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Free Agency Primer 2017: Defensive Line

Posted Mar 1, 2017

The future of star defensive tackle Calais Campbell is the big question

The Cardinals finished with a losing record in 2016, but believe they can bounce back quickly and revert to contender status next season. Free agency will be key, as several of the team’s starters are scheduled to hit the open market. The Cardinals’ front office has plenty of decisions to make as free agency beckons on March 9. We’ll break down each position as it draws near.

More free agent analysis: S I TE I ST I LB I QB

Free agent primer: Defensive line

Cap hit of players under contract for 2017 (via OverTheCap.com): DT Corey Peters ($3.66 million); DT Josh Mauro ($2.5 million); DT Robert Nkemdiche ($1.95 million); DT Rodney Gunter ($742,479); DT Ed Stinson ($736,685); DT Xavier Williams ($617,668); DT Cap Capi ($465,000); DT Olsen Pierre ($465,000)

Scheduled free agents: DT Calais Campbell; DT Frostee Rucker

Need: Medium

Analysis: Campbell has been a fixture on the defensive line for years, anchoring the unit as an elite run-stopper and above-average pass-rusher. There was no noticeable decline in his skills in 2016, and even heading into his age 31 season, there figures to be a robust market for his services.

The Cardinals would love to bring him back, but the price and length of the contract could be sticking points. If Campbell walks, it will undoubtedly be a major blow to the defensive front. Nkemdiche struggled as a rookie, but was drafted with the idea of replacing Campbell in 2017. It will be a pivotal offseason as he tries to prove he can be a building block moving forward.

The Cardinals will return key rotational players Peters, Mauro, Gunter and Stinson, and there could be more playing time available if Campbell departs. All have been solid over the past few years, but the Cardinals would love to see someone take a leap and become dominant.

Xavier Williams and Olsen Pierre is a pair of young players looking to make the team and then vie for more snaps in 2017. The Cardinals like the upside of both even though they’ve made minimal impact at the NFL level.

Frostee Rucker has been a key piece both on the field and in the locker room since signing with the team in 2013, but is going to be 34 this season and is coming off an injury-plagued year. Rucker doesn’t want to retire and the Cardinals could get him back at a low price if they choose.

If Campbell leaves, General Manager Steve Keim could peruse the free agent market looking for more depth at the position.

Notable past free agent defensive line signings: Peters (2015); Cory Redding (2015); Rucker (2013); Bryan Robinson (2008); Kendrick Clancy (2006); Chike Okeafor (2005); Bertrand Berry (2004); Clyde Simmons (1994).

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