Reason to re-sign: It took him 75 percent of the season, but Housler started showing signs of progressing as a tight end in the final four games, catching 53 of his 129 yards after Week 13. That production may carry over into 2015, but he may not get a chance to show it. Housler’s athleticism always made him a threat because he’s tall, lean and quick after the catch. His 9.22 yards after the catch per reception were fifth most in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Although he caught just nine of 17 receptions, he didn’t drop any passes -- an upside in Bruce Arians’ offense.
Reason not to re-sign: The main reason for the Arizona Cardinals not to re-sign Housler is that he’s not a good fit in Arians’ offense. Housler is built like a new-age tight end: He’s tall, long and athletic like a basketball player. He’s a better fit as a receiving tight end than a blocking tight end. Unfortunately for Housler, Arians wants a tight end who’ll block first and then be able to catch a pass. He can do the latter better than he can do the former. That’s simply not Housler’s game. The Cardinals had hope for Housler heading into 2013 but he proved he wasn’t the blocker player Arians wanted. In 2014, he had a pass-block efficiency rating of 93.8, the third-highest on the Cardinals.
Prediction: Housler’s time in Arizona has run out. With Darren Fells coming on and Troy Niklas planning on being healthy, both will complement John Carlson again in 2015 in the blocking schemes. Housler simply doesn’t fit and it’ll cost him a chance at re-signing with the Cardinals.
@joshweinfuss I addressed the Jacoby Jones scenario earlier this week here, but to recap, I think it's a good fit because the Cardinals are in need of a kick returner after Ted Ginn simply didn't have the year Arizona expected out of him in 2014. As for Lyle Sendlein, his cap hit is scheduled to be $4.275 million in 2015, but I think the Cardinals will either restructure his contract, lowering his cap number in the process, or cut him entirely. AJ Hawk. The first is his health. He was cut because he failed a physical, which may just be a cover story. Regardless, a deeper look into his injury history will be necessary. Like Darnell Dockett, Hawk's market value will dictate whether the Cardinals can afford him. His cap number was supposed to be $5.1 million next season in Green Bay with a $2.45 million salary. He's also 31 years old, which may factor into the Cardinals' decision. What's interesting to note is that the Packers reduced Hawk's playing time last season in nickel packages. He played in their base 3-4 scheme, which he'd carry over to the Cardinals, but the question becomes can he still play three downs. John Abraham and Sam Acho not likely back, the Cardinals could use more speed off the edge. Other than that, Arizona will also look to strengthen the interior of its offensive line and restock at inside linebacker. Michael Floyd is Arizona's deep threat and sideline master that offsets Larry Fitzgerald underneath and John Brown over the top on deep balls.
@joshweinfuss Jacoby jones option for KR? Whats going to happen at center an sendleins cap hit?— anthony (@anthonyacabrera) February 25, 2015
@joshweinfuss When, not if? Funny. I will be surprised, however, if Antonio Cromartie returns to the desert. With that being said, I personally think Jerraud Powers gets moved outside to replace Cromartie, and Tyrann Mathieu, once he's fully healthy, will become the nickel back. As much progress as Bethel has made over the last few years, I don't think he's ready yet to be a full-time starter. Darnell Dockett was released, and Fitzgerald reworked his contract. I think there are a couple obvious contracts to restructure -- Calais Campbell and Carson Palmer, as long as they get their money -- but the only possibly cut that comes to mind is Sendlein.
@joshweinfuss when cromartie leaves for the jets is it bethels spot to lose or will powers be the frontrunner pending on what's drafted— Keith Haley (@mycheesedanish1) February 27, 2015
I’ll start with the least likely free agent to return to Arizona, but he's someone the Cardinals could use.
First up: Jonathan Dwyer, RB
Reason not to re-sign: There is a laundry list of them and all stem from his arrest. He’s not good enough for the Cardinals to ignore his assault charges, which were later dropped. But Dwyer did plead guilty to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to 18 months of probation.
Prediction: The Cardinals won’t bring Dwyer back. There’s too much baggage associated with him, and he’ll be facing a suspension by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy so who really knows when he’ll be back on the field.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The difference between what a player thinks he's worth and what he's actually worth is usually a harsh dose of reality.
Darnell Dockett will find out if others think he's worth what he believes he is in the next few weeks. The Arizona Cardinals released the defensive tackle on Friday, which ended his 11-year tenure with the franchise that drafted him. Arizona didn't think he was worth his $6.8 million salary or the $9.8 million cap hit that came with it.
Dockett will now get a chance to test free agency and get a market value -- fair or not -- that will determine where he ends up. What can happen is quite simple. If his market value is lower than what the Cardinals offered, Dockett could return for Year 12 in the desert.
