defense: I definitely wouldn't consider the Cardinals as a starting defense, but they're not a bad option if they're playing a poor offense and your regular defense is on a bye.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Spot-Starting Defense.
2008 NFL Draft Grade:
The Cardinals were pretty lucky Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie fell to them at No. 16. Rashard Mendenhall was an option there, but with a dire need for a corner, they couldn't pass on DRC ... Early Doucet was a steal at 81. If Anquan Boldin is traded, Doucet should be able to step in right away; we've seen LSU receivers thrive as rookies recently (Michael Clayton, Dwayne Bowe) ... I loved Chris Harrington and Brandon Keith in the final two rounds. They'll make the team and contribute toward the latter stages of the 2008 season.
I was disappointed Arizona didn't address the running back earlier. Tim Hightower? Not sure about that pick ... Calais Campbell will probably be a bust. He has a horrible work ethic. He couldn't even show up to his Pro Day in shape. How lethargic do you think he'll be once he gets a 7-figure paycheck? I'm also unsure if he can play the five-technique.
Grade give on 4/28/08: B
2008 NFL Draft Picks:
16. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Tennessee State
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was a good bargain at No. 16, given that the Patriots were considering him at seven. The Cardinals missed out on the playoffs last year because they couldn't stop the pass, so even though Rashard Mendenhall was available, Arizona made the right move. (Pick Grade: A)
50. Calais Campbell, DE, Miami
Where is Calais Campbell going to play in the 3-4? He's neither a hybrid linebacker nor a five-technique. Campbell is a lazy underachiever, so I'm not sure what Arizona was thinking here. I'm giving this a D and not an F because there were so many more dumb moves made on Saturday. (Pick Grade: D)
81. Early Doucet, WR, LSU
Wow, the team that reached for Calais Campbell landed a steal in Early Doucet. Does this mean Anquan Boldin will be traded soon? (Pick Grade: A)
116. Kenny Iwebema, DE/OLB, Iowa
This is OK... Arizona should look at a running back or another corner, but Kenny Iwebema isn't a bad player. (Pick Grade: C)
149. Tim Hightower, RB, Richmond
There are better running backs available, and I'm shocked Arizona waited so long to address the position. (Pick Grade: C)
185. Chris Harrington, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
Great value in Round 6. Chris Harrington would have been fine in Round 4. (Pick Grade: A)
225. Brandon Keith, OT, Northern Iowa
A monstrous tackle who was a fourth-round prospect coming in. Good find by Arizona. (Pick Grade: A)
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Another year, another lacking playoff appearance. The Cardinals had their moments in 2007, beating the Steelers and Seahawks at home. However, even though Kurt Warner put up some nice numbers, it's safe to say Arizona won't reach the postseason without a healthy Matt Leinart.
Cardinals cut RB Marcel Shipp
Cardinals cut DE/OLB Bo Schobel
Cardinals re-sign OLB Karlos Dansby
Cardinals sign ILB Matt Stewart
Cardinals sign DT Bryan Robinson
Cardinals sign RB Chris Vincent
Cardinals re-sign S Oliver Celestin
Cardinals re-sign G/C Scott Peters
Cardinals re-sign CB Eric Green
Cardinals re-sign DE Antonio Smith
Cardinals re-sign CB Ralph Brown
Cardinals re-sign S Matt Ware
Cardinals sign QB Brian St. Pierre
Cardinals sign OLB Clark Haggans
Cardinals re-sign WR Jerheme Urban
Cardinals re-sign DE Joe Tafoya
Cardinals re-sign G Elton Brown
Cardinals re-sign DE Bo Schobel
Cardinals re-sign WR Sean Morey
Cardinals re-sign WR Ahmad Merritt
Cardinals sign LS Nathan Hode
Cardinals sign P Dirk Johnson
Cardinals sign TE Jerame Tuman
Cardinals sign DE/OLB Travis LaBoy
Cardinals release FS Terrence Holt
Cardinals release OT Oliver Ross
Cardinals release DT Chris Cooper
Cornerback: Arizona's pass defense was a joke down the stretch. In Weeks 15 and 16, Matt Hasselbeck and Drew Brees combined to go 48-of-63, 587 yards and six touchdowns. That's only 15 incompletions in two games! If the Cardinals draft a running back in the first round, they'll take a corner in the second. Drafted Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie; re-signed Eric Green and Ralph Brown
Running Back: Edgerrin James rushed for 1,222 yards and seven touchdowns last year, but the soon-to-be 30-year-old averaged only 3.8 yards per carry. The Cardinals need fresh blood in their backfield - someone like Rashard Mendenhall or Jonathan Stewart. Michael Turner could also be an option via free agency. Drafted Tim Hightower
Defensive End: Regardless of whether or not the Cardinals are switching to the 3-4, they need an outside pass rusher who can get to the quarterback; no defensive end had more than six sacks for them last year. I currently (Feb. 22) have Arizona taking James Jones in the third round of April's draft. Drafted Calais Campbell, Chris Harrington and Kenny Iwebema; signed Travis LaBoy and Clark Haggans; tendered Antonio Smith
Free Safety: Another reason the Cardinals struggled to stop the pass was Terrence Holt's ineptness at free safety. They'll move Antrel Rolle over to that slot, but there's no guarantee he'll be effective. Arizona should draft a free safety in the middle rounds to push Rolle.
