Arizona Cardinals: John Carlson

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Teams have less than a month to get their top 51 salaries under the 2015 salary cap, which has yet to be determined, by March 10, when the new league year begins.

The Arizona Cardinals' top 51 salaries are currently worth $148.9 million, with four players -- Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell and Carson Palmer -- eating up 45.4 percent of that sum.

Over the course of 11 days, the Cardinals’ salary-cap situation will be broken down here by position.

John Carlson

Cap hit: $1.5 million

Final season under contract: 2015

Cash value: $1.6 million

Notes: Carlson can earn a roster bonus of $37,500 per game he’s active with a maximum value of $600,000. He missed out on an $150,000 bonus by not getting at least 55 receptions last season.

Troy Niklas

Cap hit: $914,386

Final season under contract: 2017

Cash value: $602,877

Notes: Niklas’ base salary is fully guaranteed in 2015.

Darren Fells

Cap hit: $510,000

Final season under contract: 2015

Cash value: $510,000

Notes: The Cardinals wouldn’t incur any financial hit if they release Fells.

Currently not signed for 2015: Rob Housler
With the Arizona Cardinals' loss in the playoffs still fresh in their memories, it’s time to review the 2014 season, while also previewing 2015. Over the next 11 installments, I’ll look back, and then ahead, at every position for the Cardinals.

2014 Review: Heading into training camp, the Cardinals tight ends were set. Jake Ballard and John Carlson would be the combination Bruce Arians needed to make his offense run as a well-oiled scheme. Arizona drafted Troy Niklas in the second round of last May’s NFL draft. And basketball-player-turned-football-newcomer Darren Fells was expected to be the fourth in the quartet. Then Ballard retired, opening a roster spot for Rob Housler. And it took about a month for more injuries to impact Niklas. The Cardinals turned to Carlson as their primary tight end, but a series of drops midway through the season were the catalyst for a decline in playing time. On Nov. 18, after his second severely sprained ankle of the season, Niklas was placed on injured reserve. A week later, Fells’ snaps began increasing as Arizona started focusing on the run, utilizing his size and quickness as a blocker. In Arizona’s final four games, Fells saw twice as many snaps as Carlson.

2015 Preview: All of Arizona’s tight ends except Housler are under contract for 2015. It’s a long shot that he returns. Housler hasn’t fit Arians’ offense for the past two years because he’s built more to receive than to block. The Cardinals coaches trusted Fells more as the season progressed, which likely won’t change. With another offseason to learn how to improve his blocking and absorb the NFL speed and style, Fells will only improve. The offseason will be important for Niklas, who needs time to heal from a series of injuries dating back to early last year. It’ll be imperative for Niklas to enter offseason workouts completely healthy since he was limited last OTAs and minicamp. The biggest question surrounding the Cardinals’ tight ends will be the future of Carlson, who has a year left on his contract. He’s scheduled to earn a base salary of $1 million next season but that could increase with $600,000 on the table for a per-game roster bonus. He missed out on a $150,000 bonus because he didn’t have at least 55 receptions in 2014. Carlson’s decreased playing time toward the end of the season was a sign the coaching staff didn’t believe he could be an effective blocker. His six dropped passes, according to Pro Football Focus, didn’t help Carlson’s cause. Arizona needs another burly, blocking tight end who has good hands that could be among the anchors for Arians’ scheme.

Coming Sunday: Offensive line
TEMPE, Ariz. -- If John Carlson had played more Sunday like the John Carlson the Arizona Cardinals have gotten used to seeing this year, he could’ve potentially left Dallas with three touchdowns.

 Instead, he dropped three passes, according to Pro Football Focus, leaving Cardinals coach Bruce Arians concerned about the typically sure-handed tight end.

“Because the guy’s got great hands,” Arians said.

Carlson isn’t as worried as his head coach was. He’s been targeted 32 times this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information and has five drops, per PFF. It’s the third time he’s had five drops in a season, but he’s on pace to finish 2014 with a new career high.

The free-agent acquisition couldn’t pin-point what caused the dropped passes, but he was able to rule out what it wasn’t.

“Obviously, I’m trying to catch the ball,” Carlson said. “It’s not intention or mental preparation or anything of that sort. That’s our job to make plays when the ball comes our ways. I didn’t do that well enough on Sunday.”

The first drop, on first-and-10 early in the second quarter, would’ve been a tough catch in the end zone, but Carlson came back for Carson Palmer’s pass and it goes through his hands.

Carlson’s second drop, which came on second-and-10 with about 7 minutes left in the second quarter, was the toughest to catch of the three because he had to dive for it, but the ball still went off his hands.