If it's higher, Dockett might take the money and run. But there's a catch. Dockett has long felt he was loyal to the Cardinals, and how the recent negotiations went down might impact his feelings toward the franchise.
Dockett has never liked the business side of football. Unlike other teammates, Dockett never wanted to change his image to conform to what corporate America wanted to sell. He wasn't big on endorsements or being politically correct to collect outside paychecks -- just check his Twitter account.
That's who he is.
At 33, Dockett is about to find out the business side of the NFL can be brutal. The Cardinals can use him next season, but they don't need him. He'll be 34 and coming off ACL surgery. Through Twitter, He has kept the public up to date on his recovery, but how that translates to the field has yet to be seen.
Seeing him around the Cardinals' locker room last season, Dockett definitely slimmed down. He looked trim, and his body looked years younger. It's no secret the Cardinals need help with their pass rush, but more so from the outside than the inside.
If the Cardinals can get Dockett for much less than what they were supposed to pay him next season, he'd be worth bringing back. In fact, if that's the case, they should bring him back. But if a happy medium can't be found, Dockett's legacy in Arizona won't be forgotten. It should be permanent, with his name eventually enshrined in the Cardinals' Ring of Honor.
Dockett probably doesn't have much time left in the NFL. He knows this and will acknowledge it. More than anything, he wanted to win a Super Bowl with the Cardinals on his home turf the past season. But his injury Aug. 18 made that impossible.
He might get another chance in Arizona, but the business of the game might prohibit that from happening.
The 33-year-old defensive tackle was entering the final year of his contract. His release saves the Cardinals $6.8 million in cap space with free agency starting in less than two weeks. He was scheduled to earn $6.8 million this season with a $9.8 million cap hit.
"We have been very clear about our feelings for Darnell and our desire to have him back," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said in a statement Friday. "After speaking with him and his representatives, we decided that this move today makes the most sense for both the team and the player and allows each to keep all of its options open."
Dockett missed all of the 2014 season after tearing his ACL during training camp last August. He played in 158 games as a Cardinal, amassing 462 tackles, 41 sacks and four interceptions since getting drafted in the third round of the 2004 draft and was a three-time Pro Bowler selection.
During his rehabilitation, Dockett has used Twitter as a means to update his progress, tweeting five days ago that he's predicting he'll be named the NFL's comeback player of the year.
The Cardinals had $6,664,968 in cap space as of Thursday afternoon based on a projected $143 million salary cap, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Free agency begins March 10.
Giving Larry Fitzgerald a new contract last week reduced his cap hit from $23.6 million to $10.85 million in 2015 and by releasing Ted Ginn on Monday, Arizona saved $2.5 million in cap space.
The Cardinals' current 51-man salary cap is $136.7 million. They have about $3.9 million in dead money to account for in 2015. With the $4.26 million they're carrying over from 2014, the Cardinals are approaching $7 million in cap space. All projections are based on a $143 million salary cap, which has not yet been set.
But they're likely not done creating cap room.
If Arizona can restructure Darnell Dockett's deal, it can produce a few million more in cap space, as well.
On Thursday in Sun City, Arizona, two llamas -- reportedly therapy llamas that had escaped while visiting an assisted-living facility -- ran wild in the streets of the suburban Phoenix retirement community. (You can see the madness unfold in the video above.)
And when local news choppers picked up attempts by authorities and bystanders to capture the elusive creatures, the Internet erupted.
Naturally, the local sports teams tried to lay claim to these instant star athletes:
There were the Arizona Cardinals, of course ...
And also the Diamondbacks, trying to ward off the advances of their Triple-A affiliate:
After being called out by the Sacramento Kings, the Suns also had to defend themselves ...
... and also remind everyone of the time they actually did have llamas under contract.
And then ... wait, why would the Alabama Crimson Tide be getting the llamas?
Nick Saban really does get everyone.
More awesome stories
The Cardinals re-signed backup offensive tackle Bradley Sowell on Thursday to a one-year deal. Sowell, a swing tackle, didn’t play an offensive snap in 2014 a year after starting the final 12 games at left tackle. He played 60 special-teams snaps in all 16 games in 2014, however.
"I'm extremely excited to be staying in Arizona," Sowell told ESPN.com. "I obviously could have tested the market but it would have been hard to leave a place that makes your wife and kids feel so at home. I look forward to continuing my career with BA (Cardinals coach Bruce Arians), Coach Goody (offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin) and Coach Z (assistant offensive line coach Larry Zierlein) and helping Arizona bring home a championship."
Sowell was claimed off waivers by the Cardinals on Sept. 1, 2013 after playing in 10 games in 2012 with Indianapolis, when Bruce Arians was the Colts’ offensive coordinator and interim head coach. He went undrafted in 2012 out of the University of Mississippi, signing with Tampa Bay as an undrafted free agent.
