NFL Nation: Ted Ginn

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Kenny Demens forgot for a second that he had a kickoff to cover.

The Arizona Cardinals' backup inside linebacker was too busy celebrating Ted Ginn’s 71-yard punt return for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter when his breath -- or lack thereof -- finally caught up with him. Panting, Demens went to the sideline after realizing he was needed on the ensuing kickoff. There he found linebackers coach Mike Caldwell, who saw Demens was gassed but told him he needed to make a play regardless.

[+] EnlargeTed Ginn
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsTed Ginn's fourth-quarter punt return for a touchdown rallied the Cardinals past the Giants on Sunday.
Demens raced down the field on the kickoff with a freshly minted 19-14 lead and stripped New York Giants returner Quintin Demps. The fumble was recovered by Arizona’s Robert Hughes and in a matter of two plays, the Cardinals went from a team that had an excuse for losing -- because it started a backup quarterback -- to a team with a clear road to a 2-0 record.

“It was one of those things that we were trying to get a spark going, trying to get a spark and then we got one,” quarterback Drew Stanton said after the Cardinals' 25-14 win on Sunday. “From my standpoint, we were trying to push the ball downfield. They were just doing a good job of being stingy in the red zone. They showed us a couple different techniques. We were trying to do some different stuff against them that it wasn’t happening the way we wanted it to.”

Stanton, who replaced Carson Palmer as the starter because of a nerve injury in Palmer’s right shoulder, led the Cardinals to a touchdown on the opening drive. In the 45 minutes that ticked away between that TD and the Ginn return, Arizona’s offense was abysmal.

The Cardinals had two three-and-outs to start the third quarter before a 13-play drive yielded three points on a 37-yard field goal by rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro, bringing them to within 14-13. Four plays later, Ginn broke loose and swung the momentum.

Ginn said he didn’t remember the specifics of what sprung him for the touchdown, except that he made one Giant miss immediately after he caught it. Demens credited the type of blocking scheme called by special teams coordinator Amos Jones, which required the special-teamers to hold their blocks a few seconds longer. It worked. Once Ginn got through the scrum, he was in a foot race that he wasn’t going to lose.

It was Arizona’s first punt return for a touchdown since Patrick Peterson did it in 2011.

“We actually needed a touchdown,” Ginn said. “It couldn’t have come at a better time than then. You know, like I said before, you just let the game come to you. You just play the plays.”

With momentum swinging toward the team from the desert, Ginn could see the Giants beginning to deflate. But New York’s Eli Manning, who had carved up the Cardinals’ secondary to that point, had enough time to orchestrate a comeback. It continued on the Giants’ drive following Demens’ forced fumble. Manning took the Giants 53 yards to the Arizona 17 when New York running back Rashad Jennings slipped and fell, losing the football, which was recovered by Arizona safety Rashad Johnson.

Arizona’s defense responded to the momentum swing even as Arizona’s offense managed just another field goal. The Cardinals held New York to two three-and-outs late in the fourth, as linebacker Larry Foote picked off Manning on New York’s final play. Even though it didn’t happen until the fourth quarter, the momentum delivered by Ginn and Demens was noticeable throughout the team.

“The team wins and it’s always the special teams, they set the tempo,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “That kickoff return, getting that fumble was huge.”
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If you were looking for some kind of complex explanation from New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings, you're going to be disappointed.

Jennings' noncontact fumble in the final five minutes of Sunday's 25-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals was about as simple as it gets.

[+] EnlargeTed Ginn
AP Photo/Bill KostrounTed Ginn's punt return for a touchdown was part of a series of miscues that saw the Giants' one-point lead turn into an eight-point deficit between touches on offense.
"I turned around. My foot didn't get set on the ground. I slipped as I took off running. My elbow hit the ground. The ball came out," Jennings said.

That is pretty much what everyone saw, and Jennings has no idea why such a thing would happen. The Giants were down by eight points and driving. This happened on the Arizona 15-yard line, with the goal line in sight and the game still attainable.

