Mailbag: Reassessing the Cardinals

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jason from Greeley, Colo., writes: So, I was going to write you about why the Cards fell out of the top 10 in the power rankings, but after watching them play against the Eagles, I think they will be lucky to be in the top 15. I am now wary of their playoff chances. They only have 2-3 quality wins and cannot seem to block anyone, either in the passing game or the running game.

Now I can still see them pulling off 10-6, maybe. But do you still think they can pull off a first round victory against either the 2nd place team in the South or East? Tonight's game brought this Cardinals fan back to reality. The Cards are very improved and the culture is changing, but there is still a long ways to go and they will not contend come the playoffs.

Mike Sando: I still think the Cardinals are good enough to win a playoff game at home, but their recent struggles have shined a spotlight on weaknesses that could derail them, even at home.

As Trent Dilfer suggested recently, defenses will be better prepared for the Cardinals' offense in the playoffs. The Giants and Eagles were able to do that sooner than Dilfer expected. It's now time for the Cardinals to adjust. They didn't have time to make meaningful changes in preparation for the Eagles. Now they get nine days between games to regroup. They also get a home game against the Rams in Week 14. That will help.

I do think 10 victories should remain feasible given that three of the final four games are at home, and two are against NFC West opponents.

Jon from Orem, Utah, writes: Mike, What are you hearing about the Cards plans for Leinart? I am a Seahawks fan, but I still take a great interest in the rest of the division. Is there any chance they will release him after this year, or that he will demand a trade?

I was always assuming that Kurt Warner wouldn't keep it up for a whole season and Leinart would be back in there before the year was over, but at this point it looks as if the Cards may be looking to keep Warner around as a starter for another 2-3 years.

Am I off in left field in my assessment of Arizona's plans, and is Leinart still the Cards QB of the not too distant future?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals can carry Leinart's contract comfortably in 2009. I would expect them to keep him as long as feasible while giving Warner every chance to continue playing at a high level. Leinart is the future at the position in Arizona unless the team finds a more favorable option.

PiersMorgan4949 from the Bay Area writes: Hey Mike: Well with with the 49ers season about to come to an end and possibly going either 3 or 4 wins, questions, who do you target in the draft? I feel needs are #1WR, Dline, QB, 1/2 CBs.
Who will be around as 49ers QB? Will Alex Smith take pay cut? Will JTO be mercifully shipped out? Will the 49ers cut players like Sopoaga/Franklin/Walt Harris/Mark Roman?

Finally, who do you see as coach? Now, Bill Cowher is OFF the list for he may go to the Browns. Keep Singletary and get names like Reid/Crennel/Holmgren? If the 49ers did make the right changes, do you think the voters in Santa Clara will pass the stadium ballot? Now, I just heard it may go up in 2010, not 2009. Please answer my detailed questions, thank you and go 49ers.

Mike Sando: It's tough finding a No. 1 receiver in the draft because the top prospects are often underclassmen who simply aren't ready for the pro game. I would avoid drafting a receiver that early. The offensive line is where I would start with the 49ers. I would draft the best tackle available and then decide whether to leave Joe Staley on the left side.

Even general manager Scot McCloughan would have a hard time answering your other questions because so much will hinge on what happens to the coaching staff. The next head coach will have much to say about how certain veteran players fit into the schemes.

Mike Holmgren will not coach in 2009, most likely, so I would forget about that option. As for the stadium situation, I would never count on California voters to provide funding. If it happens, great for the 49ers. But I'll believe it when I see it.

J from parts unknown writes: Quick question Mike, Was Alexander designated a post June 1st cut (2.3 in 2008 and 4.6 in 2009)? Or did the Hawks take the entire amount on for the 2008 cap? It is also my understanding that both Wistrom and Ashworth will be off the books after 2008. Am I correct on that? Any cap info would be much appreciated. Thanks.
Mike Sando: The Seahawks terminated Alexander's contract without a June 1 designation. That means they took the full salary-cap hit this season. The Seahawks released Ashworth in February 2008. They released Wistrom in March 2007 and included a June 1 designation on his release. The contracts of Ashworth and Wistrom will indeed come off the books after this season.

Puggrandpa from North Carolina writes: I have been a big fan of Warner. With the numbers he has been posting throughout his career, could he make the Hall of Fame when his career is over?
Mike Sando: Yes. I think he needs to enhance his legacy in Arizona this season and possibly next season to strengthen his case. Leading the Cardinals to a division title and postseason success would help. Without those things, I think Warner has a harder time winning enshrinement.

