2015 NFL Offseason: Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals (Last Year: 11-5)

2015 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
G Mike Iupati, C A.Q. Shipley, DE/DT Cory Redding, DE/DT Corey Peters, DE/OLB LaMarr Woodley, ILB Sean Weatherspoon.
Early Draft Picks:
OT D.J. Humphries, DE/OLB Markus Golden, RB David Johnson, DE/DT Rodney Gunter, DE/OLB Shaquille Riddick, WR J.J. Nelson. Cardinals Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
TE Rob Housler, G Paul Fanaika, C Lyle Sendlein, DE/DT Darnell Dockett, DE/DT Tommy Kelly, NT Dan Williams, DE/OLB Sam Acho, DE/OLB John Abraham, CB Antonio Cromartie, KR Ted Ginn.

2015 Arizona Cardinals Offense:
It all went downhill for the Cardinals when Carson Palmer tore his ACL against the Rams. And then it got worse when Drew Stanton also got hurt – also against St. Louis. Thanks to two meetings with the Rams, Arizona’s once-promising 11-3 record quickly faded away, as the team dropped its final three games of the season, including a playoff defeat at Carolina.

The key for the Cardinals will be keeping Palmer healthy this season, and even then, it’s not a guarantee that the offense will function well, given that as of this writing, Palmer hasn’t been cleared to play yet. He still has time, but he’s a 35-year-old coming off a knee tear. There’s a chance his skill set could erode even more than it already had.

Still, it’s no surprise that Arizona spent its first-round selection on a tackle. I imagine the front office must have been thrilled when D.J. Humphries, who was expected to go in the late teens, fell to them at No. 24. The coaching staff will be hoping that Humphries will show enough that he’ll be able to break into the starting lineup as early as possible, displacing right tackle Bobbie Massie, who was responsible for Palmer’s injury. Humphries would start next to Jonathan Cooper, another player who needs to prove himself. Cooper is a former top-10 pick, but has done nothing in his first two NFL seasons. The good news is that head coach Bruce Arians praised Cooper’s conditioning in the middle of May. This is significant, as Arians had previously been very critical of Cooper’s lethargy.

The left side of the offensive line is in much better shape. Tackle Jared Veldheer is an outstanding blocker; he surrendered only one sack in 2014. Arizona signed guard Mike Iupati to play next to Veldheer. Iupati, formerly of San Francisco, is just an average pass protector, but happens to be very powerful in terms of opening up running lanes. Meanwhile, the weak point of the offensive line could be at center, where Ted Larsen is likely to take over for the departed Lyle Sendlein. Larsen struggled at guard last year, but he can’t possibly be worse than Sendlein, who was atrocious in 2014 because he was playing through an injury.

In summary, Palmer should be better protected than he was last season. He’ll have more time in the pocket to find his two excellent receivers and third emerging target. Larry Fitzgerald has declined recently, failing to reach 1,000 yards since 2011, but he has still shown flashes that he can be a dominant wideout. Michael Floyd, meanwhile, is a year removed from a 66-catch, 1,054-yard campaign. The emerging target, of course, is John Brown, who tallied 696 yards as a rookie. Brown had some big games in Palmer’s final few starts, including a 119-yard showing against the Eagles.

Palmer will also have more help in the backfield. Arizona had to find a new running back because of Andre Ellington’s durability issues, and it managed to secure a promising player in third-round rookie David Johnson. The Northern Iowa product had a stellar Senior Bowl showing, and his versatility will be welcomed in Arians’ offense. The 225-pounder is a nice complement to the speedy Ellington, who can go the distance any time he catches the ball.

2015 Arizona Cardinals Defense:
While the D.J. Humphries selection makes a lot of sense, there was speculation that the Cardinals could have used their first-round pick to upgrade some of the areas on their defense that need to be addressed. Arizona would end up using later-round choices on defensive upgrades, but it doesn’t appear as though the front office did nearly enough to address the issues on this side of the ball.

One such problem is at inside linebacker. The Cardinals have been extremely helpless when matching up against tight ends over the past few seasons, and now they have to worry about Jimmy Graham twice per year. Yet, the team barely did anything to remedy this issue. It signed Sean Weatherspoon away from the Falcons, but Weatherspoon hasn’t been able to stay healthy. If he does, he’ll be an upgrade next to Kevin Minter at the position, but Arizona can’t count on him being available. The same can be said for the suspended Daryl Washington, whose status is currently unknown.

Another area of concern is the secondary, as Antonio Cromartie left via free agency. Cromartie was more consistent than Patrick Peterson last year, but the latter improved once doctors detected that he had diabetes and got it under control. Peterson performed better in the second half of the season, but Arizona still needs help across from him. Jerraud Powers is the favorite to start as the No. 2 corner, but he’s not the solution, and the team barely has any depth at the position.

