Arizona Cardinals News and Rumor Roundup: Pro Bowl Week Edition

Luke Bunger@LukeHBCardsCorrespondent IIIJanuary 26, 2012

Arizona Cardinals News and Rumor Roundup: Pro Bowl Week Edition

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    The Cardinals' season is over and the draft is still a few months away. The Cardinals have only three players in the Pro Bowl, and all signs point to the fact that things are pretty much settled in the desert. You would forgive us Cardinals reporters for preparing for a few weeks downtime before the draft and free agency kick our coverage back into high gear.

    Apparently, the team didn't get the memo. Indeed in what should be a quiet Pro Bowl week for the Cardinals, so much news has broken that a roundup is necessary.

    So, in case you blinked and missed it, here is a roundup of all the news and rumors which have broken in this past week.

Todd Haley Back in the Mix for QB Coaching Job

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    Here is one of those rumors which we just can't get a hold of. First, Haley is in as OC. Done deal...pretty much. Then, he's going to New York. Then, he's not going to the Jets, but is off the table in Arizona too. Then...

    The Report 

    NFL Network's Jason La Canforna reports that after a number of positive meetings with the Cardinals top brass, Haley is back in consideration, probably for the Cardinals' vacant QB coaching job.

    The Consensus

    The consensus opinion is once again that Haley is the front-runner for the Cardinals QB coaching position, perhaps with some sweetener, like the "Passing Game Coordinator" or "Assistant Offensive Coach" job titles, which he was offered by the Jets.

    Everyone seems to agree that Haley was an important part of the Cardinals' resurgence and that he could do good things with Skelton, Kolb or another QB in 2012.

    Though Haley seemed most interested in an OC job, the ever-growing number of out-of-work coaches and decreasing number of options—perhaps coupled with the damage his reputation has taken over phone-tapping allegations against his former employer—means that Haley now appears prepared to take whatever he can get, even if that means a position coach job.

    My Take

    I believe that, given the Cardinals and Haley's history and success, bringing back Haley in any capacity should be considered a win for the team. He gets on well with the management and much of the coaching staff. He knows a lot of the players and has a great understanding of running a successful passing game.

    I believe that these things combine to make Haley the front-runner for the job, but it's by no means a done deal yet. 

    Personally, I think that bringing back Haley as a QBs coach is the wrong move, though, and they should demote Mike Miller and make Haley the OC. While Miller did a good enough job in 2011, the Cardinals play-calling was not so spectacular as to automatically win him the job for 2012. Miller's growth was good, but pacing the sideline with a the guy you replaced working under you is a recipe for disaster. 

    I do not believe it will be long before Haley gets another shot as a head coach, so giving Miller a season or two being groomed by Haley to take over again would be a really good thing for both men, and the team.

    However, I understand the Cardinals hesitance to demote Miller, and it doesn't seem that this will happen.

    As a QB coach, Haley will undoubtedly bring a lot more to the table than just coaching QBs, so if the Cardinals get the benefit of his experience and egos can be put aside enough for Miller and Whisenhunt to accept his advice—which I think they will; the three seem to have a good relationship and a lot of respect for one-another—then it's wins all-around for the team.

Cardinals Keep Options Open, Also Interview Hue Jackson and Bruce Arians

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    Although Haley once more appears to be the front-runner for the only vacant coaching position in Glendale, The Cardinals are not willing to put all of their eggs in one basket and are interviewing others.

    The Reports

    Per CBS's Charlie Casserly, the Cardinals have lined up an interview with former Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson.

    And according to NFL Networks insider Jason La Canforna, the Cardinals are also interested in former Steelers OC Bruce Arians.

    The Consensus

    The reports, like so much in the NFL, are light on concrete facts, but the consensus amongst reporters seems to be that both men are fall-backs should talks with Haley break down again. The consensus is that either man would be a good fit, if something of a short-term solution. The lack of real information about the talks makes it hard to evaluate how seriously the Cardinals are considering either man, but it is apparent that the Cardinals still do not believe Haley is a sure thing yet.

