Everyone take a deep breath. Now exhale slowly. Repeat. The Arizona Cardinals will be without star inside linebacker Daryl Washington for the entire 2014 NFL season, according to a tweet from Mike Jurecki of Fox Sports 910-AM:
Darren Urban and Kyle Odegard of AZCardinals.com filled us in on why he was suspended and included some further details:
Washington was suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season after violating the league's substance abuse policy for a third time, and the team went 2-2 without him.
Back then, quarterback Carson Palmer had the offense running like an old VW Bug on its last leg. The offense had the eighth-most turnovers in the league with eight, and the offensive line resembled that of the ones former head coach Ken Whisenhunt slapped together in a hurry the night before a game.
The Cardinals were a competent offense away from being 3-1 over that span.
The defense played to the best of its ability, getting lit up by Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in Week 3 to the tune of 31 points. But Arizona was No. 3 in the NFL over the first month, allowing just 3.03 yards per rushing attempt and only one rushing touchdown; it was ninth in yards per play, at 5.07.
All the while, rookie running back Andre Ellington had not yet been freed; Palmer had completed only 57.5 percent of his passes with four touchdowns, six interceptions and a 69.8 passer rating.
The Cardinals will be just fine without Washington in 2014, and it has nothing to do with the defense.
As noted above, Palmer and the offense misfired quite a bit while Washington served his four-game suspension in 2013. Palmer, a former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, turned the ball over too much, the line was porous as always and Rashard Mendenhall was trudging along at 3.38 yards per carry as the team’s starting running back.
That won’t be the case this season. The offense is “light-years” ahead of where it was at this time last year, according to Palmer (h/t Kent Somers of AZCentral.com).
Myself and other guys were out here last year...just swimming (mentally). Inside your head you're thinking about 80 different things. [...]
Where we’re at this point is like light-years from last year. [The receivers] are getting on the same page. Every play, they come back and there is good dialogue—‘Why did you break out? Why did you break in?’
You would be hard-pressed to find a better receiving corps from top to bottom than the one in Arizona. Larry Fitzgerald, if healthy, expects to be back to his Pro Bowl form; Michael Floyd is ready to be an elite receiver; and Ted Ginn Jr. and rookie John Brown form a more than formidable three-four combination on the inside.
Ellington is set to have a much larger workload this season. Whether he touches the ball 25 to 30 times per game as head coach Bruce Arians stated he could, per Odegard—and whether 25 to 30 touches is a good idea—remains to be seen, but the second-year back will have an increased role in the offense.
The group of tight ends—none of whom should be considered elite but one of whom could eventually get there—is formidable. Rob Housler could be on his way out if he doesn’t show vast improvement in run blocking and in field awareness. Jake Ballard and John Carlson will battle for the No. 2 tight end role this season. Housler may well be out of that conversation with how poorly he performed in 2013.
And rookie Troy Niklas gives Palmer a massive, athletic target down in the red zone and gives Ellington almost a sixth offensive lineman with how he blocks.
Speaking of the offensive line, did you hear it also improved this offseason? The left side of the line could be among the best in the league, with left tackle Jared Veldheer joining left guard Jonathan Cooper.
The right side is a question mark, no doubt. But assuming right guard Earl Watford and right tackle Bobby Massie win their respective camp battles, the Cardinals will have one of the more athletic lines in football.
Over the final eight games of 2013, Palmer completed 65.3 percent of his passes (ranked sixth) for 2,361 yards (third), 14 touchdowns (sixth), eight interceptions and a 95.3 passer rating (ninth).
Does he throw too many interceptions? Sure. But with improved offensive play around him and better weapons on the outside, there will be enough points scored to carry the defense in the event that Washington’s loss hurts from time to time.
The NFC West is tough, but general manager Steve Keim has done a terrific job of adding talent and depth to most positions on both sides of the ball. Washington’s suspension hurts right now, but fans will realize he won't be missed once the team starts winning games.