The Cardinals are embarking on a new era under Steve Wilks. In the ensuing months, they will identify their new starting quarterback and fill other positions of need. The first crack at re-shaping the roster will come in free agency, which begins on March 14. We’ll break down each position as it draws near.
*Free agent primer: *Defensive Line
*Cap hit of players under contract for 2018 (via OverTheCap.com): *Josh Mauro ($3.3 million); Corey Peters ($2.5 million); Robert Nkemdiche ($2.3 million); Rodney Gunter ($832,479); Pasoni Tasini ($480,000); Peli Anau ($480,000)
Scheduled free agents: Frostee Rucker, Olsen Pierre (exclusive rights), Xavier Williams (restricted)
Images of notable defensive linemen scheduled to hit the open market
Analysis: The Cardinals don’t have as much star power on the defensive line as in the past, when Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell highlighted the group. Even so, the line held up quite well in 2017, especially considering the limited financial resources allocated to the position.
The majority of the key players should be back. Starters Mauro and Peters are under contract, while breakout piece Pierre is an exclusive rights free agent, which keeps him tied to the Cardinals. If Nkemdiche can build on an encouraging end to the season, the line could be in good shape. Gunter could be in the mix as a rotation player again in 2018, while Tasini and Anau will push for roster spots.
Rucker, a stable veteran presence the past several years, is an impending free agent. Williams is scheduled to hit free agency for the first time. His restricted status gives the Cardinals a higher likelihood than usual of retaining him if they are interested in doing so.
Some of the more notable players set to hit the open market include Ziggy Ansah, Adrian Clayborn and Dontari Poe. Muhammad Wilkerson was recently released by the Jets and can sign with a new team at any time. DeMarcus Lawrence is arguably the most talented defensive lineman with an expiring contract but the Cowboys seem likely to retain him.
General Manager Steve Keim has addressed the defensive line multiple times through free agency in past seasons, and there is room to add an impact piece if he desires. Since his arrival, Wilks has harped on the importance of offensive and defensive line strength, so the team figures to study the free agents closely. However, this group weathered the loss of Campbell a year ago and the potential of a step forward from Pierre and Nkemdiche doesn’t seem to make it the utmost priority.
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).