Offensive Line Depth: With Oliver Ross gone and Keydrick Vincent about to hit free agency, the Cardinals will need some depth up front. Drafted Brandon Keith; re-signed Scott Peters
Punter: Mike Barr and Mitch Berger struggled in 2007, combining for a meager average of 40 yards per punt, while nailing only 21 balls inside the 20. Something needs to be done about this. Signed Dirk Johnson
Wide Receiver: All signs point to Bryant Johnson leaving via free agency. If that happens, Arizona will need a new No. 3. Drafted Early Doucet; re-signed Sean Morey and Ahmad Merritt
Tight End: Although they're both young, Leonard Pope and Ben Patrick haven't really shown anything. Adding a more experienced tight end to the mix couldn't hurt. Signed Jerame Tuman
Arizona Cardinals Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 22): $30.27 million
Karlos Dansby, OLB. Age: 26. Re-signed with Cardinals (1 year, $8.065 million)
The Cardinals will franchise Karlos Dansby, one of the top outside linebackers in the NFL. It's likely they will use the non-exclusive tag, which would give Arizona two first-round picks as compensation, should someone else sign him.
Eric Green (RFA), CB. Age: 26. Re-signed with Cardinals (1 year, $2.017 million)
Eric Green is a solid cornerback who was missed when he went down with an injury in December.
Calvin Pace, DE/OLB. Age: 27. Signed with Jets (6 years, $42 million)
Another solid linebacker the Cardinals will need to give a lot of money to this offseason.
Bryant Johnson, WR. Age: 27. Signed with 49ers (1 year)
Although he was chosen in the first round of 2003, Bryant Johnson never had more than 740 receiving yards. I know he was stuck behind Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, but he didn't really do much when they were out.
Antonio Smith (RFA), DE. Age: 26. Re-signed with Cardinals (1 year, $2.017 million)
One of the youngest free agents at this position, Antonio Smith registered 6.5 sacks in his first year as a starter in 2007.
Darryl Blackstock (RFA), OLB. Age: 25. Signed with Bengals (1 year, $600,000)
Darryl Blackstock never lived up to expectations, but he's still young.
Tim Rattay, QB. Age: 31.
A solid quarterback to have around as a backup.
Tim Hasselbeck, QB. Age: 30.
Tim Hasselbeck is not talented, but his wife is hot, so he gets some points for that.
Joe Tafoya, DE. Age: 30. - Re-signed with Cardinals (2 years)
Keydrick Vincent, G. Age: 30. - Signed with Panthers (2 years, $1.95 million)
Elton Brown (RFA), Cardinals. Age: 26. - Re-signed with Cardinals (1 year)
Ralph Brown, CB. Age: 29. - Re-signed with Cardinals (1 year)
Terrence Holt, FS. Age: 28. - Signed with Panthers (1 year)
Ross Kolodziej, DE. Age: 30.
Rodney Bailey, DT. Age: 28.
Matt Ware, S. Age: 25. - Re-signed with Cardinals (2 years)
Chris Cooper, DT. Age: 30. - Signed with Seahawks (1 year)
Oliver Ross, OT. Age: 33. - Signed with Patriots
Marcel Shipp, RB. Age: 30. - Signed with Texans
Bo Schobel, DE/OLB. Age: 27. - Signed with Jaguars
Sean Morey, WR. Age: 32. - Re-signed with Cardinals
Divisional Rival History: San Francisco 49ers: After years of getting swept by the Cardinals, 49ers fans were happy to see their team return the favor. Seattle Seahawks: The Cardinals don't have much of a homefield advantage, but Arizona is yet another place the Seahawks just can't seem to win. The host has claimed the previous four. St. Louis Rams: The road team has won five of the past six meetings, but does anyone really care?