"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: Martin: 24, Riddick: 23
Experience: Martin: 3rd season, Riddick: 2nd season
Contract status: Martin: 2016-$759,890, 2017-$851,890, Riddick: 2016-$577,958, 2017-$667,958, 2018-$757,959
2015 season quick review: While neither Martin or Riddick made significant on-field contributions for the Cardinals last season, both players earned a spot on the team's 53-man roster out of training camp. Martin was active for all 16 games last year, after playing in 11 during his rookie season in 2014. The North Carolina product made two starts and finished the year with nine tackles including four in his best game of the year against Green Bay in Week 16. Riddick was the Cardinals' fifth round draft choice a season ago, and though the young pass rusher made the team, he was never active on game day and did not register an appearance in 2015. One of the reasons the Cardinals may have been hesitant to put Riddick on the field last season was a lack of preparation as he missed considerable time during training camp with a hamstring issue.
Projected roster status: This season will mark the first time in the past three years Martin will stick at the same position, as he spent his final season in college coming out of a three-point stance and his first season with the Cardinals as a defensive end before switching to outside linebacker. The Cardinals' willingness to keep him active and incorporate him in every game last season suggests Martin made the requisite improvements as an outside backer the team was looking for, and if he continues to progress, he should have a strong chance at making the team again this season. Like Martin, Riddick also spent last season transitioning to outside linebacker, and the coaching staff commented publicly about the strides Riddick was able to make as a result of his explosiveness off the edge. While Martin's odds of making the team probably sit at about 85 percent, we would estimate Riddick's are only slightly lower at about 70 to 75 percent.
Projected depth chart status: Martin spent most of last season on the strong side of the field and saw much of his playing time when starting strong side linebacker Markus Golden went down with an injury. We anticipate Martin to hold down his spot behind Golden this season, while Riddick could be locked in a battle for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart on the other side of the field with Alex Okafor. While Okafor is set to enter his fourth season with the Cardinals and has far more experience than Riddick, his late season off the field concerns could lead the Cardinals to a scenario in which Riddick and Canadian Football League start Tristan Okpalaugo make the team and Okafor is cut. It's more likely Okafor backs up starting weakside backer Chandler Jones and Riddick serves as the team's fifth outside linebacker, but Riddick will have an opportunity to play himself into a backup role during camp.
Position group analysis: With seven players in camp competing for what likely amounts to five spots for outside linebackers on the Cardinals' depth chart, there's only a handful of ways things can play out. Jones and Golden are locks for the final roster, while Martin is fairly close to a lock. But aside from those three players, four outside linebackers will likely jostle for the remaining two spots. Because he's starting camp on the PUP list and was already unlikely to make the roster, we believe Zackary Wagenmann will be the first player cut at this position, and after that, things will start to get interesting. If Arizona is serious about developing Okpalaugo, he appears to have the requisite athleticism to make the jump from the CFL to the NFL. But because 2016 marks Okpalaugo's first camp experience since 2013, we think he could end up on the Cardinals' practice squad and be the first player called upon if an asset like Martin or Riddick goes down with an injury. That would leave Arizona with Okafor and Riddick filling out the two remaining roster spots, unless of course general manager Steve Keim elects to bring in a free agent during camp.
Moving forward: With the way the Cardinals' shaped their roster a season ago, the team appeared committed to the development processes of both Martin and Riddick. The organization used important draft picks to bring each player aboard, and draft picks are consistently allowed longer windows of time to demonstrate improvement and ability than undrafted free agents and players signed to futures contracts. Year three is a critical year for Martin's career, as the Cardinals could greatly benefit from the former third round selection living up to his potential. As for Riddick, year two is an opportunity to finally contribute in game situations, and the Cardinals will be watching closely to see how Riddick responds in live action. Much of these players' futures within Arizona's organization will be determined based on their performances in 2016, as the team's overall depth at outside linebacker is dependent on their success.
Overall value: Even though neither Martin or Riddick stands to make a significant sum of money within the next two seasons, the organization has a lot riding on each player's success. Martin was a third round draft pick, and though he'll play behind a second round draft pick in Golden, Arizona needs him to become a reliable backup to ensure the organization doesn't need to go out and add a veteran reinforcement at outside linebacker. Keim has stayed quiet on the prospect of bringing free agent Dwight Freeney back, in part because Freeney would probably cost the Cardinals' more than either Martin or Riddick and would also bring the team closer to the salary cap. A third round draft pick's success is more important for a franchise than a fifth round draft pick's success, but the team also has a lot riding on Riddick because it allowed him a full redshirt year in 2015 and opted not to draft any new players at outside linebacker. The team added to its pass rush with the trade for Jones, but if any of the players at or near the top of the depth chart suffer an injury or miss extended time, the Cardinals are counting on players like Martin and Riddick to be ready to step in and contribute at a high level this season. Their value to the franchise as former draft picks is high, and because both players are still signed to team-friendly rookie contracts, Arizona may be able to pursue a more lucrative extension for Jones this offseason if the Cardinals know they can depend on consistent production from their younger outside linebackers.