The Cardinals have a line of scrimmage problem.
If you’re a Cardinal fan, you’ve long been exposed to the continual liability that is the Arizona offensive line. Now entering the 2019 season, that problem is twofold as the once potent Cardinal defensive line is seemingly no more.
Gone are the days where Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell would wreak havoc on opposing offenses. Situational starters like Josh Mauro and Frostee Rucker were allowed to shine thanks to the creativity of former DCs Todd Bowles and James Bettcher. However, during that period, the Cardinals failed to properly develop the next great waive of DL contributors.
Following the release of newly signed DL Darius Philon, a player that was brought in as a sort of band aid (2 years, $10 million), the Cardinals have officially entered dire straits upfront. Their current set of starters consists of the aging Corey Peters, the forgotten Rodney Gunter and a third round rookie in Zach Allen. Their “depth” on the defensive line, outside of those three players, is just too depressing to list.
But how did they reach this point?
Say what you want about former Arizona Cardinal GM Rod Graves, but he targeted Calais Campbell during the 2007 draft as the eventual replacement for former fifth round standout Antonio Smith. The team had a succession plan in place that worked out better than anyone could have imagined. While Smith would go on to have a productive career in Houston, Campbell cemented himself as one of the greatest Cardinal defenders in recent memory. He’s continued his dominance in Jacksonville following Arizona’s lack of interest in bringing him back.
So what exactly was the contingency plan when Calais Campbell walked away?
Sure, the Cardinals sprinkled in a couple of “Day 3” picks (Gunter, Ed Stinson) to add to their depth chart. However, the team continually ignored adding quality dlinmen both in the draft and free agency. Their complacency has led them to their current state of misfortune.
This very reasoning was why team officials, specifically GM Steve Keim, were so infatuated with Alabama DT Quinnen Williams. As you know by now, Kyler Murray and his greatness made that a mere pipedream for Keim.
If you think this sounds all too familiar, then you’d be correct. The Cardinals and their defensive line development almost mirrors what they’ve done on the offensive side. They’ve allowed Bobby Massie, perhaps their most consistent linemen, to walk as a free agent. The team then forced their best linemen, Jared Veldheer, over to RT (a position he had never played) in favor of DJ Humphries due to the latter’s draft status.
By hitching their wagons to both Nkedmiche and Humphries, while continually ignoring the LOS within the first two rounds of the draft, the Cardinals are now left completely vulnerable upfront.
I’ve gone to great lengths to highlight a potential solution at OT but finding a quality starter on the defensive line in mid-August is much more difficult. Muhammad Wilkerson is the obvious name being thrown around but was recently arrested on a DWI charge back in June. That signing seemed unlikely following following Keim’s arrest a year ago but now seems ridiculous when you throw in Rod Minegar’s situation from this past week.
The next crop of guys include former first rounder Corey Liuget (coincidentally teammates in LA with Philon), Bennie Logan, Tom Johnson, Domata Peko, Stacy McGee and Ricky Jean Francois. Any of these names would be fine additions in terms of depth and experience but none should be considered viable options to start 16 games.
I would expect the Cardinals to add from the waiver wire and perhaps swing a deal toward the end of the preseason (final cut day?) for a veteran that could help. The reality, however, is that they’ll be overly dependent on what they have in house. While I like the potential of rookie Zach Allen, being trusted into the starting lineup in the loaded NFC West seems unfair. The team waited to resign Rodney Gunter to a one year deal after his muti-year market became non-existent, which tells me they would have been content letting him leave.
Corey Peters is Arizona’s most accomplished defensive linemen (and probably their best) but he’s now over 30 with plenty of mileage on his body. They’ll need a standout season from the former Kentucky Wildcat if they hope to slow any team’s ground game.
The bottomline is that struggles upfront, on both sides of the ball, usually leads to an ugly season. However, the emergence of Kyler Murray combined with Kliff Kingsbury’s quick passing offense could ease the load on both units.
Regardless of the outcome, both units should see significant overhauls next offseason.
Or so I hope.