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Cardinals failed to prioritize quarterback depth in offseason

Howard Balzer Avatar
August 29, 2023

In retrospect, the Cardinals find themselves in their current quarterback predicament because they devalued acquiring an experienced backup to Colt McCoy during the offseason.

Even if they believed in March that McCoy would be good enough to open the season as the starter with Kyler Murray likely to miss at least the first month of the season, it should have been a priority to sign someone in the event they wanted to move on from McCoy or if McCoy was injured in the line of duty once the season started.

In the first six weeks of the league year that began officially on March 15, there were 22 backups that signed with other teams. Some, understandably might not have had interest in the Cardinals or were out of the their price range, but many weren’t.

That includes Joshua Dobbs. Both general manager Monti Ossenfort and coach Jonathan Gannon have publicly acknowledged their interest in Dobbs more than five months ago. However, the team has quietly pushed the narrative that Dobbs got more from the Cleveland Browns than the Cardinals were willing to pay. If that was the case, it illustrates even further the bargain-basement shopping the team was engaged in then.

After all, they signed or re-signed 21 players during that time period, not including exclusive-rights free agents wide receiver Greg Dortch and defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter, who signed their minimum-salary tenders.

Only seven of the 21 signed two-year contracts with the others signing for one year. The total guaranteed money was $27.5 million and the total signing bonuses $15.07 million.

Defensive end Zach Allen, who left the Cardinals and signed a three-year contract worth $45.75 million with the Denver Broncos, had $32.5 million guaranteed and received a $15 million signing bonus.

Two of those 21 players were quarterbacks: David Blough and Jeff Driskel. Blough was not tendered by the Cardinals at the $2.627 million lowest level for a restricted free agent. He re-signed on March 22 for a minimum-salary deal plus a $76,250 signing bonus for a total of $1,232,500.

That was one day before Dobbs was signed by the Browns, so the Cardinals surely knew when Blough re-signed that they wouldn’t be adding Dobbs.

On April 17, they signed the much-traveled Driskel, who has spent time with the 49ers, where he was selected in the sixth round of the 2016 draft, Bengals, Lions, Broncos and Texans. Driskel’s 1-year contract was worth the veteran minimum of $1.08 million and had no guaranteed money.

On Tuesday, both Blough and Driskel were cut by the Cardinals.

As for Dobbs, he was cut last season by the Browns on Nov. 28 when Deshaun Watson returned from suspension and the Texans kept Kellen Mond, who had been claimed on waivers from the Vikings in the roster reduction to 53 players.

And that Dobbs deal the Cardinals thought was too rich? It was for one year and a guaranteed $2 million that included a $500,000 signing bonus. The $2 million is only $920,000 more than the vet minimum. If Dobbs was signed then, he would have been practicing in the system since OTAs began. Now the Cardinals are responsible for his $1.5 million salary after trading for him 17 days before the season opener and claiming to be fine with the possibility of him potentially starting against Washington with five practices under his belt.

Gannon is hanging his hat on the fact that offensive coordinator Drew Petzing was the quarterbacks coach in Cleveland last season and Israel Woolfork, 33 years old in November, was a minority coaching fellow with the Browns and is now the Cardinals quarterbacks coach. Last season was Woolfork’s first season in the NFL after being at Miami, Ohio, for two years as a graduate assistant, three as running backs coach and four as wide receivers coach.

Gannon said Monday, “It’s never easy for a new guy coming to a new team, but he’s familiar with the system, he’s familiar with Drew and Iz and we feel good with where he’s at with that. He’s extremely intelligent, character is through the roof. He’s actually a guy we looked at signing in the offseason, so we kind of did a lot of work on him back then. When the transaction became available, we decided to make the move.”

Of course, he hasn’t worked with any of the team’s pass-catchers.

Added Gannon, “He’s a mobile guy that can make throws and play in the pocket and play outside of the pocket, so that’s what we’re looking for.”

What they apparently weren’t looking for is the experience McCoy brought to the team during his 13 NFL seasons. Even had they signed Dobbs in March, his experience was limited.

Since being drafted by the Steelers in the fourth round of the 2017 draft, Dobbs has played eight games, started two with an 0-2 record and attempted 85 career passes with a completion percentage of 58.8.

Blough was originally an undrafted free agent in Cleveland in 2019 and has played nine games, started seven with an 0-7 record and attempted 242 passes with a 57.0 completion percentage.

