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Cardinals trades confirm the future isn't now

Howard Balzer Avatar
August 25, 2023

Perhaps the heat and humidity in Eagan, MN (home of the Vikings) on Wednesday also got to Monti Ossenfort like it did the players during their joint practice.

The team was a lot better Thursday and Ossenfort was downright frenetic as fifth- and seventh-round picks in 2024 went this way and that in trades involving three teams and three players in one day.

It all began before the team even arrived at the Vikings’ facility for their 10 am CT practice with the trade of safety Isaiah Simmons to the Giants for a mere seventh-round draft choice.

As the team took the field, the absence of tackle Josh Jones created the belief that something else might be in the wind. It was. After the team returned to their hotel after practice, word spread that the Cardinals had sent Jones and a seventh-round pick to the Texans for a fifth-round pick.

Finally, later in the afternoon, the Cardinals dealt a fifth-round pick to the Browns for quarterback Joshua Dobbs and a seventh-round pick. The No. 5 choice is one the Cardinals previously acquired from the Eagles and the No. 7 selection is one Cleveland had acquired from the Falcons. The pick from the Eagles came in the settlement between the two teams in the tampering involving Ossenfort and coach Jonathan Gannon, then Philadelphia’s defensive coordinator.

It’s not a stretch to suggest the team’s improved energy Thursday was in part because of the startling departure of Simmons.

Left tackle D.J. Humphries, who joined the team after welcoming a baby into the world earlier in the week, said, “For sure” that a message had been sent. “I know especially for the young guys, they’ve never really seen anyone get traded, let alone a first-round pick. I think it lit a fire under the young guys. Guy like me, I’ve seen it, it’s a part of the business. (But) I hate to see Isaiah go; that was my little brother.”

Third-year linebacker Zaven Collins, who is hoping to have his fifth-year option exercised next May after that didn’t happen with Simmons more than three months ago, said,”Everyone is the same. It doesn’t matter where you are drafted. We all bleed the same, we can all be cut the same, we can all be traded the same. You’ve got to put your best foot forward every day to earn your spot at the dinner table.”

To that point, Ossenfort told reporters Thursday, “We always tell the team no matter how you got here … once players get in our building, it doesn’t matter free agent, drafted, undrafted free agent, high draft pick, whatever. It’s about what you do for the team now. Ultimately, we have to make the best decision; we got to put the best 53 together that we can.

“Sending a message? No, I don’t think it was really a part of that. I think it’s really about building the team and getting the right 53 in the building.”

Breaking down the trades

Isaiah Simmons

When Simmons was selected with the eighth overall choice in the 2020 draft, he was described as a Swiss Army Knife, but coaches couldn’t figure out what to do with him.

The Cardinals were considering Simmons, wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (quarterback Kyler Murray’s teammate at Oklahoma) and tackle Tristan Wirfs. Many in the war room believed it would be Lamb or Wirfs, but surprisingly it was Simmons. While then-general manager Steve Keim has been torched locally for many of his selections, it’s not as if he was the only one in the league enamored with Simmons’ gifts. Had the Cardinals gone with Lamb or Wirfs, it’s likely another team would have grabbed him quickly.

Meanwhile, former defensive coordinator Vance Joseph tried everything with Simmons, but the reality was that he had issues in coverage and also wasn’t effective closer to the line of scrimmage. He was benched after the 2022 season opener and one source told PHNX Simmons “went rogue” and his personality was also a problem.

At his request, the switch was made to safety this year after the coaching change, but that only exacerbated his shortcomings, which were on full display during last Saturday’s preseason game against the Chiefs.

When the first unit was on the field, the defense featured an unusual three-safety, two-cornerback look with Jalen Thompson in the slot that resulted in wide-open Kansas City receivers. Now, the coaches can focus on deciding among a cornerback group that includes Marco Wilson, Christian Matthew, Antonio Hamilton Sr. and Kei’Trel Clark who will be in the slot.

Ossenfort insisted that Simmons’ performance against the Chiefs wasn’t the reason for the deal, but it had to be the last straw.

He said, “With all these decisions, it’s a culmination. We won’t make a snap judgement on one game or one play or anything like that. It’s a culmination of since we all got here, in the spring, in camp and a decision we came to, and not a reaction.”

