Arizona’s coaching staff led by Bruce Arians was one of the best in the league last year and the Cardinals recognized this, rewarding Arians with an extension through 2018. Unfortunately for Arizona, other teams also took notice as defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was poached away by the New York Jets for their head coaching position. He will be replaced by outside linebacker coach James Bettcher. In addition, they announced Larry Foote as the linebacker coach.
Todd Bowles will be a major loss as he was considered to be one of the best defensive coordinators in the league. The decision of hiring James Bettcher from within was a smart move in providing continuity for a talented defense returning most of their players. Larry Foote has been a steady linebacker in the league the past 13 years, and was a starter on Arizona last year. He will be a great mentor for the younger linebackers on the roster.
Players In and Out
On offense the Cardinals did not lose out on very much this offseason. The team opted in free agency to not resign RB Jonathan Dwyer, QB Ryan Lindley, OG Paul Fanaika and TE Rob Housler. Lindley and Dwyer should not be relied on by any NFL team. Fanaika is a below average starting guard option and Housler while an intriguing prospect in Cleveland, was never used properly in Arizona. Lastly they released WR/KR Ted Ginn Jr saving 2.5 million and center Lyle Sendlein saving 3 million. Ginn Jr is nothing more than a one trick pony deep threat and Sendlein is best used as a backup center. None of these players will be significant losses.
While they did not lose out on much, they did well to add some depth and improve. The headline signing for them was inking a five year 40 million dollar deal with offensive guard Mike Iupati. The 28 year old three time pro bowler is in the prime of his career. While he is a dominant run blocker, he is an average pass blocker and many teams did not feel he was worth that much coin. However, the Cardinals have been searching for a guard for a long time now and they have finally found their mauler inside.
Graphic via zimbio
Besides Iupati, they also brought in backup QB Chandler Harnish, TE Ifeanyi Momah and center AQ Shipley. Chandler Harnish has bounced around NFL teams and will be no better than their third string QB. Momah, a former WR is a mountain of a man at 6’7, , but has not latched onto an NFL active roster yet and should not be bet upon to make the team. Shipley has played at a decent level when called upon, but this is his first shot to enter camp as a starter since his Rimington days at Penn State in 2008.
Unlike on offense, the Cardinals did lose quite a few key players as well as depth on defense. Up front at nose tackle they lost via free agency big run stuffer Dan Williams, who received a lucrative offer to take his talents to Oakland. Next to him on the line, they lost long time DE/DT Darnell Dockett. He has been around playing at a high level all the way back to the Cardinals super bowl run with Kurt Warner. At the age of 34 and coming off a torn ACL he was no longer worth the 6.5 million dollars he was owed and was not willing to renegotiate, so was cut. At linebacker they lose veteran inside backer Larry Foote and outside linebacker Sam Acho. Acho once looked promising tallying 11 sacks in his first two seasons, but since has only managed two in the past two years. Lastly, cornerback Antonio Cromartie followed Todd Bowles back to NY where he will play across from Darrelle Revis. There will be a slight drop off but he will be replaced by Jerraud Powers.
Following the losses of Dockett and Williams, Arizona bolstered their line by adding Corey Peters and Corey Redding. Peters was given 10.5 million over the next three years, he previously played in Atlanta as a penetrating defensive tackle. In Arizona he is expected to kick outside to defensive end across from Calais Campbell. Redding has played all over the defensive line in his long NFL career and will provide excellent depth and leadership.
Behind the defensive line, at linebacker Arizona agreed to deals with outside linebacker Lamarr Woodley and inside linebackers Darryl Sharpton and Sean Weatherspoon. Lamarr Woodley once an elite pass rusher, is now worn down at the age of 30 and coming off a torn bicep. They should not depend on him but anything they get out of him is a bonus. The 27 year old Sharpton has spent his entire career with the Texans and is a solid backup linebacker. Weatherspoon has the most upside of the bunch, he has flashed talent to be one of the better linebackers in the league. The talent has been wasted thus far, as he has been plagued by injuries, only completing one out of four NFL seasons.
Lastly in the secondary, Arizona claimed CB Alfonzo Dennard off of waivers from the New England Patriots. He was previously a starter early in his career and at the age of 25 he still has a lot of upside and should contribute on passing downs.
Graphic via usatodayhss
In the first round the Cardinals used the 24th overall pick on Florida offensive tackle DJ Humphries. Many criticized this pick as a reach, but Humphries is an excellent athlete who has everything you want in a prototypical left tackle. He lacks power in the run game at this point, but it would be no shock to see him as a day one starter.
In the second round they selected Missouri DE/OLB Markus Golden. He was quite the college player, but does not have ideal athleticism or size to dominate in the NFL. He will play as an outside linebacker in Arizona’s 3-4 scheme. They will have to hope that either he or Woodley pan out for them this season.
With their third round pick Arizona selected RB David Johnson out of Iowa. Johnson is an excellent pass catcher who will take pressure off of Andre Ellington. He should start off spelling him and if he shows well can earn even more snaps.
In the fourth round the Cardinals traded up giving multiple picks for Delaware State DT Rodney Gunter. He is an excellent athlete that best projects as an interior 4-3 pass rusher. In Arizona he will probably be shifted outside to defensive end where he will compete for rotational snaps.
With their two fifth round selections Arizona selected West Virginia DE Shaq Riddick and UAB WR JJ Nelson. Riddick will most likely move to outside linebacker as a pass rushing specialist. Nelson is an elite athlete with 4.28 speed who can fill the void left by Ginn Jr as a kick returner and deep threat.
With the final pick in the 7th round they selected Tight end Gerald Christian out of Louisville. He is undersized at 6’3 and only has 4.87 speed. On his side he has good hands and is a willing blocker. Christian does not have much upside and best case scenario could be a backup tight end.
The Cardinals are a team loaded with young talent, with this blessing is the curse of young talent left out. Three talented players fighting for a job this preseason are Jonathan Cooper, Tony Jefferson and Bobby Massie.
In 2013 the Cardinals used a top ten pick on offensive guard Jonathan Cooper. Spending this high of a pick on a guard is very rare, because of this he was expected to be one of the best guards in the league going into his third season. Things could not be more different, a bad leg break as a rookie caused him to miss all of 2013 and he could not win a starting job in 2014. He is in a battle with Ted Larsen for the starting guard job and needs to have a strong preseason to upstart his career.
At 23 years old Tony Jefferson has showed a lot of talent going into his third year. Last season he played in 8 games as a starter and did very well. However, last year’s first round pick Deone Bucannon will give him a run for his money. While he is a young and proven he can be a good starter, he could simply just be phased out in a numbers game. Jefferson will be hoping to have a big preseason to prevent this.
Lastly, fourth year player Bobby Massie started every game as a rookie and every game his third season last year. He has played well enough and is seen around the league as a respectable starter. Fighting him for his starting spot is this years first round pick DJ Humphries. Massie will need to have a strong preseason to hold off Humphries and keep his job.
Graphic via profootballspot