NFL Nation: Jonathan Cooper

TEMPE, Ariz. -- During his weekly appearance on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim dismissed reports Monday morning that quarterback Drew Stanton could be out up to four weeks with a knee injury, saying there’s no timeline on his recovery.

Stanton
"I think it’s one of those things with that type of knee injury, everybody heals different," Keim said. "And I know that ESPN and some other outlets have put a timeline on it. It’s extremely difficult to do.

"You can say it’s going to be four weeks -- I’ve heard people say 1.5 weeks. Everybody heals differently. Drew will be here around the clock rehabbing, and I know he’ll be ready to go as soon as possible."

Stanton left Thursday night’s 12-6 win against the Rams in the third quarter with a right knee injury that has been reported to be a Grade 2 ACL and MCL sprain, which means they’re both partially torn.

On Sunday, ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen reported that Stanton would be out up to four weeks.

In a season of tough breaks and irreplaceable losses, the Cardinals did get good news Friday morning when the team’s medical staff determined that Stanton’s injury wouldn’t require surgery.

Initially, Keim thought Stanton would "potentially be done for the season."

"After all the bad news we received this year regarding injuries," Keim said, "it was nice to get a little bit of good news for once."
  • When pressed about the possibility of re-signing former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, Keim said it’s hard to get caught up in "what could’ve been, what should’ve been." Keim said: "It’s hard to even think about a guy that hasn’t thrown a football in over five years,” and added: "I try to deal in reality on a day-to-day basis."
  • On the chance to play one game for the NFC West title, Keim said "It’s enormous. It’s exactly the reason you’re in this business."
  • Keim said looking at the big picture of Arizona’s 11-3 record put a lot of things in perspective because of who is leading the teams with the three best records in the NFL, all at 11-3: New England’s Tom Brady, Denver’s Peyton Manning and Arizona’s Ryan Lindley/Logan Thomas.
  • Keim was pleased with how the offensive and defensive lines played in St. Louis, calling Thursday night the offensive line’s best game of the season.
  • Left tackle Jared Veldheer continued to play at a Pro Bowl level, Keim said.
  • Keim was impressed with the improved physicality up front, but said there are "technical issues" that need to be improved.
  • Keim called defensive tackle Frostee Rucker an "unsung hero" and said he told Rucker on Thursday night that he found the Fountain of Youth.
  • After watching Jonathan Cooper's second-straight start, Keim said Cooper is still looking like a rookie. "You see him do some things you like, that excite you, and you see that there’s a bright future ahead but at the same time there’s a lot of areas he needs to improve and most of it’s (technique). It’s the footwork and it’s the time off he needs to knock the rust off."
TEMPE, Ariz. -- They’ve been waiting their turns, but guard Jonathan Cooper and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander haven’t seen much, if any, of the field this season for the Arizona Cardinals.

That might change Sunday.

Cooper
Cooper is on deck if right guard Paul Fanaika can’t play against Washington because of ankle and calf injuries. Should Fanaika not play, Cooper will be inserted at right guard and Ted Larsen will remain at left guard, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said.

“I’m confident in him,” Goodwin said. “If that happens, that happens. If not, Paul is up and here we go.”

Cooper has played just three snaps this season while Alexander has yet to see the field on defense.

“It’s up to the coaches,” said Alexander, one of two special teams captains. “As far as how they want to work me in, right now my role is to play on special teams and I’ll just continue to do that.”

Because of a knee injury to Matt Shaughnessy that’s sidelined him until December, Alexander might finally get his call this week as a backup to Sam Acho and Alex Okafor.

“Lorenzo (will) get some reps,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “[Linebacker Marcus] Benard is back as well as [linebacker Thomas] Keiser.

“Depending on what we see and package wise, we’ll try to get [Alexander] in when we could.”

GM Keim reaffirms Ellington as GTD

September, 8, 2014
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Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington was limited again Sunday, leaving a decision on whether the second-year back will play to be made before Monday night’s game against San Diego, general manager Steve Keim said.

“We’ll talk with our medical staff and training staff and test it out tonight and see if he can go,” Keim said Monday morning on his weekly appearance on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “But aside from that, without having a medical background, it’s hard to say at this point.”