Gannon added, “I don’t think it was an issue of what Isaiah did; he did everything that we asked him to do. Moving forward we feel this is the best way we want to play football against other people. We’re going to try and put the best guys out there that can function and do the best job.”

Those words spoke volumes. Yes, Simmons did what was asked; he simply didn’t do it good enough.

Could the team have waited to see if he would get better? Possibly. But the simple reality was that he would move on after the season and that a seventh-round pick was the best they could get even with the new team being responsible for only his $1.01 million base salary.

The belief in New York is that defensive coordinator Wink Martindale can find the right fit in the scheme he runs that often highlights position-less players.

Giants coach Brian Daboll said Thursday, “That’s one of the reasons why we made the trade. We thought there’s some upside there. We’ll put him in, we’ll ask him to do probably quite a bit of things just to see what he takes to. A guy that’s athletic, explosive, has good size. I’ve seen him do some multiple things. I think he has some multiple-role potential, but again, we’ve got to see it.

“Until we get him here, I’ll give you a better answer, but certainly happy to have him.”

Contract and salary cap

Simmons had been counting about $6.57 million against the cap, which included the $1.01M base salary, $2,417,825 roster bonus that was paid on the third day of training camp and the final signing bonus proration of $3,147,101. There will now be a shade under $5.565 million of dead money.

Safety depth

With the roster reduction to 53 coming on Tuesday, it surely wouldn’t be a surprise for the Cardinals to scan the waiver wire for safety depth.

Behind Budda Baker and Thompson, the remaining safeties include Andre Chachere, Jovante Moffatt, JuJu Hughes, Sean Chandler and Kendell Brooks. Chandler will begin the season on reserve/suspended for two games, so the Cardinals don’t have to make a roster move with him until after the suspension ends.

That would be following the Week 2 game against the Giants, when Simmons will be back in State Farm Stadium.

Josh Jones

Jones was viewed as a potential first-round pick in the runup to the 2020 draft, but lasted until the third round (72nd overall). There were five tackles selected in the first round and then not another until Jones: Andrew Thomas (Giants/fourth overall), Jedrick Wills Jr. (Browns/10th), Wirfs (Bucs/13th), Austin Jackson (Dolphins/18th) and Isaiah Wilson (Titans/29th). Ezra Cleveland was listed as a tackle when he was drafted by the Vikings in the second round (58th overall), but he has been strictly a guard in Minnesota.

The Cardinals were somewhat set at the time with Humphries and Marcus Gilbert, who was expected to return after missing the previous season because of a knee injury. Kelvin Beachum was signed on July 17 and after Gilbert opted out while COVID-19 was raging, Beachum became the right-side starter.

Jones never found his footing, was uncomfortable at guard and wanted to be a left tackle. He did that as a starter in nine games last season when Humphries was sidelined by a back injury. With Beachum re-signed and rookie Paris Johnson Jr. entrenched at right tackle, it was clear the Cardinals could not have four tackles on the 53-man roster.

Jones heads to his hometown of Houston where he also was a left tackle in college and like Simmons is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

Contract and salary cap

The Cardinals shed Jones’ $2.74 million salary this year and will be on the cap books for only the final year of $269,879 signing bonus proration.

Offensive line depth

The No. 1 unit throughout the offseason and training camp has been Humphries, Johnson, left guard Elijah Wilkinson, right guard Will Hernandez and center Hjalte Froholdt. The next two guards have been Dennis Daley and Marquis Hayes with rookie Jon Gaines at center and Beachum the swing tackle.

We’ll find out Tuesday if there will be nine linemen on the 53-man roster and then on Wednesday which linemen will be part of the practice squad. One would likely be Lecitus Smith.

Joshua Dobbs

Count me in the skeptical group regarding this addition. It seems apparent that Ossenfort liked what he saw of Dobbs after he was signed by the Titans at the end of last season and started two games when Ossenfort was the team’s director of player personnel.

The Cardinals were interested when Dobbs became a free agent in March, but he ended up back with the Browns on a 1-year, $2 million guaranteed contract that included a $500,000 signing bonus.

However, it can’t be overlooked that Dobbs was cut by the Browns on Nov. 28 last season after Deshaun Watson returned from his suspension. Jacoby Brissett became the backup, but the Browns kept Kellen Mond as their No. 3.