Sowell is the first of Arizona's 2014 restricted free agents to re-sign with the team. The Cardinals have until March 10 to make qualifying offers to quarterback Ryan Lindley and defensive lineman Alameda Ta'amu.
The Cardinals also signed cornerback Damond Smith, who spent last preseason with the Kansas City Chiefs. He was on the practice squad of the B.C. Lions of the CFL in 2013. He went undrafted in the 2013 supplemental draft out of South Alabama. Smith began his college career at Western Michigan, then transferred to South Alabama after two seasons.
TEMPE, Ariz. – It’s been no secret that one of the Arizona Cardinals needs this year is an outside linebacker who can rush the passer off the edge.
In his third mock draft of the offseason, ESPN NFL Draft Insider Todd McShay has stayed true to that, predicting the Cardinals would draft an OLB in all three of his installments. McShay’s most recent selection for the Cardinals at 24th has the size, speed and natural ability to make an immediate impact.
However, Arizona choosing Virginia’s Eli Harold might be a reach in the first round.
Harold is 6-foot-3 and 237 pounds and runs the 40-yard-dash in 4.6 seconds. He had an impressive combine and put up impressive numbers in the 40, 10-yard split (1.56 seconds) and the short shuttle (4.16 seconds). McShay said those are the three drills most indicative of success for pass rushers.
According to scouting reports, he has good range and can chase down runners on a straight line. Harold’s hands have also been impressive.
But one area where he struggles, according to those reports, is the same area that repeatedly hampered Arizona last season. According to an ESPN scouting report, Harold has trouble staying on carriers and is considered an “inconsistent” tackler.
In McShay’s most recent scenario, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon was drafted three picks later. If Arizona’s need for a running back isn’t sufficiently filled in free agency, Gordon would be the better pick in this case.
Sitting at No. 32 in the NFL in red zone rushing? The Arizona Cardinals. The same 11-win Cardinals who lost to the Carolina Panthers in an NFC wild-card game. The three teams above Arizona combined for eight wins total last season -- the Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Why would a team that owned the best record in the NFL for more than half the season be ranked behind teams that have become bottom-feeders the past few years? It's a question with an easy answer. It's also a dilemma for a franchise with late-January aspirations that needs to be resolved in the next couple of months.
As hard as they tried, the Cardinals couldn't find the right fit. It began to cost them because Andre Ellington was playing through a split tendon in his left foot.
"It was just one of those freaky foot things," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "He was fairly fortunate. It's usually a Lisfranc injury [that] would've occurred for him, but instead of cracking the bone, he split the tendon and really gutted it up for us for about 10 weeks as long as he could."
The Cardinals finished the year as the worst running team inside the 20-yard line, totaling 57 yards on 39 carries in the red zone, an average of 1.46 yards per attempt. Only two teams had fewer than their six touchdowns in the red zone. Their longest run inside the 20 was 6 yards -- they were the only team whose longest run in that situation was shorter than 10 yards.
They ran for just nine first downs in the red zone, the second fewest in the NFL. Arizona's 8 rushing yards before contact were the fewest by 40 yards. The Cards had 49 yards after contact, among the bottom five in the league, and their average of .21 yards after contact per run was the lowest in the NFL.
Not having a healthy Ellington was a major factor, but not having Dwyer, or someone of his size who could get yards deep in a defense's territory, is another reason Arizona couldn't secure the top seed in the NFC.
And that's where the Cardinals need to get help, whether it's in free agency or through the draft.
"I know over the years we've talked about devaluing running backs and at the end of the day, a lot of teams are having to play with multiple numbers," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. "You have to have a few guys that can carry the load. Very rarely do you have the one bell cow anymore.
"But this year, I think a couple of those running backs at the top have the chance to be special."
Whoever the Cardinals sign, whether it's in free agency next month or the draft in late April/early May, will come to Arizona in a supporting role to Ellington, not as the featured act.
"His role, hopefully, will expand," Arians said of Ellington. "We weren't able to do all the things we practiced because he couldn't practice on Wednesdays or Thursdays and he'd limp around on Friday.
"Other than that, we think he's a great player. He's still the focal point of our offense and we'll try to continue to build around him."
The free-agency crop at running back this offseason includes DeMarco Murray and Frank Gore, and it seemingly grows by the day -- the Lions' Reggie Bush, the New York Giants' Peyton Hillis and the Panthers' DeAngelo Williams were all released this week.
The top two draft options will be Georgia's Todd Gurley and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. Both are 6-foot-1. Gurley weighs 222, and Gordon 215. Both are considered feature backs, and both could certainly go in the first round.