"We were moving the ball. No doubt we were going to score," Jennings said. "That one hurts."

That last part could be applied to the game itself. The Giants didn't play beautifully by any means, but their offense did look considerably more competent Sunday than it had six days earlier in the season-opening loss in Detroit. The defense had done a decent enough job bottling up Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton, who started in place of an injured Carson Palmer. The Giants got to the fourth quarter of their home opener with a 14-10 lead against a team playing its backup quarterback, which sure sounds like a recipe for a win.

But win they did not, because of a stunning run of fourth-quarter mistakes that took them out of the game.

Up 14-13 with 10:36 to go, Victor Cruz dropped a third-down pass from Eli Manning and the Giants punted. Arizona's Ted Ginn returned the punt 71 yards for a touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, but Giants safety Quintin Demps fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Cardinals would get a field goal out of that gaffe.

"We've got a one-point lead, and the next time we touch the ball, we're down eight," Manning would say when it was over.

Tough to believe, but then Jennings' blunder made it even tougher to believe -- and ensured that the Giants would start 0-2 for the second season in a row.

It boils down to this: The Giants aren't a good team right now. They're a work in progress on offense, and while the defense looked better as this game went along, the secondary was a ragged, penalty-infested mess at the beginning.

In spite of that, the Giants were in a position to win it. But when you're not a good team, you can't get away with the kinds of mistakes they made. They turned the ball over four times, forced zero turnovers and committed nine penalties.

"When you do have an adverse circumstance, you've got to fight your way out of it," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of the way in which the fourth-quarter mistakes piled on top of each other. "But we would have been fine if we scored."

The problem is, right now, scoring is tough for the Giants. If you can't score and you're going to make a whole bunch of mistakes, you're going to lose. Pretty much every game. Even the ones you feel like you have in your pocket.

"We talk about winning the fourth quarter," Coughlin said. "We had the lead 14-13, and from there it was a nightmare."

Second time in as many weeks that Coughlin has used that word, "nightmare," unsolicited in a postgame news conference. That's a sign things are a long way from being fixed.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- For 53 minutes, the hype was just that. Hype.

The Arizona Cardinals had talked all offseason about how this year's offense was leaps and bounds ahead of last season's. At one point leading up to Monday night's 18-17 win against San Diego, coach Bruce Arians compared the difference between 2013 and 2014 to an eighth grader sitting in a first-grade classroom.

But when the Cardinals unveiled their new-model offense, the engine barely revved. Until the winning drive late in the fourth quarter, when quarterback Carson Palmer finally kicked it into gear.

“It was the first game,” wide receiver Michael Floyd said. “It’s ups and downs. We knew that there’s going to be some bad series, some good series. We want more of the good and I think we stepped up great knowing that when they came out in the second half and scored, some offenses can just lay down like that.”

After San Diego’s Philip Rivers missed a snap from former Cardinal Rich Ohrnberger, forcing the Chargers to punt on fourth-and-22 from the Cardinals 43, Arizona came to life.

The Cardinals went 91 yards in 4 minutes, 25 seconds with Palmer using six different options -- in addition to his own two legs -- to orchestrate a drive that displayed the deep cache of weapons the Cardinals have been raving about for months.

“When you get into tight situations we know we got a receiving corps that can make plays,” Ted Ginn said. “That’s all that really mattered when we get into a dog fight like that. We know that one of the guys is going to come through and make a play, and it kinda happened today on that last drive. I believe everybody had some type of ball on that drive to keep it going, no matter if it’s first, second, third or fourth. That’s just our biggest thing: to be ready anytime.”

Palmer hit Ginn once for 4 yards, Floyd twice for 25 yards, Larry Fitzgerald once for 22 and then rookie John Brown for 13 yards on a screen pass that he turned into the winning touchdown.

