Judging Robert Nkemdiche and the many decisions ahead

That Robert Nkemdiche's season is over with a knee injury was not a shock -- not with the laundry list of Cardinals headed to IR of late, and not with, unfortunately, Nkemdiche's history of injuries. The defensive tackle has not been able to stay healthy (he will have played in 27 of a possible 48 games since being drafted in 2016) and that, as many will talk about, is one of the most crucial things in the NFL. When I first became a beat writer covering this team in 2000, it was one of the first things I remember hearing from then-coach Dave McGinnis: "Availability is as important as ability."

Nkemdiche did play better this season -- when he was on the field -- than his previous two. But as current coach Steve Wilks noted, it was still inconsistent, because he wasn't always healthy and sometimes rusty when he was. So what do the Cardinals do now? It's hard to know exactly what Nkemdiche's status will be, because Wilks declined to get into the extent of the knee injury. If Nkemdiche tore a ligament, this will be a long rehab process and next season -- judging by those who have come back from such -- will be muted at best. If it is a lesser surgery and Nkemdiche returns for all of offseason work, the Cards still have to see how -- and if -- he fits into the defense going forward given his up-and-down production. Even Nkemdiche has acknowledged his own roller-coaster ride. (That doesn't even get into if the Cards decide to pick up the one-time first-round pick's fifth-year option for 2020, which must be decided in the first week of May.)

UPDATE: Wilks said Wednesday that Nkemdiche will be having surgery Thursday to repair a torn ACL, making Nkemdiche's rehab a long one.

Bigger picture, the Nkemdiche issue is a microcosm of all the decisions that have to be made by this front office this offseason. Last year, you had a coaching change, yes, but it was a retirement and not a firing, and the team was 8-8 with a lot of injuries. There remained optimism for 2017. This year, with a 3-10 record and three tough opponents left, a much harsher eye will be cast on all personnel. Plus, so much must be sorted out, with the ever-growing IR list and the players that are around -- more than a third of the current 53-man roster has been signed since training camp began.

DT Robert Nkemdiche
DT Robert Nkemdiche

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