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How the Cardinals’ 53 Man Roster Will Likely Be Constructed

For Cardinals fans like myself who like to make weekly 53 man roster predictions during the pre-season, it can be helpful to know how the 53 man rosters are typically decided.

The roster decisions are made by a committee of the GM, the Senior Personnel Executive, the VPOPP, the DOPP, the HC, the OC, the DC and the STC —- which in the Cardinals’ case are Steve Keim, Terry McDonough, Quentin Harris, Dru Grigson, Kliff Kingsbury, Sean Kugler (RGC), Vance Joseph and Jeff Rodgers, respectively.

The chairman of the committee is Steve Keim. Ultimately he and head coach Kliff Kingsbury have the final say.

First Order of Business: Identifying the 48 man active game day roster for Week 1.

The new CBA roster stipulations are (according to Dan Graziano of ESPN, per his September 9, 2020 article):

Expanded rosters

New CBA rule: Starting this season, game-day active rosters, which used to be limited to 46 players per team, can include up to 48 players, provided that at least eight of those 48 are offensive linemen. (If not, the game-day roster size is limited to 47 players.)

New CBA rule: Additionally, according to the new CBA, a team can carry up to 55 players on its roster during the week — up from 53 in past years — by elevating one or two players from its practice squad before 4 p.m. ET on the day before that team’s game. This will allow teams a larger pool from which to select their 47 or 48 game-day active players. Any player elevated from the practice squad for this purpose will immediately revert to his team’s practice squad on the day after the game.

No player may be activated under this rule for more than two games per season, either regular-season or postseason games. If a player has already been elevated twice under this rule, and the team wants to add him to the roster, it must terminate his practice-squad contract and sign him to an NFL contract, as has been the case with practice-squad players in years past.

Combination of new CBA rules and COVID-19 rules: The new CBA expanded the size of practice squads from 10 players per team to 12 for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, and to 14 players per team beginning in 2022. However, for 2020 — and for 2021 if any COVID-19 protocols remain in place for that season) — practice squads can include up to 16 players per team. Of those 16, as many as six can be players with more than two accrued seasons in the NFL. The new CBA allowed for two practice-squad players per team with an unlimited number of accrued seasons, but the COVID-19 amendments expanded that number to six.

COVID-19 rule: After 4 p.m. ET on the Tuesday of a game week (not a bye week), a team may designate up to four of its practice squad players as “protected,” meaning they are not allowed to sign with another team until after their current team plays its next game.

The entire Graziano article can be viewed here:

Bonus —- in deciding which 48 players are active on game day —- player versatility. When a player, such as T Josh Jones can also serve as a blocking TE, that essentially gives the team the ability to add another player to the 48 actives while not having to activate 3 TEs.

Initial Guess at the 48:

QB (2): Kyler Murray, QB2 winner

RB (2): Chase Edmonds, James Connor

TE (2): Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels *

WR (5): DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore *, best ST WR *

OL (8): D.J. Humphries, Justin Pugh, Rodney Hudson, Justin Murray, Kelvin Beachum, Josh Jones, Max Garcia, Lamont Gaillard

DL (5): J.J. Watt, Zach Allen, Rashard Lawrence, Leki Fotu, Jordan Phillips

ILB (4): Isaiah Simmons, Zaven Collins, Tanner Vallejo *, Zeke Turner *

OLB (5): Devon Kennard, Chandler Jones, Markus Golden, Dennis Gardeck *, Kylie Fitts *

CB (5): Malcolm Butler, Byron Murphy, Robert Alford, Marco Wilson *, Tay Gowan *

S (6): Budda Baker, Jalen Thompson, Shawn Williams *, Deionte Thompson *, Chris Banjo *, James Wiggins *

ST (4): Matt Prater *, Andy Lee *, Aaron Brewer *, Charles Washington *

denotes * core special teams player (interior linemen not included)

Second Order of Business: Identifying the final 5 roster spots by first considering the players the committee feels might be most likely to be claimed off of waivers.

Note: once a player is waived, he can be claimed by another team (by being added to that team’s 53 man roster at the player’s current contract figures). The player also can bee wooed by other teams to sign with their practice squads.

The first group to consider is the team’s draft picks, who in this scenario would be:

  • T Joshua Miles
  • C Michael Menet
  • WR Andy Isabella
  • WR KeeSean Johnson
  • RB Eno Benjamin
  • DT/DE Michael Dogbe
  • ILB Evan Weaver
  • OLB Victor Dimukeje

In my opinion, the most likely players here to be claimed are Isabella and Johnson, and possibly Miles, Menet, Dogbe and Dimukeje to teams thin at the OL or DL.

The question then becomes: do any of these players have trade value? Can the Cardinals swap a player for a player like they did when they traded FB Anthony Sherman to the Chiefs for CB Javier Arenas. Or, can the Cardinals trade a player for a draft pick, like they did when they traded T Korey Cunningham to the Patriots for a 6th round pick.

In each case, let’s consider what the player needs to do to make the 53 man roster:

T Miles —- needs to make a strong case to be the swing tackle.

C Menet —- needs to win the nod over Lamont Gaillard or Max Garcia.

