As much as people say the preseason doesn’t matter, this is what it amounts to: 53 players get to stay for the regular season. The Arizona Cardinals are no exception to this process. Some may not make it to the end and some players may be invited back to Phoenix. But such is life, and as such there’s always a few surprises heading into the regular season opener.
Only two quarterbacks were kept
Ask the Dallas Cowboys or Minnesota Vikings, having a healthy stable of quarterbacks is nice to have. The Cardinals, even after Carson Palmer getting dinged in Week 3, decided to keep Drew Stanton as the only backup for Palmer and ditch Matt Barkley.
More surprising, while the Cowboys and Vikings are salient examples, it was just two years ago when the Cardinals were the poster child for having a Plan C when an MVP candidate and his backup go down. In 2014, the Cardinals were 5-5 without Palmer under center. Stanton held things together to an extent but was substantially less efficient with just seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
Of course, this begs the question if Barkley would have sufficed over anyone picked off the street during the season. Through the preseason, Barkley gradually showed a command of the offense, completing 58 percent of passes for 630 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. His first two performances really hurt that line as a whole, but he really turned a corner down the stretch, making it surprising head coach Bruce Arians and company didn’t want to keep him as a security blanket.
*Aaron Murray was signed to the practice squad Sunday afternoon to add some depth.
Receivers were kept at a minimum
This is somewhat tethered to the quarterback situation. Should the worst happen under center, the Cardinals kept only five receivers on board. Similarly, only three tight ends were kept. Last season, the Cards kept nine potential targets (six receivers and three tight ends.) That’s only one less, but the surprise is that there wasn’t any room made for training camp studs like Ifeanyi Momah at tight end.
Instead, the depth at tight end remains as Jermaine Gresham, Troy Niklas and Darren Fells. The Cards are certainly a receiver-centered offense, as tight ends accounted for just 12 percent of targets last season. But more than being a receiver dominated passing attack, the offense really thrives off having as many fresh bodies as possible. Axing someone like the 6-foot-7 Momah takes away one more unique talent in contrast to all the speed possessed in the receiving corps.
Defensive line has the most second-most bodies
The only position group with more players is the offensive line with nine. The defensive line that primarily runs a three-man front has eight players, only parting with veteran Red Bryant.
Even more surprising than sheer numbers is exactly who was kept considering the top-heavy depth among the first few players on the depth chart. Calais Campbell is the unquestioned stud of the group on the left side. Then consider the first round selection of Robert Nkemdiche is opposite him, with Rodney Gunter and Frostee Rucker in the mix. That’s a solid group already, and all of them could move inside to play nose tackle behind Corey Peters.
There are five solid, versatile bodies ready to play. Having one more wouldn’t hurt, but keeping the likes of Xavier Williams, Ed Stinson, and Josh Mauro seems a little over cautious when compared to the depth kept at the more vital positions previously mentioned.