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Cards FA 2020: Rewind or Fast Forward?

Arizona Cardinals v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

I haven’t a good ol’ rant since the ROTB podcast I had with Blake Murphy and Johnny TD Venerable a couple of weeks ago.

In recent days, I have been taking to Twitter to express my frustration over some growing sentiments from fans and Cardinals’ beat writers for the Cardinals to make a strong push to bring back the likes of S Tony Jefferson, DE Markus Golden, C A.Q. Shipley and T Jared Veldheer.

Once upon a time, Jefferson, Golden, Shipley and Veldheer were four of my favorite Cardinals.

But that was then—-and this is now.

First off—-the thing about veterans like Tony Jefferson, Markus Golden, Jared Veldheer and C A.Q. Shipley—-you sign them to be starters—-for they are not going to embrace taking on a subordinate role—-and certainly not with the Cardinals who have been pandering to veterans for years now.

Secondly—-you do not insult them with low-ball contract offers. If you are going to sign them, you have to sign them at starter’s money.

Thirdly—-you only sign them if you 100% believe they are better than your current starters at their positions.

One of the major bright spots, personnel-wise of last year's season was the emergence of 2019 5th round supplemental draft pick SS Jalen Thomson. By the end of the season, Thompson and Budda Baker had forged a strong bond as an aggressive, hard-hitting, ball hawking safety tandem. Plus, 2019 5th rounder Deionte Thompson brings talent and versatility to the sub packages and could start if need be at either safety spot.

Therefore, signing Tony Jefferson, who is coming off an ACL injury that he suffered last October, seems superfluous and an unnecessary hit on the limited amount of 2020 free cap space.

Some Cardinals’ fans have been pleading, “bring Tony home.”

But, do you really think Tony Jefferson considers Arizona his home? It is no secret that Jefferson did not appreciate the way he was treated in Arizona by the GM and head coach.

Bruce Arians even had the audacity to question after the Ravens signed Jefferson to a 4 year $34M deal, “we’ll see how he plays now that he has the money.”

Ironically, while Jefferson was establishing himself as a leader in Baltimore, it was Tyrann Mathieu, BA’s pet player, who stopped playing his hardest after he got his money.

Jefferson played just fine in Baltimore. He fit into the Ravens’ culture so well that upon his release, largely due to his ACL injury, John Harbaugh said, “Tony is the consummate teammate and someone who is respected by everyone for his leadership, determination, humility and toughness. He’s a friend to all and a true Raven. We know he’s going to beat his injury and we will be cheering for him all along the way. We wish the very best to Tony and his family.”

Tony Jefferson never received that kind of praise from the Cardinals’ brass. Not even after his 15 tackle performance in the 2015 NFC Championship game—-as just about the only Cardinal defender to show up that dismal afternoon. Instead, in return, he got low-balled on his RFA tender.

The truth is, Tony Jefferson felt the same kind of utter frustration with the way the Cardinals do business as WR Anquan Boldin did. The Ravens were a safe and happy landing place for both of them.

The further truth is, the Cardinals now have to change this type of perception around the league as being fickle and coy about the ways in which they do their business with regards to player contracts.

Thus, distancing themselves from past fallouts in order to turn a new page is precisely what the Cardinals need to do.

Now, let’s talk about DE Markus Golden.

Last year, I and many Cardinals’ fans were urging Steve Keim to re-sign Golden. While he was slow bouncing back from the ACL he tore in October of 2017, his sack numbers in 2018 were not good (3 sacks, plus 26 QB pressures), in part due to the fact that he only played in 393 snaps in 11 games after being brought back slowly from his rehab.

However, by the end of the season one could see that Golden was starting to look like the player who generated 13 sacks and 53 QB pressures in 2016.

As it turns out the Cardinals could have re-signed Golden to a one year $4M contract to see if he could return to form. Instead, as we know, Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim thought it would be a great idea to “bring Terrell Suggs home” for virtually twice of what the Giants paid to Golden ($3.75M).

