I hope . . .

Everyone realizes how important right tackle Kelvin Beachum was to the offense this season.

With linebacker Zaven Collins out for Sunday’s game against the 49ers, there will be only two Cardinals players that will have started all 17 games: Beachum and safety Jalen Thompson.

Beachum has played 97.8 percent of the 1,153 offensive snaps this season and has played the last two games with knee and ankle injuries. When he suffered the injuries against the Broncos in the collision with Colt McCoy that resulted in a concussion for the quarterback, Beachum came back after missing 16 snaps.

When he spoke this past week after being named the winner of the PFWA (Professional Football Writers of America) Steve Schoenfeld Good Guy Award for his professionalism with the media, Beachum was asked about continuing his career. He will be 34 in June and an unrestricted free agent in March.

“I would love to keep playing,” Beachum said. “My body feels good. I don’t know if my kids want me to keep playing.”

But will his knee and ankle cooperate? He said, “Ask me that in two months. But right now, I’m drugged up enough where …  I’m just being honest, man. Toradol has helped me quite a bit this year. You play this game long enough and that’s just what it is.”

He also referenced the first four seasons of his career when he played for the Steelers. Beachum said, “(Coach) Mike Tomlin used to say this all the time: the best ability is availability. I take pride in being available. I take pride in being there for my team. I take pride in my name and what my name stands for.

“My dad still every morning is up at the shop working on cars. My grandfather is 95, still up every morning working on cars. They take pride in their work and at the end of the day if they can take pride in their work, I can take pride in my work. This is a kid’s game that I get to play for a living.”

Coach Kliff Kingsbury said,I call him a CEO because he’s made so much money off the field. He’s got all these business interests and all these different things. He doesn’t have to be playing, particularly in this situation. (He) had a sprained MCL, a sprained ankle and continues to play and wants to finish what he started. (That) says all you need to know about him, and I couldn’t be more impressed with all the changes and all the things going on, just the way he’s battled and helped lead that offense.”

As for his value to the team along with players like McCoy, Kingsbury concluded, “It’s invaluable to have guys like that around for those young players. In this scenario, being at a point in the season where the games don’t matter as far as standings and things of that nature, to have guys still playing at a high level, still showing up at 5 am to get their bodies right and be a professional, that sets the tone for your entire organization.”

I wonder . . .

Why some “fans” feel compelled to use social media as their way of taking personal shots at NFL players that put their bodies on the line from the very first day they decide to play the sport.

The sad ugliness was there to see Saturday when it was reported that Cardinals center Rodney Hudson had agreed to cut his base salary in 2023 from $8.25 million to $2.05 million.

Some in the Twitter police accused Hudson of “stealing” from the Cardinals, or “quitting” on the team. Some said he never wanted to play for the team and “mailed it in” the last two seasons.

Of course, many things are said with no evidence, but, hey, go ahead and spew anger.

Last season, the accolades for Hudson were non-stop from coaches and players, especially those on the offensive line. Unfortunately, he had been fighting through knee issues in the seasons before the Raiders traded him, but the Cardinals were desperate for better play at the position.

And they got it for 12 games in 2021 when the record was 9-3. He missed three games with injuries to his ribs and two because of COVID-19 and the team was 2-3 in those games. He came back as quick as possible from the ribs issue and for a few weeks it was painful to even bend over and snap the ball. But the critics don’t want to hear about that.

Last offseason, he considered retirement, which he had pondered while still with the Raiders, but decided to come back and try to fight through the problem knee to help the team. Naturally, the popular notion is that he came back for the paycheck. He rarely practiced in training camp and then the Cardinals were 2-2 in the first four games with him playing. Hudson was noticeably limping on the sideline in the Week 4 win over Carolina, but still played every snap.

He won’t play Sunday against the 49ers and the game against the Panthers was his last this season. Add it up and the Cardinals are 11-5 with him and 4-13 without him the last two seasons.

As for the contract adjustment, that will enable his probable retirement to not become official until after June 1 when $1.76 million of his remaining signing bonus proration will count against the 2023 cap and the remaining $3.52 million in 2024. His salary remains on the cap books until after June 1, so the salary reduction will save $6.2 million when the league year begins in March.

When Kingsbury was asked Friday about the impact of not having Hudson for 13 games this season, he said,It was tough. He was a great leader for us, a great player even last year. When he got hurt, our production dropped off significantly on offense. He gave everything he had. He worked as hard as he could to get back. Pushed through a lot of pain early, but unfortunately he couldn’t recover to the extent where we felt comfortable getting him out there.”

But outsiders think they know more and almost gleefully attack people they have no clue about.

If there is any criticism, it should be aimed at the organization for not being better prepared for Hudson’s possible unavailability. They had center Billy Price in for a visit in May, but wouldn’t offer any guaranteed money on a 1-year deal.

