"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.
Ages: Bernstein: 22, Crisp: 25, DeBord: 24, Price: 21, Wetzel: 24
Experience: Bernstein, DeBord, Price: Undrafted rookies. Crisp; One-year of NFL practice squad experience. Wetzel: Three years of NFL practice squad experience
Contract status: Bernstein, Crisp, DeBord and Price are all signed to the same contract the Cardinals awarded to their undrafted free agents. In 2016, the players will make $450,000, in 2017, the players will make $540,000 and in 2018, the players will make $630,000. This is of course contingent on the undrafted free agents making the roster, which is an unlikely proposition in itself. Wetzel is signed to a one-year contract worth $525,000.
2015 season quick review: Bernstein wrapped up his career with the Vanderbilt Commodores in 2015 by making 12 starts at left guard which extended his streak of consecutive starts to 34. Crisp spent the 2015 season with the Cardinals' practice squad after finishing up his career at North Carolina A&T where he started 26 games. DeBord was one of the top offensive tackles in the FCS a season ago as he played for the Eastern Washington Eagles while Price played out his final season with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Wetzel spent the early part of last season with the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad before joining the Cardinals' practice squad in early December.
Projected roster status: As we mentioned in our piece on Taylor Boggs and Antoine McClain, the Cardinals have eight players with an inside track at making the team's final roster which means only a spot or two is up for grabs. Because of Boggs' NFL experience, we think he is the candidate likely to receive the the longest look at a roster spot, but all five players mentioned in this piece hope to give Boggs a run for his money. It will be extremely difficult for any of the five players listed to make the 53-man roster, and highly unlikely that any of them participate on the team's active roster on game days. In all likelihood, one or two of the players could catch on with Arizona's practice squad, which might turn out to be a good launching pad for the career of an undrafted free agent like Bernstein or Debord.
Projected depth chart status: We don't anticipate any of the five players listed to make the final roster, but if one of the players beats the odds, that player likely would have trouble surpassing any of the experienced veterans like Watford or Shipley in a reserve role.
Position group analysis: If there was a year for the Cardinals to take on an unproven player or an undrafted free agent along the offensive line, it would be 2016 as just five players on the team's 90-man roster have more than 10 games of NFL experience. Arizona is counting on a player in D.J. Humphries to start at right tackle who sat out the entirety of his rookie season despite being a first round draft pick, and the team is also likely anticipating fifth round selection Cole Toner to make the 53-man roster and provide depth. With loads of inexperience and a lack of depth at the bottom of the depth chart, an undrafted free agent who may have undeservingly flown under the radar has an opportunity to stand out in fall camp and during preseason games and make the cut.
Moving forward: A time will come when the Cardinals will make individual decisions about each player, but with 90 players to keep track of, two full practice fields to manage and the final roster announcement still three months away, it's impossible for the Cardinals to take into consideration the details regarding the future of undrafted free agents and practice squad players. Once preseason games begin and the team is forced to reduce its roster size, we'll have a much better handle of which player may be able to outlast his counterparts.
Key factor in making the team: Outlasting each cut
Each time the Cardinals are forced to reduce their roster size, it's likely at least one or two linemen are among the players Arizona's management will waive or release.
All five of the linemen know they're facing an uphill battle to make the roster, and the sensible approach for these players is to take each practice one at a time. It's a cliche phrase, but the longer a player remains on a coach's radar and the more opportunities that player has to impress, the better the odds become that the Cardinals have a particular need a player can address.
As training camp moves along this fall, unforeseen injuries will take place and opportunities will arise, and the undrafted free agents know they may not have many reps to make their presence known. If a linemen can prove serviceable when called upon and stick with the team through to the end of camp, the odds of making the team increase each day.
Overall value: Forecasting the overall value an undrafted free agent provides to the Cardinals is akin to surmising what the team's plans are moving forward with each player. Because three of the five players mentioned have minimum contracts standard for undrafted rookies and two of the players have small one-year deals for practice squad players, the Cardinals don't have much money committed to this group. If any of the players steps up, makes the roster and contributes in a productive manner, it will qualify as a success story for the player and for the Cardinals' salary cap, which won't take much of a hit.