NFC West: Arizona Cardinals
It happened on the first day of training camp in 2013, minutes before the conditioning test at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Seattle defensive end was called off the field by Arizona’s former vice president of player personnel Jason Licht and told he was released. Schofield jogged back to the Cardinals’ locker room and began searching for a new team.
It’s safe to say Schofield landed on his feet with the Seahawks.
Arizona's fourth-round pick in 2010 said he’s done holding a grudge against the Cardinals for letting him go, but Schofield doesn’t have many pleasant things to say about his time in Arizona -- he feels he’s receiving better coaching in Seattle and getting more opportunities on defense.
“But when it’s all said and done I’m just happy how everything happened,” Schofield said.
Schofield said his former position coach with the Cardinals, which would’ve been outside linebacker coach James Bettcher, wouldn’t talk to him after he got cut.
“My coach walked past me like he didn’t even see me,” Schofield said. “I was just like, ‘OK, however that works,’ but it’s funny. It’s funny now. It’s really funny now. I’m hoping to laugh a little bit harder after Sunday’s game.”
He’s gone 3-1 against Arizona in the last two seasons and said his range as a defender has grown with the Seahawks, having lined up at nose tackle, three-technique defensive lineman, defensive end and linebacker. He’s still basking in sacking Ryan Lindley in Week 16 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
His departure from the Cardinals reinforced to Schofield that the NFL is a business before anything else.
“It definitely opened my eyes to understand that you might not be an organization's preference at that time,” he said. “I wasn’t theirs but I was able to make another team and still I was able to play and produce. That definitely was enlightening and (provided) confidence for me.”
On Sunday, on the same field where his career received a new lease, Schofield will play for his second straight Super Bowl ring.
The thoughts of being cut by the Cards have been replaced by thoughts of celebrating on their home field.
“I think it’s going to be very exciting,” he said. “I’m definitely probably do a victory lap.”
The Arizona Cardinals' backup quarterback is planning on returning from the right knee injury that sidelined him for the Arizona Cardinals’ last three games of last season by April. His 2014 season, in which he set career highs in passing yards, yards per attempt and touchdowns, ended in Week 15, when he hopped off the field during the Cardinals’ Thursday night game at St. Louis.
“I’ll be full strength by time we start offseason program,” Stanton said after signing autographs at Tuesday’s Super Bowl Media Day. “I don’t really need to do anything now so just kinda let my body rest to get away from the game a little bit, spend time with my family and get refreshed for next season.”
He’ll be working with Arizona’s team physical therapist Brett Fischer to regain the strength and movement in his right knee. Rehab has started slow but Stanton said “it feels a lot better.”
“I worked out with him last year in the offseason,” Stanton said. “Really like the program he has me on and just looking forward to getting back to full strength.”
Stanton said if the Cardinals had won their wild-card game at Carolina, he likely would have been ready to play the next weekend, but trying to play before then wasn’t a possibility.
“I was going to need at least another week to have a shot,” Stanton said. “That was my hope. So, I was trying to find ways to get ready to go, talking to the training staff and talking to guys (about) what I can be doing when we would get back from that flight from Carolina.
“It didn’t work out unfortunately, but it was a difficult situation the way everything ended. At the same time, I think that the building blocks are starting to fall into place for us."
With Arizona’s season not yet a month old, Stanton still hasn’t digested what he went through in 2014. It started in Week 2, when Stanton threw his first regular-season pass since 2010. He filled in for Cardinals starter Carson Palmer twice -- once when he dealt with a nerve injury in his shoulder in weeks 2-5 and again after Palmer suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Week 10.
Stanton finished 5-3 as a starter with career highs in passing yards (1,711), yards per attempt (7.1) and touchdowns (seven) before his season ended prematurely.
“I think probably as the offseason wears on a little bit you get a chance for it to set in,” he said. “It was a great season from a personal standpoint, but also from a team standpoint to get out there and do a really good job but not good enough.
“It leaves you wanting more, but also I think we’ve got a lot of really good pieces in place in this organization.”
Arizona coach Bruce Arians told ESPN.com that the hire is "done" and an announcement will come either Monday or Tuesday.