Peterson and Powers will be joined by Tyrann Mathieu and Deone Bucannon in the secondary. Mathieu is a very talented safety, but was limited in 2014 because of a knee injury. Bucannon, meanwhile, struggled as a rookie, but perhaps he’ll be able to make some improvements.

A third spot that needed to be looked at was the nose tackle position. Former first-rounder Dan Williams did a great job of clogging the interior, but he signed with the Raiders. Possible replacements include Alameda Ta’amu, who barely played last year, and former Falcon Corey Peters, who is a questionable fit in the 3-4 as a nose tackle. Fortunately for the Cardinals, the rest of their defensive line is in good shape. Calais Campbell is one of the top 3-4 ends in the NFL, while Cory Redding, who played for the Colts last year, showed that he can still be an impactful player in this league. Redding turns 35 in November, but he’s coming off a strong campaign for Indianapolis.

One void that was addressed was the rush linebacker position, though it’s unknown if the player the Cardinals obtained will make a big difference. Arizona hasn’t been able to generate much pressure from the edge over the past few seasons, so it’ll be hoping that second-round rookie Markus Golden will be able to help in a rotation with Matt Shaughnessy and the pedestrian Alex Okafor. However, many teams viewed Golden as a fourth-round prospect and deemed him a reach where the Cardinals chose him.

2015 Arizona Cardinals Schedule and Intangibles:
Something that was apparent during Arizona’s postseason run in 2008 was the homefield advantage the team unceremoniously established. Including the playoffs, the Cardinals are 40-19 as hosts the past six years, including 7-1 in 2014.

Ted Ginn returned punts well last year, but he’s no longer on the team, so Arizona will have to find a way to stay efficient in this regard without him. The team also has to improve its kickoff coverage, which was dreadful in 2014.

The Cardinals went with a rookie kicker last year, and it paid off. Chandler Catanzaro was 29-of-33, including 2-of-3 from 50-plus.

Dave Zastudil is one of the top punters in the league, but he missed most of 2014 because of a groin injury. He’ll be back this season.

Arizona’s first four games happen to be against teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season, but things get much tougher after that. In a stretch beginning in Week 5, the Cardinals have to battle the Lions (away), Steelers (away), Ravens (home), Seahawks (away) and Bengals (home), and the only reprieve they have is a road tilt versus Cleveland. Arizona also finishes up with the Eagles (road), Packers (home) and Seahawks (home), which sounds brutal.

2015 Arizona Cardinals Rookies:
Go here for the Cardinals Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2015 Arizona Cardinals Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2015 Arizona Cardinals Analysis: The Cardinals are a quality team that could easily make a run in the playoffs, but there are a few things working against them. This includes some of the areas they didn’t fix on defense, a tough schedule in the second half of the season, and the durability of some key players, namely Carson Palmer and Andre Ellington. With all of this considered, it could be difficult for the Cardinals to qualify for the postseason again.

Projection: 9-7 (TBA in NFC West)

NFL Draft Team Grade: B- Grade

Goals Entering the 2015 NFL Draft: The Cardinals have to find some replacements for players they’ve lost recently, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Cornerback, inside linebacker, defensive end and rush linebacker are all positions that need to be addressed. On offense, another running back has to be acquired because Andre Ellington can’t carry the load himself.

2015 NFL Draft Accomplishments: FOX Sports’ Mike Jurecki said all along that right tackle was a sleeper option for the Cardinals, and surely enough, that’s the direction they went when D.J. Humphries dropped to them at No. 24. Humphries was a solid pick, as he’ll displace Bobbie Massie, who was responsible for Carson Palmer’s injury last year.

The Cardinals addressed many of their needs after that. They nabbed a pair of pass-rushers in Markus Golden and Shaquille Riddick, though the former was a slight reach at the end of the second frame. Running back David Johnson was a much greater value toward the end of the next round. He projects as a perfect complement for Ellington.

I liked most of Arizona’s draft, but I had a couple of issues with it. First, Rodney Gunter was a major reach in the fourth round. Also, the Cardinals failed to upgrade the secondary and inside linebacker positions. They’ve had immense problems covering tight ends, and now they’ll have to deal with Jimmy Graham twice per season. Their reluctance to add to the linebacking corps could prove to be costly, and it’s the primary reason why this grade is not in the B+ range.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

24. D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida: B+ Grade
I slotted D.J. Humphries to the Browns’ 19th-overall pick in my mock draft, so this is a slight bargain. I thought Arizona would take Eric Kendricks or a tall cornerback like Byron Jones, but Humphries makes sense as well. Right tackle Bobby Massie was the one responsible for Carson Palmer’s injury against the Rams, so Humphries should provide an upgrade at right tackle. The Cardinals need to do everything in their power to make sure Palmer is protected. They can’t have Bruce Arians debating between Ryan Lindley and Logan Thomas in a playoff matchup again.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

58. Markus Golden, DE/OLB, Missouri: B- Grade
After some NFL personnel men looked at a mock draft of mine back in February, I was told to move Markus Golden down to the third or fourth round. Obviously, I didn’t talk to anyone from Arizona. Having said that, I don’t mind Golden at the end of the second round, given that I admittedly had him at the end of the first frame at some point. Golden could potentially help solve Arizona’s pass-rushing issues from the edge.

