To say the 2010 offseason has been mearly busy for the Arizona Cardinals would be an understatement. A madhouse seems like a better fit. After the departure of three big name players, a trade from the Big Apple, and multiple free agent visits, the Cardinals have had their name tossed around NFL nation more often then in years past. But as all of the movement occurs, one position remains to be filled - linebacker.
The cause for concern began even before the offseason started. After being slapped with the franchise tag two years in a row, Karlos Dansby was set to enter free agency in sight of a big payday. On the eve of the signing period, Dansby was visiting with the Dolphins and before the day was over he was gone - like that.
Before Dansby left, another long time linebacker, Bertrand Berry, retired from the game. Berry wasn't anywhere near the form he was when he went to the pro bowl off of a 14.5 sack year in 2004. Although he registered six sacks in a situational role last season, Berry was ready to hang up the cleats.
Opposite Berry stood outside linebacker Chike Okeafor. Okeafor is currently an unrestricted free agent and all signs point to him playing elsewhere in 2010. The Cardinals don't appear to be interested and Okeafor is already 33-years old. Even after a 4.5 sack year, he too is nowhere near is old form.
That leaves Gerald Hayes and Clark Haggansas the current starters. Hayes is still relatively young and provides very good run support, be he's one dimensional and can't provide the pass defense the Cardinals need for him to be an every down backer. Haggans is 33-years old and offers a mixed bag of tricks. He can do a little pass rushing, run defending, and pass defending, but he does none of them at a dominant level.
That also means there are a lot of unknowns behind the two, and more unknowns heading into the draft.
After missing his entire rookie season from a wrist injury, Cody Brown will essentially become a rookie for a second year in a row. Many fans were high on Brown's pass rushing skills coming out of college, but he was used with his hand on the ground when he played there. We haven't seen what he can do in open space, or anything else at that matter.
Will Davis was fortunate enough to play his rookie season and finished the year with two sacks. Davis has the tools to be a starter for the Cardinals, but asking him to already start in his second season may be too soon and costly.
The only other linebackers currently signed to the roster are Steve Baggs, Ali Highsmith, Reggie Walker, and Mark Washington - none being household names.
In an effort to bolster the anemic linebacking corpse, the Cardinals targeted free agents Larry Foote and Joey Porter. Both expressed interest in playing for Arizona and both were ready to sign on the dotted line this past week. Instead, Foote bolted to his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, while no news has been made of Porter. Somehow when it's all said and done, it seems like the Cardinals made the correct decision in not signing Foote. There were reports of a possible existing foot injury, and his willingness to except a back up role in Pittsburgh seem odd. Porter has yet to visit another team and his agenst spoke briefly with the Cardinals on Monday, with all signs pointing to a possible agreement sometime soon.
After visiting with the two big name free agents, the Cardinals also made a depth move by signing veteran linebacker Paris Lenon. The front office praised Lenon, and even went as far as stating that Lenon is better suited to replace Dansby then Foote is, but we all know talk is cheap. Lenon will serve in the back up role but should see ample playing time on special teams.
The front office is making an attempt, but let's be honest with ourselves, the Cardinals linebacking group is not as good as it was eight weeks ago. In all fairness, free agency isn't over and Porter could be wearing a Cardinals jersey sometime soon. The draft is also next month and the Cardinals are undoubtedly going to draft a linebacker with their 1st round pick. When that time comes, maybe we can re-evaluate the group and see where they stand heading into next year.
One thing is for sure, and that's the development of the young players. Ken Whisenhunt has brought the "build through the draft" mantra to Arizona and we've seen the effect it's already had thus far. For all we know, the Cardinals may see something in the group they already have and see the draft as an opportunity to bring in a young star. If the Cardinals can play the field smart and collectively in the coming months, we just may see the next Karlos Dansby emerge at linebacker in 2010