How will the loss of Darnell Dockett impact the Cardinals?


The loss of Darnell Dockett to a division is sad on a personal level. From a football standpoint, everything will be fine.

Anyone who has been a sports fan for a decent period of time has probably had to deal with the unpleasant feeling of seeing a well liked, long tenured player leave the team.  Arizona Cardinals fans are in that unfortunate situation now, after defensive end Darnell Dockett signed with the rival San Francisco 49ers. Dockett was cut by the Cardinals after the two sides were unable to negotiate a pay cut to his $9.5 million salary. The Cardinals attempted to get him back on a new, one year deal, but the Niners offered slightly more money, so Dockett headed for the Bay. 

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Not surprisingly, fan reactions on social media ranged from heartfelt expressions of gratitude to angry proclamations of Dockett’s disloyalty and hypocrisy.  No doubt it’s no fun to see Dockett, who spent eleven year with Arizona, leave. That said, there’s also football aspects to consider.  Was it worth not paying him the extra money? Will the Cards defense still be able to maintain a high level with him permanently gone?

Dockett sat out all of 2014 with an ACL tear. Despite the impact of his absence, Arizona stilled boasted  the ninth best defense in terms of yards allowed. There’s real proof that the Cardinals’ defense can manage without him. Without him in Arizona, players like Ed Stinson, who was part of the group that cushioned the blow of losing Dockett, may well get more chances to develop and prove their staying power in the NFL

If the Cardinals don’t want to go that route, the upcoming draft has a couple of defensive lineman that could fall into the Cardinals lap. Owamagbe Odighizuwa is ranked at #25 by CBS sports. right around the Cardinals pick. The development of whatever youth that can take place in lieu of Dockett, who is 33, could turn out to be a net positive for Arizona.

Of course, betting on  young guys for big roles is far from an exact science. There are a couple of names that could become replacements for Dockett.  Tommy Kelly, another Cardinal who made a valuable contribution to the D-line sans Dockett, is a free agent. If Arizona can persuade him to stay, he could be the replacement starter.

The Cards can also explore outside options. Nick Fairley and Terrance Knighton are mid-level players who can be risky but rewarding. Jerry Hughes is a solid pass-rusher, but may command a fairly sizable price. Greg Hardy is a good player and could contribute, but it doesn’t seem like the Cards are the kind of team to bring on guys with troubled legal pasts.

Ultimately, while Dockett’s loss is troubling from a fan standpoint, the Cards have proved they can manage without him. His departure has freed up money and a roster position that the Cardinals can use in pursuit of other objectives.  He’s not the same force he was a few years back either. In May, PFF rated him as a “below average starter” when it broke down Arizona’s roster.

Ignoring the personal feelings of seeing an 11 year vet leave, the Cardinals have more freedom without Dockett and the ability to still  be a dominant defensive force without him. In the end, when the Cardinals find a replacement and if they are successful in 2015, that’ll be what counts most.