If Ellington does not play, Keim assumes the playbook will change, at least slightly, with more of an emphasis for explosive plans put on wide receivers John Brown and Ted Ginn.
  • Left guard Jonathan Cooper got a few reps with the first team during practice last week, Keim said. After the first 20 minutes, which is spent primarily on special teams, practice is closed to the media. Keim said it’s Cooper could play a few snaps or even a series Monday night but that’ll be decided by coach Bruce Arians. “It’s been nice to see because he continues to just get better,” Keim added. “I think it’s just a time situation … it’s only going to get better with time. He’s going to continue to feel more comfortable and again be back to the player we thought we drafted.”
  • A "numbers decision" led to linebacker Desmond Bishop being released Saturday, Keim said. With Bishop’s position still vacant, Arizona has some flexibility with the final roster spot. “He had a nice preseason,” Keim said, “but quite frankly, Glenn Carson did, as well. And Glenn is our fourth inside linebacker at this point and we don’t see that changing anytime soon.”
  • Keim said one of Arizona’s top goals against San Diego’s offense is to provide pressure both on the quarterback and one-on-one.
  • Keim is also looking forward to seeing how the additions of rookie safety Deone Bucannon and cornerback Antonio Cromartie face off against tight ends.

W2W4: Arizona Cardinals

August, 9, 2014
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The Arizona Cardinals (0-0) and Houston Texans (0-0) open the preseason Saturday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.

1. Rookie Cat: Of all the battles for starting jobs in Cardinals’ training camp, kicker may be the most competitive despite rookie Chandler Catanzaro struggling in recent days. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has repeatedly said how kickers perform in games will carry more weight than how they do in practice. Catanzaro will handle all kickoffs and field goal attempts Saturday against the Texans, while incumbent starter Jay Feely will kick next weekend in Minnesota. If Catanzaro can hone his booming kicks on field goal attempts and drop his kickoffs in or out of the end zone, he can take a sizeable lead over Feely heading into next week. But Catanzaro has been inconsistent in practice after starting strong. Another aspect of his performance to watch is kickoffs. He didn't kick them at Clemson but gained experience making important field goals.

2. Coop's job to lose: For the entire offseason, one of the most highly-anticipated events for the start of training camp was left guard Jonathan Cooper's return. But Cooper, whose starting job was all but expected this season, has struggled to knock off the rust that’s set in after being away from football for almost a year. Arians sent a message to Cooper this week by splitting his reps with Earl Watford. Cooper will be watched closely when the starters take the field. If he can show up when the lights turn on, his job will be safe. If he struggles, don’t be surprised when Watford runs with the first team next week in Minnesota. This will be Cooper’' first opportunity since breaking his leg last August to face a live pass rush and a defensive lineman not named Calais Campbell. Cooper has said he heard Arians' message loud and clear. Only time will tell how he responds.

3. Minter's debut: He may only get a dozen or so snaps, but Saturday will be Kevin Minter's arrival in the NFL. He played just one defensive snap last year, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and is part of a duo that’s filling Arizona’s deepest void. With neither of last season's starting inside linebackers on the roster in 2014, Minter will have major shoes to fill, along with Larry Foote. But Foote's a veteran and although he played just one game last season due to injury, what he can do is well established. A lot is riding on Minter this season. He knows there are plenty of doubters who don’t think he has the speed or size to be replace Dansby or Washington, and those are valid questions. Which Minter shows up Saturday will be telling, but he needs to be judged by his entire body of work, not just 15 or so plays.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Coaches have different ways of getting their points across, but one way is pretty uniform across any sport on any level.

Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians fired a warning shot in left guard Jonathan Cooper's direction on Saturday afternoon when he said he was “disappointed” in Cooper’s progress since he returned from a broken leg suffered last August. Arians then said second-string guard Earl Watford was making a push for Cooper’s job.

Cooper
But Arians showed he wasn’t playing around during practice by alternating Cooper and Watford at first-team guard on consecutive plays and later giving them each an entire session to work with the starters.

Cooper got the message.

“He called me out and now I have to just work that much harder to kinda get over that hump and be the player I can be,” Cooper said.

Expectations were already high when the Cardinals picked Cooper with the seventh overall pick in 2013. Those just kept increasing every week as the offensive line struggled to start last season. It didn’t help when Arizona signed left tackle Jared Veldheer in free agency to combine with Cooper's potential to form a formidable left side of the line. Anticipation of having Veldheer and Cooper protecting Carson Palmer's blind side was growing.

