The Arizona Cardinals trimmed their roster to 53 players over the weekend and while there weren't any big-name players shown the door, there were some surprising moves. Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt has left open the possibility that a player or two from other team's cuts could be added but there shouldn't be any wholesale changes or significant players added any time soon. At most we might see a veteran presence brought in to shore up a weakness in depth but for the most part this is the team that will decide whether the 2009 Cardinals live up to their lofty expectations. In looking over the remaining 53 players, a handful of questions come to mind and the answers to these questions might just be the difference between another successful January or some early prep work for the NFL draft.
- Why Seven Wide Receivers? - Seven wide receivers is a big number and there are two theories as to why they chose to keep that many. The first, and most likely, theory is that the coaching staff looked at their current wide outs and saw Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet all nursing various ailments. While none of the three are considered serious injuries, Boldin and Doucet do have a rather significant history with injuries and it's possible that they see Lance Long as a cheap but promising insurance policy. The fact that he offers something on special teams, most notably as a returner, certainly didn't hurt his case either. The second, and less likely although more juicy, theory revolves around the possibility of a trade. To make things a bit more complicated this theory has two parts with the most likely theory centering around a trade of Long, whom most thought the Chiefs would claim if he was exposed to waivers. Todd Haley is a fan of Long and the possibility of them giving up a sixth or seventh round pick doesn't seem all that far fetched. The second theory in this subset is again far less likely but the continued Boldin trade rumors simply won't die. It seems far to late for the Cardinals to still consider this an option, especially with Boldin's softer stance, but just know that the rumors are still out there. Of course the most likely of all of these scenarios is simply that the Cardinals thought that they were a better team with Lance Long than without.
- Is there enough depth at linebacker? - One of the more surprising cuts was the release of Victor Hobson, a veteran capable of lining up at inside and outside linebacker. Of course it was more surprising given the lack of depth at his position as opposed to his performance on the field but his absence leaves the Cardinals with some very inexperienced backups at the linebacker position. It is conceivable that the Red Birds could enter the season with four backups who have never taken a regular season snap in a 3-4 defense. Bertrand Berry is the veteran of the group but he missed all of OTA's so his experience in this defense is limited to training camp and most view him as strictly a situational pass rusher. Ali Highsmith, a second year undrafted player, is undersized but has the most experience of the inside backers. Rookies Will Davis (6th round) and Reggie Walker (undrafted) comprise the rest of the depth but I think it's fair to say that they are not ready to start on Sundays. If a player is added to the roster this week, it will most likely be a veteran linebacker and they'll certainly add at least one more linebacker on the practice squad.
- What happens if Adrian Wilson were to get injured? - While almost everyone who has ever donned Cardinals-red was glad to see Aaron Francisco shown the door, his absence does open a hole in the secondary. While we all knew his limitations, Francisco did at least bring a level of experience to the field that the remaining backup safeties can not boast. He had started just nine games over the past three years but with the way that the Cardinals use their safeties, he was on the field quite a bit with the nickel and dime packages. His responsibilities and playing time now fall to, most likely, Matt Ware. Ware has primarily been a special teams player but his best asset has always been his versatility as both a safety and corner. The interesting thing for Ware though will be if he gets exposed with the increase in playing time, the way that Francisco did over the past couple of seasons. Ware's ability to grasp his responsibilities as a safety could go a long way to determining just how successful this secondary is in 2009.
- What happens when Ben Patrick returns? - As we all know, Patrick will return to the team after week four and at that point, someone will have to be cut in order to make room on the roster. As you might expect the Cardinals will have plenty of options, such as cutting a tight or carrying four, cutting a wide receiver or even trimming an offensive lineman off of the current group of nine. The most likely scenario would be cutting a tight end which would mean that the trio of Stephen Spach, Anthony Becht and Dominique Byrd are playing for their jobs for the next four weeks.
- Where is the depth at left tackle? - While Oliver Ross wasn't a terribly enticing option as Mike Gandy's backup, Ross was the only player on the 80 man roster who had taken snaps at left tackle during the preseason. His name on the cut list means that the Cardinals are left without an experienced backup should Gandy go down and that should send chills up the blindside of Kurt Warner. Coach Whisenhunt has already stated that Levi Brown would flip over to left tackle if something were to happen and either Brandon Keith or Herman Johnson would step in at right tackle. Given Brown's struggles with speed rushers and Keith and/or Johnson's inexperience, the Cardinals would weaken themselves at two positions and likely leave KW as a sitting duck. I'm sure that the Cardinals would love to add a quality backup at left tackle (ala Elliot Vallejo) but left tackles who can hold their own on an NFL field are not unemployed for very long.
How do you see these questions playing out and what questions would you ask when looking at the final roster?