NFL Nation: Beanie Wells

Three things to watch for Friday night in the Arizona Cardinals' 2013 exhibition opener against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field (8 p.m. ET):

1. Palmer's debut. Carson Palmer's addition via trade stands as the most significant offseason move in the NFC West. It's not that Palmer was the best player acquired this offseason. Rather, he stands to make the greatest impact through the nature of his position and because the Cardinals have been so bad at quarterback recently. Arizona posted by far the lowest Total QBR score (26.8) and NFL passer rating (65.7) over the past three seasons. So, while we're not going to obsess over how Palmer looks in his Cardinals debut, some level of competency would be reassuring for Arizona. How he connects with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Rob Housler is of particular interest.

2. Mathieu and the DBs. The Cardinals are building their secondary around Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson and 2013 third-round choice Tyrann Mathieu, who figures to play a safety/corner role this season. Peterson has already demonstrated extreme playmaking ability. The Cardinals think Mathieu can also make impact plays with flair. Mathieu's debut carries considerable interest as he starts fresh following a tumultuous run at LSU. Will he stand out right away? Peterson, meanwhile, has been getting reps at wide receiver. It's unclear whether the team will try him in that capacity against Green Bay.

3. Running back picture. Coach Bruce Arians is betting on Rashard Mendenhall reemerging as an every-down back. Mendenhall is scheduled to start against the Packers, and he's a heavy favorite to be the starter this season. Backups Ryan Williams and Andre Ellington are injured and not expected to play. That could lead to additional playing time for Alfonso Smith and rookie Stepfan Taylor. Can one or both of them allay depth concerns at the position? The Cardinals need to be healthier across the board this season, but particularly at halfback, where the team used four starters last season (Beanie Wells 7, LaRod Stephens-Howling 5, Williams 3 and William Powell 1).
Aaron Curry's recent signing with the New York Giants invites a look back at the 2009 NFC West draft class, painful as it might be in some cases.

Four of the 29 players NFC West teams selected in that draft remain with their original teams: Michael Crabtree in San Francisco, James Laurinaitis in St. Louis, Max Unger in Seattle and Rashad Johnson in Arizona.

Unger is the only one of the 29 to earn Pro Bowl honors. Unger and Laurinaitis are the only ones to receive long-term contract extensions from their original teams.

NFC West teams have fired the head coaches and general managers associated with those 2009 selections.

Reasons for those firings went far beyond the 2009 draft, of course. Still, the massive turnover since that draft reflects poorly on what was, by most accounts, a weak class across the league. It also shows how frequently personnel turns over in the NFL. The league has 21 new head coaches and 19 new general managers since the 2009 season concluded.

Curry was widely considered the "safest" choice in that 2009 draft as a fearsome linebacker from Wake Forest. Seattle would trade him to Oakland for seventh- and fifth-round picks before Curry had finished his third season.

Jason Smith, chosen second overall by St. Louis in 2009, supposedly had a mean streak and was a natural leader. The Rams would trade him to the New York Jets for Wayne Hunter after three disappointing seasons.

Beanie Wells came to the Cardinals in the first round of that 2009 draft pretty much as advertised: highly talented, but not very durable. The Cardinals released him this offseason, and Wells remains unsigned amid questions about his knee.

2009 was also the year Arizona sought to upgrade its pass-rush by selecting Cody Brown in the second round. The 49ers tried to improve their depth at running back by using a third-round choice for Glen Coffee. Brown would never play in an NFL game. Coffee would retire after one season.

The chart shows how many regular-season NFL starts each 2009 NFC West draft choice has made, regardless of team.
The NFL draft becomes a blur on the final day as teams select lesser-known players one after another.

By the end, it's helpful to take a look at the bigger picture.


The chart above shows which general positions NFC West teams targeted. Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers are listed as skill players. The other group names are self-explanatory.

Seattle Seahawks seventh-round pick Jared Smith played defensive tackle at New Hampshire. He will play guard for Seattle. The chart reflects that change. There will be other tweaks and distinctions as we learn more about how teams plan to use players.