Driskel has played 23 games, started 11 with a 1-10 record and attempted 365 passes with a completion percentage of 59.2.

McCoy has played only 56 games, starting 36, but has the benefit of being part of game-day preparations during all those seasons. He has an 11-25 record (3-3 with the Cardinals) and has attempted 1,220 passes with a 62.6 completion percentage.

Most important is that teammates have lauded his leadership in the entire locker room and the smarts with which he communicated to his fellow quarterbacks. Many have said if he desires, coaching could be in his future. Most important, it’s always a positive to have a player as a sounding board for inexperienced quarterbacks.

Even Petzing noted that only two weeks ago when McCoy expounded on the challenges of learning a new offense and a new way of doing things.

McCoy had said, “Drew’s been great. He’s tasked with a big job, teaching us all a new system. He’s always had an answer. He’s always had a vision of what he wants it to look like. And there’s open lines of communication. As you’re learning a system, that’s really all you could ask for. We’re starting to really be on the same page and that’s nice.”

Obviously not nice enough.

Petzing then said, “We changed some of his footwork, (and) we’re going to talk through some plays that I may look at differently, than he’s been coached in the past, not all the time. But he’s very willing to learn the offense the way that we want it coached, (the way) we want it played and he’s really embraced that, so it’s been fun to work with him.”

Most notably, when asked about McCoy’s retention of the offense, Petzing answered, “It’s great. It allows him to play fast and allows him to get in and out of the huddle quickly and to operate the offense at a high level. I will lean on him at times. ‘This is how we’ve done this, but you’ve done it maybe at a higher level or done more of it to some extent. How have you been coached on it; what do you think are some of the key points?’

“It’s not like my way is the only way to do it. I think that’s been great to have those conversations with him and kinda learn from him.”

However, all of that is not considered important as the team careens toward the Sept. 10 opener in Washington with it appearing either Dobbs or rookie Clayton Tune will be the starter. Tune, of course, has never been part of preparation work for an NFL game and played against backups in preseason games.

It’s important to note that while Gannon said he believed Tune took “a step forward” in the game against the Vikings, he was playing against a collection of second- (five), third- (six) and fourth- (four) stringers. Of those 15 players, only five were on Minnesota’s roster after the Tuesday cuts. One, safety Jake Gervase, was signed two days before the game, played all 76 defensive snaps and was promptly cut Monday.

With Murray placed on reserve/physically unable to perform (PUP) Tuesday, he won’t be able to begin practicing until after the fourth game of the season, or later. When he is cleared to practice, the team has 21 days with him not counting on the roster before a decision has to be made to activate him or keep him on PUP for the remainder of the season.

That will create a balancing act trying to get Murray practice reps in the new offense for the first time, while the inexperienced starter is getting the reps in the game plan, of which there aren’t a large number during the three-day practice week.

There is also the matter of Gannon, who has preached about “team” and establishing a winning culture, selling to the players that releasing McCoy was the right move and gives them the best chance of winning.

It’s instructive to revisit the words of McCoy, who was featured during Saturday’s telecast of the game against the Vikings in a planned episode of “Flight Plan,” although we don’t know when the interview was taped. It’s difficult to imagine it will ever see the light of day now.

McCoy said, “I know it’s been a long time since I’ve gone into the season as the starter, but I’m very confident or else I wouldn’t be doing it. I feel really good. It’s a new system. It’s new coaches. There’s a lot of change. A lot of new faces in the building. Change can be good, right? I’m not scared of change. But when you narrow it back down to football and this year and this season both sides of the ball are gonna look different to everybody and we just have to go out there and execute. That’s the name of the game and I’m excited about it and I feel good about it.”

Asked about Gannon, McCoy said, “From the very beginning, I think he’s just been honest. He’s been up front He’s communicated. And guys have bought in to what he’s preaching and what Nick (defensive coordinator Nick Rallis) is preaching on defense and what Drew is preaching on offense. How we want to look and how we want to operate. Everything from Day 1 has been consistent. I think that’s how you build because everybody knows the expectations, everybody knows what’s expected of them when they walk through the doors every day. And so that has been no secret and I, as a veteran player, really appreciate that. And I can buy into something like that. It’s team above you and that’s kinda been my goal.

“I have personal goals that matter a lot to me. But at the end of the day, it’s team above you and what we’ve gone through as a team so far. I think I read there’s 47 new players on our team or something like that right now. It looks drastically different than what it has over the last couple years. And I’m just embracing that and understanding that the most important quality above anything else as we’re building who we want to be, is the team.

