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Cardinals Seek Special Sack Man

Posted Feb 26, 2016

Top priority in the offseason is to improve pass rush

Veteran Dwight Freeney provided a solid pass rush in 2015, leading the team with eight sacks, but the Cardinals are searching for a young, dynamic rusher off the edge.

INDIANAPOLIS – The best pass rushers have a great first step, and speed.

They have a savvy about how to get to the quarterback, using their hands or being able to bend and dip. They have a mixture of moves, are strong enough to take on offensive tackles and also are big enough to hold up in the trenches.

“There are only so many human beings walking around the earth that have these traits,” Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said.

It is said not wistfully but matter-of-factly. “Only so many people have that type of talent,” Keim added. “How many come along that are special double-digit sack guys? Not many.”

The Cardinals want to add a dynamic pass rusher. Keim made that clear right after the Cards’ season ended – harshly – in the NFC Championship game, and before the Broncos’ dominating pass rush became the story of the Super Bowl. Denver’s showing just underscored that need.

Keim has pieced together a pass rush in his tenure as GM, bringing in veteran John Abraham, who totaled 11½ sacks in 2013. Last season, Dwight Freeney was signed five games into the season and still provided a team-best eight sacks.  

“We need to find guys with speed and athleticism who can win on the edge,” Keim said. “Things we didn’t do enough of this past year.”

That brings the Cardinals back to searching for those rare humans – a search made harder when they are drafting 29th in the first round.

Coach Bruce Arians has optimism for some of the pass rushers already on the roster. He’s bullish on the development of Markus Golden, who had four sacks as a rookie and proved more effective than many pass rushers drafted before him in 2015. He thinks Shaq Riddick has a chance to be effective after his “redshirt” rookie season, and he still thinks Alex Okafor has a chance to get double-digit sacks. The Cards could still re-sign Freeney too.

The Cardinals also just signed Canadian Football League star Tristan Okpalaugo, who had 23 sacks the past two seasons in Toronto, to a one-year contract – hoping he could become the next Cameron Wake, the former CFL pass rusher who turned into a Pro Bowler for the Dolphins.

“I think we have some guys,” Arians said.

Impact pass rushers don’t reach free agency very often. Super Bowl MVP Von Miller is scheduled to be a free agent, but the Broncos will either re-sign him or use the franchise tag to prevent it, an obvious move in a league where every team is constantly looking for more guys who can pressure the passer.

It turns into a supply-and-demand problem.

“Von Millers ain’t falling out of the sky,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano quipped.

Pass rushers can be found after the first round, although the best still go early – of the top 11 sack leaders in the NFL in 2015, 10 were first-round picks and the other came from the second round.

“You go get motor guys, and they can be relentless,” Keim said. “Then you say how many have the   unbelievable physical tools? Those are top five picks. And Pro Bowlers.

“And rich.”

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