“That’s what [Brown] does,” Palmer said. “He’s so shifty. It’s like somebody is controlling him with a joystick.”

Andre Ellington, who was questionable for Monday’s game because of a foot injury, added to the drive with an 18-yard run on second-and-1 and Jonathan Dwyer had one run for a yard. Palmer had the most critical run of the drive -- and maybe the game -- when he scrambled for 12 yards to convert a third down and keep the drive alive.

Despite the struggles that encompassed the first 53 minutes, the drive showed off how many options the Cardinals have added since last season.

“We’re capable of that, yes,” Arians said. “We were struggling to hear some at home, which has become a problem sometimes. We had some false starts. But that last drive was something we’re capable of doing.”

One reason it worked was because it included Palmer’s four primary receiving options -- one of which wasn’t targeted until the fourth quarter. For the first time in his career, Fitzgerald wasn’t targeted for the first three quarters of a game. Fitzgerald’s first recorded target was a running play gone wrong that led to a throw-away pass in his direction. Palmer went to Fitzgerald again to start the winning drive and again two plays after he caught the 22-yarder.

Those were all the yards Fitzgerald finished with, but they put the Cardinals inside San Diego territory. Through it all, Fitzgerald didn’t complain, Palmer said. He actually told Palmer to start running behind him.

“It was just kind of one of those games where he just doesn’t get a bunch of touches but has one of the biggest plays of the game,” Palmer said.

“Larry just comes up with big plays when we need them, like he did on that one.”

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 11

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
GLENDALE, Ariz. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Arizona Cardinals training camp:
  • It didn’t take long for Darren Fells to start climbing the depth chart. Handed an opportunity in the wake of Jake Ballard’s retirement, Fells took a few snaps with the first team on Thursday and it looks like Arizona will take advantage of his athleticism by using him in various positions and formations, including sending him in motion. He showed off his sure hands on a touchdown catch from Drew Stanton that he hauled in between two defensive backs. When Fells wasn’t working with the first team, he was playing on Stanton’s second-team unit.
  • Wide receiver Ted Ginn appeared to hurt his right leg while working on punt returns early in practice. He walked off the field gingerly and spent the next few minutes stretching, but soon returned to practice.
  • Cardinals coach Bruce Arians mentioned Thursday morning that Stanton and wide receiver Jaron Brown have been building a good rapport, especially on deep throws. It was on display Thursday afternoon when the two connected on two long passes.
  • Cornerback Antonio Cromartie did not practice Thursday.
  • Earl Watford worked at first-team left guard for a couple of series, but Jonathan Cooper took the majority of the snaps there.
  • After consecutive days of not being able to finish practice because of fatigue, John Brown’s energy looked strong early. He had a nice catch on a Stanton throw, beating Jerraud Powers to the pass by a split second. He later split coverage to catch a touchdown from Stanton.
  • The Cardinals have Friday off and will return to practice Monday from 2-4:30 p.m. at University of Phoenix Stadium. Arizona hosts the Houston Texans on Saturday in its first preseason game.
  • Injury report: Lyle Sendlein (calf) did not practice.

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 4

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Arizona Cardinals training camp:

• He’s been one of the talks of camp, but Michael Floyd put his offseason improvement on display Tuesday. On one pass, Floyd got a step behind cornerback Patrick Peterson for a touchdown that sailed in just beyond Peterson’s reach. Floyd then hauled in another score over cornerback Justin Bethel. Earlier Tuesday, quarterback Carson Palmer praised Floyd’s size and his ability to overpower cornerbacks, which was the case Tuesday. Bethel is listed as 6-0 and Peterson 6-1, but Floyd played taller and bigger than the 6-2, 220 pounds he’s listed as.

• Arizona got a look at a few backups that were called upon in a pinch. With RB Andre Ellington (neck) and CB Antonio Cromartie (pectoral) out Tuesday, RB Stepfan Taylor and CB Jerraud Powers were inserted into their respective first-team spots. NT Christian Tupou (groin), who was already replacing Dan Williams, was replaced by a combination of players, including Anthony McCloud.