Either could fit Arizona's needs.
"If you have a guy, he's your horse, and there's some really good ones the last couple of years," Arians said. "You ride him. You got to be careful with the number of touches as you get into December and January, then you also have teams who have multiple players who can be successful in roles.
"So, it's finding their roles and putting them in the right slots."
Which is why Jacoby Jones would be a good fit as Ginn’s replacement.
Jones, who was released by the Baltimore Ravens on Wednesday, will be a sought-after commodity during free agency, which may drive up his asking price and keep him out of Arizona. Last season, Jones earned $4.5 million and had a $1.875 million cap hit. He was set to earn $2.5 million with a cap hit of $3.375 million in each of the next three seasons. By comparison, Ginn was scheduled to earn a $3.25 million base salary with a cap hit of $4 million next season.
But Jones’ return ability would be worth Arizona competing for him in free agency if they can get him for the right price.
He had more than twice as many kickoff return yards than Ginn (978 versus 417) and averaged 30.6 yards per kick return compared to Ginn’s 18.9, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But it was Jones’ ability to navigate returns out of the end zone that stands out as the biggest difference from Ginn.
Jones would, on average, field kickoffs about three yards deep in the end zone and his returns would land the Ravens around the 28. And 62.5 percent of his kick returns reached at least the 20-yard-line.
Last season, Ginn’s returns gave Arizona field position around the 17, but he was fielding kicks about 1.5 yards deep in the end zone. And 22.7 percent of his kick returns made it past the 20.
When it came to returning punts last season, Ginn had the upper leg, but barely. He had two more return yards than Jones on four fewer returns (277 versus 275) and one touchdown. He averaged 10.7 yards per punt return compared to Jones’ 9.2.
Ginn left the Cardinals’ facing long fields, often times putting an already struggling offense in situations too tough for it to overcome. Jones may be the answer to rectifying Arizona’s field position struggles.
But will he be one of them?
Arians will be 67 when the current framework of his new contract expires, should the Arizona Cardinals pick up a fifth-year option for 2019. It’s a long way away for the 62-year-old, but it’s never too early to start thinking about the future of his coaching career.
“It will all depend on how I feel,” he said. “Health will dictate everything. It does for almost all of us. As far as energy and passion, I probably have more of both than I’ve ever had for the game because I never thought I would have this opportunity.”
It was just three years ago that Arians was “re-fired” from Pittsburgh, as he likes to call it, when Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano called with an offer as the Colts’ offensive coordinator. Less than a month into the 2012 season, Pagano took a leave to battle Leukemia leaving Arians in charge. He won nine of the next 12 games and was named coach of the year, proving he could be a head coach in the NFL.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Two years into his first full-time stint as an NFL head coach, Arians has won 21 games, gone to the playoffs, won his second NFL coach of the year trophy and already received his second contract.
“You couldn’t write that script,” he said. “Nobody would believe you. No one would buy it, that’s for sure. I’m still thankful to Chuck for that call, because I was satisfied with it being over.
“But when Chuck made that call, these last three years happened. I’ll always be indebted to him for that.”
Indy led Arians to Arizona, and the last two years have sparked an internal revitalization for him.
“You would have to run me out of here with a stick now,” Arians said. “It’s too much fun.”
And as long as Arians stays healthy, it won’t end anytime soon -- although Arians likes to chide Cardinals general manager Steve Keim that it will. The two have established an enviable working relationship with clearly-defined roles, but when Arians wants to crack a joke about his future, Keim gets worked up.
“We butt heads all the time when he tells me he’s going to be at the lake in three years,” Keim said. “And I say, ‘No, you are going to coach for longer than that.’ That’s our biggest debate is how long I can keep him here.”
Arians is now contractually obliged to be in Arizona until at least 2018, so retiring to his Georgia lake home will have to wait.
But as Arians had to learn how to delegate as a first-time had coach in his early 30s at Temple, he’s learning not to get over-excited in his 60s. Like his players, Arians’ offseason is key to him being fresh and ready for next season.
The time away can be critical for Arians’ staying healthy enough to coach into his 70s.
“As each and every year grinds on you a little bit, how fast can you come back?” Arians said. "The minute the season was over and I came in and I put all the names off injured reserve back on the depth chart, I couldn’t wait to get started because it’s a damn good team.
“I know we are going to add really good pieces to the puzzle and I was anxious to get started. Physically, you know you need a little downtime, but all our guys were anxious to get rolling again.”
After Arians gave a serious answer about his coaching future, Keim, sitting to Arians’ left, chimed in with a playful shot at the young sexagenarian.
“I just read that I think [New York Giants coach] Tom Coughlin is 68 working on an extension,” Keim said. “So, coach has got tons of time.”