86. David Johnson, RB, Northern Iowa: A Grade
ESPN is talking up Sean Mannion as of this writing, but David Johnson is a much better, more-significant pick. Johnson was one of the stars of the Senior Bowl, making a name for himself coming out of Northern Iowa. I thought he’d go earlier than this in the 50-70 range, so the Cardinals are getting quite a bargain with him. He’ll complement Andre Ellington extremely well.

116. Rodney Gunter, DE/DT, Delaware State: D Grade
I didn’t have Rodney Gunter listed in my rankings. NFL.com didn’t even know who he was, listing him as a center. Gunter is a strong, big defensive lineman with some upside, but this is way too early for him. Arizona probably could’ve obtained him a couple of rounds later.

158. Shaquille Riddick, DE/OLB, West Virginia: B Grade
Shaq Riddick needs to be developed. He’s razor-thin at just 6-6, 244, and despite this, he played on the defensive line at West Virginia. He needs to pack on about 20 pounds, and he has the frame to do it. If he can accomplish this goal and is able to carry this weight well, he could evolve into a decent starter on the edge. He fits the range in the middle of Round 5.

159. J.J. Nelson, WR, UAB: B Grade
The final player to be drafted out of UAB in a very long time, J.J. Nelson fits the range as a mid-fifth-round prospect. The Cardinals have three strong receivers right now, but Larry Fitzgerald doesn’t have much time left, while Michael Floyd has generated some trade discussions. Another wideout is needed as insurance.

256. Gerald Christian, TE, Louisville: C Grade
This year’s Mr. Irrelevant was productive at Louisville, but doesn’t seem like an NFL talent. He’s not even a good blocker, so he’s a long shot of sticking around the NFL.

Season Summary:
Poor Cardinals. They were 9-1 at one point, but Carson Palmer and Andre Ellington were both lost for the season with injuries. And when it seemed like it couldn’t get any worse, backup quarterback Drew Stanton also went down with an injury. Ryan Lindley had to start the final three games, and he lost all of them, including a playoff matchup at Carolina.

Offseason Moves:
  • Browns sign TE Rob Housler
  • Bears sign DE/OLB Sam Acho
  • Chiefs sign G Paul Fanaika
  • Cardinals cut C Lyle Sendlein
  • Jets sign CB Antonio Cromartie
  • Cardinals sign C A.Q. Shipley
  • Cardinals sign DE/DT Cory Redding
  • Raiders sign NT Dan Williams
  • Cardinals sign G Mike Iupati
  • Cardinals sign DE/OLB LaMarr Woodley
  • Cardinals sign DE/DT Corey Peters
  • Cardinals re-sign NT Alameda Ta’amu
  • Panthers sign WR/KR Ted Ginn
  • Cardinals sign ILB Sean Weatherspoon
  • 49ers sign DE/DT Darnell Dockett
  • Cardinals cut DE/DT Darnell Dockett
  • Cardinals re-sign OT Bradley Sowell
  • Cardinals cut WR/PR Ted Ginn

    Team Needs:
    1. Rush Linebacker: Arizona’s greatest need is strengthening the pass rush. The team didn’t have a single consistent pass-rusher last year, excluding Calais Campbell. A starter is needed across from Alex Okafor, and one can be obtained in either free agency or in the first round of the draft. Signed LaMarr Woodley

    2. Inside Linebacker: The Cardinals were atrocious against tight ends because Larry Foote simply couldn’t cover them. That should’ve been Daryl Washington, but the Cardinals can’t count on the troubled linebacker. Signed Sean Weatherspoon

    3. Two Guards: What are the Cardinals going to do about Jonathan Cooper? He has been a monumental bust. It’s not like the players ahead of him are any good. In fact, both guards struggled immensely this past season. Upgrades are needed; an early-round choice would suffice. Signed Mike Iupati

    4. Cornerback: Arizona made a great signing by bringing in Antonio Cromartie on a 1-year “prove it” deal, but now it has to worry about either re-signing him or finding another starting corner.

    5. Safety: Rashad Johnson was the team’s sole liability in the secondary. The Cardinals may want to spend a second-day selection on a replacement.

    6. Defensive End: Darnell Dockett won’t be around much longer, while Tommy Kelly happens to be a free agent. A new defensive end is needed. Signed Cory Redding and Corey Peters

    7. Nose Tackle: Dan Williams is another free agent Arizona will have to retain. He’s a major reason why the team has been so stout against the run.