A few thoughts initially based on available information:
  • RB picture: NFC West teams loaded up on running backs. That position was already evolving with Steven Jackson's departure from the St. Louis Rams and Beanie Wells' departure from the Arizona Cardinals. Spencer Ware, the running back Seattle selected from LSU in the sixth round, projects at fullback to some extent, coach Pete Carroll said.
  • WR shifts: Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Early Doucet, Randy Moss and Ben Obomanu are among the veteran wide receivers to leave NFC West teams this offseason. The division added Anquan Boldin and Percy Harvin before selecting five wideouts in the draft, four in the first four rounds.
  • DT focus: Seattle drafted three players listed as defensive tackles, not counting Smith. No other team in the division drafted one. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told reporters the team could address that position in free agency.
  • Safety numbers: Every team in the division but Seattle needed a safety. The 49ers took Eric Reid in the first round. The Rams took T.J. McDonald early in the third. The Cardinals did not take one, but they plan for early third-round choice Tyrann Mathieu to play a hybrid safety-corner role. Mathieu is listed as a cornerback.
  • Front seven: Think the 49ers wanted to help their front seven, which wore down last season and needs to develop players for the line in future seasons? San Francisco drafted three players listed as defensive ends. Tank Carradine is 275 pounds with versatility. Corey Lemonier, at 255 pounds, is more of an outside linebacker type. Quinton Dial is 318 pounds and a pure lineman.
Our latest NFC West chat ended with a discussion on Mel Kiper Jr.'s recent success projecting first-round selections to the Arizona Cardinals. Turns out Mel did not have the Cardinals taking Michael Floyd at No. 13 in his final 2012 mock Insider.

Still, the projections have been pretty good. Kiper had the Cardinals taking Dan Williams 26th overall in 2010 Insider, when he also nailed both first-round choices for Seattle (Russell Okung and Earl Thomas). He had Arizona taking Patrick Peterson fifth overall in 2011 Insider.

Going back to 2009, I noticed Kiper had the Cardinals taking Beanie Wells with the 31st pick in his mock from March 12 Insider. However, he changed that pick to Everette Brown in his final mock Insider. Arizona did take Wells.

Dion Jordan is the projection for Arizona in the first round Insider this year, although Mel notes that Jonathan Cooper is another player he thinks the Cardinals would consider strongly. Kiper also made a couple post-publication changes to his 2013 mock, including one affecting the NFC West. He now has the San Francisco 49ers using the 31st pick for safety Eric Reid. That pick lines up with the one I made for the 49ers in our recent blogger mock draft.

Programming note: We've got a full night ahead. I'll be driving over to Seattle Seahawks headquarters shortly and getting set up from there. See you in a while.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at whether each NFC West team has been a winner or a loser in free agency.

Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals set a low bar in free agency and cleared it pretty easily. They weren't in position to attack the market aggressively because they had some salary-cap and player-valuation issues to address in the immediate term. New coach Bruce Arians and new general manager Steve Keim parted with Kevin Kolb, Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes, William Gay, Beanie Wells and Early Doucet. Some of those moves cleared significant cap room, but the dead money left over was enough to crimp the Cardinals' style. The first nine players Arizona signed in free agency (Frostee Rucker became the 10th on Wednesday) counted $12.9 million against the salary cap in 2013. That was about how much the team cleared by releasing Kolb and Rhodes. Call it addition by subtraction and give the Cardinals a passing grade in free agency under difficult circumstances. Quarterback Drew Stanton and running back Rashard Mendenhall are the only offensive players added to this point in the process. Arians thinks better health will restore the offensive line. He also loves the talent at that position in the draft. The team is setting itself up to draft for offense, it appears.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams are losers in free agency if you think they "lost" Danny Amendola, Steven Jackson, Craig Dahl, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Gibson and Robert Turner. The team was willing and sometimes even eager to move on from most of those players, however. The Rams plan to develop their younger players while acquiring more of them through free agency and the draft. They paid big money for two free agents, and both are relatively young, a plus. Tight end Jared Cook is not quite 26 years old. Left tackle Jake Long could be an old 27 based on recent injuries, but he's right around the league average for age. We could mark down St. Louis for losing both starting safeties (Quintin Mikell was released for cap purposes) and failing to land a replacement. The draft appears strong at that position, however, and Mikell could be re-signed at some point. We're only 10 days into the process, and the Rams haven't made any ridiculous moves. Getting Long on a relatively short-term deal (four years) seemed like a positive.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers watched longtime contributors Delanie Walker, Isaac Sopoaga and Dashon Goldson sign elsewhere. That was the plan given the price tags associated with all three players. The 49ers knew they couldn't pay premium dollars to those players after fielding the NFL's most expensive defense last season. Their disciplined approach to the market has served them well in recent seasons. This year, it helped them find room on the balance sheet for receiver Anquan Boldin, acquired from the Baltimore Ravens. The signing of Glenn Dorsey to the defensive line seemed curious at first, but it's clear to me the 49ers have special plans for the player drafted fifth overall back in 2008. Although Phil Dawson's signing stabilizes the kicking situation, his $2.35 million cap figure for 2013 means the team will again be paying a bit of a premium at the position, particularly with former kicker David Akers' terminated contract still counting against the cap. With 14 draft picks, couldn't San Francisco have found a rookie to do the job at lower cost?

Seattle Seahawks: Jason Jones is the only Seattle free agent to sign with another team this offseason. Seattle appeared to upgrade from Jones by getting Tampa Bay's Michael Bennett on a one-year deal counting $4.8 million against the cap. Signing Bennett and former Detroit defensive end Cliff Avril to short-term deals makes the Seahawks a pretty clear winner in free agency to this point. Percy Harvin was not acquired in free agency, so he isn't counting in the equation. His addition addressed the position, however, diminishing the need for Seattle to sign a veteran wideout. Upgrading the pass rush was really the only priority for the Seahawks once the Harvin trade went through. Bennett and Avril combined for 18.5 sacks last season. Both are playing on short-term deals with plenty to prove and only short-term cap ramifications for the team.
The Pittsburgh Steelers had a small group of visiting free-agents Friday, but all left without a contract. Sounds like a theme in the AFC North today.

According to Gerry Dulac of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, running back Beanie Wells, outside linebacker Victor Butler and tight end Kellen Davis all finished their visits without any contract talks with the Steelers but that doesn't rule out the possibility of negotiations later.

All three address a void for the Steelers. Pittsburgh is looking to find a featured running back after Rashard Mendenhall signed with Arizona, an outside linebacker to replace recently released James Harrison and a tight end to fill in while Heath Miller recovers from knee surgery.

In other news, offensive lineman Willie Colon signed a one-year, $1.2 million deal with the Jets just two days after being released by Pittsburgh. The Steelers didn't want to pay Willie Colon's $5.5 salary this year because of injury concerns, and they were right to cut the offensive lineman. Colon is expected to start at guard for New York, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

The Arizona Cardinals' one-year contract agreement with Pittsburgh Steelers free-agent running back Rashard Mendenhall gives new coach Bruce Arians a potential upgrade from the recently released Beanie Wells.

Both players carry significant injury concerns.

However, Mendenhall has experience playing under Arians when both were with the Steelers. That provides some comfort for Arians as he puts together his first roster with the Cardinals. Rules prevent coaches and players from talking football at this stage of the offseason. Arians knows what he's getting in Mendenhall. That has to provide some comfort.

Also, Mendenhall would appear to be the more versatile back and someone the Cardinals could trust in pass protection. That is also significant for Arizona as the team looks to install more of a downfield passing game.

The chart shows production since the start of the 2009 season for Mendenhall and Wells. Mendenhall is 25 years old and was a first-round draft pick in 2008. Wells, released this week, is 24 years old and was a first-rounder in 2009.

Talented 25-year-old running backs generally do not get on the market in the absence of questions regarding their ability to produce.