    My Take 

    See my article "Hue Jackson to Interview for Arizona Cardinals' Vacant QB Coaching Position" for more in depth analysis. 

    The Cardinals are clearly keeping their options open, and if coaches like Bruce Arians and Hue Jackson are your fall-back plans, then you're in a good place.

    Both men are experienced, longtime NFL coaches who, importantly, have experience coaching the type of big, strong-armed QB's the Cardinals currently have under contract. 

    Arians helped Ben Roethlisberger establish himself as one of the most successful QBs in the league, and Jackson made the most out of Joe Flacco while QB coach in Baltimore.

    However, both have their drawbacks.

    Jackson is known as a journeyman coach and clearly views the Cardinals QB coach position as just a step back up the ladder to coordinating and head coaching. He is also somewhat of a loose cannon whose coaching style undoubtedly contributed to more than its fair share of the Oakland Raiders' numerous penalties in 2011. Discipline has been an issue for the Cardinals recently, and as they aim to solve that in 2012, Jackson may not be the ideal hire. 

    For Arians, though he has been successful and much more stable as a coach in the NFL, having remained with the Steelers since 2004, his age—he will be 60 next season—also mean that he is unlikely to remain with the Cardinals long-term. Arians has discussed retirement for several years now, which was reportedly part of the reason why the Steelers let him go, according to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

    Reports indicate that he is still leaning towards retirement, and should he choose to stay in the NFL, the Cardinals will go through all of this next season too.

    The Cardinals have struggled with QB consistency since the retirement of future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, and so, hiring a man likely to depart in a short order of time to coach QB's seems like a wrong choice. Of course, Haley too is not a lock to remain in Arizona forever, so it's hard to rule out either man on that basis alone.

    All in all, I think should the Haley talks fall through, Hue Jackson will follow shortly, and Arians will retire. 

Cardinals Could Still Lose Director of Player Personnel Steve Keim to Rams

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    The hiring of Jeff Fisher as Rams head coach seemed to indicate that Steve Keim would remain in the Cardinals front office for a while longer. Apparently, that assumption was incorrect.

    The Report

    This one has been kicking around for a while, mostly under the radar, but most recently, St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Jim Thomas confirmed that Keim is still set to interview with the Rams for their vacant general manager's position. 

    The Consensus

    The opinion was that when Jeff Fisher chose the Rams over the Dolphins, that friend and former Titans colleagues Lake Dawson or Ruston Webster would follow as GM. However, with promotions for both men, it appears that Webster and Dawson now appear set to stay in Tennessee, and the doors are open for any one of about a half-dozen men to win the role, including Keim.

    Steve Keim has risen quickly in Arizona and been considered a GM of the future for some time now. No one considers Keim to have the position locked up, and few even list him as front-runner, but his interview gives Keim the chance to shine and win the job in his own merit.

    My Take

    Losing Keim would be a real blow to the Cardinals. Keim is one of a few unsung heroes in the Cardinals front office and is widely considered one of the NFL's rising stars.

    Keim is a major part of the Cardinals organisation. He is credited for his role in building back-to-back division titles for the Cardinals, and his hand in evaluating and discovering college players like Larry Fitzgerald, Darnell Docket, Anquan Boldin, Antrel Rolle and Steve Breaston.

    As director of player personnel, he currently coordinates both the college and pro scouting efforts which brought such players as Daryl Washington, Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell, Sam Acho, Kerry Rhodes and Richard Marshall to the club.

    However, by far, the biggest blow to the Cardinals would be the inside knowledge he would bring to the Rams. Though league rules would prevent him from leaving the Cardinals until after the draft, he would still take to the Rams a wealth of information on those players the Cardinals have drafted, and those free agents which they are pursuing, as well as intimate knowledge of the team's plans and strategies for the 2012 season.

    To say losing Keim to the Rams is a double whammy is an understatement.

