Drafting star-crossed DT Robert Nkemdiche in 2016 was an organizational decision. Blessed with all kinds of explosive physical talents, Nkemdiche was an underachiever at Ole Miss and then, in a drunken stupor at a party, he fell from a second story balcony about as fast as he slid down the 1st round draft board.
The Cardinals spent a good deal of time with Diche before the 2016 draft. Steve Keim and Bruce Arians were high on Diche’s talent and thought they could be getting a Darnell Dockett type disruptor to eventually fill the void of defensive line standout Calais Campbell---a player whom Arians called out for underperforming during the Cardinals’ 2015 13-3 season.
Campbell turned in one of his best seasons in 2016, his last with Arizona, earning distinction as a 2nd Team All-Pro (as he was in 2014). In 2017. after signing a 4 year $60 contract ($30M guaranteed) with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Campbell was a unanimous 1st team All-Pro. And this past season, Campbell earned his 4th invitation to the Pro Bowl.
The deciding vote to draft Diche was cast by Michael Bidwill, who, at the time, stated that as a former attorney he felt he had developed an intuitive sense of how to judge character. After interviewing Diche, Bidwill gave Keim and Arians the thumb’s-up.
Meanwhile, Robert Nkemdiche, now entering his 4th year with the Cardinals, has prolonged his underachievement on the football field, thanks to a variety of leg injuries, questions about his maturity and a growing sense, especially now in light of his recent arrest for going 75 in 45 MPH zone on a suspended driver’s license, that he lacks the character and durability to be a dependable and productive player.
If the Cardinals can reach an injury settlement with Nkemdiche (who is currently rehabbing from a torn ACL), they could save somewhere between $1.2 and $1.5M on the cap, if they release him.
if the Cardinals keep Nkemdiche, they can get him the counseling he needs and keep him on schedule with his ACL rehab for a return in late October or early November. The Cardinals have already declined the opportunity to pick up his 5th year option---which means that Nkemdiche has much to prove upon his return, if he is going to garner serious interest in the 2020 free agency market.
If Nkemdiche signs a decent contract elsewhere, the Cardinals might be able to get a 2021 compensatory draft pick in return.
Let’s face it---it would be very difficult to imagine the Cardinals investing more money in Nkemdiche on a 2nd contract, no matter what happens this season. But---perhaps the Cardinals can get something of value in return, either through a trade at the deadline to a team in desperate need for defensive line help or in the form of a compensatory pick.
Cynics will say that there is no way Nkemdiche will get an attractive contract offer next year---but---as he did at Ole Miss in putting on tape a monster game versus Alabama in a rare upset win of the Crimson Tide---Nkemdiche’s monster game in 2018 versus the Chargers (7 tackles, 6 solo and 2 1/2 sacks) is very likely to whet the imaginations of coaches and GMs all across the league.
That’s the tantalizing things about Diche---when he is dialed in---he is an undeniable force of nature.
Should the Cardinals ditch Diche?
In a year of mea culpas from Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim, moving on from Nkemdiche would seem natural. There has been media speculation that the Cardinals have been considering waiving him anyway.
But, I strongly believe the Cardinals should give Diche the help he needs to get his mind and body straight. No one is better equipped to help him with this than Steve Keim. It’s not like Diche is a disruptive malcontent in the locker room.
The irony is that Diche was one of the few bright spots last season among the “different personalities” that Steve Wilks and his staff were challenged with developing. Before his injury, Diche was having his best season as a Cardinal, registering 32 tackles, 22 of them solo, 4 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. The point it---his arrow was heading in the right direction. There were clear signs of him turning the corner.
The ultimate test of character for Diche is ahead of him over the next few months. The Cardinals have a chance not only to help save Diche’s football career, they have a chance to help him save his life. Seeing as Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim believed enough in Diche to draft him, why not stick with him, offer him their full support and try to turn this chapter of woe and unfulfilled promise into a story of hope and perseverance.