Mendenhall (5-foot-10, 225 pounds) suffered a torn ACL in the final game of the 2011 season. An Achilles injury bothered him in 2012. The Steelers suspended Mendenhall last season after the running back failed to show for game (the team had told Mendenhall he would not be active for that game). In 2011, Mendenhall also drew criticism for tweets regarding Osama bin Laden.

Mendenhall carried 51 times for 182 yards and a touchdown in five games last season. Wells carried 88 times for 234 yards and five scores in eight games.

The Cardinals reportedly had interest in Miami Dolphins free-agent running back Reggie Bush. Bush reached an agreement with the Detroit Lions and never visited Arizona.
Former Cardinals running back Beanie Wells has drawn interest from the Steelers and Bengals, a source told ESPN.com.

The Steelers are looking for a featured back, but they don't have much salary-cap room to spend on a high-profile one. The Bengals are looking to add another running back to go with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, although it was assumed they would pursue a more explosive runner.

Wells, 24, a first-round pick in 2009, was cut by the Cardinals on Monday. He fell out of favor in Arizona because he couldn't stay healthy.

Wells' power running style would seem to suit the Steelers, who are expected to let Rashard Mendenhall go elsewhere in free agency. That leaves the Steelers with an underwhelming group of Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Baron Batch.

In 2011, his best season in the NFL, Wells rushed for 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns. Last season, he was limited to eight games due to a turf toe injury and was benched in late December.

In his four-year NFL career, Wells has averaged 4.0 yards per carry and has only three 100-yard rushing games.
The Denver Broncos’ release of linebacker D.J. Williams was merely a formality. It has been a foregone conclusion that Williams was on his way out in Denver.

Williams, a first-round pick in 2004, simply wore out his welcome. He was suspended for a total of nine games in 2012, and when he returned, he was merely a backup.

Wesley Woodyard received the chance to play full time thanks to Williams’ suspension. Williams had a solid overall career in Denver, but he had too many off–field problems for it be worthwhile to keep him.

Williams, 30, will likely get some interest around the league. Williams is very versatile, so he can play virtually any linebacker spot and could probably start for the next couple of years. A potential landing spot could be Oakland, because the Raiders need a linebacker and Williams played for Oakland coach Dennis Allen when Allen was the Broncos’ defensive coordinator in 2011. Also, Williams is from the Bay Area and could be interested in a return.

Denver also cut quarterback Caleb Hanie. Denver saved $6 million by cutting Williams and $1.5 million in cutting Hanie. The Broncos are still trying to cut back Elvis Dumervil's pay. If Dumervil doesn’t agree -- and he has been hesitating -- the pass-rusher could be released.

As for as Hanie goes, his release was expected. He was the No. 3 quarterback. The Broncos like second-year quarterback Brock Osweiler as Peyton Manning’s backup. Expect Denver to add a young, cheap No. 3 quarterback.

In other AFC West notes:

The Chiefs are reportedly interested in Seattle’s Jason Jones. He’d probably play inside in a 3-4 defense and be a rotational player.

Beanie Wells, cut by Arizona on Monday, fits the Chargers' mold for a running back. But I’m not sure we’d see a Ken Whisenhunt-Wells reunion.
Back in April 2009, NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert and I debated whether Beanie Wells or Percy Harvin would have the better rookie season.

Wells
Four years later, the Arizona Cardinals released Wells on the same day Minnesota traded Harvin to Seattle for a package including a 2013 first-round pick. Wells tweeted the news. The Cardinals announced it shortly thereafter.

This move comes as no surprise. Wells has been hurt. Arizona has a new coaching staff. Head coach Bruce Arians said he wants his running backs to be every-down players skilled in pass protection. Over the years, the Cardinals trusted other running backs such as Tim Hightower in protection more than they trusted Wells. And with Wells struggling to stay on the field last season, his future with the team appeared shaky.

Arizona was recently among a few teams linked to potential free agent running back Reggie Bush.