    The Rams do have several other people in mind for the position, so Keim's departure is not assured, but undoubtedly, the insider knowledge he brings will help an already strong case for his hiring.

    Cardinals GM Rod Graves is not going anywhere for the foreseeable future, so the Cardinals have to be prepared to lose Keim at some point—his ascent to GM is only a matter of time—but losing him to a divisional rival on the rise would really be a worst-case scenario for the Cardinals.

Arizona Cardinals Interest in Peyton Manning Is the Real Deal

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    Though he hasn't played a game all season, Peyton Manning was arguably the Colts MVP in 2011. However, with a new head coach and first-overall pick in Indianapolis, coupled with Manning's very large contract, it seems his time as a Colt could be over. As a result, he is likely to be the most hotly-debated free agent QB this offseason.

    The Report

    Manning has been casually linked to the Cardinals for a while through multiple, off-the-cuff comments by NFL analysts. Charlie Casserly started the rumor when he called the Cardinals one to watch if the Colts cut Manning. However, in recent days, ESPN Insider Adam Schefter added fuel to the fire, naming the Cardinals as one of four teams "expected to be interested in...Peyton Manning".

    The Consensus

    Manning has been linked to, and more importantly, will continue to be linked to, just about every NFL team in the league, bar your New England Patriots or Green Bay Packers.

    Any team with anything less than a top five-ranked QB will at least express some level of interest in Manning should he be released. However, Schefter is a respected figure not known for off-the-cuff remarks. The other teams named—the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Washington Redskins—already had credible links to Manning, and the Cardinals are known to have a big QB decision of their own to make this offseason, whether the Cardinals pursue Manning or not.

    There is more than a healthy level of skepticism about this, with people such as Cardinals star WR Larry Fitzgerald telling Fox 10 Sports 

    "I highly doubt Peyton Manning is going to leave Indianapolis. He's, if not the best quarterback to ever play, one of the guys. I just don't think Indianapolis would put him out for everything he's done for that city and organization. He's done a marvelous job to represent the NFL and has grown the league tremendously. I don't think he's going to leave Indy."

    Manning's future in Indy, however, continues to look bleak. Their new, defensively-minded head coach, Chuck Pagano, will focus on rebuilding the Colts tattered defense, and Manning has a huge contract which will prevent Pagano from doing that.

    The Colts are also in possession of the first-overall pick and are all but guaranteed to take Andrew Luck, billed by many as the most complete QB to enter the draft since Peyton Manning himself, and as the old saying goes, new head coach, new QB.

    Since it looks increasingly likely that Manning will be either trade bait or a free agent in 2012, anything linking him to the Cardinals has to be taken seriously.

    My Take

    For more in depth analysis and contrasting viewpoints, please read "Peyton Manning: Future Hall of Fame QB Would Be a Terrible Fit with Cardinals" and "Peyton Manning: Future Hall of Fame QB Would Be a Fantastic Fit with Cardinals". 

    Manning will not be in Indy in 2012. He wants to play, and that simply won't happen when you have a new head coach and Andrew Luck. I think Manning would be a perfect fit in Arizona.

    He is the same build, with similar arm strength to John Skelton, which means that the Cardinals could make one play book work for both players. He would also be a great mentor for the youngster, who has shown flashes this season, and would likely give Skelton the tools he needs to take over in a season or two.

    The injury concern is real, but the simple fact of the matter is, if anyone can find a way to make it work, Peyton Manning can. The Cardinals would need to be confident in his ability to play, because signing Manning means dropping Kolb. However, since Kolb has proven to be somewhat injury prone himself, it is a risk, I think, that the Cardinals would be willing to take.

    Others really disagree, and there is a real split amongst Cardinals fans about the player. But the Cardinals have not been successful since the retirement of Kurt Warner, and, though the tickets continue to sell, the stadium has clearly been somewhat more muted since his departure. If Manning can bring back even half of the shine that the team had in 2008 and 2009, then, my opinion is, it's worth it.

    Whether he joins or not depends on how serious the other teams named are about signing him. If a bidding war erupts, the Cardinals cannot afford to find themselves in the center of it.