≺ Taylor filling in for Ellington was telling in terms of the battle for the second running back job. It’s between Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer, but with head coach Bruce Arians’ decision to run Taylor with the starters, it appears that he’s leading the backup running back race. The importance of winning the second spot this year is greater than past years because of Arians’ decision to use more two-back sets.

• Arians got what he wanted when it came to adding speed to the offense. On at least two occasions, Ted Ginn and John Brown had to slow down to haul in a Carson Palmer pass. That speed could be a blessing and a curse. Last season, Palmer had a knack for slightly underthrowing receivers, forcing them to come back for passes. Ginn and Brown will have to learn how to time their runs perfectly with Palmer’s passes.

• Rookie safety Deone Bucannon secured an interception that got the crowd riled up.

• Rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who Arians praised Tuesday morning for being perfect through camp, missed three kicks in row during the afternoon practice. The three he missed were end-over-end kicks, different from his regular kicks. By my count, Catanzaro went 7-for-10, missing field goals from 41, 47 and 48 yards.

• After Catanzaro came off the field, special teams coordinator Amos Jones pulled his young kicker off to the side for a short talk near a water cooler. By Catanzaro’s body language, it was clear he wasn’t happy with himself.
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.
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. -- He'll return punts or kickoffs or both.

He'll line up in the slot or outside.

Whatever Arizona head coach Bruce Arians wants Ted Ginn, Jr. to do, he'll do.

“I wanted to go somewhere where I can help the team,” Ginn said. “Coming to the Cardinals was a big deal. They needed a fast guy, which I could bring to them. The return game, I could help out.”

Ginn was surprised the Carolina Panthers let him walk away as easily as they did, but awaiting him was a three-year contract in Arizona. A couple of teams showed interest, the 28-year-old said, especially after his best receiving year since 2008.

He had 556 yards and a career-high five touchdowns on 36 catches.

“My season last year brought me a rebirth type of season to show that I'm still a receiver,” Ginn said. “And I can still get it done.”

Being a receiver in Arians' offense means Ginn will have to learn every position. The outside routes won't be an issue for him, but he's never played much in the slot, catching just 13 of his 197 career passes inside, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

But, as was his motto all press conference, he's open to trying it.

“I do whatever,” Ginn said. “I never had the opportunity to really be a slot guy. Everybody always uses me outside. I'm available to do whatever.”

And if that means supplant Patrick Peterson as Arizona's punt returner, add that to the list of Ginn's duties.

He returned 26 punts for 316 yards last season and was open about lending a hand to Peterson.

“Patrick Peterson is a great returner,” Ginn said. “We can help him concentrate on ‘D' a little bit more.”

Ginn has been familiar with Arians' high-octane style of offense for years. A Cleveland, Ohio, native, Ginn would watch the Steelers -- with Arians as its offensive coordinator -- plow through the Browns on an annual basis. He understands his role as a receiver will be to utilize his speed and take the top off defenses. Ginn was quick to rattle of his 40-yard-dash time at 4.38 seconds -- “without working.”

Ginn watched closely how receivers like Mike Wallace and Santonio Holmes were used by Arians, so when the Cardinals came calling, it was an easy decision for Ginn.

“Just a great team and (they) have a fiery defense,” Ginn said. “I just know that they needed that one or two pieces on the offensive side to make them more explosive. Just wanted to come out and do what I can do.”

That's whatever the Cardinals need him to do.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona entered free agency looking for a speedy receiver to take the top off of defenses.

It was also looking for a kick returner who could make heady decisions and eat up yards in a hurry.

Well, they found both Thursday afternoon.

The Cardinals announced that they signed former Carolina Panthers wide receiver and returner Ted Ginn, Jr., to a three-year contract. Financial terms were not available.