But again—-the Cardinals were never a “home” for Suggs who felt jilted when the Cardinals passed on him in the 2003 NFL Draft when they infamously traded their #5 pick to the New Orleans Saints for the Saints’ #17 and #18 picks. Suggs was snagged by the Ravens at #10, while the Cardinals selected WR Bryant Johnson at #17 and DE Calvin Pace at #18.

Imagine that—-that has to rank as one of the biggest draft gaffes in the history of the franchise.

Here again is a scenario that Cardinals have to quickly fast forward away from and distance themselves from—-a perplexing draft history that at times was so pitiful it was laughable.

It is therefore to a certain degree understandable (albeit still egregious) that Suggs was rumored to have have told a Ravens teammate that instead of “stealing money” from his beloved Ravens, he elected to “steal money from the Cardinals” instead.

And while the Cardinals are at it—-it would be good time to distance themselves from anything to do with the Ravens who have been haunting the Cardinals like “the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore.”

As a message to the Ravens, it would now be wise for the Cardinals to blaze their fiery red eyes and quoth like the raven: “Nevermore.”

As for Markus Golden, he turned in a very good season (72 tackles, 64 QB pressures ,10 sacks) with the Giants and proved what many Cardinals fans saw toward the end of the 2018 season. Truth is—-Golden turned in double the production with the Giants that Suggs did with the Cardinals.

Golden has re-established his market value and is projected by Sportrac to command $13.5M a year on a new contract.

There are numerous reasons why the Cardinals should leave the Golden mistake in the past: (1) it makes them look incredibly foolish, suddenly to go from letting Golden walk in 2019 to then paying him one year later upwards of $13,5M a year on a new contract; (2) Vance Joseph has made it clear that he wants a SAM 34OLB who is a natural at both rushing the passer and dropping back into coverage so that he doesn’t have to use Chandler Jones in that role (as he was forced to do because of Suggs)—-and while Golden would be an asset in the pass rush, he is not an asset in pass overage, as evidenced by his 49.7 coverage grade with the Giants last year and his 38.5 coverage grade with the Cardinals in 2018; (3) the Cardinals have finally moved Haason Reddick to SAM 34OLB, his most natural position—-a position to which Reddick brings 4.52 speed and a 36.5” vertical jump.

The priority here appears clear—-the Cardinals still have an opportunity to get things right with their 2017 1st round pick, Haason Reddick.

Signing Markus Golden to a multi-year contract of $13.5M a year would not only be a concession of one past mistake, but it would also be a concession that they made another mistake by using a 1st round pick on Haason Reddick, a college edge player whom they unsuccessfully tried to convert to WILB—-to cover up their previous mistake of trying to convert their 2014 1st Round pick SS Deone Bucannon to WILB.

Here is another thing the Cardinals have to quickly fast forward away from—-“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” (Albert Einstein).

Now let’s talk about C A.Q. Shipley.

One has to give A.Q. Shipley a ton of credit, not only for bouncing back with a vengeance from his season ending ACL injury in 2018, but for fending off three of Steve Keim’s draft picks as his replacement: Evan Boehm, Mason Cole and Lamont Gaillard.

Shipley was rewarded for his courage and determination by being elected as one of the Cardinals’ team captains in 2019.

He is now 34 and is an unrestricted free agent.

The thing about A.Q. Shipley is—-he is like a pit bull with a bone. A coach would have to rock him ten times backward with a fire hose to pry that bone loose.

The Cardinals invested a 2018 3rd round draft pick in Mason Cole and they need to cash in on that investment. Cole showed promise as rookie while subbing in for Shipley. This past season the Michigan grad filled in admirably at guard. He’s young, smart, physical and durable.

Behind Cole they have 2019 6th round pick Lamont Gaillard who helped spring 3 1,000 yard rushers at Georgia in Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift, while doing a superb job of protecting QB Jake Fromm.

There is no way that A.Q. Shipley would or should accept a low paying contract to come back as a backup to Mason Cole. Steve Keim would be making a big mistake by offering Shipley another $2M contract, not only because Keim has paved the way through consecutive drafts for Cole and Gaillard, but because Shipley deserves much more than $2M as a starter.

The Cardinals need to turn the page and fast forward away from re-signing older veterans to start in front of their own draft picks.