I'd love to stay and linger on this one, but we've got more NFC West news coming down. Back soon.
The Arizona Cardinals' plan for upgrading at running back could include the Miami Dolphins' Reggie Bush, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent Tuesday.

That is the word from Mike Garafolo of USA Today.

New coach Bruce Arians spelled out his vision for the position this way: "Can they run the football, do they have vision, patience? Second, can they pass protect on second down? Can they pass protect on third down when it really gets complicated? Will we throw to the backs? Yeah. But the receivers are the ones paid to catch it.”

The chart compares Bush's 2012 production to that of the Cardinals' primary runners. Injuries wiped out Arizona at the position. Injuries also limited the offensive line and quarterbacks. That was a horrible combination. Arizona will almost surely improve in its running game simply because it's unlikely so many things will go wrong again.

Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams are coming off injuries for a second consecutive year. Bush, who turns 29 later this month, has missed one game over the past two seasons. He missed 20 games over the previous four seasons.

Closer look at Wells and NFC West RBs

February, 22, 2013
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At his best, Beanie Wells can be a big, physical runner with a wicked stiff arm and a strong nose for the end zone.

Wells was not at his best last season.

The Arizona Cardinals' running back had 88 carries for 234 yards and five touchdowns in eight games. He was on the field for 152 snaps, a career low and down from 583 in 2011, when Wells rushed for 1,099 yards and 10 touchdowns.



"I think Beanie had a tough stretch this year because of the injuries," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told reporters from the NFL scouting combine. "He showed a lot of grit, a lot of toughness late in the year when he was able to. He's had some injuries, so he had a difficult time with his cut ability and his lateral movement, but Beanie is still a big horse who can finish runs and create yardage after contact, which is something that excites us."

That last comment ran counter to my perception of Wells last season.

Of the 74 backs with at least 200 yards rushing last season, Wells ranked 73rd in yards after contact per rushing attempt, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Wells was at 1.12 yards per carry after contact. Only New Orleans scat back Darren Sproles had a lower average (1.0) among those 74 players. The average for those 74 players was 1.7. Adrian Peterson was at 2.9.

Keim was alluding more to the ability Wells has shown in the past, when he was healthier. Wells averaged 2.2 yards per carry after contact in 2011. The average was 1.9 in 2010 and 2.1 as a rookie first-round choice in 2009.

Wells is scheduled to earn $1.4 million in base salary for 2013, the final year of his contract. The comments from Keim made it sound like the team was leaning toward sticking with Wells for another season, but that could change depending upon what happens in free agency and the draft. The team has envisioned fielding a strong one-two punch in the backfield with Wells and 2011 second-round choice Ryan Williams, but injuries have intervened. Williams has missed 29 of 32 games.

"I saw Ryan in our weight room the other day and he's doing fantastic," Keim said. "He's a guy that, watching film with Bruce (Arians), because he got injured early in the season, you forgot the type of run skills Ryan had. We watched him against Philadelphia, we watched him against New England, his lateral quickness, his natural run skills, his avoidability is something he brings to the table. Plus, he's a three-down back. We're expecting big things out of Ryan moving forward."

Draft rewind: Cardinals' five-year recap

February, 20, 2013
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A look at the NFC West's best and worst from the past five NFL drafts, one team at a time.

Arizona Cardinals

Best choice: Calais Campbell, DE, 2008 second round. Campbell and inside linebacker Daryl Washington were the top candidates in this spot. Both were second-round picks who signed contract extensions in the past year. Campbell's deal averages $12 million per year over the first three years. The three-year average for Washington's deal is $9.2 million. Teams value defensive linemen over inside linebackers as a general rule. That is one reason I selected Campbell over Washington for our purposes here. Arizona credited Campbell with 11 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 14 quarterback hits and seven passes defensed despite missing three games to injury in 2012. Some might point to Patrick Peterson as a candidate for consideration. Expectations for a player drafted fifth overall set the bar high.

