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Ripple Effect of First Wave of Cuts and Butler’s Uncertainty

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Background: Dec 20, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals safety Chris Banjo (31) against the Philadelphia Eagles at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas

I had been under the impression that the Cardinals’ safety room was perhaps the deepest and most versatile on the roster —- and yet during the Cardinals’ first wave of cuts, the team waived Chris Banjo, Shawn Williams and 2021 7th rounder James Wiggins —- thereby leaving four chairs in the room for Budda Baker, Jalen Thompson, Deionte Thompson and Charles Washington.

The most surprising cut of the three was Chris Banjo. Not only was Banjo coming off two solid seasons as a valuable depth player/spot starter and special teams stalwart (2020 PFF grades: Overall-62.6, tackling: 78.4 2nd highest on team, and coverage: 63.6), his head on run-stuffing tackle versus the Chiefs in a short yardage situation was, in my opinion, the best tackle of the game for the Cardinals.

Banjo was pulled from the game due to an injury, which may have been the main reason why the Cardinals elected to cut him, so that in. couple of weeks, when he is a full go again, they could re-sign him.

I do not believe that we have seen the last of Chris Banjo in Cardinals’ red and white.

I am also of the belief that both Shawn Williams and James Wiggins will be signed to the practice squad, if they are not picked up by other teams.

Thus, because teams are allowed to protect 4 practice squad players each week, in essence, the Cardinals could wind up having six or perhaps even all seven safeties on what amounts to a 57 man roster.

The other most notable cut was WR KeeSean Johnson. While Joseph Comeau and I both had the Cardinals keeping Johnson https://www.revengeofthebirds.com/2021/8/28/22646024/red-rain-mitchell-comeau-predict-cardinals-53

there has been uncertainty all along as to how the Cardinals’ WR room will shake out, largely because of the Cardinals’ intrigue with WRs Greg Dortch and Antoine Wesley.

The biggest question is —- will KeeSean get claimed?

I would be surprised if he did, for the very reason why KeeSean didn’t make this year’s 53 with the Cardinals —- he is a WR5 or WR6 who does not excel on special teams. And whenever that is the case, a WR5 or WR6 will rarely be activated on game days.

Therefore, if KeeSean clears waivers, the Cardinals can sign him to the practice squad and have him available when need be.

Note: if he goes unclaimed, KeeSean will very likely garner practice squad interest from other teams. Therefore, if he and his agent feel he has a better chance to climb the depth chart with another team, then they may decide to move to a new team.

Put it this way —- when you are a young WR who is at or near the bottom of the depth chart and your team signs a high profile UFA and then drafts another WR in the 2nd round —- it can make the young WR feel like the writing is on the wall.

The same could be said for 2017 and 2019 2nd round picks, Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella. Kirk was supposed to be the starter at slot WR this year, yet 2021 2nd round pick Rondale Moore has shined in that role, while Kirk didn’t make one catch from the slot this pre-season.

Isabella is listed as the backup to A.J. Green because of his ability to stretch defenses and command the attention of the free safety, yet, his roster spot and hopes to be activated on game days largely depends on.him winning the number one job as kickoff returner —- which currently is being hotly contested by Eno Benjamin (with Rondale Moore as a key situation option).

Antoine Wesley is the backup to DeAndre Hopkins and, if he has not endeared himself as of yet to Jeff Rodgers (STC), then it’s likely he will be waived with the hope of the team being able to re-sign him to the practice squad. One could imagine that in terms of Wesley’s length and catch radius, his future with the Cardinals may be brighter than KeeSean Johnson’s.

The third room that is experiencing the most flux is at cornerback. Yesterday, after placing Darqueze Dennard on the season-ending IR, the Cardinals waived Jace Whittaker and Picasso Nelson —- amidst sudden rumors that Malcolm Butler has been away fro the team facility for a few days because he is “dealing with a personal issue” (per NFL Network) and is now “mulling retirement or a break from the game, after seven seasons.”

Obviously, Malcolm Butler’s indecision is not a good development for the Cardinals. As we have said so many times, when a player has one foot out the door, so to speak, it typically does not bode well for him or the team. Cards gave Butler $3.5M guaranteed. One would think he would have to give a significant portion of that money back, if he chooses to retire.

Jace Whittaker was my wild card to make the 53 man roster. Vance Joseph was using him early in the pre-season games and Whittaker proved sticky in coverage and hard-nosed in making downhill tackles. Whether Malcom Butler retires or not, I believe that, like S Chris Banjo, Jace Whittaker remains very much in Vance Joseph’s plan.

Former University of Washington standout, Sydney Jones, one of the 2021 UFA CBs I was most keen on for the Cardinals to sign, was traded yesterday by the Jaguars to the Seahawks for the Seahawks’ 2022 6th round pick. Dang. Jones’s NFL game has been emerging —- but the question mark all along for Jones has been durability.

Excluding Malcolm Butler, the CB room as it stands right now is Byron Murphy, Robert Alford (who has returned from COVID-19 protocols), Marco Wilson, Daryl Worley and Tay Gowan.

My guess is that the Cardinals will waive Daryl Worley and try to re-sign him to the practice squad for depth as a zone corner.

What might these tea leaves suggest?

I and so many of us have been hoping that the Cardinals keep Tay Gowan, because there is a decent chance that a CB needy team would claim him. His tape versus the Cowboys could and should have turned some GMs’ heads.

Steve Keim should be combing the waiver wires for CBs —- and/or perhaps he will be trying to swing a trade for one.

For Cardinals’ fans who are now concerned about the Cardinals’ depth at safety and cornerback —- please re-familiarize yourself with a player named Isaiah Simmons.

While Isaiah Simmons will be assigned to cover the top TEs as he did like white on rice with All-Pro Travis Kelce, would you be shocked if come Game 1, Vance Joseph, on key occasions, might match him up with Julio Jones or A.J. Brown?

The stunning ripple effect of having a uniquely versatile defender in Isaiah Simmons —- he gives the Cardinals the 53 man roster luxury of being able to keep one fewer player at ILB, OLB, S and CB.

Hmmm, is it any wonder then that Hebrew name of Isaiah means “salvation”?