Mailbag: Potentially scary offseason

Matt from Phoenix writes: Without a collective bargaining agreement, the Arizona Cardinals can't trade for Kevin Kolb, sign Marc Bulger or improve their quarterback situation in any way. If there isn't a new CBA in place before the draft, can the Cardinals really pass on taking a quarterback in the first two rounds?

Mike Sando: It would be risky. The Cardinals are picking high enough, fifth overall, to draft one of the top quarterbacks. I think they would have to seriously consider taking one near the top of the draft. I see two really tough questions here:

  • Can Arizona bank on getting the right veteran while hoping John Skelton or Max Hall develops into a suitable long-term option?

  • If the Cardinals did not feel great about one of the quarterbacks available to them at No. 5, could they afford to commit their organization to him for three or four years?

There's no sense in forcing a quarterback choice early. Seattle didn't feel good enough about Mark Sanchez to draft him fourth overall in 2009, particularly with Matt Hasselbeck still under contract. Sanchez has enjoyed good team success and shown flashes of clutch play, but he has also benefited from a strong ground game and defense. The Jets have sometimes game-planned around him. He is not carrying that team the way we might envision a top-five quarterback carrying a team.

Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. is projecting Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert to Arizona in the first round. "His accuracy is far better than his statistics indicate," McShay explains for his Insider mock. "He has the arm strength to drive the ball vertically (which is what the Cardinals want in their starting quarterback) and he has the work ethic and football intelligence to quickly emerge as a solid starter."

This past season was tough for the Cardinals. The economy remains challenging in Arizona and the organization, despite recent successes and a beautiful stadium, cannot take fan support for granted. Phoenix has large numbers of transplants with allegiances to other teams and markets. It is not Green Bay.

The team could have blackouts this coming season. Another losing record would feed the perception that the team has slipped back into mediocrity after winning two division titles and going 4-2 during the postseason in coach Ken Whisenhunt's first two seasons.

Teams go through transitions, but if the Cardinals were to pass on a top quarterback in the draft this year and suffer a losing record, they could be even worse off heading into the 2012 season -- particularly with receiver Larry Fitzgerald able to become a free agent.

Craig from Tacoma writes: Mike, Have you thought about mentioning that the Cardinals' new defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, is a Tacoma native? I remember watching him play high school football and he was unbelievable. Just a little Tacoma pride. Thanks.

Mike Sando: No doubt. On a side note, Horton's older brother, Buddy, is an NFL field judge. To avoid a conflict of interest, real or imagined, the league makes sure the elder Horton doesn't serve as an official for games involving his brother. In the playoffs following the 2005 season, the league switched Buddy Horton from the Pittsburgh-Denver game to the Carolina-Seattle game.

"I'm very proud of what my brother has done, both as a player and a coach," Buddy Horton told the Tacoma News Tribune two years ago, "but I don't want anything to hurt the integrity of the game and the league by me and him being on the field at the same time."

Buddy Horton worked this past season on referee Mike Carey's crew. That could mean the Cardinals will not have Carey officiating their games in 2011.

Joe from Snoqualmie, Wash., writes: Hey Mike, maybe it is just me, but it seems that if you compare everything Aaron Curry does well (attack the line of scrimmage, take on blockers, stop the run, good speed and range) and the things he doesn't seem to do well (rush the passer off the edge, coverage) it sounds like we are describing a middle linebacker. What are your thoughts on a position change for Curry with Lofa Tatupu's production seemingly on the downside?

Mike Sando: Curry isn't nearly as instinctive, however. Tatupu's feel for the game and understanding of the defense make him suited for middle linebacker. Curry doesn't have the same feel or understanding. That makes it tough to envision Curry taking over for Tatupu in the defense.

Gopal from San Francisco writes: With new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh signalling a return to the West Coast Offense philosophy of the 80s, will the Niners be in the hunt for a fullback who can catch passes this offseason?

Mike Sando: Harbaugh's fullback at Stanford, Owen Marecic, was a bruiser known for breaking helmets. Marecic started all 13 games last season, but he caught only nine passes. He carried 23 times for 46 yards. Traditional blocking fullbacks can be hard to find. Getting one with strong skills as a receiver out of the backfield would be harder still.

I like your question. I'd like to ask Harbaugh about certain aspects of his offense, including the fullback's role. Thanks for raising the subject.