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After a 10-6 season that left the Arizona Cardinals wondering what might have been had they won a game or two more, the offseason has begun and thus we begin looking at who will be on the roster bubble once the 2014 campaign gets going.
The Cardinals have a host of solid players set to hit free agency on March 11, including running back Rashard Mendenhall, wideout Andre Roberts, right tackle Eric Winston, linebackers Karlos Dansby and Matt Shaughnessy, as well as safety Yeremiah Bell and punter Dave Zastudil.
We cannot assume any of them will return with contracts, so they are not considered part of the 2014 team at this point and therefore were not considered for this piece.
With that in mind, here are some Cardinals on the 2014 roster bubble.
Ryan Lindley, Quarterback
The NFL draft in May could be the end of Ryan Lindley’s run with the Cardinals. He is under contract for two more seasons, but after a tumultuous rookie campaign that produced zero touchdowns and seven interceptions in seven games and not playing a single snap in 2013, he is all but useless—especially if Arizona drafts a quarterback at any point.
Starter Carson Palmer became the first player to throw every quarterback pass for the Cardinals since Jake Plummer in 2001. Backup Drew Stanton didn’t see a single snap under center in 2013—the only other player to see time at the position was rookie running back Andre Ellington, who lined up there three consecutive plays as the Wildcat quarterback in a game against the Houston Texans.
The only way for Lindley to save his roster spot has nothing to do with him at all; general manager Steve Keim would have to forgo taking a signal-caller in the draft for the third-year player to remain with the team.
Ryan Williams, Running Back
It’s a sad truth, but Ryan Williams is already on the roster bubble for next season. He was inactive for all 16 games in 2013, and he could be out altogether if management brings back Mendenhall or signs another veteran free agent this offseason.
Williams enters the final year of his rookie contract in 2014 and is set to make $1.59 million. The team would save around $1 million by waiving him this offseason, so as unfortunate and perhaps unfair as it seems, the Cardinals cannot guarantee Williams a roster spot.
There was speculation earlier this season that Williams was being saved for 2014 because the team knew it wasn’t going to re-sign Mendenhall—that it wanted to be sure Williams was fully healthy for camp this offseason.
That is possible, and it makes sense to a certain degree. But holding a young player hostage for that reason seems unethical, especially given the early-season running game woes the team faced this year.
Rob Housler, Tight End
Put simply, tight end Rob Housler has not produced at the level expected of him coming out of the 2011 draft. Dropped passes, a lack of interest and failure to score touchdowns has made him very replaceable this offseason.
If not for the fact that he will be the only tight end under contract as of March 11, he may have been released already.
He showed up at times in 2013 and finally scored a touchdown—in his 34th career game, mind you. But inconsistency has marred his image among many fans, and few people would rue the day Housler is released.
An early-round tight end is a possibility for Arizona in this draft, even as high as Round 1. With where they sit in the first round—No. 20 overall—the best tight ends the class has to offer all should be available. If Keim and Co. fall in love with one, they could pull the trigger.
North Carolina’s Eric Ebron could be there at No. 20; he would be an intriguing choice and could start immediately in Bruce Arians’ offense.
Daryn Colledge, Right Guard
Remember: Arizona drafted Jonathan Cooper in 2013 to be the team’s left guard. A broken leg in the preseason forced him to miss his rookie campaign and handcuffed the Cardinals, who had to move Daryn Colledge back to his usual left guard spot.
Colledge will be on the roster bubble not for his performance this season, but rather for cap reasons.
Keim has some difficult decisions ahead thanks to cap issues, and Colledge—due $7.28 million in 2014—is a part of that. His play has not yet begun to decline, but if there is a cheaper, younger option out there, the Cardinals would be wise to take a serious look at him.
One option is on the roster already in guard Earl Watford. A fourth-round pick in 2013, he did not play a down and was inactive nearly every week. But he is long and athletic and could be the guy to replace Colledge.
Dontay Moch, Outside Linebacker
His one shining moment in 2013 came during Week 4, earning a sack of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon on a third-down play to force a punt. The fourth-quarter takedown set up the game-winning field goal by Jay Feely.
But Dontay Moch was soon replaced in the rotation by Marcus Benard and didn’t play a snap after Week 8.
Moch recorded two tackles and the sack in four games this season.
He’s under contract for one more year, but it won’t cost the team anything to cut him. With Sam Acho, Lorenzo Alexander and Alex Okafor returning from injury in 2014, Moch unfortunately has a very small chance of being retained.
Others on the Bubble
There should be more turnover on offense than on defense in terms of starters and rotation players, but these players could also find themselves on the roster bubble when Cards camp 2014 gets going.
OG Paul Fanaika
Started all 16 games at right guard while Colledge filled in for rookie Cooper. Played admirably but could be out of work if Colledge is retained.
ILB Jasper Brinkley
Started first four games at inside linebacker while Daryl Washington served four-game suspension. Was great run defender and below average at everything else. Development of Kevin Minter and possible re-signing of Dansby could affect his status in 2014.
ILB Daryl Washington
Strictly a money issue. Washington is one of best inside linebackers in the NFL, but a $10 million roster bonus could throw a wrench into things. Something to watch in coming weeks. (Don’t expect this, but don’t be surprised if he's cut or traded.) It's worth noting that Kent Somers of AZCentral.com reports the Cardinals are expected to pay the bonus.
CB Jerraud Powers
Under contract through 2015 but was picked on by opposing quarterbacks throughout season. No one allowed more receptions in 2013 than Powers’ 73, according to Pro Football Focus. Roster spot could depend on draft, free agency and potential re-signing of Antoine Cason.
S Curtis Taylor
Saw playing time in only one game and on special teams only (Week 16 at Tennessee). May not make it on roster to early May.