Arizona Cardinals' Top Remaining Offseason Priorities
The Arizona Cardinals this offseason filled many positional needs. From left tackle Jared Veldheer to cornerback Antonio Cromartie, even to tight end John Carlson, the 2014 Cardinals roster features new faces that will be an improved bunch from last year.
But there still is work to be done. General manager Steve Keim surely cannot be satisfied with how many needs the team still has, so expect more free-agent signings in the weeks before and after the draft.
What’s left for the Cardinals to do before Week 1 of the 2014 season? Let’s go over the list.
Find a Rush Linebacker
Free agency did not produce any 3-4 outside linebackers that terrify opposing offenses. LaMarr Woodley, whom the Steelers released, would have been a great pick up a couple years ago, but at this stage of his career, he’s going to be a solid contributor and not a stud pass-rusher.
Therefore, the draft will be the place to find the next great 3-4 OLB.
Only, there are but a few who could be “great,” and only one is a sure bet. Khalil Mack won’t be around when the Cardinals pick at No. 20, however, so Keim and his crack team of scouts will have to be prepared on draft weekend to find a worthy adversary for the NFC West’s great offensive lines.
Players to Watch in the Draft: Marcus Smith (Louisville), Jackson Jeffcoat (Texas), Demarcus Lawrence (Boise State), Kyle Van Noy (BYU)
Find a Strong Safety
This one is interesting because Keim can still go either way here. Whether it’s through free agency or the draft, a good strong safety can be found.
Phillips was a top safety talent for the Giants when healthy, but he was sidelined in 2009 because of a knee injury, then again in 2012 when the injury recurred. He did not play in 2013 after the Eagles released him before the season.
If healthy (big “if”), Phillips can be a productive member of an already solid secondary. The team needs an enforcer on the back end, and he can be just that.
If the team foregoes giving Phillips a shot, the draft is chock-full of good safety talent.
Players to Watch in the Draft: Deone Bucannon (Washington State), Ahmad Dixon (Baylor), Ty Zimmerman (Kansas State), Alden Darby (Arizona State)
Find Palmer’s Successor
It’s common knowledge by now that Carson Palmer’s contract expires five days after the Super Bowl. As of now, there are no reported plans to re-sign him or extend his contract beyond the 2014 season.
So who will replace him once the veteran is gone?
Drew Stanton is not a long-term option. In fact, he shouldn’t be considered an option at all. He is a solid backup quarterback who can manage the offense in the event Palmer leaves a game and cannot return.
And Ryan Lindley is, um…no.
What to do, then? Free agency was a joke for quarterbacks, and Arizona can’t exactly spend its first-round pick on a quarterback who won’t even play until 2015.
The second round could be a good spot for a signal-caller depending on how the chips fall. Any number of solid options could be available, ranging from Zach Mettenberger to Jimmy Garoppolo—two vastly different types of quarterbacks.
A later draft pick could be used as well.
Players to Watch in the Draft: Jeff Mathews (Cornell), AJ McCarron (Alabama), Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech), Garrett Gilbert (SMU)
Find Right Guard Depth/Competition
It’s possible that Earl Watford is the future at right guard for the Cardinals. He certainly will have a shot to prove that. One thing is certain: Paul Fanaika is not the future at right guard.
But that’s the extent of the depth chart at right guard.
What happens if coach Bruce Arians decides Watford either is not ready or will never be ready? Does he go back to Fanaika knowing he’s not a long-term starting option? Does he try the newly signed Ted Larsen at right guard?
Daryn Colledge is still out there if all else fails, though his return is doubtful and should not be expected, even at a cheap rate.
Day 3 could be a good spot to find some depth and competition for right guard.
Players to Watch in the Draft: Anthony Steen (Alabama), Jon Halapio (Florida), Trai Turner (LSU), Andrew Norwell (Ohio State)
Find Right Tackle Depth/Competition
Similar to right guard, the right tackle spot along the offensive line needs depth. If Bobby Massie is ready to reassume the post he vacated in lieu of Eric Winston in 2013, then the Cardinals must find him a proper backup.
Right now, its Massie and no one else, unless you consider Bradley Sowell or Nate Potter viable options for right tackle—which you shouldn’t.
Winston, who is now “Mr. President” to members of the NFL Players Association, is still without a team but says he wants to sign somewhere sooner rather than later according to Dan Bickley of AZCentral.com. Just where he’ll sign is a mystery, but he played well enough last season—especially late—to warrant a return.
Then again, Massie hasn’t allowed a sack since Oct. 29, 2012.
Players to Watch in the Draft: Cameron Fleming (Stanford), Joel Bitonio (Nevada), Zack Martin (Notre Dame), Jack Mewhort (Ohio State)