"It's just filling out the rest of the puzzle to fill out the staff and getting the right fits," Arians said. "We've had discussions with about five guys."
Among those other hires will be a linebackers coach to replace Mike Caldwell, who joined Todd Bowles' staff with the New York Jets.
One coach who won't be hired is Dick LeBeau.
Arians met with the former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator last week but a deal to join the Cardinals staff couldn't be reached.
"I think just the distance with his family," Arians said.
"He expects a lot of interest. Of course, I had a lot of interest but I think the distance and he just decided what he wants to do."
At the third quarter ticked away of Sunday’s Pro Bowl, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was looking deep for New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. His pass sailed high and deep as Graham cut off his route. Waiting, what looked patiently, in the end zone were Arizona Cardinals cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Peterson.
Once they saw the pass start sailing both took off for the end zone. Cromartie was inside. Peterson was outside.
Cromartie jumped, trying to time his leap with Ryan’s throw but the ball went right through his hands, potentially slightly tipped by him. It bounced at Peterson’s feet, falling incomplete, both their hopes of a Pro Bowl interception dropping with it. All four Cardinals were on Team Carter, which lost 32-28 to Team Irvin at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“I just dropped it,” an animated Cromartie said after the game. “Can’t say nothing about it. I just dropped it.”
Peterson picked up the ball and threw it at Cromartie, who was sitting on his knees, upset at himself for missing the pick. It was all done in jest but it was also the lightest moment of the most uncompetitive game of the season.
“He said, ‘here you go, here you go,’” Cromartie said.
Peterson wanted the pick. Badly. It would’ve been his second straight Pro Bowl with an interception.
“Definitely would’ve had that ball if he wouldn’t have tipped the ball,” Peterson said of Cromartie.
If he would’ve returned the interception for a touchdown, he could’ve given the Houston Texans' JJ Watt a run for defensive MVP of the game.
“I wanted to win the freaking truck,” said Peterson of the SUV that’s awarded to the MVP. “That was my only opportunity I had to get back to the end zone. But I didn’t get any plays tonight. But it happens.”
Alumni captain Cris Carter drafted Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, defensive end Calais Campbell and cornerback Antonio Cromartie during Wednesday’s Pro Bowl draft. He picked special-teamer Justin Bethel in a separate draft Tuesday night.
“You know, that’s pretty cool,” Campbell said. “I think Cris Carter did a good job with his draft strategy. He waited a little too long to take me, in my opinion.”
This Sunday’s Pro Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium will also be a home game for the quartet. Kickoff will be at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Peterson was picked seventh overall, followed by Campbell at No. 23 and Cromartie at No. 33.
At the same time, however, Cromartie, who’ll turn 31 in April, said he can’t be picky about where he continues his career. Cromartie becomes a free agent in March and the Cardinals have yet to announce a replacement for Todd Bowles, their former defensive coordinator who was hired as the New York Jets' head coach on Jan. 13.
On Tuesday, coach Bruce Arians said he may name a new coordinator in the next week.
Once Bowles’ replacement is named, the four-time Pro Bowler will get a better idea of what style will be run -- and if it fits his personal preferences.
“It’s just a point of understanding what kind of defensive scheme it will be,” Cromartie said. “If it’s the same scheme as Rex Ryan and Todd Bowles, when you’re playing a lot of man-to-man and you’re putting your corners out on an island, that’s something that every defensive back thrives on.”
If Arians promotes a current assistant, Cromartie doesn’t expect the Cardinals' defense to change much, if at all, from the 3-4, blitz-heavy scheme Bowles ran the past two seasons.
“I don’t think the scheme is going to change at all,” Cromartie said. “I think everything is going to stay the same, just have a different person calling the game.
“And it’s all about calling the right game and understanding what we’re trying to do and go from there.”
Cromartie, who rated his 2014 as “pretty good” after four interceptions and 53 tackles, including the playoffs, said he hasn’t begun thinking about what his future includes -- or where.
“I’m not worried about it,” he said. “When contract talks start coming about, that’s when I can start talking about it. But right now, [I’m] enjoying the Pro Bowl and going from there.”
During a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview Tuesday from the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, Arians all but said he's picked out Todd Bowles' replacement.