Sean Harlow started the first two games Hudson missed, but with Hudson out, they signed Price off the Raiders’ practice squad on Oct. 4 and he became the starter 16 days later against the Saints.

He will play his third game Sunday with a bad knee and becomes an unrestricted free agent in March.

“He’s gotten better each week,” Kingsbury said. “That’s all we could ask. That’s a tough task to come in and try to master our system, particularly when we have a bunch of quarterbacks rotating as well. There’s not been a lot of just constant at all on offense and he’s done a nice job of pointing things (and) giving us a chance in the games.”

Surely, the center spot will be a focus in the offseason, but Price would be a good depth piece to have around.

And after Hudson retires, the Twitter crowd will look to find someone else to pick on.

I know . . .

David Blough will start Sunday against the 49ers, but admittedly have no idea what the quarterback room will look like in the offseason.

McCoy is under contract for one more year with a reasonable salary of $3.75 million, of which $2.25 million is guaranteed. Blough and Trace McSorley are both scheduled to be unrestricted free agents.

No one can safety predict when Kyler Murray will be ready to play totally healthy and able to utilize his legs.

Of course, we don’t know who will be making all the important roster decisions that have to be made. If Kliff Kingsbury returns as coach, it’s possible all three of those behind Murray will be back or at least two. If he doesn’t, all bets are off the board.

Kingsbury said Blough will start this week because “last week he didn’t get the full process. He just really practiced Friday, so I want to see what he can do (with) the full process and see kind of how he plays against a really good defense.

“Anytime you’re in his position and you get a chance to go in real games and show what you can do, it’s huge. Particularly against the best team in the NFC and the best defense in the league. It’s going to be a great challenge, but I’m excited for him to see how he handles that. It’s a tall task, that’s for sure.”

Asked about Blough’s apparent calm presence, Kingsbury said, “I think that’s his nature. The first day he was in the meeting room, he just had that type of demeanor and on the practice field he doesn’t get rattled if he makes a mistake or makes a bad throw. It’s been fun to be around him.”

Meanwhile, Murray underwent surgery Tuesday (Jan. 3) and Kingsbury believes there could be some positives coming out of it.

He said, “He’s never been through this obviously, but he’s excited. I think it can be kind of a reset for him. We know we had our struggles this year offensively and we feel like we can play at a much higher level. I think he understands that he can build himself back better and attack this thing. I think that’s how he’s viewing it. It’s kind of a reset and where he takes it now, it’s kind of what’s going to define his career.”

Asked about Murray’s alleged regression, Kingsbury said, “I just think as a team, with all the injuries and all the different things going on, there was just a lot going against us and the progress we were trying to make. Unfortunately, that comes with it when you are the starting quarterback (and you’re) going to get the blame and when you win you get the credit. He understands that.”

Frankly, I’ve never understood that lazy narrative often said. Why should it be that way? Include the quarterback in the discussion and evaluation, sure, but to ignore everything that happens around him when there are 10 other players on the field, win or lose? That’s simply negligent.

I hope . . .

That the perspective millions of people have exhibited since Monday night will continue.

Of course, even in the aftermath of the cardiac arrest experienced by Bills safety Damar Hamlin during the team’s game against the Bengals, not surprisingly there have been social media comments villainizing Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins, who was tackled by Hamlin, or some blaming the COVID-19 vaccine for what happened.

Cardinals linebacker Isaiah Simmons, a teammate of Higgins at Clemson, and Hamlin’s family reached out and told Higgins he shoulders no blame.

Meanwhile, Hamlin’s toy drive has now raised over $8 million and the NFL is demonstrating its support by having a pregame message this weekend for Hamlin as well as for the first responders and medical professionals that helped save his life.

All stadiums can outline Hamlin’s No. 3 on each 30-yard line in either Bills red or blue; during warmups, all players throughout the league will have the option to wear black T-shirts displaying “Love for Damar 3;” during warmups in Buffalo, Bills players will wear a similar shirt but in the team’s royal blue and hats embroidered with a 3 on them will be provided to Bills football personnel to wear during warmups; and No. 3 jersey patches will be worn by the Bills in Sunday’s game against the Patriots.

Asked Wednesday about the mood of the Cardinals, Kingsbury said, “Anytime you see that, it’s a fraternity for those guys. It’s just more concern for Damar, his family, and his well-being. There are guys on our team that have been with the Bills and know him or played with him in college, so you hear different stories about the type of person and (the) phenomenal human being (he is).”

Said Beachum, “I think about my safety and my future quite a bit in playing the game. When things happened with J.J. earlier in the year, that makes you think about your future. I’m around that age. J.J. retires and I’m literally walking in the weight room and I’m like, ‘I just don’t got it today. I’m just sick to my stomach and I just don’t want to be here today.’ Those thoughts and those emotions rise up from time to time.”

