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Making the cut: Olsen Pierre, Xavier Williams

With a strong blend of veterans and youth, Arizona's defensive line is among its best units.

"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: Olsen PierreXavier Williams

Age: Pierre: 24, Williams: 24

Experience: Pierre: 1st NFL season, Williams: 2nd NFL season

Contract status: Pierre: 2016-$450,000, Williams: 2016-$527,666, 2017-$617,668

2015 season quick review: After not hearing his name called during the 2015 NFL Draft, Pierre elected to sign an undrafted free agent contract with the Chicago Bears. The Miami product spent training camp with Chicago, but was released at the end of camp and spent two months trying to catch on with an NFL franchise before signing a practice squad contract with the Cardinals in October. Pierre did not appear in an NFL game last season. Williams was a training camp surprise for the Cardinals last year, who ended up making the team's roster as an undrafted free agent. The Northern Iowa product was inactive during the first nine games of last season, but appeared in four games total and ended up recording four tackles over the course of his campaign.

Projected roster status: With 10 players vying for what likely amounts to seven roster spots for defensive linemen, Pierre and Williams have an uphill battle to climb. Pierre is the most likely cut, as he's spent the first few days of training camp rotating with the third team defense and is the only player of the 10 aside from draft choice Robert Nkemdiche who doesn't have any NFL experience. Williams' odds of making the team aren't great either, as he'll likely need another situation where a veteran suffers an injury to factor into the Cardinals' plans along the defensive line. 

Projected depth chart status: Williams was the seventh defensive lineman for the Cardinals for much of last season, as the team has typically kept seven on the 53-man roster and has played with six on the 46-man roster on game days. Williams' status as lineman No. 7 meant he was inactive for 12 games, and was the only true "third team" defensive lineman. Because both Pierre and Williams have spent the first days of training camp on the third defensive line, they'll probably need to make a push sooner rather than later if they want to bump up to the second unit and contend for a roster spot. With Nkemdiche and Frostee Rucker sidelined with injuries at the moment, it's now or never if either player wants to make a push to hold down the spot as the team's seventh lineman. Aside from that role, it's highly unlikely Pierre or Williams would ascend to the second team defensive line barring an injury. 

Position group analysis: For a player like Pierre or Williams to make the Cardinals' roster this season, circumstances need to develop where the defensive line unit has multiple players suffering from injuries and or veterans like Red Bryant and Rucker underperform in camp. If the Cardinals had to make a decision about keeping either Pierre or Williams, Williams is the more likely candidate to make the roster. However, the decision probably won't come down to the team having to choose between these two players, as the Cardinals have eight candidates, who if healthy, are higher priorities for the organization. So far, the defensive line has looked like one of the team's strongest units through three days of camp, and we don't anticipate much change in that regard.

Moving forward: When Williams made the roster last season as Arizona's seventh defensive lineman, the thought probably crossed general manager Steve Keim's mind about whether or not Williams may have a multi-year future within the organization. Unfortunately for Williams, the Cardinals' depth reached a point last season where players he might have a chance to be on even footing with at this point in the year like Rodney Gunter and Josh Mauro were pressed into action, and they performed well. That left Williams behind his counterparts, and after the return of Peters from injury and the selection of Nkemdiche through the draft, Williams is now further down on the depth chart than even he likely anticipated. Pierre knew coming in that as a player on a futures contract, there were no long-term plans for him, but he did know that if he proved himself in training camp, he may be able to factor into the team's immediate plans. Now, both players will spend camp trying to find their way onto the team's immediate radar, as the Cardinals' depth has been restored making it harder for players like Pierre and Williams to find a way to stand out. 

Overall value: As we've mentioned throughout our "Making the cut" series, undrafted free agents and players signed to futures contracts are the ultimate example of a low-risk, high-reward scenario in the NFL. At this point in camp, teams can have up to 90 players on their roster, so why wouldn't a team add a number of low cost options to provide depth and ramp up the competition level. If a player like Pierre or Williams has something click or performs well when the player in front of them on the depth chart goes down with an injury, then all of a sudden, a team has a contributor at its disposal who costs an organization just a nominal sum financially. 


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