The Cardinals have signed former CFL linebacker Tristan Okpalaugo, here playing a preseason game with the Miami Dolphins in 2013.
The Cardinals made an effort to improve the pass rush Friday.
General Manager Steve Keim had already said an improved pass rush was the team’s top priority going into the offseason, and the first step was signing successful Canadian Football League pass rusher Tristan Okpalaugo to a one-year contract.
Okpalaugo, a 6-foot-5, 258-pound outside linebacker, spent the last two seasons playing for the Toronto Argonauts and piling up 23 sacks in 31 games. The 26-year-old played collegiately at Fresno State, and was undrafted. He spent time with
the Dolphins, Vikings and Cowboys but never made a regular-season roster. He then moved on to the CFL.
In Canada Okpalaugo blossomed. Looking to get back into the NFL, he had visits with the Jets and Seahawks before signing with the Cardinals.
He joins a team that struggled to create much pass rush in the playoffs, particularly against Cam Newton and the Panthers in the NFC Championship. The Cards did have 36 sacks in 2015, but nine came in one game against the Packers, who featured an injury-ravaged offensive line at the time.
The Cardinals are still expected to seek a pass rusher in the draft. The free agent market does not have a lot of options for the kind of talent Keim seeks at the position, and those who will be available in March will cost significant money.
Outside linebacker is also a fairly open position for the team at the moment. One starter in 2016 should be Markus Golden, the 2015 second-round pick had four sacks as a rookie in only six starts and is expected to improve in his second season. Beyond Golden, there are question marks.
Dwight Freeney lead the Cardinals with eight sacks in only 11 games, but he is considering retirement at age 36 and will be a free agent. Alex Okafor started much of the season but hurt himself away from the field during the playoff bye and his future with the team carries with it some doubt. Kareem Martin is still trying to prove himself at outside linebacker, while veteran LaMarr Woodley missed the second half of the season with a pectoral injury and is also a free agent.
The Cardinals also have unproven second-year players in Shaq Riddick and Zack Wagenmann.
Now Okpalaugo is in the mix. It isn’t the first time the Cardinals have signed a CFL pass-rushing star. In 2010, the Cards inked Saskatchewan’s Stevie Baggs, who had led the CFL with 12 sacks the season before. Baggs was released at the end of the preseason.
Images of the Cardinals' top sack artists in 2015