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Five replacement options for Rashard Lawrence, who was placed on short-term IR

Next-man up is 2020 fourth-round pick Leki Fotu

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During their rejuvenating 42-34 home victory over the New Orleans Saints, the Arizona Cardinals suffered an unfortunate setback with one of their promising young defensive linemen.

2020 fourth-round pick Rashard Lawrence sustained a shoulder injury in the first quarter and could miss a month or more of the season after being placed on the short-term injured reserve list.

Though the Cardinals could opt to let Lawrence play through his injury, the most likely scenario is for him to be fully recovered before putting him back on the football field instead of risking re-injury.

With Lawrence out of the picture for at least the next four weeks, the Cardinals should find his replacement at nose tackle. Considering he has yet to play a full season in the NFL through the first three years of his career, Arizona would be wise to upgrade their depth in preparations for any future defensive line injuries.

Leki Fotu is the next-man up on the depth chart and will likely draw the start at nose tackle this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. Antwaun Woods, Manny Jones, and Andrew Brown are the defensive line options on their practice squad. However if the Cardinals are searching for an upgrade, there are intriguing options available in the trade and free agent market.

1. Daron Payne - Washington Commanders

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Payne was the 13th overall selection out of Alabama in the 2018 NFL Draft. He has proven durability with only one missed game in his career. In 71 games (65 starts), Payne has recorded 251 tackles, 27 tackles for loss, and 18 sacks in five seasons. Payne has experience operating in 3-4 and 4-3 defensive fronts. Payne is playing in the final year of his rookie deal and considering Washington has invested heavily on the defensive line with Jonathan Allen, Chase Young, and Montez Sweat, the Commanders will not be able to pay everyone. He would give the Cardinals a long-term answer along the defensive line assuming a trade is made and an extension is reached. Maybe all it will take is day two draft compensation to pry him from the nation’s capital?

2. Linval Joseph - Free Agent

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If the Cardinals are looking for a nose tackle that specializes in stopping the run, Linval Joseph would be the best available man for the job. Joseph made a name for himself as one the NFL’s premier run stuffers over the last decade especially during the New York GiantsSuper Bowl Championship season in 2011. He evolved his game outside of being a dominant run stuffer to being a very notable interior pass rusher. In the last two seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, Joseph had 119 tackles and 42 pressures. He is not getting any younger (34) but his experience and continued quality of player in recent years makes him a player worth considering as a potential mid-season signing. He is a space eater that can bolster any team’s defensive front.

3. Sheldon Richardson - Free Agent

Pittsburgh Steelers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

If the Cardinals want to bolster their depth in the trenches on the defense, there really is no better player to sign than Sheldon Richardson. Playing on four different teams since being a first-round selection in 2013, Richardson was used in multiple positions as a versatile weapon that can play anywhere on the defensive line as well as lining up at outside linebacker in his time with the New York Jets. As a reserve for the Minnesota Vikings last year, he recorded 39 tackles, six tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. He might not be the same player he once was but Richardson is only 31 years old and remains an impactful player nonetheless.

4. Ndamukong Suh - Free Agent

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Suh has been a very impactful player in his 12-year NFL career. Despite having a regression year in 2021, he still had six sacks in 17 starts. He started 191 regular season games and missed only two since being the No. 2 overall selection in 2010. His 37 pressures (according to PFF) in 2021 would have been a team-high on the Cardinals defensive line. He has experience playing in 3-4 and 4-3 fronts as a nose tackle and defensive tackle. The 35-year-old should be able to contribute right away but his asking price, as with every free agent on this list, will dictate where he plays this year.

5. T.J. Slaton - Green Bay Packers

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T.J. Slaton was the Packers’ fifth-round selection in the 2021 draft and has yet to miss a regular season game. The 25-year-old flashed a ton against the New York Giants this year and does look like a player that could thrive in a starting role or be a quality depth piece for any team. Just like Fotu, Slaton has the ideal size for the nose tackle position standing at 6-feet-4 330-pounds. According to ESPN’s Dan Graziano, the Green Bay Packers could be interested in acquiring wide receiver A.J. Green from the Arizona Cardinals. Maybe a player-for-player swap is in the cards?