But the chances of Cooper returning at a level far below the one he was drafted at were high. That’s what a year away from football will do without even considering the effect Cooper’s injury had on his game. He’s still readjusting to planting and pushing against defensive linemen, and Arizona has its first preseason game in less than a week.

Without any doing of his own, the expectations on Cooper were too high. His return has been compared to Arizona having a second first-round pick this year. While he quickly dismissed the idea last offseason of this being a second rookie year, it’s technically true because of Cooper’s inexperience. Except now the hurdles that come with a rookie season will be compounded with the issues that’ll arise from return from a season-ending injury.

“I have my ups and my downs,” Cooper said. “I just have to make sure I’m more consistent. There are some times when I’m showing flashes and I’ll feel and look like the old player I was prior to being injured, but then there’s some times where you can look and see that’s not the guy we picked up.

“I definitely have a lot of work to do, whether it’s physical [or mental]. I feel like the mental’s fine as long as I can make sure emotionally I stay sound and no matter what’s said, no matter what happens, just keep pushing forward I’ll be OK.”

This was the first sign that Cooper might not be returning to the level many thought he was at. Arians, who believed Cooper had overcome some of the mental hurdles after Arizona put on pads last Monday, gave him a week to prove himself in camp. But if Cooper’s not playing at the level of a top draft pick, Arians has to keep the best interest of the team in mind.

Through his short time in Arizona, Arians has proven that he believes in a unified starting lineup. He hasn’t shied away from establishing them early in the offseason and staying with them until they warrant a replacement. But Arians’ actions on Saturday shows that Cooper’s job isn’t guaranteed.

“I have those moments when I am feeling pretty good and I’m like 'All right I’m over the hump, I’m good to go' but then there’s those reps where it’s like old Cooper would’ve done this or done that, and been able to make this move or that move,” Cooper said.

Arians has said throughout camp that Watford was competing for a starting job, but Cooper and right guard Paul Fanaika didn't give him an opportunity to win one. That’s changed, for now at least, and it might not be a bad thing. Cooper might benefit from some time away from the first team so he can regain his confidence while not trying to block Calais Campbell on every play.

A warning shot was a fair way to show Cooper that he needs to start improving fast, but giving Cooper time to do so might be better for the Cardinals’ future.

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 7

August, 2, 2014
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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. -- With another summer in the books, it’s that time of the year again. Football is back. The Arizona Cardinals report to training camp Friday and will have their conditioning test in the early afternoon. Camp starts in earnest Saturday with the first of five straight practices.

And with the beginning of camp comes a plethora of questions. Here are my top 10, and No. 1 should be no surprise:

When will defensive back Tyrann Mathieu return?

Mathieu
It is looking less likely that Mathieu will return during any part of training camp. He was put on the preseason physically unable to perform list, which means he can do everything with the team except practice. And as soon as he is able to practice during training camp or preseason, he is allowed to come off the PUP list. If that occurs, it likely won’t be until the final weeks of August. Arizona doesn’t want to rush Mathieu back. Any setback with his LCL could lead to long-term issues. The Cardinals are not in a rush, even though I have heard his rehab is ahead of schedule.

Will the offense be able to pick up where it left off?

Like any new season, there will be an adjustment period so new and old players can get used to each other, but that shouldn’t last very long. The Cardinals can make major strides during camp if the offense doesn’t digress much from where it left off in the final nine games of the season. They seem to have added the missing pieces, so all signs point to them building quickly on the foundation set in 2013.

Who will win position battles at right tackle and right guard?

Each battle has essentially come down to a two-man race. At right tackle Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie will continue to duke it out. Will the time away have helped either? Only the next month can answer that. Next to them, second-year guard Earl Watford will be pushing starter Paul Fanaika. The coaching staff knows what Fanaika is capable of, so Watford needs to impress during camp to win the job. Then there is the possibility of someone not on the roster now starting Week 1.

Who will replace linebacker Daryl Washington?

Washington
At this point there is really one legitimate option -- a linebacker by committee, leading with Larry Foote -- unless head coach Bruce Arians has changed his opinion that Foote is not a three-down linebacker. During camp, Foote, Ernie Sims and Lorenzo Alexander will be given an opportunity to earn the job, but rookies Glenn Carson and Jonathan Brown would have to really impress to find the field. As with right guard, there is the possibility of someone not on the roster now starting Week 1.