"We kinda know the coordinator job," Arians said. "It's just putting the right pieces with him."
Who might "him" be?
Late Tuesday night, Fox Sports' Alex Marvez reported that the Cardinals were close to hiring former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau as their linebackers coach to replace the departed Mike Caldwell, who joined Bowles, the former Cardinals defensive coordinator, with the New York Jets.
Landing LeBeau would be a major piece of the defensive coordinator puzzle. It also, in my opinion, tips the scale in one direction. I don't think Arians would hire the 77-year-old veteran LeBeau if he's going to hire a veteran coordinator. That would be a pairing ripe for disaster: the coordinator would have his own philosophy and scheme, and LeBeau would have his. Conflict and disagreements would almost be a guarantee.
For those reasons, I think defensive backs coach Nick Rapone won't be the defensive coordinator.
Since it's likely the Cardinals would remain in house, all signs point to a young coach on staff, such as outside linebackers coach James Bettcher. At 36, the dynamic between Bettcher and LeBeau, who would still be counted on as a trusted voice in leading the defense, would be similar to the offense, where assistant head coach for offense Tom Moore, 76, mentors the younger offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, 41, and quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens, 40.
Arians values the experience and years of knowledge older coaches bring to his staff. He also trusts young coaches. Combining the two, in Arians' eyes, is coaching harmony.
But there's still a wild card at play. Where does Mike Nolan, the Atlanta Falcons' defensive coordinator who the Cardinals are interested in interviewing, fit in? Does he at all? Nolan could be the defensive coordinator or the assistant head coach for defense. If Arians stays in house and promotes Bettcher, Arizona would be in need of an outside linebackers coach. Does Nolan go from a defensive coordinator to a linebackers coach?
Even if LeBeau is close to being hired, there's still a lot to figure out.
"We'll announce all that probably in the next week so," Arians said.
“He’s hoping to be back for the mandatory minicamp,” Arians said Tuesday. “I wouldn’t put it past him to be to be out there in some of the OTAs.”
A typical recovery from an ACL surgery can take anywhere from six to nine months, depending on a few factors including age and severity of the injury. Palmer was initially expected to return in June or July.
Arians also said backup quarterback Drew Stanton “should be ready to go” after a right knee injury caused him to miss the last three games of the season, including Arizona’s wild card loss.
Do they eat his $23.6 million cap hit in 2015 and pay him the $16.25 million he’s due? Or do they part ways and move on to the Post-Larry era?
Bidwill said on KTAR 92.3 FM he thinks preliminary talks between the Cardinals and Fitzgerald’s agent, Eugene Parker, have gone well.
“I’m sure we’ll get it worked out,” Bidwill said. “We’ve had a couple of conversations that I think were productive so we’ll continue those discussions or at least (general manager) Steve Keim and his agent will.”
Bidwill said he wants Fitzgerald to retire a Cardinal but “that’s many years off.” Fitzgerald has spent all 11 years of his career with the Cardinals, but at 31 his production has tapered the last three seasons despite a spike in 2013. He had his lowest numbers for yards, catches and touchdowns since his rookie season in 2014.
Yet Bidwill still believes Fitzgerald wants to return to Arizona.
“Without getting into too much, I think it’s perfect for us and it’s perfect for him,” Bidwill said. “And we should be able to work this out.”
Massie, a fourth-round pick in 2012, will earn $1.574 million in 2015 – a raise of $914,000 – after not missing a snap this season and playing in 99 percent of the Cards’ offensive snaps in 2012. Massie also qualified by playing a cumulative 67.7 percent of the Cardinals snaps the last three seasons.
Massie will be a free agent after the 2015 season.
Former Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles did that Tuesday night, when he was hired by the New York Jets for his first full-time head coaching job at age 51 – nine years younger than when his former college coach and longtime mentor Bruce Arians was given his first head job with the Cardinals.
If reports are true that Bowles will earn $16 million over the life of his four-year contract, his per-year salary is higher than Arians’, despite not accomplishing what Arians has as a head coach.
He has earned it and the time is right for the Cardinals to either tear up his initial four-year deal with a team option for a fifth season that’s worth a little more than $3 million per season or extend Arians with more money.