[+] EnlargeTed Ginn
AP Photo/Mike McCarnTed Ginn caught 35 passes for 556 yards and five touchdowns as a receiver for the Panthers last season. He also returned kicks and punts.
Ginn gives Arizona options at wide receiver, although he'll be signed as primarily the team's third receiver. In 2013, all of his 556 yards were caught from either the wide right or wide left positions, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Last season, Michael Floyd, Arizona's No. 2 receiver, caught 51 of his 65 passes from out wide. Ginn will need to play more in the slot alongside Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald, giving quarterback Carson Palmer a stout receiving corps to choose from. But it's his speed that will make him a weapon. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians likes having a fast receiver to stretch the secondary and take the top off defenses. That's Ginn. Last year it was Andre Roberts, but in my opinion, Ginn is an upgrade from Roberts. The Cardinals let Roberts, their No. 3 receiver last year, walk in free agency.

Ginn will also give Arizona an upgraded return game. Last season, he returned 25 kickoffs for 595 yards and 26 punts for 316 yards. As a team, Arizona only had 540 kickoff return yards and 321 punt return yards. It's yet to be seen if Cardinals coach Bruce Arians will hand the punt-return duties to Ginn or keep Patrick Peterson in place. Last season, Arians allowed Tyrann Mathieu to return just one punt, instead keeping the ball in Peterson's hands. Even though Ginn is a more experienced returner, it's still unlikely Peterson will be removed from that role.

Thursday's news also means a return for Ginn to the NFC West, where he spent 2010-12 with the San Francisco 49ers. He was part of the Niners' Super Bowl team two seasons ago, but was used primarily as a returner that season. In three years in the Bay Area, Ginn had 33 total catches.

During his second go-round in the NFC West, his role will be bigger. He's used to not being a team's main option on offense, but he'll be a significant part of the Cardinals' plans this season, in all roles he plays.

Stat bonuses at stake for many players

December, 29, 2013
Multiple teams have plenty of incentives on the final Sunday of the regular season, but so do many players.

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril needs two sacks to get to 10 on the season and collect $350,000.

Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett needs 2.5 sacks to get to 10 on the season and collect $200,000.

Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby receives $800,000 if he makes 85 percent of his regular-season field goals. Heading into Sunday's game in Chicago, he sits at 88.6 percent.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil needs 2.5 sacks to get to 12 and earn an additional $1 million.

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn needs six receptions to get to 40 this season and earn a $100,000 bonus.

Denver Broncos linebacker Shaun Phillips already has earned an $800,000 bonus for 10 sacks; if he gets two more Sunday, the bonus will jump to $1.2 million, and if he gets four sacks Sunday, the bonus will be $2 million.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith needs to throw for 187 yards on Sunday to reach 3,500 for the season and achieve a $500,000 bonus. If he throws two touchdown passes on Sunday to get to 25 for the season, he’ll also earn another $500,000.

Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles needs 113 rushing yards Sunday to increase his salary by $300,000 for next season. He already earned a $300,000 increase because the Chiefs have qualified for the playoffs. But he can raise his bonus money to $600,000 by raising his season total to 1,400 rushing yards against the Chargers.
Star LotuleleiGetty ImagesStar Lotulelei and the Panthers' front four will bring pressure on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Two teams battling for playoff positioning will face off Sunday when the Carolina Panthers travel to play the Miami Dolphins.

Carolina (7-3) is one of the hottest teams in the NFL behind a stout defense and improved play from quarterback and MVP candidate Cam Newton. The Dolphins (5-5) have fought through off-the-field distractions to win two of their past three games and are just a tiebreaker behind the New York Jets for the final wild-card spot in the AFC.

Who will prevail? ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton and Dolphins reporter James Walker weigh in.

James Walker: This looks like a game of matchups. One that looks concerning from Miami's perspective is Carolina's aggressive, physical defense against the Dolphins' inconsistent offense. The Dolphins are still searching for an offensive identity 10 games into their season. There is nothing they do particularly well on that side of the football: Miami is ranked 20th in passing and 24th in rushing. In fact, the Dolphins haven't scored more than 27 points in a game all season.