    8. Center: The Cardinals cut Lyle Sendlein, who dealt with a calf injury last year. He’ll need to be replaced. Signed A.Q. Shipley

    9. Running Back: There’s nothing the Cardinals could’ve done about their quarterback situation, but they could at least upgrade the running back position. Andre Ellington is an electrifying player, but he’s not built to carry the load. A complement for Ellington is needed.

    10. Wide Receiver: The Larry Fitzgerald situation needs to be rectified. Fitzgerald is making too much money, so there’s some speculation that he may not be back next year.

    11. Punter: We all saw how awful Arizona’s punting situation was in the playoff loss to the Panthers. Drew Butler was 31st in net average during the regular season.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2015 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Mike Iupati, G, 49ers. Age: 28.
      Signed with Cardinals (5 years, $40 million)

      Mike Iupati has never been great in pass protection, but he has been one of the league’s top run-blockers over the past several seasons.

    2. Cory Redding, DE/DT, Colts. Age: 34.
      Signed with Cardinals (2 years, $6 million)

      Cory Redding was Indianapolis’ most-consistent pass-rusher in 2014. Unfortunately, he could see a decline in his play soon, given that he’ll turn 35 in November.

    3. Sean Weatherspoon, OLB, Falcons. Age: 27.
      Signed with Cardinals (1 year, $4 million)

      It’s quite difficult to rank Sean Weatherspoon. He’s a very talented linebacker, but has an extensive injury history. He tore his Achilles in June and was already battling knee issues that caused him to miss nine games in 2013. It’s possible he may never be the same player again.

    4. Corey Peters, DT, Falcons. Age: 27.
      Signed with Cardinals (3 years, $10.5 million)

      Despite tearing his Achilles late last season, Corey Peters was able to return in the middle of September and perform relatively well as a rotational defensive lineman. He’ll be better next year, as he’ll be 100 percent.

    5. LaMarr Woodley, DE/OLB, Raiders. Age: 30. — Signed with Cardinals
    6. A.Q. Shipley (RFA), C, Colts. Age: 29. — Signed with Cardinals

    Arizona Cardinals Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Antonio Cromartie, CB, Cardinals. Age: 31.
      Signed with Jets

      Antonio Cromartie was banged up in 2013, so he had to take a 1-year “prove it” deal with the Cardinals. He definitely showcased how good he was, playing as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL until a late-season ankle injury slowed him down.

    2. Dan Williams, NT, Cardinals. Age: 28.
      Signed with Raiders

      Dan Williams is limited as a pass-rusher, but he’s been one of the better run-stuffing nose tackles in the NFL over the past several seasons.

    3. Lyle Sendlein, C, Cardinals. Age: 31.
      Lyle Sendlein was downright awful in 2014, but that could be attributed to a calf injury that he sustained in training camp and just wouldn’t go away. Sendlein had a decent 2013 season, and had played well before that. Some team could get a nice buy-low option at center.

    4. Tommy Kelly, DE/DT, Cardinals. Age: 34.
      Tommy Kelly will be 35 late during the 2015 season, but he still provides a solid pass rush while being pretty decent in terms of stopping the run.

    5. Darnell Dockett, DE/DT, Cardinals. Age: 34.
      Signed with 49ers (2 years, $7.5 million)

      Darnell Dockett missed all of 2014 with a torn ACL. The season before, Dockett was just sub par. He’ll be 34 in May, and it’s unlikely that he’ll ever be anything close to the dominant player he once was. He can probably still be a strong backup, however.

    6. John Abraham, DE/OLB, Cardinals. Age: 37.
      John Abraham registered 11.5 sacks in 2013, but missed all but one game this past season with a concussion. Abraham said he’s coming back for 2015, but he’s 37 in May and has an extensive concussion history.

    7. Ted Ginn, WR/PR, Cardinals. Age: 30.
      Signed with Panthers

      I’m biased against Ted Ginn because he has a habit of costing me money when I wager on or against him, but he still deserves to be rated as a two-star free agent. He’s not much of a receiver, but he’s still a dynamic punt returner; he took a touchdown to the house in 2014 and averaged more than 10 yards per return.

    8. Sam Acho, DE/OLB, Cardinals. Age: 26. — Signed with Bears
    9. Rob Housler, TE, Cardinals. Age: 27. — Signed with Browns (1 year, $1.76 million)
    10. Paul Fanaika, G, Cardinals. Age: 26. — Signed with Chiefs (3 years, $8.1 million)
    11. Larry Foote, ILB, Cardinals. Age: 35.
    12. Alameda Ta’amu (RFA), NT, Cardinals. Age: 25. — Re-signed with Cardinals
    13. Bradley Sowell (RFA), OT, Cardinals. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Cardinals (1 year)
    14. Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Cardinals. Age: 26.


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