Can place-kicker Jay Feely keep his job?

Yes and No. Feely knows Arians isn’t afraid to try someone else out for the job. Arians loves competition, which is why he brought in two other kickers to push Feely. Danny Hrapmann is a journeyman, but rookie Chandler Catanzaro might have what it takes to outkick Feely. I wouldn’t be surprise if Catanzaro wins the job.

Can running back Andre Ellington carry a full load?

Ellington
Ask anyone who knows Ellington and the answer is yes. But in order for Ellington to succeed in that role as Arizona’s feature back, he needs to stay healthy. Arians said during the offseason that he wants Ellington to get 25-30 touches per game. A little ambitious, but we’ll see how he is used during camp.

How healthy are the injured players?

The list is long, but the first few days of camp will be telling. A lot of eyes will be on left guard Jonathan Cooper (leg) and left tackle Jared Veldheer (tricep). Cooper missed all of his rookie season with a broken leg, and Veldheer returned from a tricep injury for the final five games. Three linebackers -- Sam Acho (leg), Alexander (foot) and Alex Okafor (biceps) -- will also be returning to practice, and each of them has something to prove after John Abraham and Matt Shaughnessy filled in for them and flourished last season.

Are cornerback Antonio Cromartie's hip issues a thing of the past?

Cromartie
A hip flexor hampered Cromartie for the majority of 2012, but he claims he’s fine. In order for the Cardinals’ secondary to be as good as advertised, he needs to be as healthy as he says he is. A lot of attention will be paid to him in the first week of camp.

Can Carson Palmer cut down his interceptions?

Palmer tied for second-most interceptions in the NFL last season. Of his 22, 14 were in the first eight games when the Cardinals were figuring out Arians’ scheme. Logic would say the interceptions will go down, but Palmer has a penchant for underthrowing deep balls. With an improved knowledge of the offense and the lessons learned from last season, his interceptions should be reduced.

Will the defense regress without Karlos Dansby and Washington?

Arians came out this week and said it would not, but it will be tough for the defense not to regress at least a little. Not only is the veteran quarterback of the defense gone (Dansby), but so is its most athletic player (Washington). What they were able to do by covering sideline-to-sideline, helping plug the run and lining up in coverage might not be replaced by Kevin Minter and Foote, or whoever takes over for Washington. In place of the veteran Dansby setting up the defense, the inexperienced Minter will be charged with that role, at least for the time being.
Bruce AriansAP Photo/Ross D. FranklinArizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians will get a look at his full team Tuesday when OTAs begin.
This time last year, the buzz around the Cardinals was about a new coach with a new culture and a new scheme. This year, it’s about how do the Cardinals make the playoffs?

As the Cardinals’ offseason team activities (OTAs) begin Tuesday, there’s a lot to ponder from the past year and much to speculate on going forward. The next month will begin determining the fate for a lot of players on the current 90-man roster. As Cardinals coach Bruce Arians loved saying last year, this is when they have to put it on tape.

Here are 10 observations as the Cards begin OTAs:

  1. The top three running backs are established with Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer sitting atop the depth chart, but after that is a major drop-off. As of now, there isn’t is a viable option for the fourth back, which was occupied by Alfonso Smith a season ago. He’s gone and so is Ryan Williams, leaving the fourth spot up for grabs. That running back, however, may not be on the field Tuesday.
  2. There’ll be a lot of eyes on the newcomers this offseason, such as quarterback Logan Thomas, cornerback Antonio Cromartie, safety Deone Bucannon and left tackle Jared Veldheer. But the most intriguing position battle of the offseason starts Tuesday with two returning offensive linemen at right tackle. Arizona hasn’t re-signed Eric Winston for a reason: It wants to see what Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie can do. The two were college teammates at Ole Miss but neither are the clear-cut choices to assume the starting job. There have been questions about Massie’s ability to pick up the playbook for the last few seasons and Sowell was able to hold his own at left tackle last season but there’s a reason Arians didn’t keep him there. It’s yet to be seen if he’ll fare better on the right side.
  3. Losing Karlos Dansby was a major blow to the Cardinals’ inside linebackers but it could get worse. Having Daryl Washington practice with the first team may be for naught if he’s suspended for a significant amount of time by the league for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The Cardinals are already in tryout mode with second-year linebacker Kevin Minter but if Washington is lost for more than a game, what was a strong point of the Cards’ defense will be its liability. Veteran Larry Foote may need the reps this offseason to get ready for a larger role next year but this is also a chance for an unknown inside backer to get noticed.
  4. It’s one thing for Cromartie to say his hip is better but it’s another for him to go out and show it. He’ll have the eyes of the media – although it’s not quite like New York – on him this offseason. If Cromartie’s hip isn’t an issue, he’ll be half of one of the league’s top cornerback tandems. If his right hip flexor is still hampering him during OTAs, he’ll be wise to just sit and let a young cornerback earn some time. But next up on the depth chart is the man Cromartie replaced, Jerraud Powers, who is likely itching to win back his spot.
  5. The top three wide receivers are a shoe-in. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Ted Ginn will have jobs in 2014. It’s the other eight receivers on the roster who’ll be fighting for their jobs starting Tuesday. Arians clearly likes small, speedy receives -- he drafted two -- but now he has an abundance of them on the roster and will start weeding through them this week. One or two will make the cut but the rest will left fighting for the final few spots on the roster as a gunner or a special-teams machine.
  6. What a difference a year makes. Last May, the Cardinals were as confused as ever when it came to learning Arians’ offense. This year they know the wrinkles and intricacies of his complex offense. The days of Fitzgerald and Floyd lining up in the wrong places are over. The next step can be taken, which could mean a quicker start for the Cardinals than a year ago. And the result of that could then a game or two in January.
  7. Throughout the smokescreens before and during the draft, there was one truth that rose above it all: Arizona wasn’t drafting a quarterback unless he could win a spot on the roster. After the Cardinals picked Logan Thomas, Arians made it clear the first two quarterback spots are taken. That means Ryan Lindley’s third-string job is up for grabs. He’s been lending a helping hand to Thomas but when practice gets going Tuesday, he’ll need to turn it up to show Arians that he made a mistake. That may be harder than anticipated because Logan was drafted to not get cut.
  8. One of the few players with the most to lose and the most to gain during OTAs is tight end Rob Housler. He fell short of expectations last season and never grew into the player Arians had envisioned him being. It doesn’t help Housler, cut from the receiving tight end mold, that he isn’t fond of blocking. The Cardinals went out during the offseason and added two tight ends who are tailor made to fit Arians’ two-tight end scheme. Add in Jake Ballard, who joined the team around midseason last year, and Arizona has a three-tight end rotation that could see Housler as the odd man out.
  9. Tuesday will be the first day that left guard Jonathan Cooper can take the field for since he broke his leg against San Diego in the Cardinals’ third preseason game. How much Cooper can do starting this week will be an indication of how far along in his rehab he is. If he’s practicing in full, training camp will be a sure thing. If not, then training camp may be the first time Cooper will work out at full capacity.
  10. Another offensive lineman the Cardinals are anxious to see on the field is guard Earl Watford. The second-year player feels he has a better grasp of the playbook and the offense in his second offseason. He’ll be given a chance to win the starting job over last year’s starting guard Paul Fanaika. If he does, the job may be Watford’s for the foreseeable future.
Last Thursday, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians met with the media to discuss this week’s draft and from their half-hour news conference, we were able to read into a few nuggets of information that could shine some light on what the Cards are thinking heading into the first round.

-- I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cardinals take a quarterback in the second round with their original pick at No. 52 or trade into the second to snag a slinger. Arians brought up a good point: Will a quarterback drafted in either of the third, fourth or fifth rounds really be able to beat out the second- or third-string quarterback already on the roster? Sure, it may be a smokescreen – as any of their comments could’ve been -- but think about this: How many quarterbacks, and good quarterbacks at that, will be around after the second round? Maybe none. Arians even said that the only position you draft with the idea of redshirting that player for a season is at quarterback. Makes me think they’re targeting a signal-caller in the second.

