Ever since the NFL announced Daryl Washington’s year-long suspension on May 30, the Arizona Cardinals have wondered what they should do about the void Washington left at the inside linebacker position.
Some felt the organization would explore a trade after the news dropped, while others believed a street free agent would be brought in to challenge fellow inside linebacker Larry Foote.
Coincidentally enough, general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians opted for the street free agent. According to the team’s official website, Arizona inked former first-round pick Ernie Sims to a one-year deal on Tuesday.
The fact that the Cardinals elected to sign Sims instead of exploring other options via trade should come as no surprise. Why? Because the ninth-year linebacker and the Cardinals evidently hit it off during Sims’ visit to Arizona last week.
Even though the Florida State product won’t be handed a starting job in Arizona, it makes a ton of sense that he and the Cardinals hit it off. In addition to being a good schematic fit, Sims will add experience and versatility to the Cardinals defense in wake of Washington’s suspension.
This is good news for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, considering Kevin Minter is coming off a one-snap rookie season and Foote is recovering from a ruptured bicep that forced him to miss 15 games in 2013.
As you can see, Arizona’s defense at the inside linebacker position lacks continuity and proven playmakers. Yes, Foote posted career numbers in 2012, yet there’s no guarantee he will return to his Pro Bowl-caliber form.
Under the assumption that Minter is assured one of the two inside linebacker positions, it’s evident the second one is up for grabs. Furthermore, it’s clear that Sims has the same chance of winning the left inside linebacker job as Foote and Lorenzo Alexander.
|Arizona Cardinals Inside Linebacker Depth Chart|
|Position||Player 1||Player 2||Player 3||Player 4|
|RILB||Kevin Minter||Lorenzo Alexander||Glenn Carson||-|
|LILB||Larry Foote||Ernie Sims||Kenny Demens||JoJo Dickson|
Sure, Foote will start out higher on the depth chart, yet things could dramatically change once Sims is up to speed in Bowles’ system. Nevertheless, Sims will have to prove to be a quick study.
With three veteran minicamp practices and two OTAs left, Sims said on SiriusXM NFL Radio he will be in "crunch-time study mode” to catch up, via Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com.
"I try to get in the playbook and learn the system as quickly as possible," Sims said, via Weinfuss of ESPN.com. "At the end of the day just lean on my instincts to take over.”
If Sims ends up leaning on his instincts, Cardinals fans may be pleasantly surprised. The last time Sims filled in for a player at inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, he performed quite well.
As a member of the Dallas Cowboys in 2012, Sims appeared in 10 games, made six starts, logged 374 snaps and amassed three positively graded games, according to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The funny thing is Sims’ situation in 2012 was similar to the situation he is in now. Back in 2012, Sims didn’t sign with the Cowboys during the offseason. He signed with Dallas after Sean Lee suffered a season-ending injury against the Carolina Panthers.
This, in turn, meant Sims had to lean on his instincts and learn the Cowboys' system as quickly as possible. Surprisingly, he appeared to be a quick learner, as he registered three combined tackles, two defensive stops in the run game and a quarterback hit on 10 snaps in his first game.
The strong showing helped him nab a start in his second game for the Cowboys. Versus the Atlanta Falcons, Week 9, Sims tallied 45 snaps, seven combined tackles and a run defense grade of plus-2.3.
After two impressive showings, the Cowboys’ coaching staff made a huge mistake heading into Sims’ third game of the season. Instead of starting him at left inside linebacker, Dallas moved him to right inside linebacker.
As you can imagine, the move didn’t suit him well. In fact, Sims played so poorly that he was yanked as one of the team’s starters at inside linebacker and didn’t make another start until the Cowboys hosted the Philadelphia Eagles during Week 13.
Lo and behold, Sims started at left inside linebacker and played out of his mind in that game. By the time the game clock struck zero, he had garnered five solo tackles, two quarterback hurries and one quarterback hit.
Sims was by far the most impressive player on the Cowboys defense. However, his performance wasn’t convincing enough. The following week Dallas moved him away from the left inside linebacker position and started him at right inside linebacker.
Unsurprisingly, he recorded a minus-2.2 grade overall and was stripped of his starting duties following the game.
Based on the numbers and Sims’ performance on tape, it’s overly apparent that he is at his best when he is manning the left inside linebacker position in a 3-4.
Despite the sample size being small, since 2012 was Sims only season in a 3-4, Arizona probably saw enough on tape to justify the low-risk signing.
In all likelihood, the Cardinals also picked up on the fact that Sims shined when he was playing the left inside linebacker position for the Cowboys.
Does this mean Sims will fly all over the field and exceed expectations with Arizona? No, but it does mean the Cardinals did their homework and brought in a versatile veteran with experience to challenge Foote and Alexander for the team’s starting job at left inside linebacker.
Like Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and countless others have said over the years, “Competition breeds success.”
The Cardinals are hoping the competition between Sims, Foote and Alexander will help turn a weakness into a strength/success.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via Pro Football Focus (subscription required).