Arizona Cardinals: John Carlson

Sometimes bigger is better. At least when it comes to tight ends.

One priority for the Arizona Cardinals during the offseason was to improve their tight end room. Coach Bruce Arians wanted tight ends that fit his mold -- guys who are bigger, stronger, faster and love to block. Midway through last season, Arizona began to transition its tight end unit by signing 6-foot-6, 275-pound Jake Ballard. John Carlson, who's 6-5, 248, was added during the early part of this year's free agency and Troy Niklas -- 6-6, 270 -- was drafted in May.

Arians wanted his tight ends to be bigger. He got what he wanted.

"That's always been my philosophy," Arians said. "I don't want a guy that's really a wide receiver and you're only hope to run the football is if they put a nickel in there and he can block him and in base defense, not going to block anybody. My experience (is) it's always been a detriment rather than guys who can do both."

Arians has one of those tight ends that's more of a wide receiver than a bruising blocker off the line.

Rob Housler, who's entering his fourth season with the Cards, has a basketball player's body. He can be quick in the open field and looks as comfortable as most wideouts running a route off the line. But that's not what Arians wants.

He wants to see his tight ends be a combination of the old school definition of the position combined with a sprinkle of new school. And that's why Ballard and Niklas have coaches giddy with excitement. They're both big men who enjoy contact at the line of scrimmage yet they're both athletic enough to run routes, catch tough passes and turn up field to make plays. Ballard showed what he's capable of in eight games last season, but Niklas was sidelined for most of the offseason while recovering from sports hernia surgery before suffering a broken hand.

But it's Carlson who's impressed the most during organized team activities and minicamp.

"John has done a really, really good job," Arians said. "First off, he's extremely bright. He picked up the system extremely quick. He plays full speed all the time and has got outstanding hands. His issue in the past ... he's not an overwhelming blocker but he's more than adequate."

Each new addition to the tight end room brought more competition. While some players wilt at the first sign of having to play for their job, Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer said that hasn't happened yet with the Cards.

"It's been phenomenal to have John here for a number of (reasons)," Palmer said. "Mainly, he's really pushed that tight end group. He's really brought the best out of Robby. Bringing competition to that spot has really helped Robby improve."

While Carlson, Ballard and Niklas look similar in stature, Palmer said each brings a different asset to the field.

"We have three different guys with three different strengths -- four guys really (including Housler)," Palmer said. "We all kinda feed off of each other. There's one guy that's fast. There's one guy that's big and powerful. There's one guy that kinda does it all. I think that's what Coach Arians kinda envisioned in that position -- not a bunch of the same guys but a bunch of different guys."
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The only Arizona Cardinals drafted rookie to not take part in Tuesday's organized team activity was tight end Troy Niklas.

Arizona's second-round pick was dressed in a practice jersey, team shorts and a hat, but stood on the sidelines as he recovers from hernia surgery that took place after the NFL scouting combine in February.

“He's starting to run,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said after practice.

Arians hopes to have Niklas back on the field by the second minicamp.

In the meantime, his absence will give the other three tight ends atop the depth chart an opportunity to impress Arians on tape. During practice, the first-team tight ends were Jake Ballard and John Carlson. Rob Housler, who started in 2013, ran with the second and third teams. With Niklas out, Housler can gain the most by showing Arians that he can be the type of full-service tight end that Niklas, Ballard and Carlson are.

But the other three tight ends only have a few weeks to make their mark.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- With free agency in full gear, the news about the Arizona Cardinals' signings has been coming in steady. Here is a breakdown of a few of those contracts, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Ted Ginn Jr.: Arizona made Ginn the third-highest-paid receiver on the team with an average of $3.25 million per season. He received a $2.25 million signing bonus in 2014 and a fully guaranteed $1 million base salary. In 2015 and 2016, Ginn’s entire salary will be his base of $3.25 million.

John Carlson: The tight end’s contract is low-risk, high reward for the Cardinals.

Arizona signed Carlson to a two-year contract worth $3.2 million, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He received a $100,000 signing bonus.

Carlson’s base salary in 2014 will be $800,000 and he’ll be eligible for a $700,000 roster bonus, of which $100,000 will be awarded on Aug. 14, and $37,500 will be handed out for every game he’s active. In 2015, Carlson’s base salary will be $1 million with a roster bonus of $600,000, which breaks down to $37,500 for each active game. However, if Carlson is on the Cardinals’ roster on the third day of the 2015 league year and he had 55 or more receptions in 2014, he’ll earn another $150,000.

Ted Larsen: The offensive lineman was signed to a two-year, $2.6 million contract.

His base salary in 2014 will be $730,000 with signing bonus of $470,000. He’ll receive a workout bonus of $25,000 and a roster bonus of $75,000, which breaks down to $4,687.50 for every game he’s active.

In 2015, Larsen’s base salary increases to $1.2 million with the same workout and roster bonuses.

Jonathan Dwyer: The running back's one-year contract is worth $795,000, which includes a $65,000 signing bonus.
One thing we knew for certain this offseason was that the Arizona Cardinals needed help at tight end. Some relief came Friday when the team announced it signed former Minnesota Vikings tight end John Carlson to a two-year contract. Terms of the deal were not immediately available.

Carlson's health has been the primary concern surrounding the 6-foot-5, 248-pound tight end, especially during the past few seasons. He suffered the third known concussion of his NFL career in early December and was placed on IR two weeks later. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Carlson contemplated retirement after his last concussion and before he was released after his second season with the Vikings.

Arizona has been here before. The Cardinals drafted Ryan Swope last season out of Texas A&M despite knowing he had a history of concussions. An injury during organized team activities and minicamp last spring eventually forced Swope to retire before playing a single snap in the NFL.

The reason Arizona signed Carlson was the same reason it drafted Swope. The reward is greater than the risk. If Carlson regains his form as one of the top tight ends in the NFL, which he was during his first two seasons in the league with Seattle, the Cardinals could have three all-around threats at tight end with Carlson joining Rob Housler and restricted free agent Jake Ballard.

Carlson had 344 yards and one touchdown on 32 catches in 13 games last season, not quite his career-highs of 627 yards on 55 catches and five touchdowns in all 16 games as a rookie in 2008 but still solid numbers.

If Carlson suffers another head injury, it's likely his career will be over. That's the risk -- which is much greater for Carlson than the Cardinals -- but Arizona can benefit from Carlson even as a third tight end, filling Ballard's role from 2013.

Arizona won't stop looking for tight ends. The Cards will continue combing through the waiver wire, looking through free agency and scouring the draft boards for another tight end in case Carlson doesn't work out.

But for now, the reward he can provide is a lot greater than the risk Arizona is taking.