“I was trying to sling it out to him and just didn’t give him a good enough chance to make a play on the ball,” Palmer said. “It gets labeled a drop but there is a lot of that goes into drops -- ball placement, ball speed, timing. I had to move around the pocket and threw the ball behind him. I don’t look at that.

“John is a vital part of this offense. He’s been phenomenal. He’s always a threat. He’s great in the run game, great in the pass game, and I hope to get him the ball.”

Carlson’s third drop, which happened a couple minutes later, was set up to be his easiest chance at a touchdown. Had Carlson made the catch on a tight-end screen, he had two blockers ahead of him and a clear path to the end zone.

“That was an issue for me on Sunday,” Carlson said. “That’s frustrating. I don’t know that you change the way you prepare, approach things. It’s just concentration and catching the ball, as coach said.”

When he was asked how to squeeze more production out of his tight ends, who combined for just two catches for 19 yards -- all by Carlson -- in 88 combined snaps against the Cowboys, Arians’ message was succinct: “Catch the ball. They dropped [three] of them. If you drop them, you aren’t getting them. Catch them.”

As a team, the Cardinals have 14 dropped passes this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Palmer said they’re just part of the game.

Earlier this season, Arians said he wouldn't make much out of drops because he doesn’t want his players thinking about them in practice. He affirmed he won’t stray from that mindset after Arizona dropped five passes in Dallas.

“They’ve been eliminated in practice for the majority,” Arians said. “It’s the same thing. If it’s just one guy, you’d replace him.”

Carlson, who’s in his sixth season but missed 2011 because of a torn labrum in his shoulder, said it’s possible to overthink his drops, but he claimed it wasn’t a mental issue. And he’s not concerned about Sunday’s drops snowballing into this weekend and beyond.

“That hasn’t really ever been an issue,” Carlson said. “It’s just about preparing, executing, doing your job at practice. It starts in here [the locker room], you got to know what to do first, you got to be in the right position, you got to get open when the time calls.”
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Before Saturday's preseason opener, the last game John Carlson played in was his last of 2013.

A concussion knocked him out of Minnesota's Week 14 loss to Baltimore. Two weeks later he was put on injured reserved. Three months later the Vikings released the tight end. But five reported concussions throughout his college and professional careers didn't stop Carlson, who signed with the Cardinals this offseason.

While head injuries are a daily threat in the NFL, the potential of a sixth known concussion didn't slow Carlson on Saturday when he played in his first live action since Dec. 8 in Arizona's 32-0 preseason win over Houston.

"We understand that as football players it's a violent game, it's a physical game," Carlson said. "You do everything you can technically to be as safe as possible. The league has done things to make the game safer but you can't go out there worried about getting hurt or you're going to be at a higher risk of getting hurt then."

A second-round pick by Seattle in 2008, Carlson has found a third NFL home as long as he stays healthy.

He's a starter for the Cardinals and is the type of tight end coach Bruce Arians sought to fit into his offense. He's 6-foot-5 and 248 pounds, and can block off the line and run tight routes. He showed his receiver skills Saturday when he beat 2014 top pick Jadeveon Clowney off the line for a wide open 13-yard touchdown, though it was called back because of a penalty.

By time he played his seven snaps Saturday, Carlson was accustomed to being hit again. Arizona donned pads on the third day of training camp and the hitting commenced immediately. While tackling to ground is generally prohibited, getting knocked around has been a part of camp.

But Carlson said he's not concerned about getting another head injury.

"We practice hard and that's the way we get ready to play the game," he said. "You can't go out on the football field and be worried about getting hit. That's when guys get hurt."

Arians said Carlson's concussion history was a concern when the team signed him in March, but his talent trumped the risk.

"He's doing everything he can to make sure he doesn't get another one," Arians said. "Football is football."