-- The Cardinals are definitely intrigued by the wide receiving crop this year. On a couple occasions, Keim talked about the depth at wide receiver. He said there are “several” receivers who may make for “intriguing prospects in the middle rounds.” If Arizona comes across a tall, fast receiver who can complement Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, I think Keim pulls the trigger. Especially with Fitzgerald’s contract expected to be a hot topic after this season, I can see Keim trying to build some depth at receiver, and also because the offense is about to take on another dimension or two in its second year so more options, the better. But don’t expect the Cards to take a receiver off the board in the first two or even three rounds.

-- When asked about which position Keim sees the most depth in this year, his first response was tackle. Since it’s a position Arizona is not yet set with, depending on how the first round pans out, the Cardinals may opt for a tackle at 20th or 52nd. However, the top tackles, like a Morgan Moses or a Cyrus Kouandjio may drop into the second but not be available by time Arizona is on the clock for a second time.

-- Another tidbit I found interesting was when Keim said his goal is to hit on three picks, meaning they’re either a starter or a major contributor, and find at least two role players. He was able to find that last season with Tyrann Mathieu, Andre Ellington and Jonathan Cooper, despite the injury. I think with the holes Arizona has this year -- safety, linebacker, tackle -- those are the three areas Keim is looking to hit on in this draft.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The NFL isn't a league where everyone gets a medal or a ribbon and a juicebox just for participating.

There are winners and losers, very definitive ones at that, and they're not just decided during the season. There are winners in the combine, in the draft and, of course, in free agency. But "winning" free agency is not always an objective.

Two of my colleagues, John Clayton and Field Yates, recently took on the unenviable task of evaluating the 32 NFL teams and deciding who's had the best free agency thus far and who hasn't.

Yates went first, deciding Wednesday, the second day of free agency, that the Cardinals were the early winners. On Friday, Clayton took his stab, not including Arizona in his five winners or five losers. Everyone evaluates free agency differently, there's no right or wrong away.

With all the moves that have taken place since 1 p.m. MST Tuesday, the race to be a winner has been neck-and-neck, but Arizona has staked a claim at having one of the best hauls this season.

As the sun sets on Week 1 of free agency, Arizona has signed left tackle Jared Veldheer, wide receiver Ted Ginn, running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive lineman Ted Larsen, while re-signing tight end Jake Ballard, kicker Jay Feely, defensive end Frostee Rucker and linebacker Matt Shaughnessy.

As a whole, the Cardinals' moves have all been strategic, targeting specific areas of need and improving significantly with each one. The offense made major strides with the addition of Veldheer to anchor the left side of the line. Coupled with the addition of Jonathan Cooper, who missed his rookie season with a broken leg, the Cardinals should be better than having the worst line in the league -- Pro Football Focus graded them as such after last season. Ginn's signing strengthened the wide receiving corps and gave Arizona a legitimate threat at kick returner. Larsen has a reputation as a strong, hard-working swing offensive lineman while Dwyer can add more thump to the Cardinals' backfield.

After the kind of turnaround season Arizona had in 2013, the Cardinals were able to be picky in free agency. They didn't have to overhaul a roster, as they did when head coach Bruce Arians was hired and general manager Steve Keim was promoted. Going 10-6 and sitting on the verge of the playoffs showed the Cardinals' brain trust where it needed to improve. And they focused on those areas.

There's still work to be done, such as building depth on both lines and finding a safety while stocking up on cornerbacks.

But there's also still plenty of time left in free agency.

Through the first week, Arizona put itself in a better situation to compete for an NFC West title. And by doing so, the Cardinals had one of the best free agencies across football.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Next up at left tackle for the Arizona Cardinals, Jared Veldheer.

Veldheer will become the latest in a long line of poor souls charged with protecting the blind side of a Cardinals’ quarterback. Let me be the first to say, good luck. Since Arizona drafted Levi Brown fifth overall in 2007 -- two picks before Adrian Peterson went to the Minnesota Vikings -- the Cards have suited up seven left tackles. With Veldheer and the Cardinals agreeing to a five-year contract Tuesday worth $35 million, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, make it eight. And, the Cardinals hope, the last for a while.

[+] EnlargeJared Veldheer
AP Photo/ Bill NicholsFormer Raiders left tackle Jared Veldheer will be counted on to solidify Arizona's offensive line.
There are two unenviable positions on the Cardinals, and following quarterback -- a position this team hasn’t had success at save for current starter, Carson Palmer, and Kurt Warner -- left tackle is a close second. All of Arizona’s offensive issues for the past few years have been blamed on those two positions. Bad pass? Not just the quarterback’s fault. The left tackle missed a block. Busted run? The left tackle didn’t run fast enough. Sack? No matter if it came off the right side, it was the left tackle’s fault.