In two seasons, Arians has redirected the course of the franchise. He built a new culture, all but ridding the Cardinals of their internal mediocrity. But, most importantly, Arians has won.
His 21 wins in his first two seasons are the most for any coach in franchise history through his first two years. He led Arizona back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. He mustered 11 wins in 2014 despite playing four quarterbacks. For as much as momentum is worth in the NFL, the Cardinals have a lot of it.
If that’s not worth a raise, what is?
Arians was the lowest paid NFC West coach last season. Seattle’s Pete Carroll reportedly earned more than $7 million after signing an extension following his Super Bowl win last January. St. Louis’ Jeff Fisher reportedly earned $7 million. And former San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh reportedly earned $5 million.
While Arians hasn’t taken the Cardinals to a Super Bowl, he’s theoretically worth more than Fisher because of recent success. Arizona was on pace to win the West and earn the No. 1-overall seed in the NFC but foundered in the final six weeks when more injuries decimated its quarterbacks.
At 62, Arians likely won’t be coaching for another decade but he has a few good years left, maybe more.
Cardinals president Michael Bidwill has shown he’s committed to the future by signing cornerback Patrick Peterson and quarterback Carson Palmer to extensions worth a combined $120 million. Both are important pieces for the Cardinals but none is as critical, at least for this franchise, as Arians.
It’s time for Bidwill to show his commitment to the man who’s turned the franchise around for the better.
It’s time for Arians to get paid.
Bowles agreed to a four-year contract with the Jets on Tuesday night, giving Cardinals coach Bruce Arians an opportunity to make his first hire, aside from strength and conditioning coaches, since building his initial staff in 2013. Throughout 2014, Arians talked about trusting Bowles with the defense, to the point where they'd talk once or twice a week about that week's defensive game plan, Arians said.
Who will Arians turn to next? He said after the season that he wanted to start a coaching tree and that Bowles would be the right person to start it. So who's the next branch? The Cardinals have played a 3-4 for the past six seasons, so finding a coordinator who'll continue that scheme may be a priority for Arians.
Here's a list of six potential replacements for Bowles:
Dick LeBeau -- The favorite to replace Bowles, except the 77-year-old may not want to venture as far west as Arizona and leave his family in Ohio. LeBeau and Arians worked together on Pittsburgh's staff from 2004-11, meaning he also is familiar with offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, who was a Steelers' offensive assistant from 2007-11. LeBeau is known for running a 3-4 scheme, so there wouldn't be a transitional period for the Cardinals' defense. His age wouldn't be a factor considering the Cardinals have two coaches over the age of 70 -- Tom Pratt and Tom Moore -- and one more, Larry Zierlein, who'll turn 70 in July.
Nick Rapone -- Currently the Cardinals' defensive backs coach, Rapone, 58, has defensive coordinator experience. He held the position at four different colleges -- Temple, Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Delaware -- before joining Arians' staff in 2013. The two worked together at Temple from 1983-88 and Rapone coached Bowles with the Owls.
James Bettcher -- The youngest on the list at 36, Bettcher has been the Cardinals' outside linebackers coach the past two seasons. He's proved this season his ability to work with personnel issues when Arizona was without John Abraham, Matt Shaughnessy and Alex Okafor at some point throughout the season. He has Arians' trust. Bettcher spent 2012 as the special assistant to the head coach in Indianapolis and Arians brought him to Arizona.
Wade Phillips -- Out of work since 2013, Phillips, 67, has been a defensive coordinator and head coach since 1981. He runs a 3-4 scheme, so, again, it would be a smooth transition for the Cardinals' defense. His defenses have been ranked in the top 10 against the run in 10 of Phillips' last 15 seasons.
Vic Fangio -- Fangio would only be an option if he's let out of his contract with San Francisco, but there's quite a bit of uncertainty if that will happen. Arians and Fangio were on the Indianapolis Colts' staff in 1999 and 2000, when Arians was starting to mold Peyton Manning and Fangio was the defensive coordinator. They're also linked by Chuck Pagano, who was on Baltimore's staff with Fangio from 2008-10. Arians has faced Fangio the last two years, going 1-3 against the Niners since becoming Arizona's head coach in 2013. Fangio has been a 3-4 coach for a long time, so the transition would be minimal.
