Arizona Cardinals preparing to roll with a no-name defensive unit in 2023
By Jim Koch
The free agents that the Arizona Cardinals have added on defense thus far in 2023 are far from household names.
With each passing day, things are looking more and more grim for this year's version of the Arizona Cardinals. After a slow beginning to the free agency signing period, first-year general manager Monti Ossenfort began to acquire players. Unfortunately, a large number of the team's followers are unfamiliar with most of the roster additions.
Sadly, the Cardinals appear to be waving the white flag on the 2023 campaign. The defense, in particular, could be historically bad. Plenty of star-caliber defenders were available, but Ossenfort has elected to sign several mediocre veterans who were willing to play for the league minimum.
Arizona's "high-profile" acquisition thus far this offseason is Kyzir White, a sixth-year linebacker from the Philadelphia Eagles. Sure, the 6 foot 2, 234 pounder is a nice player. But with all of the exceptional talent that was there for the taking, is White really the best that the front office could do for a defensive group that has a plethora of holes?
The Redbirds' second-best free-agent addition also bolstered the linebacker position. Krys Barnes, a fourth-year pro from the Green Bay Packers, has 24 starts on his professional resume. Since he entered the league back in 2020, the 25-year-old has recorded 190 tackles and three sacks in the 35 matchups he dressed for.
Following the acquisitions of White and Barnes, the Cards proceeded to bring in a handful of individuals that no other franchise coveted. The fact that defensive end L.J. Collier is a former first-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks is all well and good. What's unimpressive about the signing is that the 27-year-old has tallied just 40 tackles and three sacks during his four NFL seasons.
Arizona Cardinals added several free-agent defenders who have been used primarily as backups
At times, 29-year-old Carlos Watkins has been a serviceable defensive tackle in the league. However, the 6 foot 3, 305 pounder has been primarily a backup for most of his six-year career. Watkins' best performance came back in 2021 when he totaled 32 tackles, a sack and an interception return for a touchdown in 15 appearances (14 starts) for the Dallas Cowboys.
Like Watkins, cornerback Rashad Fenton also has a tiny bit of starting experience. The 26-year-old has logged 17 starts in the 49 pro contests he has appeared in. Fenton's most-productive campaign came back in '21, when he racked up 49 tackles and seven passes defensed in 14 matchups (eight starts) for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Kevin Strong, a defensive tackle from the Tennessee Titans, has started just twice since 2019. Last fall, the 26-year-old tallied 23 tackles and two pass breakups during the 16 games he played in for the Titans.
Defensively, the Cardinals have just one superstar to speak of. Budda Baker is an outstanding safety that has been voted to five Pro Bowls since he came to the desert back in 2017. Arizona is hoping that youngsters like Isaiah Simmons, Jalen Thompson, Zaven Collins and Marco Wilson will be just as successful, but they're not there yet.
The Cards seem perfectly willing to roll with the no-name defensive unit they are assembling. With a little luck, the contingent will come together and find a way to slow down the lethal scoring attacks that the National Football League has to offer. The "Red Sea" is going to have a mighty hard time staying interested in the '23 campaign if this band of misfits on defense can't rise to the occasion.
(Statistics provided by Pro Football Reference)