As for Jared Veldheer per Adam Schefter:

AZ Central’s Bob McManaman, one of my favorite beat writers for the Cardinals, responded with this tweet: Bob McManaman@azbobbymac “Wonder if a reunion with the Cardinals to play right tackle is an idea.”

My reply: Walter B J Mitchell@WBJMItch18hReplying to @azbobbymac

“Veldheer played 98 snaps for GB last year. Justin Murray was the Cardinals’ highest graded OL last 6 weeks, even winning RT Week 11, per PFF, vs. 49ers’ pass rush (85.2 pass blocking grade). Why are Cards’ fans always chiming for former players in their 30s?”

It is amazing to me how quickly fans and beat writers want the Cardinals to send RT Justin Murray to the bench. To have a quality starter in Justin Murray at a minimum salary allows the Cardinals to use their limited cap space on other positions of more pressing need.

In Arizona, for whatever the reasons, it seems like if a player is not a high profile name or draft pick, he is rarely if ever taken seriously as a starter.

Will any Cardinals’ fan ever forget the MNF game in Arizona where the Cowboys’ DE Demarcus Lawrence ran roughshod over RT Jared Veldheer over and over—-that was the same year where Veldheer walked out of camp for a day to ponder his retirement.

Now—-that game was a tough one for Veldheer (of course, BA and Harold Goodwin gave him little to no help with Lawrence) and he has played some solid football since for the Patriots and for the Packers in two games last year.

But—-hey—-isn’t it time for the Cardinals and GM Steve Diem to get more creative and not have to revert back to signing former players who are now on the verge of retirement or in this case, actually coming out of retirement?

The frustration about the possibility of the Cardinals interest in Jared Veldheer is akin to the same way I felt when on the very first day of free agency in 2017 when it was announced that the Cardinals were bringing back LB Karlos Dansby for his 3rd stint in the desert. All I kept hearing then from the fans was applause with the sentiment “bring Karlos back home where he belongs.”

It was sad. At age 35, Dansby looked like a shell of his former self. He wasn’t terrible, per se. But it was clear that time and age had caught up with him.

And as for bringing Karlos home—-maybe it’s just me, but it always felt to me that Dansby was like the line in the “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” song—-”wherever he laid his hat was his home.” Or maybe Karlos’ true home would have been in Cleveland if the Browns had made the gilded statue of him that he predicted they would erect outside of FirstEnergy Stadium.

Karlos Dansby helped lead the Cardinals to two of its best seasons—-to the Super Bowl in 2009 and to BA’s inaugural 10-6 season in 2013—-and in both cases Dansby quickly cashed in free agency elsewhere and bolted town. Each time Dansby’s swift departure was a blow to the team and the fans. He was indeed a popular teammate and persona in Arizona. But calling Arizona home for Karlos Dansby feels like a wife calling her third marriage to the same man a homecoming after his two failed marriages elsewhere.

The sagas of the likes of Tony Jefferson, Markus Golden, A.Q. Shipley, Jared Veldheer, Terrell Suggs and Karlos Dansby point out the sometimes difficult and tenuous aspects of the way business is conducted in the NFL.

This time around—-this year—-right now—-I am hoping like a student waiting on an admissions letter from his #1 college that the Cardinals learn from their past mistakes by doing all they can to make things right with the players they currently have (which is why I chose to put RB David Johnson’s photo on the cover because it would be so sweet to see DJ bounce back with a banner season)—-

This is a pivotal thing called player development—-

But you can’t develop players—-if you quit too quickly on them.

And, equally important, that in free agency, the Cardinals do not resort to turning the clocks backward (which is often the easiest thing to do)—-so that they move ahead in a new and unprecedentedly creative and diligent direction—-one that ultimately will point all of the Cardinals’ arrows toward the 2020 playoffs.

Jay Gatsby exclaimed to Nick Carraway, “You can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can, old sport. of course you can.”

Well, Gatsby’s misled belief is what prompted author F. Scott Fitzgerald to end the novel with this harbinger for the ages:

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

It’s 2020, not 1922.

It’s time for the Arizona Cardinals to tack, flip the sail to the starboard side of the boat and start riding the current like a carefully waxed surfboard.