Arizona Cardinals: Six keys to success in 2017
2. The defensive free agent exodus doesn’t turn out to be as bad as it seemed at the time.
The Cardinals’ defensive free agent exodus was downright disheartening. Key defensive players like Calais Campbell, Tony Jefferson, Kevin Minter, Marcus Cooper, and D.J. Swearinger all departed via free agency.
But the cupboards are not bare. General Manager Steve Keim has stocked the team with young talent. There’s no guarantee that players like defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche are up to the task, but it’s not unreasonable to imagine a scenario where a first round talent like Nkemdiche has a solid season in 2017, mitigating the loss of Calais Campbell.
It’s also not out of the question to imagine safeties Budda Baker and Antoine Bethea stepping in, and serving as a reasonable facsimiles for Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger. It’s even reasonable to think that linebackers Karlos Dansby or Haason Reddick will actually be an improvement over Kevin Minter. And for all the talk of Justin Bethel’s struggles, his 2016 Pro Football Focus grade of 71.0 was significantly better than the 45.5 posted by Marcus Cooper. The starting cornerback position opposite Patrick Peterson is still a concern, but Cooper was not the long term answer.
Fortunately, not all of these individual scenarios have to work out for the Cardinals’ defense to be successful. The squad has talent at all three levels, starting with the formidable pass rush tandem of Chandler Jones and Markus Golden, and Peterson and Mathieu are elite talents roaming the secondary. The defense still has the personnel to be a top-10 unit, if a few of these scenarios work out in the Cardinals’ favor.