The dog days of summer are here.
That is, in terms of prominent NFL news.
Yes, the global pandemic that is COVID-19 is still very much present but there is legitimate hope that NFL training camp will start on time in July.
The Cardinals are no different, with only the Tom Brady led Bucs sporting a better offseason haul in terms of player personnel.
Steve Keim and company did well in addressing both top end talent and depth throughout the previously lackluster Arizona roster. While areas of concerns are still promiment at positions like defensive line and corner, the Cardinals are certainly well positioned to make a playoff run in 2020.
Another position of need, one could argue, is that of pass rusher. Outside of the ageless Chandler Jones, who netted an unbelievable 19 sacks in 2019, Arizona lacks any consistent threat to rush the passer.
Jordan Phillips was brought in to aid the rush from the interior defensive line, as the former second round pick tallied a career high 9.5 sacks a season ago in a contract year with Buffalo.
The Cardinals and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph have hopes that Phillips can consistently reach that mark moving forward. However, most feel like the more realistic target for Phillips in terms of sack totals is somewhere between 5-7 per season.
I’m guessing the Cardinals would still be happy with those numbers.
Devon Kennard was quickly brought in and given a three year deal following his release from the Detroit Lions. While in the Motor City, Kennard netted seven sacks in each of the past two season.
One could argue that Kennard was often played out of position as a 4-3 weakside linebacker, and should be much more of a threat as an edge defender in Joseph’s 3-4. While that’s certainly possible, I believe Kennard’s strengths are more tailored to his ability to defend the pass and move sideline to sideline.
He’s also a tremendous locker room presence.
Then there’s first round pick Isaiah Simmons, who is currently penciled alongside starting ILB Jordan Hicks. Simmons, as it’s been well documented, is the ultimate defensive chess piece. His unique ability to rush the passer, defend the pass and stop the run (all while sporting a 4.3) is the main reason he was selected eighth overall.
There’s nothing this young man can’t do on a football field.
Which is why many assume, if you simply placed the 6’4 Simmons on the edge opposite someone like Jones, you’d instantly have another double digit sack presence. While that is certainly tempting, and will be utilized at times, Arizona wants to maximize Simmons’ complete talent as a football player.
Rather than a one trick pony, Simmons will be everywhere. He will rarely leave the field. Perhaps at the height of his powers (fingers crossed), he can consistently sport 6-8 sack seasons in combination with a slew of other gaudy numbers.
But he’s not the ideal running mate opposite someone like Jones.
For those still clamoring the likes of Haason Reddick, I can understand the logic. The former 13th overall selection was a high performing DE at the University of Temple before the Cardinals shoehorned him at ILB.
While Arizona tried (and failed) to shop him during the early portion of the off season, there’s still a chance he’s dealt during the NFL preseason. Much of that, in my opinion, will coincide with the team’s ability to address the OLB position with a potential upgrade via free agency.
This is the deepest edge class still available at the start of the summer in recent memory and the Cardinals need to take advantage.
Former Seattle Seahawk Jadeveon Clowney is the obvious bell of the ball. While his sack numbers are mostly disappointing, its generally an effort question when it comes to the former first overall pick.
Clowney, who is currently seeking a bloated one year deal, can have outings in which his game rivals the likes of Khalil Mack and Von Miller.
Then he’ll have stretches in which he disappears for quarters on end. Clowney also has a lengthly list of injuries that have plagued him throughout his entire career.
Even so, I’ve been an advocate for engaging Clowney in discussions for sometime. The Cardinals are a team on the rise, something that he’s clearly searching for after recently rejecting a big money deal from Cleveland. The appeal of playing opposite someone like Jones has to be tantalizing.
Bringing in the likes of Clowney would be the ultimate cue for Keim, as he’d be cementing this roster as a clearcut playoff contender.
The move would also directly stick it to in-division rival Seattle, weakening their defense and playoff chances in the process.
Clowney not your cup of tea? Fear not, as the team could easily pivot to the likes of local product Everson Griffen. Griffen, who the team supposedly had interest in, would be the perfect compliment to someone like Kennard. While only 32, Griffen could feast upfront alongside Phillips on early run downs, to then transition opposite Jones on obvious passing situations.
The Cardinals utitlized this process beautifully when implementing the likes of veteran edge rushers Jonathan Abraham and Dwight Freeney during Bruce Arians’ tenure.
The addition of Griffen would give Arizona real, tangible depth that playoff contenders need to navigate grueling 16 game schedules that feature the likes of the NFC West.
Griffen, like Clowney, appears to only be seeking a one year contract.
Lastly, there’s former Arizona Cardinal Markus Golden, who is criminally still available following his 10 sack season for the Giants in 2019. The Giants, who placed the May 5 tender on Golden, have been lukewarm at best in bringing back their standout pass rusher from a season ago.
Much of that having to do with the change in defensive coordinators.
Even so, according to NFL.com, the Giants still have the rights to Golden post July 22:
“If he does not sign the tender, Golden retains the ability to sign with another club until July 22. After that date, he has until the Tuesday following the 10th weekend of the season to sign with the Giants.”
The Cardinals had real interest in bringing back Golden during the early part of free agency until Kennard was subsequently cut by the Lions. Arizona quickly pivoted due to a combination of fit and money.
A reunion, at this time, appears unlikely.
For those pounding the table that the Cardinals lack the necessary cap space to make an impactful move on the edge, please kindly take a deep breath.
Via Over the Cap, Arizona has roughly nine million in space at the start of the summer. That’s not including the eventual financial commitments set for the 2020 rookie draft class.
Even with all of that hanging in the balance, a series of extensions to the likes of Patrick Peterson, DeAndre Hopkins and Kenyan Drake could easily free up additional space for an impact signing.
Not to mention the eventual trade/release of Reddick.
The cap, in a single season, can always be manipulated and Arizona should see an influx of space become available in 2021. Kyler Murray is only a season into his modest five year rookie deal.
With Keim’s previous history of activity throughout the duration of the summer, otherwise known as “Keim Time”, I would expect an addition of note before week one. Whether that’s at edge rusher remains to be seen, but it’s obvious where the free agent value lies.
It’s on the edge.