Mike Caldwell -- Currently the Cardinals' linebackers coach, Caldwell may not be an option if he joins Bowles in New York as his defensive coordinator. If he stays in Arizona, Caldwell would bring not just two years of experience under Bowles in Arizona but the 2012 season they spent together on Philadelphia's staff. Of any coach, he knows Bowles' scheme, which worked for the Cardinals, the best.
Some of Bowles' now-former players shared their feelings toward their former coach and wished him luck in 140 characters or less:
Big Dawg. Congrats to coach Bowles. Great coach, innovator & teacher.— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) January 14, 2015
Excited for Coach Bowles making the HC jump! Those guys in @nyjets got a heck of coach, one of the smartest I've ever played for!— Rashad Johnson (@49foyamind49) January 14, 2015
Congratulations to Coach Bowles on getting the @nyjets head coaching Job. Well deserved. Proud of you coach.— ANTONIO CROMARTIE (@CRO31) January 14, 2015
Coach Bowles is a very smart coach. 1 of the smartest coaches I've been around. Has a very similar scheme 2 Rex so the defense won't change— ANTONIO CROMARTIE (@CRO31) January 14, 2015
For the guys on defense in NY. A great Hire.— ANTONIO CROMARTIE (@CRO31) January 14, 2015
Congrats to Coach Bowles becoming a HC. I've learned so much over the past 2 years. I expect nothing but great things!— Lorenzo Alexander (@onemangang97) January 14, 2015
Great two years with one of the best in the game. Congrats Coach Bowles jets are lucky to have him represent them.— Tony Jefferson (@tonyjefferson1) January 14, 2015
Todd Bowles will meet with the New York Jets for a second time on Tuesday, according to a source, and is still scheduled to meet with the Atlanta Falcons on Wednesday, pending a deal isn’t struck before he leaves New York.
ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini reported that Bowles will meet with Jets general manager-in-waiting Mike Maccagnan.
Should Bowles take over as head coach of the Jets, he would be inheriting the sixth-ranked defense in yards allowed. New York’s run defense was among the best in the NFL, allowing 3.79 yards per run. But the Jets’ defense was 30th on third downs and in interception rate.
Bowles would have to work on rebuilding the Jets’ offense, however. New York was 30th in average yards per play and last in the league in passing yards per game. The Jets were last in red-zone percentage, scoring on 36.2 percent of plays inside the 20-yard-line, and were 31st in goal-to-go percentage (57.9). They also averaged just 17.7 points per game.
If the Cardinals want LeBeau but end up losing out on him, it may be to their former coach, current Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt.
On Monday night, ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky pointed out that Nashville is less than 300 miles from Cincinnati. That’s a short plane ride or a morning drive. And like LeBeau has with Arians, he has a relationship with Whisenhunt from their Steelers days.
LeBeau’s first three years in his second stint with the Steelers, 2004-06, overlapped with Whisenhunt’s tenure as Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator. But LeBeau’s ties to the Titans go beyond Whisenhunt. LeBeau was Tennessee defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s defensive backs coach with the Bengals as a rookie in 1983 and then his defensive coordinator until 1988. Later, when Horton was an assistant in Cincinnati from 1997-2002, LeBeau was his defensive coordinator from 1997-99 and the head coach from 2000-01. LeBeau and Horton were reunited in Pittsburgh from 2004-10.
While LeBeau has longstanding and personal connections to Whisenhunt and Horton, it’s unlikely that Whisenhunt would demote Horton to make LeBeau the defensive coordinator. LeBeau could become a consultant or fill a role similar to Tom Moore in Arizona but as the assistant head coach/defense.
In Arizona, LeBeau would have the defensive coordinator’s job to himself.
There are two reasons, however, why LeBeau may decide the distance is worth it: He would be joining a winning team that made the playoffs but saw its defense struggle late in the season and he’d be coming into a situation with a ready-made defense that only needs a few tweaks to be among the league's elite.
It’s hard to keep a man away from his family, which may land LeBeau in the Music City, but another shot at the Super Bowl at age 77 would be more realistic in the desert.