Cardinals safety D.J. Swearinger forces a fumble of Packers running back James Starks during last week's game.
Steve Keim has supplemented his roster as General Manager for three straight years by finding veterans on one-year contracts who have turned to gold – Karlos Dansby, Antonio Cromartie, Chris Johnson, among others.
But as the Cardinals push toward the playoffs with one of the best records in the NFL, Keim has taken it a step further, adding key veterans after the season had already started.
Three defensive pieces, all playing significant snaps, signed well after the 2015 season started. Linebacker Dwight Freeney came in after five weeks and leads the Cardinals with seven sacks. Defensive tackle Red Bryant was signed after injuries to Frostee Rucker and
Cory Redding and played 23 snaps against Green Bay. And safety D.J. Swearinger turned out to be a godsend following the injuries to Rashad Johnson and Tyrann Mathieu, playing 65 snaps against the Packers.
"This is the best situation for a guy that was out of football for five months could ever ask for," Bryant said. "They've got great structure, discipline, already have a winning attitude. You can't put enough on the locker room. The guys in here make it an easy transition."
All were signed because of injuries. Freeney and Bryant contemplated retirement before the Cards finally picked them up. Swearinger was a second-round pick in 2013 for the Texans, who released him. The Buccaneers claimed him off waivers, but he never quite fit. Cut again, the Cards grabbed him for the practice squad and promoted him soon after.
"It's been a learning experience going from Houston to Tampa, things going the way they did in Tampa, and then sitting out for two weeks was humbling," Swearinger said. "To be able to have this opportunity, it's a blessing. It was definitely a learning experience and I'm a better person for it."
It starts with a ready list built by the personnel department, Keim said. The list always has a combination of veterans and those younger players who are inexperienced. There are reasons veterans are on the street, and that has to be taken into consideration.
For the Cardinals, who have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, veterans make more sense than the developmental route. Having the success the Freeney-Bryant-Swearinger trio have had is a little less likely.
"If you are willing to bring in a Red Bryant or Dwight Freeney you better be on the same page as your coaching staff that they will know how to use this guy," Keim said. "The thing all those guys have in common, it's one thing to take a chance on a veteran player, but you also have to evaluate the person. These are guys that had success because they had such passion for the game."
Swearinger said his game is based on passion and energy, one of the things the Cards lost a bit when Mathieu got hurt. But it feeds on itself too, especially with a team that wins, as these in-season additions mesh.
"It's been a great ride so far," Freeney said. "This is why I came back to play with these types of guys. These players, these coaches, have these types of moments that you just can't duplicate."
RASHAD JOHNSON SHOULD RETURN; MAURO, MARKUS GOLDEN OUT
Safety Rashad Johnson hasn't played the last two games because of an ankle sprain, but he returned to the practice field for the first
time since before the Vikings game and is optimistic he will get at least some playing time Sunday against the Seahawks.
"I would definitely love to get out there, get a little action," Johnson said. "If I don't play this week, it'll be five weeks (before the Cardinals' playoff opener), which I don't think would be an issue because I think I am old enough, mature enough to be able to play in that game. But I'd love to get some work in, let the body feel the hits."
Coach Bruce Arians said the chances were good that Johnson and wide receiver Michael Floyd (knee), who also returned to practice Friday, would play.
As expected, linebacker Markus Golden (knee) and defensive tackle Josh Mauro (calf) will not play. Officially, Floyd, Johnson, Freeney (knee) and defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (ankle) are questionable.
For the Seahawks, running back Marshawn Lynch (abdomen), guard J.R. Sweezy (concussion) and tight end Luke Willson (concussion) are out. Tackle Russell Okung (calf) is doubtful, while safety Kam Chancellor (pelvis), defensive end Michael Bennett (toe) are questionable.
STRONG SECOND HALF IMPRESSES ARIANS
Arians has talked often about how he had high expectations for his team, but even he acknowledged trepidation when he saw his team's second-half schedule, which opened with games against the Seahawks and Bengals and kept the Cards on the road much of the time.
Heading into the game against Seattle Sunday, the Cardinals are 7-0 in the second half, having won nine in a row.
"I saw all those road games in November and December and I was concerned," Arians said. "Because I knew we were going to play a bunch of playoff teams in a row. Not in my wildest dreams did I think we'd go undefeated through it."
Images of key players for this week's opponent, the Seattle Seahawks