He added, “You’re tasked with playing the game week in and week out. And you sense something and you see something and you feel something like that, that happens on Monday night and your heart goes out for the family. Your heart goes out for Damar. And you just don’t know how to cope with it. We talk about it amongst each other, praying for them, and we’re trying to find a way to play football in spite of it.

“But there is really nothing that can be done, nothing that can be said. Nothing that can help change what you saw and what you felt when you saw it.”

Watt, who had his heart shocked back into rhythm a few days before the Week 4 game in Carolina, said,It was one of the most chilling, heartbreaking and terrifying things I’ve ever witnessed. As a player, you’re watching that game; you’re excited for an unbelievable game. It’s going to be two of the best teams in the AFC going at it, with a lot on the line and that happens and immediately life gets put into perspective at an incredible rate of speed. And nothing else matters at that moment besides his health. I mean, nothing. Like cancel the game. Cancel the week; whatever you have to do until we know that he’s healthy. We didn’t want anything else because that’s the only thing that mattered.

“It immediately puts your whole life into perspective. It puts everything into perspective. For me … we always take the field; we think about all the stuff that could happen. Never once does that cross your mind. As much as we may say it does, as much as we like to act like warriors and give pregame speeches; (we’re) big tough guys, we never once take the field and expect something like that to happen. To hear that he’s FaceTimed with his team, to hear that he’s speaking, that he’s doing well, it truly is a massive … we’re happy and thankful and (there’s) also just relief because you never, ever want to see that happen.”

While Watt acknowledged last week that the heart incident contributed to his path to retirement, when asked whether he thought about it afterward, he said, “It was a really, really tough week. And it was really an emotional week. And for that game, it was really tough and emotional. After that, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do what I needed to do if it weighed on me any longer. I stopped thinking about it and thankfully it’s been good ever since. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it after Monday night for sure.”

I wonder . . .

If 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was actually surprised with what was in a question he was asked this week about left tackle Trent Williams and defensive end Nick Bosa.

A reporter wondered if he had ever seen those two players together at Williams’ locker after a game breaking down what happened.

Shanahan said, “No, I haven’t. They do it right after?”

Told it was true, the coach was then asked how important it is to have them be the brain trust for the team.

“It’s huge,” he said. “One, they’re two of the most talented guys, two of the best players, but it doesn’t surprise me at all that they do that. They’re both very similar in how they carry themselves, how they look at the game. They’re both extremely smart. They see the game very well. They really study their opponent and themselves very well. Trent is a technician and he knows every rusher in this league and he knows the tackles and how people do it. If I want to ask more about rushers around this league and we haven’t played against him, I usually ask Nick, because he watches a lot of rushers too for moves.

“He watches tackles, how they place their hands and everything, so you have these two guys who look at it so closely to how it pertains to them. And for those two who go back and forth to me, they’re both top of their profession and they both go against each other all the time, so it doesn’t surprise me at all. They’re great guys, great players and extremely smart and that’s what makes them two of the best guys in our league.”

Bosa missed one game this season and currently leads the NFL with 17.5 sacks and will likely be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

I know . . .

It will be an emotional Sunday when Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt plays the final game of his likely Hall-of-Fame career against the 49ers in Levi’s Stadium. The way it worked out after last week’s game in Atlanta in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, his last two games were in the only stadiums he’d never played.

Watt spoke to the media after practice Friday for nearly 19 minutes and will talk for the final time following Sunday’s game.

He said,Walking out to the last practice today was definitely one where you don’t really think about it at all until you’re walking out there. And you’re like, not going to walk out this door with this helmet in my hand ever again. The game will be emotional, and then I don’t really think it’ll be that bad until like, the first game of next season. That’s when it’ll really hit. Definitely won’t be training camp, I can tell you that.”

He said he told his teammates after practice, “Everybody’s day comes at some point. Nobody gets to play it forever. So it’s just my day.”

Watt’s words to younger teammates have been huge over the last two seasons, and they have been featured several times on Hard Knocks. That final episode will air Wednesday night and will surely be Watt-centric.

Addressing how he handled being a mentor to players, Watt revealed, “There’s a part of my career where you’re trying to figure out that role where you’re not quite an old guy where you have that wisdom and knowledge, but you do have some knowledge that you can help the young guys with and you have to walk that fine line of trying to help guys but not trying to seem condescending and acting like they don’t know what they’re talking about.

“But these last couple years I’ve been able to really transition into that role where I’m very comfortable with myself, I’m comfortable with what I’m doing and I know that there’s knowledge that I can pass on to these young guys. The way that they soak it up, the way that they seek it out, the way that they’re eager to learn, it’s fun. I mean, talking to Myjai (Sanders) and Zaven (Collins) and Cam (Thomas) and Zach (Allen) and all these guys, and just listening to their questions and giving them insights, it really is a blast and I love it. And I love knowing that some of my experiences and some of the mistakes that I made can be passed on so that they don’t have to make those mistakes and so that they can improve their game that much faster.”

