Now that the Cardinals can put the preseason in the rearview mirror, they’re ready to step on the gas and motor their way through their next order of business – cut-down day.
Following Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Broncos at University of Phoenix Stadium – a 21-10 Cardinals loss – the team has until 1 p.m. on Saturday to trim its roster from 90 players down to 53. The Cardinals already had a pretty good idea about the majority of those cuts before they took the field.
So do those who cover the Cardinals, including azcentral sports. That’s why instead of breaking down what happened in the most meaningless game on the preseason schedule, we offer our projection as to how the final 53-man roster might shake out before Saturday’s deadline.
There will be other details to sort out in conjunction with the cuts, such as determining whether tight end Jermaine Gresham (Achilles’) and defensive end Markus Golden (knee) have recovered enough from the injuries they suffered last season to be activated off the physically-unable-to-perform list. If they are, they’ll each count against the 53-man roster.
A player who remains on PUP to start the season, however, must miss at least the first six weeks of the regular season. Coach Steve Wilks has indicated he doesn’t think that will be the case with either Gresham or Golden.
“It’s going to be close,” he said. “The conversations we’ve had, they are progressing, so as we finish up next week they are going to be right there on the cusp.”
The Cardinals may also have to make use of the injured-reserve list and designate that some of their injured players will start the season there. One of them could be reserve defensive end Arthur Moats, who suffered a sprained MCL in his knee during Sunday night’s game in Dallas. He’s expected to miss anywhere from two to four weeks.
Two players have already been placed on season-ending IR because of torn ACLs. They are center A.Q. Shipley and running back D.J. Foster. Backup linebacker Jeremy Cash also suffered a torn ACL, but he has since been released.
Additionally, the Cardinals can begin forming their 10-man practice squad at 10 a.m. on Sunday, one hour after eligible players have gone unclaimed on waivers. Some of those who get cut on Saturday could be brought back and added to the practice squad, if they are eligible.
As for the projected 53-man roster, here’s how we see it:
Quarterback (3) – Sam Bradford, Josh Rosen, Mike Glennon
It’s difficult to buy into the rumors about the Cardinals possibly shopping Glennon. They need him around just in case Bradford has a setback with his troublesome left knee. The Cardinals won’t want to turn the keys over to rookie Josh Rosen without an established veteran behind him.
Running back (5) – David Johnson, Chase Edmonds, T.J. Logan, Derrick Coleman, Elijhaa Penny
Johnson will get the bulk of the work, but Edmonds and Logan are fast and intriguing backups who will deserve their share of carries. Coleman is the featured fullback in two-back sets, and with Foster gone for the season, Penny joins this group because of his versatility at both positions and his prowess on special teams.
Wide receiver (6) – Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, Chad Williams, Brice Butler, J.J. Nelson, Greg Little
Fitzgerald’s played his best football each of the last three years, but he’s going to need help. It will be interesting to see which other receivers here can step up. Kirk will be exciting to watch, but can Williams and Butler deliver? Little nabs the last spot ahead of Trent Sherfield, the undrafted rookie from Vanderbilt.
Tight end (3) – Jermaine Gresham, Ricky Seals-Jones, Gabe Holmes
A healthy Gresham will provide some stability and Seals-Jones has shown the potential to be a pass-catching playmaker. The Cardinals will need him to become a better blocker, however, and that’s where Holmes can excel when he plays. The team might look for an improvement here, however.
Offensive line (10) – D.J. Humphries, Mike Iupati, Mason Cole, Justin Pugh, Andre Smith, John Wetzel, Evan Boehm, Daniel Munyer, Will Holden, Korey Cunningham
The starting five are very good run blockers, which will be essential to the Cardinals’ power running attack led by Johnson. Cole, the rookie, has been holding his own. The backup depth is decent, but not great. One or two spots here could change; don’t count guard Josh Allen out of the mix.
Defensive line (9) – Chandler Jones, Corey Peters, Robert Nkemdiche, Golden, Olsen Pierre, Benson Mayowa, Rodney Gunter, Vontarrius Dora, Cap Capi
This group is capable of causing a lot of disruption and generating a ton of sacks. But there are some question marks, too. Can the front four be dominant when stopping the run? Will Nkemdiche stay healthy and prove he belongs in the league? Is Golden ready to return to 2016 form?
Linebacker (6) – Haason Reddick, Deonne Bucannon, Josh Bynes, Gerald Hodges, Scooby Wright, Edmond Robinson
This unit could either be one of the team’s biggest strengths or its primary weakness. It all depends on the three starters in Reddick, Bucannon and Bynes, who will be asked to do a lot in the team’s new 4-3 scheme. Don’t be surprised if GM Steve Keim picks over the reserves and, at some point, makes a change or two.
Cornerback (4) – Patrick Peterson, Jamar Taylor, Bene Benwikere, Chris Campbell
If Taylor can be the No. 2 corner the Cardinals have long been searching for, this unit should not only flourish but be dominant. Peterson is playing the best football of his life and will thrive even more in the team’s zone-coverage scheme. Benwikere is a very capable backup, and there’s potential in the rookie Campbell.
Safety (4) – Antoine Bethea, Tre Boston, Budda Baker, Rudy Ford
Expect a ton of splash plays out of this group, especially when the Triple B’s – Bethea, Boston and Baker – are on the field at the same time. They’ll move all over the place in coordinator Al Holcomb’s defense and, like Peterson, will be an anchor when it comes to takeaways. Ford is starting to come into his own.
Specialists (3) – K Phil Dawson, P Andy Lee, LS Aaron Brewer
It’s the same trio that started last season and things likely won’t change unless Dawson struggles badly out of the gate. He has been pushed this preseason by rookie Matt McCrane, but you’ve got to think Wilks will stick with the veteran. Lee remains one of the best punters in the league and Brewer is always reliable.
Reach McManaman at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac and listen to him live every Tuesday afternoon between 3-6 on 1580-AM The Fanatic with Roc and Manuch and every Wednesday afternoon between 1-3 on Fox Sports 910-AM on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash.