What Daryl Washington's Suspension Means for the Arizona Cardinals

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystApril 3, 2013

On Tuesday, fans of the Arizona Cardinals were in a celebratory mood, toasting the arrival of quarterback Carson Palmer in the Valley of the Sun.

Well, somebody called the cops, and on Wednesday the party was broken up.

Inside linebacker Daryl Washington, who led the Cardinals with 134 tackles in 2012, will miss the first four games of the 2013 season after being suspended for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, according to Will Brinson of CBS Sports.

Washington, 26, who also tallied nine sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception in his breakout 2012 campaign, released a statement through the team apologizing for his misstep.

"I was always taught that when you make a mistake, you admit it, learn from it and face whatever consequences there are. I take full responsibility and I understand that I let down my teammates, the organization and fans. I apologize for that and promise that no one will work harder to make up for it."

Washington is arguably the Cardinals' best player not named Larry Fitzgerald, so obviously losing the fourth-year pro for a quarter of the season is a huge blow.

However, Arizona fans should hold off for just a second before swapping out that champagne for tequila, because things may not be as dire as they appear

Veteran Paris Lenon, who racked up 103 tackles playing next to Washington last year, is a free agent. It's possible the Cardinals might now elect to bring back the 35-year-old for one more year, or perhaps a similarly priced "bargain" veteran such as Takeo Spikes, who has extensive experience playing in the 3-4.

It's also possible Arizona might choose to ride out the suspension with their in-house options, especially because the Cardinals improved their depth at inside linebacker in the offseason.

The Cardinals acquired Lorenzo Alexander and Jasper Brinkley in free agency, and while neither of those players is going to be confused with Daryl Washington any time soon, both are capable pros.

The 29-year-old Alexander, who had 46 tackles and 2.5 sacks for the Washington Redskins in 2012, is a versatile defender with experience playing both inside and outside linebacker. Alexander's not an elite talent, but he would start on more than a few teams in the NFL, and the seven-year veteran was actually a Pro Bowler last year as the NFC's special teams representative.

Brinkley, 27, had 99 tackles as the starting middle linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings in 2012. Granted, this will be Brinkley's first time in the 3-4 defense, and the fifth-year pro was the fourth-worst inside linebacker in the NFL last year, according to Pro Football Focus.

However, Brinkley was already penciled into the starting lineup next to Washington, and at least he has 19 career starts worth of experience under his belt.

As I said earlier, there's no getting around the fact that Washington's suspension is a big blow. However, thanks to the offseason acquisitions the Cardinals have already made, it's not a death knell for the defense, even if they don't make any more moves at inside linebacker.

Head coach Bruce Arians told Brinson that he's confident the Cardinals will weather the storm.

"Adversity and dealing with it is part of the business. But when it's avoidable like this was, it's particularly tough. One of the biggest things we preach is accountability. Daryl knows that, and our team knows that. We will deal with this, and others will have to step up until he's back. I'm confident they will."

It's just too bad that storm had to come when things were finally looking sunny.