For years, Cardinals’ fans wanted Brown to be replaced. When it finally happened after Week 4, when Arizona traded Brown to Pittsburgh and promoted Bradley Sowell, the fan base almost immediately wanted Brown back.

Nobody could win.

But with Veldheer, Arizona will have its best left tackle in at least 10 years. Maybe longer. He’s young, he’s talented and he’s proven, which is the key for Arizona. The Cardinals have taken tackles high in the draft -- Leonard Davis second overall in 2001 and Brown fifth overall in 2007 -- but they were unproven commodities. Veldheer comes in with a track record and was endorsed by Palmer, his teammate with Oakland in 2011 and 2012, during the recruitment process. According to Pro Football Focus, Veldheer has allowed 18 sacks since his rookie season of 2010 -- as many as Arizona allowed in the final eight games last season. In 2011, Palmer was sacked 17 times. In 2012, 26.

The biggest question mark, and it will be addressed during his upcoming physical, is how well Veldheer's left triceps has recovered from surgery in 2013 -- coincidentally the same injury that benched Brown in 2012.

Veldheer has a chance to establish himself as the best Cardinals left tackle since they moved to Arizona -- or at least since Lomas Brown made the Pro Bowl in 1996. But it won’t be an easy task in the NFC West. He’ll have to deal with St. Louis’ Robert Quinn, the waves of Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco’s Justin Smith. Did I say, good luck?

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim turned the franchise around in a hurry last season with some very good free-agent signings, but it's possible none will be as important as Veldheer for the team’s future. He turns 27 in June, and along with left guard Jonathan Cooper will be the foundation of the offensive line for the next five years.

As long as he comes to work every day and keeps Palmer upright and keeps those guys out of the backfield, he’ll be considered a success here. It won’t take much. The bar isn’t high.

Cardinals losing rookies at high rate

December, 10, 2013
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Losing rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu for the season wasn't just a blow to the Arizona Cardinals' secondary, it's a continued decimation of the Cards' 2013 draft class.

Mathieu is Arizona's fourth drafted rookie to suffer a season-ending injury this season, following guard Jonathan Cooper in the preseason and linebacker Alex Okafor in Week 3. Wide receiver Ryan Swope was forced to retire after suffering a concussion during minicamp. Arizona only has four draft picks on its active roster after releasing tight end D.C. Jefferson, a seventh-round pick, in early November.

The Cardinals' four injured draft picks are tied for most in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans this season.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was concerned another rookie was about to be sidelined two weeks ago when rookie running back Andre Ellington, Arizona's second sixth-round pick, tweaked his left knee leading up to the Eagles game on Dec. 1. Arians thought Ellington, who was sidelined for the game, had hurt his ACL. But it turned out to be not nearly that bad as Ellington played Sunday against the Rams.

Arians doesn't expect Mathieu to return by training camp next year, but the other rookies, Cooper and Okafor, are slated to be healthy by July.

“It definitely has got us,” the coach said. “We got lucky with Andre Ellington.

“But, yeah, with Swope and Coop and the rest of them, it's a shame because we really needed them.”

This much we knew about the Arizona Cardinals' running game heading into Sunday’s season opener at St. Louis: Rashard Mendenhall is the starter.

Smith
After that? It was anybody’s guess.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians helped sort out the four-man “committee” waiting on the sideline by announcing that in most situations, Alfonso Smith will “probably be our next guy.”

That’s as much a testament to Arians’ faith in the oft-injured Ryan Williams as it is to Smith’s perseverance. He’s been cut three times in four years, during which time he bounced between the Cardinals’ 53-man roster and the practice squad. At the start of minicamp and OTAs, Smith wasn’t expected to make it through final cuts. But he impressed during training camp and developed a reputation as a punishing pass-blocker.

“There were a lot of linebackers and DBs that quit rushing him in training camp when we had pads on,” Arians said. “There were serious blows. He brings it and that’s what I like about him.”

That leaves rookies Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor, and Williams, awaiting their call. Ellington and Taylor have roles on special teams, but how many running backs Arians dresses on Sunday will be telling.

