News & Analysis

Cardinals upgrade areas of need on already-deep roster this offseason

Mississippi defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (5) warms up prior to an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Oxford, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Cardinals’ General Manager Steve Keim continues to build an impressive roster in Arizona, and his team has three straight seasons with 10 or more wins to show for it. This offseason, Keim used free agency, the draft, and a big trade to upgrade key areas on the Cardinals’ roster. The time is now for the Cardinals to make their championship push while they still have the services of star quarterback Carson Palmer.

Offseason grade: B

Free agency/Trades

New Arrivals: G Evan Mathis (Broncos), S Tyvon Branch (Chiefs), DE Chandler Jones (Patriots)

Re-signings: TE Jermaine Gresham, QB Drew Stanton, P Drew Butler

Departures: OLB Dwight Freeney (UFA), S Rashad Johnson (Titans), OT Bobby Massie (Bears), G Jonathan Cooper (Patriots), CB Jerraud Powers (Ravens), DT Cory Redding (UFA)

The addition of Chandler Jones is an instant injection of edge-rush production into the Cardinals’ front-seven. Jones recorded 68 pressures last season (including playoffs), 11 more than the Cardinals’ team-leading 57 pressures (including playoffs) from Markus Golden. Jones’s pass-rush abilities should help elevate the play of the Cardinals’ already impressive defense as a whole.

Evan Mathis is on the tail end of his career, and while he won’t be the Cardinals long-term starter at guard, he does provide an immediate upgrade as the top-rated run-blocking guard last season. Combining the Super Bowl 50 champ with last year’s free-agent acquisition, Mike Iupati, gives the Cardinals two of the top-four run-blocking guards in the league.

2016 NFL draft

  • Round 1 (pick No. 29) Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss
  • Round 3 (pick No. 92) Brandon Williams, CB, Texas A&M
  • Round 4 (pick No. 128) Evan Boehm, C, Missouri
  • Round 5 (pick No. 167) Marqui Christian, S, Midwest State
  • Round 5 (pick No. 170) Cole Toner, OT, Harvard
  • Round 6 (pick No. 205) Harlan Miller, CB, Southeastern Louisiana

Cardinals’ Vice President of Player Personnel, Terry McDonough, has a fondness for drafting small-school players, and it’s paid off for the team (see Rodney Gunter in 2015 and John Brown in 2014). That trend continued as the Cardinals drafted players from Midwest State, Harvard, and Southeastern Louisiana this year.

First-round pick Robert Nkemdiche is a disruptive interior pass rusher. The former Ole Miss standout is unusually athletic for his size, and can line up at defensive end or defensive tackle. He should make an instant impact by collapsing the pocket from the interior and flushing quarterbacks into Jones and Golden rushing off the edge.

Evan Boehm is the other draft pick who could find himself playing considerable snaps as a rookie. Boehm has a ton of playing experience (52 straight starts) in the SEC, and is stepping into a roster that is thin at his position.

The Cardinals have a very deep roster, and as a result, they seemed to have placed an emphasis on drafting players who can play special teams. They drafted three defensive backs in Williams, Christian, and Miller, that are short on experience against top competition, but are all athletic and could contribute right away on special-teams coverage units.

Conclusion

The Cardinals already had a deep NFC-West-winning roster, with their most important pieces returning (Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson, Calais Campbell, Patrick Peterson, and Tyrann Mathieu), but they used their offseason to improve in key areas. The additions of Jones and Nkemdiche, as well as the growth of Golden going into his second year, should make the Cardinals’ pass rush much more effective than their 29th-ranked unit last season.

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The Cardinals also added speed and youth to their special-teams coverage units. One area of concern is that Arizona could potentially have two starters on their offensive line who have never taken an NFL snap (center Evan Boehm and last year’s top-pick, D.J. Humphries, at right tackle). The Cardinals’ improved roster should have them once again in contention to win the NFC West, with potential to go further.

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