Arizona Cardinals Veterans Who Have Been Put on Notice This Offseason
The Arizona Cardinals have enjoyed a prosperous offseason, but there is a caveat with adding young and veteran talent via the draft and free agency: Veterans of the team—young and old—have been put on notice and may be out of jobs soon.
Even new free-agent signees have work to do thanks to some of the rookies added during the recent NFL draft.
Some have seen the writing on the wall since Steve Keim and Bruce Arians took over the team a year ago; some should have seen it coming after a catawampus 2013 season; and others, though they may not agree with it, may not get much of a chance to prove their worth on the field after signing with the team this offseason.
Who are they? You already know most of them well. Here are five Cardinals veterans who have been put on notice this offseason.
Player contract info courtesy of Spotrac.com.
Ryan Lindley, Quarterback
Replaced by a fourth-round rookie? In most cases, that's not likely. But former Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas fits Arians’ offense so well and has so much potential that Ryan Lindley could be on his way out of Arizona sooner rather than later.
Some have speculated that it is Drew Stanton who should be worried about his job. I ask them this: Who is going to mentor Thomas from the sideline on Sundays while Tom Moore is working with Carson Palmer and can’t be in Thomas’ ear all game long? Lindley?
In a word: no.
Arians wanted Stanton with him in Arizona to help teach young quarterbacks his offense and to be there in the event his starting signal-caller is unable to go due to injury. So far, Palmer has not missed a snap with the Cardinals because of injury, so Stanton has not yet had an opportunity to see game action.
But as long as he’s in Cardinal Red, his job is to help the coaching staff prepare Thomas for game action. That should continue in 2014, and Lindley could be out of work before long.
The fourth-year pro is not practice-squad eligible, so he has no shot of remaining with the team unless Arians keeps four quarterbacks into the season.
That is very unlikely to happen.
Tony Jefferson, Safety
An undrafted free-agent signee from the University of Oklahoma in 2013, safety Tony Jefferson earned a spot on the roster out of camp last season and played in seven games, including starting at free safety and playing every snap of Arizona's Week 16 upset win in Seattle.
First-round pick Deone Bucannon will become the starting strong safety at some point this offseason. When that happens, it will come down to Jefferson and veteran Rashad Johnson for playing time when starting free safety Tyrann Mathieu drops down to play nickel cornerback—which should be the majority of the time, meaning there will be plenty of snaps for the two to battle over.
Another hill I gotta climb over..Hoping one day one of these hills will have a reward at the top,God knows I'm getting tired of climbing— Tony Jefferson (@tonyjefferson1) May 9, 2014
Jefferson indeed has a hill to climb to earn playing time in 2014. I wouldn’t put it past him, though. He’s a solid player and already is mentoring Bucannon, according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com:
It was interesting to see first-round pick Deone Bucannon basically shadow Tony Jefferson at strong safety during the Phase 2 run-throughs of defensive plays. That’s one way to learn on the job.
Rob Housler, Tight End
Arians’ first season was a perfect time for veteran tight end Rob Housler to prove he’s a good fit in the downfield passing attack. However, no one told Housler that 2013 was the year to show he can be a competent receiver.
The former third-round pick out of Florida International did record a career high with 454 receiving yards, and he did (finally) get into the end zone with his first career touchdown during a Week 10 win over the Houston Texans.
But an apparent lack of interest on the field at times kept him from being the threat he should have been and caused Palmer to look elsewhere later in the season—even when Housler was wide open on routes.
Second-round pick Troy Niklas should start early on. And when OTAs began Tuesday, despite Niklas’ absence while he recovers from a hernia, Housler was the third tight end, according to Kent Somers of AZCentral.com:
Jake Ballard and John Carlson were the starting tight ends. Again, one practice, but it makes you wonder how Rob Housler figures into the offensive plans. Rookie Troy Niklas is recovering from a hernia and coaches hope he can practice by mid June.
We’ll see what happens as OTAs progress into minicamp and eventually into Cards camp and preseason, but it doesn’t look good for Housler.
Jerraud Powers, Cornerback
One could assume Jerraud Powers would simply slide in at nickel corner after the Cardinals signed Antonio Cromartie to play opposite Patrick Peterson. But where does that leave Mathieu, who plays best from the slot and closer to the line?
Mathieu is the nickel back in three-wide sets.
That leaves Powers as the dime back, which means he would play roughly 15-20 percent of defensive snaps and on special teams. Powers is set to make $4.75 million in 2014; is he really worth that much as a dime back and special-teamer?
Powers was the most-targeted cornerback in football last season according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He allowed 6.68 yards after catch per completion. Compare that to Mathieu, who allowed 3.65 YAC/C, and you get a picture of how poorly Powers played.
Being owed $2 million in signing-bonus cash over the next two seasons (two $1 million payouts), it may be most beneficial to the franchise to make him a June 1 designation and cut him, as they did guard Daryn Colledge. NFL teams can designate two players per season as June 1 cuts, so this is a possibility.
Paying Powers $1 million this and next year would save the team $3.75 million on top of the roughly $5.8 million the team saves from Colledge’s June 1 designation.
Cutting Powers may not happen unless the team decides it can get by with Peterson, Cromartie, Mathieu and a guy like Justin Bethel in the defensive backfield. Former cornerback-turned-receiver-turned-cornerback Teddy Williams is an option as well, but given that June 1 is right around the corner, Keim and Co. will have to decide quickly what they want to do.
Ted Ginn, Wide Receiver
This is more of a preliminary notice for Ted Ginn. The Cardinals' third-round pick, receiver John Brown, has already turned heads at practice. He’s younger, perhaps faster, runs better routes and has better hands than Ginn does; all that adds up to Ginn being on notice this offseason.
Could it take Brown a while to pass Ginn on the offensive depth chart? Yes. Ginn has experience going for him, and he’s coming off his best season as a pro: a five-touchdown season with the Carolina Panthers.
But it's not outside the realm of possibility to see Brown surpass Ginn as the team's No. 3 receiver sooner than later. He's similar to Indianapolis Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton, whom Arians hand-picked while with the Colts in 2012. And as Tyson Langland of Bleacher Report pointed out, Brown is in position to develop into a stud.
On special teams, Brown is electric. He excelled on both kick and punt returns at Pittsburg State, netting five touchdowns between the two.
It is unclear at this time who will return punts and kicks for the Cardinals in 2014, but one thing is clear: Returning duties could come down to Ginn and Brown. Seeing one on kicks and the other on punts would not be surprising.
Brown overtaking Ginn on offense appears inevitable as long as the former develops as expected. It's only a question of when.