Just one day remains until the 2019 league year begins for the National Football League. Teams have begun securing verbal agreements with free agents and putting trades into place. Nothing has been made official (looking at you Anthony Barr), at least not until the league year begins. Last time we took a look at the offensive side of the ball and what needs the Arizona Cardinals have moving forward. Today, we take a look at the defense to find areas where the team could stand to add talent.
The Cardinals suffered through injuries along the interior defensive line in 2018. Rodney Gunter was the only defensive tackle to appear in all 16 games last season. Veteran Corey Peters played in 15, but the Cardinals got just 10 games a piece from Olsen Pierre and Robert Nkemdiche. The team’s first round pick in 2016, Nkemdiche has been a source of frustration for both the team and its fans. Nkemdiche has struggled to show consistency and stay healthy. His ability can be seen at times, but they are momentary flashes without follow-up. Unfortunately, he seemed to be putting things together in 2018 before being placed on IR towards the back half of the season.
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Gunter is an unrestricted free agent while Pierre is a restricted free agent. Neither player has received an offer from the team at this point. There is definitely an abundance of talented interior defensive linemen in the draft, including many which can be found in the mid-rounds. The scheme change back to a 3-4 raises questions about fit, as the free agent market is rather lacking in that regard. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Gunter is still available after a few weeks that the Cardinals setup a return.
Markus Golden is a free agent and struggled to make an impact in 2018 after returning from an ACL tear. The Cardinals have an elite edge player in Chandler Jones but need to find the bookend to their pass rushing monster. The market has begun to thin out as players such as Trey Flowers have agreed to deals. Arizona State alum, Terrell Suggs, has reportedly agreed to a contract. However, the contract details are not fully known. Arizona could stand to add some depth in free agency but it is highly likely the team chooses to go the route of the draft to address long-term needs. Nick Bosa from Ohio State is the favorite for many as a possible number one pick, if the Cardinals choose to pass on quarterback Kyler Murray. Tapping Bosa to learn a year or two behind Suggs would be a scary proposition for opposing offenses.
The Cardinals have reportedly reached a deal with former Eagles inside linebacker, Jordan Hicks. The four-year vet has been one of the best all-around linebackers in the NFL since becoming a starter and is an immediate upgrade for the defense. It is likely the Cardinals continue forward with 2017 first round pick Haason Reddick to pair with their new addition. Injuries decimated the group in 2018 so quality depth is important. Deone Bucannon is a possibility, although it may be an issue agreeing to a cap friendly contract for the Cardinals. The remaining market lacks major star appeal, but offers solid contributors for Arizona. This is another area where a late round pick could feature on special teams in addition to providing end of the bench help.
Arizona signed Robert Alford after he was released by Atlanta. Alford is a talented cornerback with a penchant for penalties. He is the latest attempt by the Cardinals to find a competent compliment opposite Patrick Peterson. There are a plethora of available cornerbacks in free agency, although the market price is quickly rising. The same can be said for the safety positions. Arizona looks to have a solid pairing in Budda Baker and D.J. Swearinger, although the recent release of Antoine Bethea raises the question of depth. Many of the big names at the position have seen bags of money being thrown their way.
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The draft offers much in terms of potential at cornerback and safety. Many draft boards list quality prospects available in the late rounds. There is a very real possibility that the Cardinals use one of their fifth and sixth round picks on an athletic cornerback with the hopes he can be developed. However, don’t be surprised if general manager Steve Keim throws another one-year deal at a veteran safety to shore up the back-end of the secondary.
Return to Respectability
2018 saw the fall of a once great defense. Arizona could not stop the run and was about average against the pass. Many pointed to the switch to a 4-3 base defense. However, returning to a 3-4 does not guarantee success, as the roster is lacking in multiple areas. New defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has major pieces in Jones, Peterson, Baker, and now Hicks, although it remains to be seen how the rest of the defense comes together. Recent memory has seen dominant defensive performances from the Cardinals. After a few seasons of losses in the personnel department, the defense looked thin in the ranks. With the organization looking to move past the memory of the 2018 season, it will be interesting to see what free agency and the draft can bring in terms of reinforcements.