The Arizona Cardinals are making smart roster moves
It all starts with Chandler Jones
If quarterback is the most important position on any NFL team, then the most important task of any NFL defense is to try to neutralize the quarterback. With this in mind, it should be no surprise that the two defensive positions that most directly impact a quarterback’s effectiveness.
Pass rusher and shut-down cornerback are among the NFL’s cornerstone positions. And of the two defensive cornerstones, there is a strong argument to be made that pass rusher is the more essential.
Prior to 2016, the Cardinals had to rely on a combination of aggressive blitzing and aging veterans like Dwight Freeney, in order to generate a pass rush. While they managed to make the most of their situation, the opportunity to have an elite pass rusher in his prime was too good to pass up. Players like Chandler Jones don’t typically make it to free agency, and the Cardinals were intent on making sure that he stayed put in Arizona.
The ability to generate a consistent pass rush with Jones and Markus Golden, means the Cardinals do not need to rely as heavily upon the blitz. Fewer players rushing the quarterback means fewer holes in coverage.
A strong pass rush also means that quarterbacks have less time to get rid of the ball. This, in turn, means that cornerbacks do not have to maintain coverage for as long. That’s a good thing. The longer a cornerback has to cover a receiver, the more likely it is that coverage will break down, and the receiver will get open.
In short, a good pass rush covers a multitude of sins on defense. The bottom line is that Jones’ impact on the game dwarfs that of any of the Cardinals’ other free agents. He was the Cardinals’ most important free agent. Period.
But signing Jones came at a price. It meant that some talented players would not return to the Cardinals in 2017 – including some key defensive starters. Let’s look at some key moves at defensive line and linebacker.