"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.
Players: Elie Bouka, Trevon Hartfield, Ronald Zamort
Age: Bouka: 23, Hartfield: 24, Zamort: 24
Experience: All players: Rookie season
Contract status: All players: 2016-$450,000, 2017-$540,000, 2018-$630,000
2015 season in review: Bouka spent the 2015 season at the University of Calgary (the team mascot is the Dinos) in Canada finishing out his collegiate career north of the border. Unfortunately for the athletically gifted 6-foot-1 prospect, he suffered an Achilles' injury that held him out of competition and reportedly caused many teams to withhold consideration of selecting him in April's draft. Hartfield spent last season with Southwestern Oklahoma State, where he was a first team All-Great American Conference selection. In his final season with the squad, Hartfield set a league record with 25 passes defended and also hauled in a team-high five interceptions. As for Zamort, the 5-foot-10 corner out of Western Michigan tied for the NCAA lead with 1.6 passes defended per game in 2015, while also racking up four interceptions.
Projected roster status: Prior to Tuesday, it appeared as though these three undrafted free agents may have slim chances at making the Cardinals' roster with a strong camp, but after the signing of veteran cornerback Mike Jenkins and the reports of the team scheduling a meeting with veteran Chris Culliver, it appears as though the Cardinals want to go with more proven presences in the secondary. Because Arizona will likely only keep a maximum of four cornerbacks on the roster, it's possible seven or eight cornerbacks are fighting for one roster spot which means undrafted free agents will be given even fewer chances to compete in practice. Though making the final roster is an uphill battle, Bouka may have the best chance of any of the three players to make the Cardinals' practice squad because his skill set is so raw, but he possesses great athleticism. On tape, Bouka's rare blend of size and speed immediately jumps out, and though he didn't hone his skills against top-notch competition in college, he's the type of prospect a coaching staff could look to mold on the practice squad.
Projected depth chart status: In the unlikely event one of these three players makes the Cardinals' roster, that player would almost certainly serve as the Cardinals' fourth cornerback. With Patrick Peterson and Justin Bethel expected to start for Arizona, the Cardinals' third cornerback could be in the mold of a Jenkins-type who could play against both slot and outside receivers while the fourth cornerback will likely be asked to have a significant special teams presence. Throwing an undrafted free agent into the mix as anything more than a fourth cornerback would be relatively stunning for head coach Bruce Arians, who prefers to limit the impact of rookies early on in their careers and instead focus on their development and preparation.
Position group analysis: If the Cardinals wind up signing Culliver following the two parties' meeting next week, it could all but spell the end for Bouka, Hartfield and Zamort in terms of their hopes of making the final roster. At that point, Arizona would have four cornerbacks with significant NFL experience as well as two draft picks from April who will likely be given more opportunities than the undrafted free agents during fall camp. Regardless of whether or not the Cardinals sign Culliver, the team still has players like Asa Jackson and Cariel Brooks in the fold who Arians has spoken about in a positive light this offseason. While there are certain years undrafted free agents have easier paths to an NFL roster, a team like the Cardinals loading up for a Super Bowl run has become one of the more difficult places for undrafted players to latch on.
Moving forward: The goal for any player trying out in an NFL camp regardless of the challenges that lie ahead should be to make the final roster. While the Cardinals' organization may not have long term plans for Bouka, Hartfield and Zamort, the franchise may have short term plans that involve the practice squad which is a perfectly realistic and attainable secondary goal. While Zamort is somewhat more of a known commodity because he played his college ball at the FBS level, Bouka and Hartfield may have an upper hand at earning a practice squad spot because they have probably never received advanced technical coaching. If any of these players demonstrate the type of athleticism, speed and explosiveness the Cardinals believe they can mold in the future, then spending a season on the practice squad is an excellent opportunity for a player to develop and come back to camp next season with the opportunity to showcase their development.
Overall value: While the Cardinals may never ultimately realize any value from the contracts of Bouka, Hartfield or Zamort, it doesn't hurt the team to have undrafted free agents on the roster in fall camp. Arizona needs to enter camp with 90 players, and by having a certain number of those players on minimum contracts that were likely agreed upon with small signing bonuses, the team has low risk and potentially high reward players at its disposal during camp. Each of these players received the minimum contract an undrafted free agent can sign, so theoretically, any production they provide is coming to the Cardinals at the cheapest rate possible.