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Birdseed Blog: Observations as the Cardinals head into preseason finale

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) works against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half of an NFL football game, Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The Arizona Cardinals wrap up their preseason Thursday against the Denver Broncos and most of the presumed starters will warm up, but not play.

Third-string QB Blaine Gabbert will start the game and play midway through the first quarter while undrafted free agent quarterback Trevor Knight will play the remainder of the game.

According to head coach Bruce Arians, Arizona has about eight players that are vying for five roster spots.

Observations

Quick/Short passing game

According to Pro Football Focus, Carson Palmer was active last year in terms of getting rid of the ball quickly. He averaged 2.39 seconds to throw and threw 21 touchdowns on throws occurring in less than 2.5 seconds. Both marks ranked third out of 37 qualifying quarterbacks.

Matt Bowen of the National Football Post wrote in 2012 about the ‘Tare’ route option-flat combo. One of the popular formations under Bruce Arians includes the alignment of three wide receivers and one running back. The idea is to work the combination to the closed strong side with a clear out nine routes or target the backside X receiver on the slant/fade.

During OTAs and training camp, Arizona worked on quick-short passing to alleviate some of the hurries, pressures and knockdowns that lead to sacks and turnovers.

Palmer among NFL’s winningest

Since arriving in Arizona before the 2013 season, Carson Palmer has done a lot of things well. When it’s all said and done, there’s really only one stat that matters, though, and that’s winning percentage.

Palmer has excelled in that area, too.

QB’s w/ Best Win % (’13-present):

Tom Brady (47-13) .783%
Russell Wilson (45-18-1) .711%
Alex Smith (41-20) .672%
Carson Palmer (35-17-1) .669%
Aaron Rodgers (38-19) .667%

X-Factors

Going into the season, it’s safe to say the Cardinals favorites for winning team MVP honors would be David Johnson, Patrick Peterson and Carson Palmer.

Three players come to mind when considering who will be the Cardinals’ X-factors:

On offense, John Brown endured a year that included the diagnosis of sickle cell trait last season after putting up career numbers in 2015. He missed time in camp this summer with a quad injury. If the Cardinals are going to be successful, they need a healthy Brown to be the X-factor to allow them to take shots down the field. Otherwise, teams will stack the box with eight-man fronts to slow David Johnson down. Brown had two touchdown receptions in the fourth preseason game against the Falcons, but admitted he’s not 100 percent. It’s also a contract year for Brown, so he’s motivated.

On defense, Tyrann Mathieu was the MVP of training camp, and it carried over to preseason games. When Mathieu’s healthy, the defense plays with more passion with him on the field — he’s an impact player and a game changer. Just his presence on the field forces opposing offensive coordinators to game plan around him. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher moves Mathieu around while covering the slot, dropping back into coverage and blitzing off the edge.

On special teams, kicker Phil Dawson signed as a free agent in March following stints in Cleveland and San Francisco. He has become a leader in the locker room, he’s smart and will present a significant upgrade from what Chandler Catanzaro provided a year ago. He has had an outstanding camp and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s announced as one of the team captains entering the season. Dawson ranks 10th in NFL history and third among active players with 404 made field goals and career field goal percentage of 84.5 ranks first in league history among kickers with 400 or more makes.

Wide receivers

The Cardinals initially could keep seven wide receivers: Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson, Chad Williams, Brittan Golden and Aaron Dobson.

Jeremy Ross, who is still in the mix for a roster spot, leads the team with nine preseason catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. Dobson, however, has the size (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) and gives the Cardinals a deep threat on 50/50 balls.

The last time Arizona had seven wide receivers for Week 1 on the active roster was in 2009: Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston, Early Doucet, Larry Fitzgerald, Lance Long, Sean Morey and Jerheme Urban.

Cardinals’ Week 1 Wide Receivers By Season

2016: 5
2015: 6
2014: 5
2013: 4
2012: 5
2011: 6
2010: 6
2009: 7

Backup running backs

The running back final spot could come down to Chris Johnson or Andre Ellington, since they’ll keep three others including David Johnson, Kerwynn Williams and Elijhaa Penny. Johnson signed a one-year contract for $900K in base salary including $200K guaranteed. He fumbled twice and dropped a pass against the Falcons, plus hasn’t been able to stay healthy the last two years.

Ellington has the edge over Johnson. He agreed to one-year deal for $775K with $80K in guarantees in the offseason. Penny has earned a spot based on his work in the offseason and training camp.

Jarvis Jones on the bubble

OLB Jarvis Jones signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals, including a $1 million signing bonus, $1 million guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $2.25 million.

In 2017, Jones would earn a base salary of $1 million, a signing bonus of $1 million and a roster bonus of $234,375, while carrying a cap hit of $2,234,375 and a dead cap value of $1 million. The Cardinals could reach an injury settlement with Jones if he’s waived; the veteran has played only 10 defensive snaps in Arizona’s first four preseason games, and all of those came in the Hall of Fame Game against Dallas. Jones has been bothered by a disc issue in his back.

Undrafted free agents

Since 2013, the following players were undrafted free agents that have made the 53-man roster coming out of camp:

2016: Elie Bouka, Kameron Canaday and Lamar Louis
2015: Alani Fua, Xavier Williams
2014: Glenn Carson, Chandler Catanzaro
2013: Jaron Brown, Tony Jefferson

Only two of those players — Brown and Williams — remain with the team. It doesn’t appear the Cardinals will have any undrafted free agents make the team this year, which speaks volumes considering how they’ve improved the bottom of the roster.

Practice squad salaries

NFL Practice Squad minimum salary in 2017 = $7,200 per week in season.

There is no maximum salary for practice squad.

The minimum salary for 1st year players in 2017:

MLB: $535,000
NBA: $815,615 (2017/18)
NFL: $465,000
NHL: $575K (17/18)

Titans road trip

The Tennessee Titans are coming to the Valley to play the Cardinals on December 10. They’ll remain in the Phoenix area for the entire week, practicing at Arizona State University, before playing the 49ers the following Sunday.

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