“What can I do today to be the best I can be; the best version of myself for our team. What’s going to give us the best chance to win? That has been sorta my focus as I step out on the field literally every day. I think we’re doing it collectively with the idea that if we play well together as a team like we’re gonna be all right.”

Gannon put on a brave face about that when he talked to the media Monday shortly after news broke of McCoy’s release, especially with the prospects for the beginning of the season at the sport’s most important position.

Acknowledging the competition between Dobbs and Tune, Gannon said, “I think we got a pretty good plan in place, but I want to see them both go through the next two weeks. But I think that we have to evaluate that and to get that done and the team knowing the ‘why’ behind it; I think they’re comfortable with it.

“But I want to see them both play football still. This week we’ve got some work and the following week we’ve got some work, but I feel good where we’re at.I trust in what we’re doing is to be the best thing for the team.”

Gannon also said “we’ll know who the starter is,” but there won’t be an announcement.

“I’m not going to name a starter, because I think it’s a competitive advantage for us going to Washington,” he insisted.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall and be able to watch Commanders coordinator Jack Del Rio and his defensive staff burning the midnight oil putting together a plan while trying in vain to figure out who the Cardinals quarterback will be.

Roster roulette (Wednesday update below)

The Cardinals reduced their roster to only 52 players Tuesday by terminating the contracts of five players and placing 26 on waivers. They placed quarterback Kyler Murray on reserve/physically unable to perform and rookie cornerback Garrett Williams on reserve/non-football injury.

Rookie center Jon Gaines II unfortunately suffered a serious knee injury on the first play of the game against the Vikings and was placed on reserve/injured. He is out for the remainder of the season. Cornerback Kyler McMichael was waived/injured, and he will revert to reserve once he clears waivers.

Players terminated were quarterbacks David Blough and Jeff Driskel, running back Corey Clement, tackle Jackson Barton and long snapper Aaron Brewer.

It’s uncertain why there are 52 players instead of 53, but it does create an opening for any players added Wednesday.

Players with contracts that are terminated can’t be claimed on waivers, so it’s likely Brewer will be back on the roster tomorrow when another player is placed on reserve/injured unless they have their eyes on someone else. It would seem unlikely that the team would saddle kicker Matt Prater with a new long snapper and holder. The organization did the same thing with Brewer last year, cutting him and then bringing him back the next day.

To be eligible to return after missing at least four weeks, players have to be part of the roster on Tuesday and then placed on reserve Thursday. It’s possible Barton and/or Clement could also be back, depending on what happens on the waiver wire. The claiming deadline is 9 am Wednesday. Players can be signed to the practice squad after 9 am although veterans with terminated contracts can be signed immediately. Six veterans with unlimited experience are allowed on practice squads.

Candidates for reserve/injured are linebackers Dennis Gardeck (knee) and Myjai Sanders (hand) and guard Dennis Daley (ankle), who was also injured against the Vikings, especially since there are currently 12 linebackers (seven outside) on the roster.

Players waived were running backs Stevie Scott and Ty’Son Williams; wide receivers Andre Baccellia, Brian Cobbs, Davion Davis, Kaden Davis and Brandon Smith; tight end Joel Honigford, Bernhard Seikovits and Noah Togiai; tackle Badara Traore; center-guards Braylon Jones and Lecitus Smith; centers Cohl Cabral and Hayden Howerton; defensive linemen Eric Banks, Rashard Lawrence and Jacob Slade; linebacker David Anenih, Zach McCloud and Kyle Soelle; cornerbacks Bobby Price and Quavian White; and safeties Kendell Brooks, Andre Chachere and JuJu Hughes.

Lawrence is one of the last vestiges of the team’s seven-player 2020 draft class, A fourth-round pick, he had injury issues throughout his tenure. The only players from that draft on the roster are fourth-round defensive lineman Leki Fotu and safety Jalen Thompson, who was selected in the 2019 supplemental draft with the Cardinals using a 2020 fifth-round pick. The second-round pick that year went to Houston in the trade for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

Seikovits was on the roster as an international exemption and is expected to clear waivers and then have an exemption that will allow the Cardinals to have 17 players on the practice squad. A league source told PHNX that Driskel has been informed he will be signed to the practice squad.

If true, the Cardinals apparently like his 6-4 size even though he has missed time lately because of a calf injury. Dobbs and Tune are 6-3, while Blough and McCoy are 6-1.