Is Carolina's defense as good as advertised? What kind of challenge can Miami's offense expect?

David Newton: It's hard to argue the numbers Carolina's defense has put up, particularly against the run, allowing just 84.5 yards per game. The front seven is as good as there is at making a game one-dimensional and forcing teams to pass; the defensive line can apply pressure on the quarterback, which allows seven, and sometimes eight, to drop back into coverage. It's really an unselfish group that is working as well together as any unit I've seen this season. The return of defensive tackle Dwan Edwards from a hamstring injury three weeks ago has added a more consistent third-down inside pass rush and made this unit even stronger. The defense that helped the 2003 Panthers get to the Super Bowl was good, but I believe this one is better.

The Dolphins bounced back from the loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a solid effort at San Diego. Has this team put the off-the-field issues behind it completely?

Walker: I wouldn't say completely, because the investigation is ongoing. I don't see an end to the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin saga for at least several more weeks, if not longer. The NFL spent a lot of time at the Dolphins' training facility this week to try to get to the bottom of things, and the NFLPA will reportedly do its own investigation soon.

I thought Miami handled this situation better against San Diego, and it showed in the Dolphins' preparation. Miami put together a focused effort to pick up a big win. I think the team was a bit shell-shocked by the circumstances and the amount of media scrutiny leading up to the Tampa Bay game when everything first came out. It's really going to be a week-to-week scenario with the Dolphins as this investigation unfolds.

Carolina is coming off a short week of preparation after winning a thriller against the New England Patriots on "Monday Night Football." Is this a concern, especially going on the road, where the Panthers are 3-2?

Newton: The short week shouldn't be a problem. They had a Thursday night game a few weeks ago at Tampa and played well for having only a few days of preparation. The coaching staff has really gotten into a groove with knowing when to go hard and when to back off in practice. From a defensive standpoint, because they don't rely on a lot of fancy formations with the front four so solid, it really just comes down to tweaking things for individual matchups.

The biggest issue might be from wear and tear. They played three games in a span of 12 days a few weeks ago, and they're coming off consecutive games against San Francisco and New England, elite teams that really get after you.

Speaking of physical teams, what problems will Miami's defense cause Newton and the Carolina offense?

Walker: Miami's defense has been an enigma. There is talent and depth, especially in the front seven, but the defense hasn't lived up to its potential. The Dolphins' best chance to rattle Newton is to stop Carolina's running game and make the Panthers one-dimensional. That's a tall order. I thought Miami's defense had the talent on paper to be top 10 against the run, but that's far from the case. The Dolphins are 25th against the run.

But in games when the Dolphins have earned a second-half lead, their pass rush has been able to cause problems. Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake is healthy again and back to his old self; he has four sacks in his past three games and 6.5 overall. Fellow defensive end Olivier Vernon (5.5 sacks) has been a pleasant surprise. The Dolphins have four players with three sacks or more this season. They have the ability to pin their ears back and get to the quarterback. But the Dolphins haven't had enough leads late in games.

David, one area in which Carolina has struggled is its 28th-ranked passing offense. How can the Panthers improve?

Newton: Carolina's ranking is a bit misleading. The key number is Newton's efficiency. He's completing a much higher percentage of passes -- 63.2 -- than in his previous two seasons. He's also throwing more short passes as the offense goes with more ball control. He's more or less taking what defenses are giving him better than he has before. Because the Panthers are so balanced in rushing and passing, Newton's passing yards are down. But they have deep threats when they need them in Steve Smith and Ted Ginn. They just haven't needed them because, for most of the past two months, they've been getting big leads and running more.

James, my last question to you is, do you believe the Dolphins are a playoff team?