    The Miami Dolphins are early front-runners for his services, as they believe that they have the least holes elsewhere to fill. The Cardinals are nearly a complete team, but do have issues elsewhere and substantial contract commitments, so the Dolphins could, conceivably out-manoeuvre all others. However, if and when Manning is released, expect the Cardinals to make a real, serious offer to him, 100 percent healthy or not.

Beanie Wells Undergoes Knee Surgery.

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    Arizona Cardinals running back, Chris "Beanie" Wells is coming off a career season. Wells has struggled with injuries throughout his career, but in 2012, Wells finally shed his image as a "soft" player, posting over 1,000 yards in spite of a lingering knee injury.

    The Report

    There was some debate following the Cardinals' 2011 campaign as to whether Wells would need surgery for the injury which had limited him all season. However, early on Jan. 24, Wells himself confirmed that he would be going into surgery on that very day. No further details were given at the time, but later, Darren Urban, the Arizona Cardinals official blogger, confirmed that Wells had undergone arthroscopic surgery.

    The Consensus

    This news will not be a particular surprise to anyone who has followed Wells this season. General opinion is that Wells recovery will be quick and should not affect his timetable for 2012.

    Wells was limited in practice for much of his 2011 season and still managed to post good numbers. He was held out of only couple of games by the injury, and although he was clearly somewhere below 100 percent in many games, teams still had their hands full with the rusher.

    Wells is expected to take part in full activities this preseason, as he hopes to continue cement himself atop a Cardinals vastly improved running back depth chart.

    My Take

    If Wells was only around 80 percent for much of last season, just imagine what he will be able to do when fully fit. Even when his knee appeared not to bother him, Wells spent a lot of time during the game on the stationary bike to keep his joints loose.

    Wells was never allowed to relax on the sideline, which meant always taking to the field a little more tired than those trying to stop you. Assuming that the surgery has soved this lingering injury, this is great news for the Cardinals, and their rushing game in 2012.

    However, although the surgery is relatively minor and the injury was not so severe as to significantly hinder Wells, I am nonetheless concerned by the deliberate vagueness of the reports.

    Arthroscopic surgery is a method of doing surgery—with a small incision and fibre-optic arthroscope—rather than a specific procedure. Neither Wells, the team or any "sources" have discussed the specific procedure or given any indication as to what exactly the injury is.

    The uses of arthroscopy can range from purely diagnostic—to get in and have a look—to minor work like cleaning up cartilage tears all the way up to repair of a torn meniscus, which can carry a four to six month recovery time, and ACL tears, which can take up to a year to fully recover.

    While logically, it is fairly safe to assume that Wells' injury is minor and will not bother him next season following the surgery—he managed to play through it all season, after all—I still worry that their could be something more.

    Players and teams are usually quick to trumpet about successful surgery and keen to play down the seriousness of any injury. This has not happened in Wells' case, which leaves a piece of me, however small, which has to fear that things are not so straightforward as they would seem on the face of it.

    If—and it's a real big if—Wells' surgery was purely diagnostic and further surgery is necessary, Wells could lose some practice time. Arthroscopic surgery takes at least 15 days to heal, which means that—if necessary—it is unlikely that any further procedures will take place during that time. Knee injuries can be difficult things to properly rehab, and if Wells recovery is anything less than straightforward, then it is fair to assume that John Lott and his team may have an uphill battle to get Wells game-fit in time for next season.

    With Ryan Williams coming back from a knee injury which sidelined him for his entire rookie season, Wells will have competition in the backfield this season, so we have to hope Wells does not push himself too hard and re-injure himself.

    This is, of course, wild speculation and guess work. Fans should not worry themselves too much, I have no information at all to suggest that Wells' surgery was anything less than routine or that his recovery will be anything other than straightforward.

    However, until we hear otherwise, prepare yourself at least for the possibility—though tiny—that Wells may play at least some of 2012 at less than 100 percent.