Fast forward to Thursday when the Browns announced that Mond was being cut and Dobbs would be the backup with ascending rookie fifth-round pick Dorian Thompson-Robinson No. 3. Those plans changed when Ossenfort called. For now, Thompson-Robinson has been elevated to be Watson’s backup and Mond remains on the roster.

In two preseason games this summer, Dobbs completed 8-of-16 passes for 77 yards with an interception.

While Dobbs is familiar with the Cardinals system because offensive coordinator Drew Petzing was in Cleveland last season, he hasn’t had any time with the team’s receivers.

Those two starts last season are the only ones of a career that began as a fourth-round pick by the Steelers in 2017. He’s played in only eight games and attempted 85 passes, 68 of which came with Tennessee where he completed 58.8 percent of his throws.

He was put in a difficult position, starting against Dallas (Dec. 29) and Jacksonville (Jan. 7) after not joining the team until Dec. 21.

In the Sunday night season finale against Jacksonville, in which the winner would capture the AFC South, Dobbs completed 20 of 29 passes for 179 yards with a touchdown and interception, was sacked four times (fumbling twice) and had a passer rating of 82.4. He also ran five times for 32 yards.

The first fumble was critical. Leading the Jaguars 16-13 with 3:01 remaining, Dobbs was sacked on third-and-6 at his own 27-yard line and the resulting fumble was recovered and returned 37 yards by Josh Allen for the game-winning score.

After getting the ball back, there was another sack/fumble on second-and-7, but Dobbs recovered. After a false start, he completed two passes for four and nine yards on third-and-17 and fourth-and-13. Game over.

Dobbs now enters a crowded Cardinals quarterbacks room with the injured Murray, probable(?) opening-day starter Colt McCoy, rookie Clayton Tune, David Blough and injured Jeff Driskel (calf).

A decision whether Murray is placed on reserve/physically unable to perform must be made by Tuesday. If on the list, he is ineligible to practice or play until after the fourth week of the season. When he does return to practice, there is a 21-day window before he would either be activated or remain on PUP for the remainder of the season. If he is removed from PUP, he then counts against the roster.

One possibility is that Murray could be removed from PUP and then placed on reserve/injured with the ability to return after missing only three games. However, he would have to be part of the 53-man roster Tuesday and then moved to IR Wednesday.

The intrigue is whether the Dobbs acquisition is linked to McCoy, who has been on a throwing plan because of an elbow injury the entire offseason and training camp. Might the Cardinals be considering moving on from the veteran, who turns 37 on Sept. 5?

Nothing would be considered a shock after we have watched the way Ossenfort and Gannon have operated since they were hired.

McCoy is currently the fourth-oldest quarterback in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers of the Jets is 39 and turns 40 on Dec. 2. Brian Hoyer of the Raiders is 37 and turns 38 on Oct. 13. Baltimore’s Josh Johnson turned 37 on May 15, but is on the roster bubble in a room that includes Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley and Anthony Brown. Only one other quarterback in the league (Carolina’s Andy Dalton on Oct. 29) will even reach 36 this calendar year.

It does appear inexplicable that Tune or Dobbs would be thrown to the wolves on the road against Washington in Week 1. League scouts told PHNX that Tune has “lots of fundamental issues, especially with his feet” and needs to be better than he’s been while conceding he is a rookie fifth-round pick.

Still, if McCoy remains the starter, what happens when Murray becomes part of the roster and there are four quarterbacks?

While much of the outside noise screams that the Cardinals should move on from Murray next year, the salary-cap reality makes that possible only if he is able to play this season, stay healthy and be tradeable in 2024.

Contract and salary cap

The Cardinals are responsible for Dobbs’ $1.5 million salary, while McCoy’s salary this year is $3.75 million, of which $2.25 million is guaranteed. Once he’s on the opening-day roster, the entire salary becomes guaranteed. His current cap charge is $5 million, including $1.25 million of prorated signing bonus and this is the final year of his contract.

Moving forward

The game Saturday against the Vikings almost seems an after-thought considering the flurry of activity Thursday and the looming roster reduction.

The real message is to expect the unexpected while knowing there is no truth to the oft-repeated mantra that Tuesday is the “final” cut.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

As Ossenfort said when it was mentioned the number of draft choices the Cardinals currently have in 2024, “(That) isn’t what we are actively doing. What we are doing is actively making the best decisions for us this year moving forward.”

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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