Pending Daryl Washington Suspension Leaves Cardinals in Dire Need of LB in Draft

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystApril 18, 2015

Nov 24, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington reacts against the Indianapolis Colts at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In 2014, despite a litany of player losses due to free agency, injuries and suspensions, the Arizona Cardinals still managed to field one of the NFL's best defenses.

Well, one year later there are new problems. The departure of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Inside linebacker Larry Foote's move from the playing field to the coaching staff. However, at least one old problem continues to plague the team.

And with star linebacker Daryl Washington looking at yet another suspension after missing the entire 2014 season, linebacker looms large as the biggest position of need for the Redbirds as we near the 2015 NFL draft.

Washington, who missed the first four games in 2013 for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy and all of last year for the same offense, is expected to apply for reinstatement any day now. However, as Kent Somers of The Arizona Republic reported, when asked about Washington back in March, head coach Bruce Arians didn't sound like a man who expects to see Washington between the lines any time soon:

"I really can't even talk about Daryl," Arians said. "He's not even a part of our team so there's no sense in talking about him."

It's not hard to see why Arians is skeptical (and more than a little surly) where Washington is concerned.

After the 2013 suspension, the Cardinals moved ahead with paying Washington a $10 million roster bonus, confident they would have the sixth-year veteran back in the fold for 2014—right up until the NFL dropped the hammer on Washington for another violation of the substance-abuse policy last May.

But wait, there's more. Even if Washington is reinstated, there's still the matter of Washington's arrest last year for assaulting his ex-girlfriend—an incident that left her with a fractured collarbone.

Somers stated on Friday that he expects that arrest to earn Washington another four- to six-game suspension, complements of the NFL's new personal conduct policy.

In other words, there's no telling when Washington will be even be eligible to return to the Cardinals. Even once he is, there's no guarantee the Redbirds want any part of him.

And that leaves the Cardinals in quite the pickle.

Arizona Cardinals' 2015 LB Depth Chart
1st String2nd String
OLBAlex OkaforLorenzo Alexander
ILBSean WeatherspoonKenny Demens
ILBKevin MinterGlenn Carson
OLBMatt ShaughnessyLaMarr Woodley
Per Ourlads

Simply put, the Arizona depth chart is a hot mess at linebacker. Third-year pro Kevin Minter has been a big disappointment since the Cardinals drafted him in the second round back in 2013. Minter was expected to have emerged as a viable starter for the Cardinals by this point in his career, but the former LSU standout played less than 350 snaps last year.

The Cardinals made an effort to upgrade at the position in free agency, inking sixth-year pro Sean Weatherspoon. The 27-year-old was once viewed as a star in the making in Atlanta, but thanks to a parade of injuries (including a torn Achilles that completely wiped out his 2014 season), Weatherspoon has played in all of seven games over the past two years.

It isn't a whole lot better outside. Alex Okafor showed some promise last year, racking up eight sacks in his second season. Outside Okafor, though, it's a mixture of over-the-hill veterans like LaMarr Woodley and replacement-level talents like Lorenzo Alexander.

When the Cardinals go on the clock with the 24th overall pick on April 30, they'll do so with a glowing, red-neon sign hanging over the war room table.

And that sign says, "For the love of God draft a linebacker!!!"

Given that, it's hardly surprising that more than a few mock drafts have the Cardinals doing that very thing. More than half the mock drafts at NFL.com have the Redbirds going that route, With Bucky Brooks one of two scribes predicting the Cardinals will select Kentucky edge-rusher Alvin "Bud" Dupree:

"The ex-Wildcat is a spectacular athlete with explosive speed, quickness and power. He is a better athlete than player at this point, but he could develop into a disruptive force when he settles in as an edge rusher in the Cardinals’ hybrid 3-4."

The Cardinals could also look inside to a player like UCLA's Eric Kendricks, whom Dane Brugler and Rob Rang of CBS Sports compared to Seattle's Bobby Wagner:

"Too small for some schemes but Kendricks' instincts, physicality and improved awareness in coverage make him a true three-down defender with the potential to earn Pro Bowl recognition in the right defense."

Mind you, it's by no means a sure bet that the Cardinals will take a linebacker at No. 24. As many draftniks as not have Arizona going with one of 2015's top running backs in that spot, and there are Day 2 prospects like TCU inside linebacker Paul Dawson and Washington edge-rusher Hau'oli Kikaha who could step in and make an impact in the desert as rookies.

However, this much we are sure of: The Cardinals aren't counting on Washington's return, with Somers writing that "the Cardinals don't trust that Washington did all the right things during his suspension."

And the Cardinals can't ignore the problem in the draft like they did in 2014. Not if they want to contend in the NFC West in 2015.

Because while you may be able to get away with patching a hole with duct tape and chewing gum for a while, if you don't effect more permanent repairs in fairly short order, your boat is going to wind up at the bottom of the lake.

Even in the desert.

Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter at @IDPManor.

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