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 7

August, 2, 2014
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Arizona Cardinals training camp:
  • The battle of the day was at left guard between Jonathan Cooper, the expected starter, and Earl Watford, who has been the backup at right guard. Before Saturday’s practice, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he was “disappointed” with where Cooper’s progress is a week into training camp. Cooper and Watford began alternating snaps, but toward the end of practice they alternated series.
  • Saturday was the Cardinals’ Fan Fest, which meant live hitting, and the Cardinals ran a goal-line drill at the end of practice. Jonathan Dwyer looked good throughout practice, running in a couple touchdowns, including on a pretty sweep to the right.
  • Tight end John Carlson appears to be atop the depth chart and he has earned it. Carlson has been making catches all camp and that continued Saturday with a series of grabs off the hand of Carson Palmer.
  • With John Brown’s hamstring holding him out of practice Saturday, Brittan Golden became the Cardinals’ fourth wide receiver and Andre Ellington lined up as the fifth receiver.
  • Cornerback Antonio Cromartie returned to practice.
  • Quarterback keepers were emphasized throughout practice. Logan Thomas ran for a touchdown after rolling out to the right and keeping it uncontested. Later in practice, back-up quarterback Drew Stanton outran the defense on a keeper down the left sideline.
  • Saturday was rookie Chandler Catanzaro's day to kick and he went 7-for-8, missing a 49-yard field goal that was part of a drive.
  • Reggie Dunn returned punts Saturday, ahead of Ted Ginn.
  • Golden also lined up at gunner across from Justin Bethel.
  • A few leftovers from Arians' Saturday news conference: Thomas hasn’t yet won the third-string job over Ryan Lindley, Arians said, citing the fact that he has seen Lindley throw for a year-and-a-half and Thomas since May. ... The Cardinals won’t watch tape of the Houston Texans in preparation for their preseason game next Saturday because Houston plays a similar defense.
  • The Cardinals are off Sunday and their next public practice will be 2 p.m. PT Tuesday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Early Monday morning, while the working folks of Arizona were making their daily commute, Arizona general manager Steve Keim took to the airwaves. He discussed who he was looking forward to watching when the Cardinals strapped on shoulder pads – when the men are separated from the boys, Keim joked – for the first time this training camp.

He’ll be focused on the rookies and free agents added during the offseason. Keim mentioned guard Jonathan Cooper and linebacker Kevin Minter as two younger players he’ll keep eyes on. But one player Keim wants to watch play with pads is rookie wide receiver John Brown.

“He has been borderline dominating at times to the point where you really have to temper your enthusiasm, because I talk about how the pads have not come on yet, so now, how does [Brown] respond when he’s got two 6-foot plus corners in his face pressing him and rerouting him at the line of scrimmage?” Keim said on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “How’s he going to hold up for a smaller reliever going across the middle when [rookie safety] Deone Bucannon comes and wants to take his head off?”

Head coach Bruce Arians said Monday morning he’s anxious to see all the young players with pads on as well as a few veterans.

“When that noise level goes up, people change,” Arians said. “There’s a lot of guys that look really good in shorts and all of a sudden the noise level goes up and they disappear. Guys that don’t look very good in shorts all of a sudden they appear because they’re football players. That’s what you want to see. You want to see those guys rise up.”

There are a few guys I’ll be keeping tabs on when they’re in pads for the first time. Some overlap with Arians and Keim, some don’t.

Here are five Cardinals to watch for with pads on:
  • John Brown, WR: He’s fast. There’s another way to put it, but fast without pads is very different than fast with pads. He’s been impressive thus far throughout offseason workouts and the first few days of camp but will that speed continue when he’s lugging shoulder pads? We’ll see.
  • Jonathan Cooper, G: Coming off a broken leg, Cooper will be leaning on defenders for the first time at close to full speed since last preseason. We’ll see how far he’s come and how far – if any – he has to go. There are mental hurdles, however, that he needs to overcome so that first hit is important.
  • Jared Veldheer, T: He’s massive out of pads but how big and intimidating will he be when they’re on? He played just five games last season, so this will be his first contact since he’s completely healed.
  • John Carlson, TE: He has a long history of concussions and finished last season on injured reserve because of a concussion last December. He evaluated his health during the offseason, according to reports, and decided to continue playing.
  • Kevin Minter, LB: He played just one defensive snap last year and enters training camp as the presumptive starter at inside linebacker. How will his thumper reputation translate to the field?
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was excited for the start of padded practices, which begin Monday afternoon.

"We were very fortunate yesterday," Arians said. "We were way too active to be in shorts. I was holding my breath a little bit yesterday, but it was an outstanding practice."

• Arians said nose tackle Dan Williams will have an MRI on his swollen left knee. Williams is expected to miss Monday afternoon's practice.

• With pads being donned Monday, Arians won't limit how much his players hit. "With the limited time you can hit now, you can't hit enough, in my opinion."

• Arians said he hopes to keep four tight ends, but the rotation will be "more tailored to what they do best."

• Arians won't "baby" tight end John Carlson because of his history of concussions.

• When it comes to using fullbacks, Arians would rather use a versatile tight end than a true fullback because defenses can't prepare for a tight end that can play both positions as well as they can for a fullback.

• Quarterback Logan Thomas will get more snaps than Ryan Lindley in practice because he's newer, Arians said.

• Arians isn't a fan of training camp fights. He'd rather buy his players boxing gloves -- like Bear Bryant used to -- than see them break their hands. But Arians said he won't fine players for fights, he'll just "cut them."
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.