WR Isabella —- needs to make his case to win the WR3 or WR4 job over Kirk or Moore, or win the WR5 spot and/or be the best STs option as a gunner of kickoff returner.

WR Johnson —- needs to take over Trent Sherfield’s WR5/ST role or make a case to beat out A.J. Green or Christian Kirk.

RB Benjamin —- needs to win the kickoff returner role on STs.

DT/DE Dogbe —- needs to earn a spot in the base and/or nickel rush rotation.

ILB Weaver —- needs to emerge as a core special teamer.

OLB Dimukeje —- needs to beat out Kylie Fitts as OLB5/STs stalwart or make a strong case for the Cardinals to keep 6 OLBs.

Veterans on the Bubble: (imo)

QB Colt McCoy —- could find himself in a situation similar to Brent Hundley if the Cardinals want to keep Chris Streveler on the active roster. Question is whether he would accept a spot on the PS in order to be called up when needed. Only his $137,500 signing bonus is guaranteed.

G Brian Winters —- likely will have to win the starting RG spot to make the roster because Sean Kugler has appeared to like Max Garcia as the swing guard. His guaranteed money on the one year deal is a $987.500 cap hit which becomes fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster Week 1 —- which is the exact same cap hit for Garcia.

CB Darqueze Dennard —- if Dennard makes the roster his fully guaranteed is $1,075,000.

S Shawn Williams —- same exact veteran minimum contract as Dennard’s.

Note: keeping any and/or all of these veterans is highly affordable at their minimum level salaries. The question is whether the young players behind them make stronger roster cases.

Biggest Question Mark, Personnel-wise:

DE/OLB Chandler Jones —- with his $15.5M base salary not fully guaranteed until Week 1, can he and the Cardinals afford a prolonged holdout throughout training camp and the pre-season?

The best-case scenario is the Cardinals and Jones arriving at guaranteed money compromise this week so that Jones can get right in sync with his coaches and teammates in camp.

Otherwise, would it be worth it for the Cardinals to listen to trade offers for Chandler Jones? For example, would you approve a trade with the Dolphins involving a swap of Jones and a draft pick for CB Xavien Howard? Their 2021 cap hits are similar.

Would it be worth the Cardinals’ while to consider a package of free agents they could sign if they freed up Jones’ $15.5M —- for example, a package that could include CB Steven Nelson, RG David DeCastro, TE Trey Burton, DE Justin Houston and LB K.J. Wright?

Wild Cards Vying for 53 Man Roster Spots:

RB Jonathan Ward —- if he emerges as a good STs player, then he could win the RB3 job because of his appealing athleticism and versatility as a runner and receiver. It would be highly unlikely that the Cardinals will keep 4 RBs on the 53 man roster. It’s even possible that the Cardinals could keep only 2 RBs on the initial 53 man roster, while stashing Ward and Benjamin on the PS. Neither is a risk to be claimed off of waivers. It’s likely that the coaches will use Rondale Moore out of the backfield from time to time as a RB3 of sorts.

RB Khalfani Muhammed —- Sean Kugler knows Muhammed from their days with the Broncos and this kid has blazing speed.

WR Rico Gafford —- talk about versatility. This blazing fast 4.2 WR was a very good CB at Wyoming and could easily take over Trent Sherfield’s role as one of the gunners on STs and be one of the deep threats in the offense.

TE Ross Travis —- at 6-7, 255 this highly athletic former basketball player is a very good red zone target and could take over Dan Arnold’s TE role in the offense.

TE Bruno Labell —- they way he blocked at Cincinnati, while making some timely receptions, if he shines on STs, he could have a chance to beat out Darrell Daniels for a roster spot.

TE Bernhard Seikovits —- by all accounts the Cardinals are liking the potential of the 6-5 262 big target TE from Germany. At the very least, Seikovits should stick on the PS where he gets an international player exemption.

G Sean Harlow/Shaq Calhoun/Koda Martin —- all three have intriguing upside and could make a push for a roster spot.

DT David Parry —- had 4 sacks and 78 combined tackles playing in all 32 games for the Colts his first two years before getting arrested in Scottsdale for assault and the theft/destruction of a golf cart back in 2017. He should be highly motivated to get his career back on track.

OLB Jammel Garcia-Williams —- at 6-8, 255 JGW fits right in with the Cardinals’ basketball team up front on defense.

ILB/S Jamel Carter/Donald Rutledge —- the two box safeties/hybrid ILBs whom Kliff Kingsbury was raving about at minicamp.

OLB Reggie Walker —- was a highly disruptive edge player at K-State who has impressed the Cardinals’ coaches thus far. Could factor in as a SAM OLB candidate.

CB Jace Whittaker —- might make a significant jump up the ladder from year one to year two as one of the Cardinals’ more feisty slot CBs.

P Tyler Newsome —- as ROTB editor Seth Cox first reported and staff writer Andy Kwong later expounded upon, this Notre Dame punter offers near record level hang times on his punts.

Questions for ROTB members:

1 —- what changes would you make to the 48 game day players I predicted? Which QB2 and WR5 do you add?

2 —- what players would you pick for the last 5 roster spots?

Here is the Cardinals’ current 90 man roster:

Please let me know if you think I missed highlighting a player whose roster chances you like.

I will chime in later in the day with my last 5 roster spot choices.