The roster currently consists of two quarterbacks, six receivers that includes rookie free agent Daniel Arias, four tight ends including rookie free agent Blake Whiteheart, eight offensive linemen, three running backs including rookie free agent Emari Demercado, seven defensive linemen including five newcomers: sixth-round pick Dante Stills, L.J. Collier, Carlos Watkins, Ben Stille and Kevin Strong; eight defensive backs including cornerback Kris Boyd and safety Jovante Moffatt; and two specialists, kicker Matt Prater and Nolan Cooney.

Wednesday update

The day began with the news that the Cardinals had claimed a whopping six players on waivers. There were 24 claims throughout the league and the teams with the most after the Cardinals were Houston and Indianapolis with three.

The Cardinals claimed centers Trystan Colon from the Jets and Keith Ismael from the 49ers, tight end Elijah Higgins from the Dolphins, tackle Ilm Manning from the 49ers, cornerback Starling Thomas V from the Lions and safety K’Von Wallace from the Eagles.

That meant five players on the end-of-day roster Tuesday had to be waived and they were wide receiver Daniel Arias, guard Marquis Hayes, safety Jovante Moffatt, defensive lineman Ben Stille and tight end Blake Whiteheart.

Hayes, who had entrenched himself as a backup guard, was the biggest surprise especially with Dennis Daley not practicing after suffering an ankle injury against the Vikings.

While the team’s mantra is always that they do what’s best for the team, it’s difficult to understand why players they know little about are claimed on waivers while those that have been part of the team throughout the offseason and training camp are cut. It’s possible all five could be added to the practice squad after clearing waivers Thursday, but the Hayes move was especially risky.

When Gannon was asked prior to practice Wednesday how he felt about his 53-man roster (actually 52 after Tuesday), he said, “Awesome.” Asked to expand, he said, “Yeah, I’m excited about the guys that we were able to keep and done a good job all offseason program, all camp. Feel really good about putting the pieces together to develop a game plan and go give us a chance to compete in Washington. I feel really good.”

He was also asked what the three rookie free agents (Arias, Whiteheart and running back Emari Demercado showed to be part of the roster, Gannon said, The football character’s good and production. I think that they’re ascending and we want to keep them part of our team.”

He said that despite knowing that Arias and Whiteheart were being waived and wouldn’t be on the field for practice that the media would see.

When he was then asked about some of those guys he felt “awesome” about being cut to make room for the newcomers, he dodged the question, saying, “It’s just kinda the rosters are in flux all the time. That goes back to we’re going to try the best we can for the team always … That’s always a kinda moving part deal and we’re always trying to put the best guys out there that gives us a chance to win.”

How anyone can actually know that, especially with six new faces, is difficult to digest.

It’s interesting to note that last season the Cardinals claimed cornerback Javelin Guidry in the roster reduction to 53 and he was cut 10 days later on Saturday before the season opener, but still collected a game check.

Meanwhile, the team had a brief 70-minute practice at which the media were able to see the first 20 minutes. During that time, 12 of the players cut Tuesday were present: wide receivers Andre Baccellia and Kaden Davis, defensive lineman Eric Banks, tackle Jackson Barton, long snapper Aaron Brewer, safety Andre Chachere, running back Corey Clement, quarterback Jeff Driskel, center/guard Hayden Howerton, cornerbacks Bobby Price and Quavian White and tight end Bernhard Seikovits.

It was believed they had been signed to the practice squad and that turned out to be the case when the league’s transactions notice was distributed after 3 pm Arizona time. They now have five spots open because Seikovits has an exemption as part of the league’s international program

Driskel had hardly practiced in several weeks because of a calf injury, but he gained a practice-squad spot instead of David Blough.

Gannon talked before practice before we knew Brewer would be on the field and he was glib when asked about the long-snapper situation, saying, “We’ll figure it out. We got a couple guys that are backups that can throw it back there.”

It’s possible roster spots could open Thursday if anyone is placed on short-term reserve/injured and Brewer could take one of those. Whether he is signed or elevated from the practice squad for game day, it would be shocking if he’s not on the field against the Commanders.

In addition to Daley, linebacker Myjai Sanders, who did little during camp because of a hand injury, was not on the field for Wednesday’s practice. Linebacker Dennis Gardeck and cornerback Marco Wilson were present, but not participating in on-field work.

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com. Also, become a DIEHARD and use the promo code HOWARD

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