Walker: The Dolphins feel confident because they are still in the hunt. They are just a tiebreaker behind the Jets, and the teams still have two games against one another. But I haven't seen any consistency from Miami since its 3-0 start. Since then, the Dolphins have gone 2-5, so there isn't much reason to believe they can go 5-1 or 4-2 down the stretch to get into the playoffs. Miami has a huge three-week stretch ahead, with Carolina and games at the Jets and at Pittsburgh. All of these games are going to be tough.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Cam Newton was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft. The San Francisco 49ers had no chance to move up and get him. They happily took quarterback Colin Kaepernick 35 picks later.

On Sunday, the two dynamic young quarterbacks will play against each other in the NFL for the first time as the Carolina Panthers visit San Francisco.

The two were roommates at the NFL combine, and life has been good for both since. Kaepernick has had more tangible success even though, unlike Newton, he didn’t become a starter until midway through his second season. Kaepernick has been to a Super Bowl. He has playoff wins on his résumé despite starting only 18 NFL games.

Newton, spectacular as a rookie and helter-skelter last season, has settled down and has the look of quarterback who may soon see postseason success. He has led the Panthers to four straight wins after a rough 1-3 start. Kaepernick is also rolling, leading his team to five straight wins.

“Everything’s a competition, from being at the combine to being at practice to being in a game,” Kaepernick said. “Everything’s a competition.”

Kaepernick plays with a chip on his shoulder. He enjoyed beating the Titans in Week 7 and the Jaguars in Week 8. Like Carolina, those teams took quarterbacks in the first round in 2011.

It’s difficult to argue the Panthers blew it when they took Newton over Kaepernick. Newton has a big future, and Kaepernick was considered more of a project. But it is clear the 49ers are pleased the way it went down. Kaepernick is perfect athletically and emotionally to run Jim Harbaugh’s offense.

While Harbaugh called Newton’s talents “plutonium grade,” he would surely roll with Kaepernick. Harbaugh played along when a reporter suggested Kaepernick should be the 49ers’ scout-team quarterback this week to help prepare to face Newton.

“That’s a good idea. That’s a very good idea because they are so similar. And in ability, and makeup, and confidence, and in so many ways, talent,” Harbaugh said. “They’re both great. And that’s not a bad idea at all.”

I asked ESPN analyst Matt Williamson who he would rather have, Newton or Kaepernick?

“I will say that Newton is playing better [against some suspect teams] than CK right now, but I still take CK, as he is just a better pure passer,” Williamson said. “Newton has taken a lot more snaps in the NFL than CK. Just wait until CK has that experience under his belt.”

The numbers suggest a team couldn’t go wrong with either Newton or Kaepernick these days. They have been the top two rated quarterbacks in the NFL in the past month. Kaepernick’s Total QBR since Week 6 is a league-leading 94.1. Newton is second at 83.5.

Ted Ginn is an authority on both. He played with Kaepernick the past two years and is now teammates with Newton.

"They both have something a lot people don’t have, and they use it,” Ginn said Wednesday. “Speed. They can run."

On Sunday, the two young quarterbacks will try to outrun, outthrow and outscore each other.

2013 UFA counts for NFC West teams

March, 12, 2013
The NFL has released its official list of restricted and unrestricted free agents.

The chart breaks down the UFA counts by team in the NFC West.

A quick look at the lists, which include a couple players who have already reached agreement on new contracts:

Arizona Cardinals

UFA offense (4): D'Anthony Batiste, Pat McQuistan, Rich Ohrnberger, LaRod Stephens-Howling

UFA defense (8): Michael Adams, Nick Eason, Quentin Groves, Vonnie Holliday, Rashad Johnson, Paris Lenon, James Sanders, Greg Toler

RFA: Brian Hoyer, tendered to second-round pick.

Note: The Cardinals announced Johnson's agreement to a three-year contract.

