"Making the Cut"
As the Arizona Cardinals begin their quest to cut the team's roster size from 90 to 53 by the end of the preseason, we're taking a look at the key players at each position group and determining their odds of making the final cut.
Age: Golden: 27, Shipley: 23
Experience: Golden: 4th season, Shipley: 2nd season
Contract status: Golden: 2016-$600,000, Shipley: 2016-$465,000
2015 season quick review: Though Golden was technically listed as the sixth receiver on the Cardinals' depth chart last fall, his primary contributions came on special teams units, specifically coverage teams, as Golden participated in 14 of the team's 16 games. As a receiver, Golden caught one pass for just five yards in the Cardinals' week 17 loss against Seattle, and that constituted his entire offensive output over the course of last season. As for Shipley, the Texas product and younger brother of Jordan Shipley spent the 2015 season on the Cardinals' practice squad and is eligible to spend one more season with the practice squad if he doesn't make an NFL roster.
Projected roster status: The Cardinals' decision to carry six receivers a season ago was made with the goal of addressing a need on special teams, not on offense. Golden's status on the roster was much more dependent on his ability to contribute on kickoff coverage and punt coverage than it was on his pass-catching skills, and that's often the case for players who barely make the final cut. With that in mind, it's important to consider how the Cardinals will shape their roster this season, because the team's top five receivers return and Arizona spent two of its draft picks on players who should contribute on special teams early in their careers. If the Cardinals find themselves running out of room on the roster, the team may elect to keep an extra cornerback like sixth round draft pick Harlan Miller as opposed to an extra receiver, which could make the competition for the final roster spots even more difficult for players like Golden and Shipley. Regardless, it would likely take a training camp injury to a player like Jaron Brown or J.J. Nelson for both Golden and Shipley to make the roster, and it's much more likely that the Cardinals either keep Golden to once again perform in a special teams capacity, or cut both players to save roster space for other contributors.
Projected depth chart status: Barring a significant improvement from either Golden or Shipley or a few injuries to key players, it's unlikely either player would make the roster and climb the depth chart past the No. 5 or the No. 6 wide receiver spot. From the outset of the season, it's almost certain that if either Golden or Shipley made the roster, they would serve the team on special teams units and would find their designation as the No. 6 receiver on the depth chart nothing more than a title. For many teams, the opportunity to work with and develop younger players over the course of a few seasons sometimes results in upward mobility on the depth chart, but for a Cardinals team bringing back its top five receivers, it's difficult to see a player like Golden or Shipley breaking through in 2016.
Position group analysis: Wide receiver is a position where undrafted free agents often have a better chance of making an NFL roster because many teams enter training camp short on depth and hoping that a surprise contributor will emerge during the month of August. After the draft in April, the Cardinals elected to sign four undrafted free agents, which will make the battle for Golden and Shipley to make the final roster even more intense because they'll be competing against a handful of new players who the Cardinals haven't seen yet. If a player like Amir Carlisle or Chris Hubert emerges as a potential receiving threat with the capabilities of taking over Golden's previously held special teams roles, then the Cardinals may elect to keep six wide receivers, and move forward with youth ahead of experience. With 11 wide receivers in camp and the top five players all returning to the fold, the Cardinals have ensured the team will have options exiting fall camp.
Moving forward: It's nearly impossible to decipher how a team plans to move forward with players like Golden and Shipley from the outside when in reality, the folks on the inside like general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians are likely awaiting fall camp to evaluate where these players stand. Keim and Arians aren't assessing Golden and Shipley in the same way they look at other receivers like Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd who cost the team a significant amount of money because they know the final roster spots will be dedicated to addressing very specific needs and adding depth. While players like Golden and Shipley may not be comforted by knowing their futures are uncertain, it can empower players with the mentality to lay everything on the line in training camp and preseason games to give themselves the best shot at making the team.
Key skill: Special teams
Much like the fourth running back spot and the fourth cornerback, the fifth and potentially sixth receivers need to be able to make their presence felt on a consistent basis on special teams to stick with an NFL roster. For many teams, the fifth receiver only sees the field on a few plays each game, and for the Cardinals, the sixth receiver may be lucky to see the field on an offensive play at all. That means there's a premium on coverage abilities, pure straight-line speed and tackling that applies to some receivers that doesn't matter to players at the top of the depth chart.
One factor working in favor of Golden and other special teams contributors is that the Cardinals lost cornerback Jerraud Powers to free agency, and the team plans on using Justin Bethel in a starting role as a cornerback this year. A career contributor on special teams, Bethel now may find himself focusing more on his cornerback play than his kick coverage, which could open up an extra roster spot.
With the selections of Miller and Texas A&M cornerback Brandon Williams, Keim acknowledged the Cardinals' need for improvement on special teams, and Golden and Shipley can only hope they factor into the team's immediate plans for improvement.
Overall value: Neither Golden nor Shipley stands to make more than $600,000 in 2016, so the organization isn't committing the type of money to either player that suggests the team expects significant production. Instead, the Cardinals have tendered those contracts with the goal of keeping tough contributors around through fall camp that could work their way into small roles with the team over the course of the season. Because both players are making close to the minimum salary, the Cardinals know that any production the team might be able to extract from Golden and Shipley is valuable.