Doug from Groto, Conn., writes: Hey Mike, After this latest nationally televised shellacking, any chance (even 1 in a hopeful million) of Holmgren stepping down early? Watching it with my many Cowboy fan family members was rough. It is so frustrating that his offense is so predictable. I feel like if someone said "fake field goal" he would pull a McNabb on the concept.
He is really not going to prove anything and is holding back any possibility of improvement. I would be happy with 1/2 of the 2 win coach change bump that the the equally lowly Rams got. Thanks Doug

Mike Sando: Expect Holmgren to remain the head coach for the remainder of the season. Quitting would not be his style at all. Calling fake field goals and other trick plays is not his style, either, as you know.

I see Holmgren as an asset to the team. However, having a coach in waiting during a losing season with a GM and future head coach ready to move forward is not a good one.

Tim from parts unknown writes: Hi Mike, What is going on with my Seattle Seahawks this year? Why are we so horrible? I know we have injuries, but come on!!!
Mike Sando: This team has not handled adversity very well. It's a bad sign when the head coach openly admits that his team is "overmatched" from an overall talent standpoint and "undersized" in key positions on defense. I'm all for honesty, but the Seahawks seem to be conceding defeat in advance.

Michael from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., writes: Who do you think will be the most competitive team next year to the Cardnials for the division title?
Mike Sando: The team with the best quarterback situation, most likely. Seattle is
still that team if Matt Hasselbeck can overcome the injuries that brought him down this season.

Brian from parts unknown writes: Re Haslett's fine, I forgot one thing. The ref was about as fired up as Haslett and even seemed to make some gestures like "come on out and let's fight." That struck me as very unusual.
Mike Sando: The NFL needs to do everything possible to prevent that sort of thing from happening. Some baseball umpires have crossed that line over the years.

Chris from Denver writes: Mike, Great job this year. I was wondering is ESPN going to keep all of the NFL blogs going throughout the offseason? Hope so.
Mike Sando: Yes, the blogs are year-round. This is what we do and I expect us to improve over time. Glad you're enjoying them so far.

Matt from Ottawa, Ontario, writes: With the Arizona Cardinals winning the NFC West by default and possibly finishing with an 8-8 record, do you think it is fair that division winners should be rewarded just for winning their division and thereby knocking (cheating) a 9-7 or even a 10-6 out of a playoff spot?
Mike Sando: Yes, I think the NFL needs to make the divisions meaningful. Otherwise, why have them? The wild-card allotment allows non-division winners to earn playoff spots. I could see making some sort of allowance for a worst-case scenario. Say, if an 8-8 or 7-9 division winner was going to earn a playoff spot at the expense of an 11-5 or 12-4 team, then possibly something should be done.

Harold from Columbia, Mo., writes: Sando on Cardinals fans, "I've encountered among some fans a deep-seated mistrust lined with cynicism and hardened by years of broken promises. It's toxic."
I don't think I'm ready for therapy yet - but in reality - you are right - you have to enjoy the moment! Also - is there a better atmosphere than University of Phoenix Stadium - The Great Lawn is a nice layout - the stadium is great - fans fairly boisterous. I can't say that going to the Rams/Cards games over the past few years. The experience in St. Louis is lacking - even in the glory days. H-

Mike Sando: I do like the setup at University of Phoenix Stadium. Great weather, festive atmosphere, access to grassy areas for slinging around a football, plenty of room, outstanding stadium, etc. The atmosphere will only improve as the team improves. Seattle's stadium is still my favorite in the division from a pure stadium standpoint, without regard for those other things that make Arizona stand out.

Mark from Fresno, Calif., writes: Everyone is talking about Matt Cassel but shouldn't the Niners be targeting some bigger name. I would rather spend free agent money on a Haynesworth. Tennessee hasn't worked out a long term deal yet and that is encouraging since it's getting pretty late into the season. He's perfect for the 3-4 and even if we switch to a 4-3 because of coaching changes. It's Albert Haynesworth! Is there any other free agent priority that San Francisco should have over him? It doesn't matter who their coach is.
Mike Sando: The Titans have been able to get All-Pro production from Haynesworth by keeping him in a contract-year situation. Would Haynesworth produce at that level if given a long-term deal? We do not know the answer to that question. The Titans haven't been willing to take that risk. Should the 49ers? Something to consider.

Brad from San Carolos, Calif., writes: The percentage of what's wrong with the Niners are ___% players ___% coaching.
Mike Sando: The 49ers need to hire coaches whose schemes fit what the players can do. Once the 49ers do that, we can find out more about their talent.

Gil from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: What do you think will happen to Leinart in the long run?
Mike Sando: I think he'll start for the Cardinals at some point in the next two seasons, unless Warner can defy the odds.