St. Louis Rams

UFA offense (8): Danny Amendola, Kellen Clemens, Brandon Gibson, Steven Jackson, Barry Richardson, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Chris Williams

UFA defense (6): Craig Dahl, Bradley Fletcher, Mario Haggan, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Rocky McIntosh

RFA: Darian Stewart, tendered to right of first refusal.

Note: The Rams announced Hayes' agreement to a three-year contract.

San Francisco 49ers

UFA offense (4): Leonard Davis, Ted Ginn Jr., Randy Moss, Delanie Walker

UFA defense (6): Dashon Goldson, Tavares Gooden, Larry Grant, Clark Haggans, Ricky Jean-Francois, Isaac Sopoaga

RFA: Tramaine Brock, tendered to right of first refusal.

Note: Walker has reportedly agreed to terms on a contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Seattle Seahawks

UFA offense (2): Cameron Morrah, Frank Omiyale

UFA defense (5): Alan Branch, Patrick Chukwurah, Leroy Hill, Jason Jones, Marcus Trufant

UFA special teams (2): Steve Hauschka, Ryan Longwell

RFA: Clint Gresham and Chris Maragos, tendered to right of first refusal; and Clinton McDonald, tendered to seventh-round choice.
The Cleveland Browns need a No. 1 wide receiver. The Cincinnati Bengals need a No. 2 one. And the Baltimore Ravens need a No. 3 target.

But all three did nothing to address these voids as the deep free-agent pool for wide receivers quickly evaporated. What's left? Brandon Lloyd (who could be headed for a reunion with Josh McDaniels in New England), a few second-tier wide receivers and a bunch that won't significantly improve a passing attack.

The Browns will have to look to the draft for a go-to receiver because there really isn't one left in free agency. To make matters worse, Mario Manningham said the Browns aren't even on his radar.

The Bengals' top options to pair with A.J. Green include Manningham, Laurent Robinson (scheduled to visit Jacksonville), Early Doucet, Deion Branch and Plaxico Burress. Cincinnati is looking for a more dependable No. 2 receiver than Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell, both of whom are free agents.

The Ravens likely want a No. 3 receiver who can also serve as a returner. Baltimore reportedly has shown interest in the Broncos' Eddie Royal and could go after the 49ers' Ted Ginn.

Here's a recap of what happened with wide receivers on Day 1 of free agency:
Vincent Jackson: Signed with Tampa Bay (five years, $55.5 million)

Marques Colston: Re-signed with New Orleans (five years, reportedly between $35 million and $40 million)

Reggie Wayne: Re-signed with Indianapolis (three years, $17.5 million)

Pierre Garcon: Signed with Washington Redskins (five years, $42.5 million)

Robert Meachem: Signed with San Diego (four years, $25.9 million)

AFC North evening notes

March, 13, 2012
A look at some news and notes on the first night of free agency:

BENGALS: Veteran cornerback Aaron Ross is scheduled to visit Cincinnati on Thursday, according to the Star-Ledger. Slant: Ross is a solid addition as the third corner but not a starting one. A first-round pick by the Giants in 2007, he struggled at times but he did start for two Super Bowl teams.

BROWNS: The team re-signed backup tight end Alex Smith to a one-year contract, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Slant: This is a strong move in terms of locker room chemistry. His fiery attitude is contagious.

RAVENS: Wide receiver/returner Eddie Royal, who I had as a good fit for the Ravens, is working on a deal with the Redskins, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Slant: The fact that any team is closing in on Royal this fast shows you how aggressive the free-agent market is for wide receivers. Perhaps the Ravens look to another receiver/returner option in Ted Ginn.

STEELERS: The team won't be active because of cap limitations, but that hasn't stopped Steelers players from commenting on free agency. "With all these moves in the NFL! I must gotta say when my contract is up I never wanna leave the steelers!," offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert posted on Twitter. "Winning stability and a true fam." Slant: If Gilbert establishes himself as a left tackle, the Steelers need to save this tweet and bring it to negotiations when he becomes a free agent in 2015.