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Arizona Cardinals offseason: Looking at the OLB situation

We continue the positional series.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We are getting close to the end of our positional reviews. Today we look at the outside linebackers, a position of concern moving forward.

The roster:

John Abraham, will be unrestricted free agent
Sam Acho, will be unrestricted free agent
Lorenzo Alexander, signed through 2015
Marcus Benard, will be unrestricted free agent
Alex Okafor, signed through 2016
Matt Shaughnessy, signed through 2015

Looking back at 2014:

2014 was interesting for the position. It was a disappointment and there was some promise. Alex Okafor broke out. After finally shaking injuries, he led the team with eight sacks in 13 games. His ability to get to the quarterback was a big help, but he did tail off down the stretch. After a three-game period with four sacks, he ended the season getting only two in the final five, which coincidentally were when the Cardinals lost three games.

Abraham was hoping for a big year, hoping for 20 sacks, but at least reaching the top five all time in sacks for a career, he played only one game. He came to camp three weeks late after a DUI and spending time in rehab. Then he suffered a concussion in the season opener, only to then contemplate retirement, decide to keep playing and then have to be placed on injured reserve.

Shaughnessy was the big run stopper and edge setter, but missed four games with a knee injury and was not as effective after his return.

Acho was sort of there. He offered close to nothing as a pass rusher, but was the team's best option at the position in coverage.

Marcus Benard did not initially make the team, but then was added later. Like 2013, he was a decent guy for nickel passing downs.

However, the team was pretty desperate at the position. They even tried Thomas Keiser, who did okay in the season opener against his former team and was bad the rest of the time he was on the team.

Third round pick Kareem Martin was used some at the position, but didn't have any impact at all.

Were it not for the emergence of Okafor, it would have been a complete disaster at the position.

Looking ahead:

The position is not in good shape. Three of the players are free agents and probably no one will be brought back. Even special teams stud Lorenzo Alexander is a potential salary cap casualty. Shaughnessy is critical to the team's run defense and Okafor coudl be come a real force if he stays healthy this offseason, but he is not going to be an elite pass rusher. He is a guy who can get sacks against lesser talent and clean up on other pressure, but unless he makes big strides, he probably won't be the big threat like John Abraham (although it might be unfair to compare him to a potential Hall of Famer).

Looking at the roster, it is clear that position will be a priority.

Free agency:

There are some possibilities, but here you have to look at defensive ends and outside linebackers, as 4-3 ends in many cases become 3-4 OLBs.

The name Jerry Hughes has come up locally, while fans dream of Justin Houston. There are lots of decent name, but there is one thing that will be certain -- pass rushers don't come cheap.

NFL Draft:

There are names that come up as potential first round talent -- Bud Dupree, Vic Beasley and others. It will be a position of priority.


It is clear the team will make a concerted effort to upgrade the position. It will likely look nothing like last season after Okafor and Shaughnessy.

Can the Cardinals compete without making big changes? With a potential downgrade in the secondary (possibly losing Antonio Cromartie), an improved pass rusher will be essential.