“It’s a blessing, man, just to be able to be on the active roster starting off and to get an opportunity to be the backup, so I’m going to be excited,” Smith said. “I’m going to be pumped up.”

In other news:
  • Arians said he will use three kick returners in St. Louis, although there are five or six possibilities.
  • The number of offensive linemen the Cardinals dress against the Rams will be a game-time decision, Arians said. He’s thrown around seven throughout training camp, but that could change with the injury to rookie guard Jonathan Cooper. If it’s seven, look for Nate Potter and Mike Gibson, in addition to the front five, because of their ability to combine to work at all five spots. If it’s eight, look for Bobby Massie to dress.
  • Arians said he thought Denver quarterback Peyton Manning’s seven-touchdown outing Thursday night against Baltimore was "outstanding." Arians, who was Manning's quarterbacks coach in Indianapolis in 1998-2000, said, "It was one of those ones that you dream about when you’re young, you know seven touchdowns in a game, especially against the Ravens, which is a great defensive football team. So that was really, really special."

Taking stock of 2013 NFC West picks

September, 3, 2013
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Eighty-six of the first 88 players drafted in 2013 remain on 53-man rosters entering Week 1. The two exceptions play for NFC West teams.

The Arizona Cardinals' Jonathan Cooper, chosen seventh overall, suffered a season-ending leg injury during preseason. He is on injured reserve. The San Francisco 49ers' Tank Carradine, chosen 40th overall, remains on the reserve/non-football injury list while recovering from a knee injury.

Twenty-five of 39 NFC West choices this year remain on their original teams' 53-man rosters. That includes all seven picks for the St. Louis Rams and seven of nine for the Cardinals. The 49ers and Seattle Seahawks had a higher number of picks arranged lower within each round, and fewer open roster spots to accommodate them.

Injuries have left six picks from the division on various injured lists. Three of the Seahawks' top five picks will not help the team anytime soon. That includes Harper, defensive tackle Jesse Williams (injured reserve) and cornerback Tharold Simon (reserve/physically unable to perform). Percy Harvin, who cost Seattle its 2013 first-round choice, is also injured.

Five 2013 draft choices from the division landed on their original teams' practice squads. One of them, fourth-round choice Chris Harper, subsequently left his original team (Seattle Seahawks) to sign with the 49ers' 53-man roster.

Three picks from the St. Louis Rams and one from the 49ers are scheduled to start in Week 1. Cooper would have started for the Cardinals if healthy.

Harper wasn't the only NFC West draft choice to land on another team. The 49ers' Marcus Cooper, a seventh-round choice, wound up with Kansas City after the Chiefs claimed him off waivers.
The Arizona Cardinals decided against using their single "designated for return" option when placing rookie guard Jonathan Cooper on the season-ending injured reserve list Friday. This counts as a good time to brush up on the various injury-related options available to teams as they move toward the 53-man roster limit Saturday:
  • PUP list: Players moved to the reserve/physically unable to perform list can resume practicing between Oct. 15 and Nov. 19. At that point, they have 21 calendar days to join the 53-man roster, at which point they become eligible to play in games. Players become ineligible for reserve/PUP once they have passed physical examinations for the coming season. Cooper was ineligible for this list once he passed his pre-camp physical. Note that players on the active/PUP list count against active roster limits and can join their teams at any time during camp, provided they pass a physical. Players on reserve/PUP do not count against active roster limits. Michael Crabtree and Percy Harvin recently moved from active/PUP to reserve/PUP, for example.
  • NFI list: The rules and qualifications for the non-football injury (NFI) list mirror those for PUP. The difference is that players on NFI suffered their injuries outside an NFL context, usually either while playing in college or away from the team.
  • IR list: Players on the traditional injured reserve list cannot play until the following season. In some cases, players on IR negotiate settlements allowing them to become free agents in exchange for a reduced portion of their scheduled salaries. These players cannot immediately re-sign with the same team.
  • IR-DFR list: A team can name one player per season to the injured reserve-designated for return list. Players on IR-DFR must miss at least eight weeks before returning. There would be no reason to use this designation for any player qualifying under the PUP or NFI rules. Cooper would have been a logical candidate for this list if the Cardinals were confident he could return late in the season.

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