Worst choice: Cody Brown, OLB, 2009 second round. Brown suffered a wrist injury during his rookie camp, went on injured reserve and never played a down for the team. Brown bounced from the Cardinals to the New York Jets to the Detroit Lions without ever playing in a regular-season game. None of the other 36 players Arizona has drafted since 2008 challenged Brown for consideration in this spot. Ryan Williams, a second-rounder in 2011, could qualify if injuries continue to keep him off the field. Williams has already played in games and shown promise when healthy, however. Brown did not do those things.

Verdict pending: Williams, RB, 2011 second round. This assumes the verdict is already in for 2009 first-round choice Beanie Wells, whose future with the team appears tenuous. Williams suffered knee and shoulder injuries during his first two seasons with the team. He has missed 27 of 32 games and averaged 2.8 yards per carry on 58 career attempts. The Cardinals still have high hopes for Williams. There's still a chance Williams will become a key contributor, particularly as the Cardinals upgrade their offensive line. He must stay healthy, however.

Adding Ahmad Bradshaw's name to list

February, 6, 2013
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The Arizona Cardinals should be watching closely as Ahmad Bradshaw and other running backs hit the market for various reasons this offseason.

They could use a boost at the position.

Bradshaw's release from the New York Giants one year after the team dumped another running back, Brandon Jacobs, came as little surprise Wednesday.



The ratio of salary to production to injury risk made Bradshaw's release appear likely.

Jacobs, waived by the San Francisco 49ers recently after a disappointing (for both parties) season with the team, ranks 18th in rushing yards since 2007. Bradshaw ranks 19th.

Both were valuable contributors to the Giants at various times, but they are running backs, not quarterbacks, and NFL teams know they can find cheaper, healthier replacements. David Wilson is the cheaper replacement for the Giants.

We'll be monitoring available running backs in the NFC West this offseason. Arizona could be in the market for one pending the potential release of 2009 first-round choice Beanie Wells. Steven Jackson's situation in St. Louis is also of interest. He can opt out of his contract if the Rams decide to keep him at $7 million salary.

Bradshaw is a good running back. I think he could help the Cardinals in particular, but his history of foot injuries could be problematic. Arizona's current backs, Wells and Ryan Williams, have had injury troubles recently. Both finished last season on injured reserve.

Bradshaw is coming off surgery.

"He's still one of the most complete running backs in the league -- a power back with good vision who's as good at blitz pickup as anyone in the NFL," Dan Graziano wrote on the NFC East blog. "The concern is that his feet can't stay healthy, and his latest surgery is going to keep him out for the next couple of months."

A few thoughts on Beanie Wells' thoughts

December, 26, 2012
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Beanie Wells needs 766 yards rushing in Week 17 for his second consecutive season with at least 1,000.

The odds are higher that Wells will return to the Arizona Cardinals for a fifth season with the team. How much higher? That one is open to interpretation.



The subject hadn't even occurred to me before Wells brought it up this week. The team's quarterback situation has been that consuming.

If the Cardinals were to convene a summit to discuss their most pressing issues entering the offseason, where would Wells' future rank? General manager, head coach and quarterback would comprise the top three. Upgrading the offensive line would rank right up there.

The situation at running back would rank among the top five, probably.

Ryan Williams will presumably be back despite having suffered two season-ending injuries since Arizona made him a second-round pick in 2011. Wells, a first-round choice in 2009, has missed 12 games over the past three seasons. Together, the two highly drafted backs have missed more than 40 percent of regular-season games.

The last four years have proven that Arizona cannot count on Wells for consistently excellent performance. He has started 23 of 47 possible games over the past three seasons. Even when Wells rushed for 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, he was limping toward the finish line on a bad knee. He underwent surgery in the offseason. The team took a cautious approach to his return.

Wells suffered a turf-toe injury that sidelined him from Week 4 through Week 11. He has yet to average more than 3.9 yards per carry in a game this season despite scoring three rushing touchdowns against Detroit in Week 15.

The unforced fumble Wells lost in defeat to Chicago last week played a leading role in coach Ken Whisenhunt benching Wells despite limited options at the position. A running back with greater equity built up would have gotten additional chances. Wells hasn't built up that equity.

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