Asked about his two seasons with Watt, Kingsbury said, “It’s been special. To watch the effort not only on game days that everybody sees, but the body maintenance, the film study, the leadership throughout the season; you couldn’t tell what our record was. And that’s how he approached it, that’s how he worked. To see a guy like that who accomplished so much, it’s just special to be around.”

Watt also admitted it’s been a unique feeling this week because the team is mired at the bottom of the NFL, tied for the third-fewest wins with Denver at four.

Asked how difficult the season has been, thanks to a myriad of injuries and off-field issues, he said, “It’s been tough. A whole lot of adversity. And a whole lot of different ways and shapes and forms. It certainly did not go how any of us expected or hoped it would. I don’t even know how to characterize it because on one hand I’m proud of my career and I’m proud of everything that I’ve accomplished, but I’m also not proud of how we performed as a team or how we have moved not toward our goals in the way that we should. It is frustrating and that’s part of the reason I’m trying to impart as much knowledge and pass on as much wisdom as I can to these young guys so that hopefully they can turn around and get it right and get it figured out.

“Because it’s not fun when you’re 4-12; it’s a simple fact. And if I’m being 100 percent honest, it’s probably part of the reason why I’m not as sentimental this week a little bit because it’s different. We’re not where we wanna be and it’s frustrating and I really hope that they get to where they want to be because I know what it’s like to have fun in this league and to win and to be playing and have a frenzy around a great team. It’s a blast and I want that for every single player in that locker room.”

Watt beat himself up after last Sunday’s loss to Atlanta after being in the wrong gap on a crucial 22-yard run by Cordarrelle Patterson on the Falcons’ game-winning drive and then got over-aggressive trying to make up for it and was flagged for being in the neutral zone.

Truthfully, there have been many plays like that this season that led to losses in close games. In a league that plays 17 games and has a large percentage decided by one-score, there often isn’t a lot of difference between teams that have won four games and those that have won eight.

Do outsiders realize those details are what separate winners from losers?

Watt said, “I don’t think, and it’s no fault of their own, but I don’t think anybody who … no offense, but even you guys; I don’t think anybody who hasn’t been in that locker room and been in that game and been on that field and been in those situations, understands what it truly takes and what goes down on a play-to-play, a game-to-game basis and how many things have to add up for the perfect play to happen and how one tiny little step or one tiny hand placement can change the landscape of an entire game and of an entire season and the mental stress and anguish that comes with that.”

His eyes then lit up when he said, “But also on the flip side of that, you guys don’t get to understand the euphoria that comes when it all goes right and the beauty of when everything goes right. And you are a part of something great and you’re a part of something that is magical and special. So that’s part of what the highs and lows of this game are. When it all works out, it’s unbelievable. But when it all goes to shit, it really goes to shit. A couple years back I wrote an article in which I said I would way rather experience the highs and lows than live a life in the middle. That’s what this game has given me. It’s given me highs, it’s given me lows, but I’ll take it every single day.”

And now he will take it and ride off into the sunset, celebrate his 34th birthday in March and, as former Steelers coach Chuck Noll would say, it’s time to move on to your life’s work. Whatever that may be.

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com


Howard Balzer is in his 47th year covering professional football as a writer, editor and broadcaster and has covered 41 Super Bowls. His connection with pro football began in 1976 with College and Pro Football Newsweekly, and since then he has been a featured columnist for The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly, USA Today Sports Weekly and The Sports Xchange. Balzer moved to St. Louis in 1978 to work for The Sporting News, where he became Pro Football Editor in 1979. He was an analyst on ESPN's initial broadcast of the NFL Draft in 1980 and continued in that role through 1988. He has won seven writing awards in the Professional Football Writers of America competition, won an Emmy for commentaries on KPLR-TV in St. Louis in 1986 and was nominated for an Emmy in 1988 and 1990. He was named the 2016 winner of the Bob Broeg Media Award presented by the St. Louis/Tom Lombardo Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. The award is for enthusiasm, integrity, professionalism and devotion to the game of football and is reserved for individuals whose contributions to football in the St. Louis area have made a significant difference. Balzer was an officer (secretary and secretary/treasurer) for the Professional Football Writers of America for 33 years and was inducted into the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. Balzer relocated to the Phoenix area in 2020 as the publisher of the FanNation AllCardinals site and is now the Cardinals reporter for PHNX. He is entering his 19th year as one of 49 voting members on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is also on the Hall's Seniors Committee. He is the co-host of the weekly Pro Football Hall of Fame radio show on SiriusXM NFL Radio and is a part-time host at ArizonaSports 98.7 FM.