Kyle Terada/USA Today

Cardinals' roster evolves after rash of injuries

The Cardinals have made a flurry of roster moves to keep up with a series of injuries through the early portion of the season.

Since the Arizona Cardinals cut their roster down from 75 to 53 players prior to the regular season, a rash of injuries have forced the Cardinals to swap out players and significantly change the team's roster makeup.

With one-third of the season complete, the Cardinals' roster looks different than it did from the start, and that is certainly a concern for the franchise moving forward. At 2-3, the Cardinals have an uphill road to climb to make the playoffs, and we take a look at how fit the team's roster is to make it that far.

Injury: Drew Butler

Replacement: Ryan Quigley

Verdict: The Arizona Cardinals made a decisive improvement in their overall special teams capabilities when they released punter Drew Butler after he injured his Achilles. Butler was the worst punter in the league, and had been among the worst for the past three seasons. While Quigley doesn't represent an overly significant upgrade, he's an upgrade nonetheless and Arizona benefits as a result.

Injury: Tyvon Branch

Replacement: Tharold Simon

Verdict: Branch was one of two marquee free agents the Cardinals signed this offseason (Evan Mathis) and now both are on injured reserve. Losing Branch forced Tyrann Mathieu into returning to the slot corner role which could be a benefit for the team in the long run, but Branch's veteran presence was critical in pass defense. Simon is likely nothing more than a special teams player, so the Cardinals lost quite a bit of defensive firepower with this injury.

Injury: Evan Mathis

Replacement: Ulrick John

Verdict: Perhaps no injury hurts the Cardinals' offensive capabilities more than the loss of 34-year-old veteran Evan Mathis. A premier run-blocker who has been hampered by injuries since the start of fall camp, Mathis' injury leaves the Cardinals without one of their two most important pieces on the offensive line this season. The dropoff between Mathis and replacement Earl Watford is gigantic, and Ulrick John is unlikely to see the field much unless injury issues persist for Arizona.

Injury: Chris Johnson

Replacement: Kerwynn Williams

Verdict: Another potentially devastating loss for the Cardinals, Johnson's injury shouldn't hurt as much as those that took Branch and Mathis away from the roster because starter David Johnson has been so dominant. If the Cardinals end up having to rely on Johnson too much down the stretch though, there will be a price paid because neither Andre Ellington or Kerwynn Williams can deliver the type of patient, outside zone runs that Chris Johnson has become known for during his tenure in Arizona.

Injury: Troy Niklas

Replacement: Ifeanyi Momah

Verdict: The Cardinals' former second round draft pick can't catch a break when it comes to injuries, but the Cardinals' organization may end up pleasantly surprised by the versatility Momah brings to the offense. While Niklas was strictly a third tight end and run blocking presence, Momah is a special teams asset who forced a critical fumble against San Francisco that keyed a scoring drive. Additionally, Momah is a superior pass catcher, and if he uses the season to develop as a run blocker, he has quite a bit of potential.

Injury: Alani Fua

Replacement: Joplo Bartu

Verdict: Fua's injury has flown under the radar because starting inside linebackers Kevin Minter and Deone Bucannon never come off the field defensively, but if one of the players was to suffer an injury, it would pose an interesting challenge for the Cardinals. It's hard to say whether Arizona liked Fua more as a reserve linebacker or as a special teams player, but there's a reason Bruce Arians kept him around back-to-back years as an undrafted free agent. The book is still out on Bartu, so it's hard to say whether Fua's injury has a great impact.

Cut: Kameron Canaday

Replacement: Aaron Brewer

Verdict: A roster move that will end up flying under the radar in the long run, the Arizona Cardinals did themselves a huge favor in signing Brewer, a long snapper with recent postseason and Super Bowl experience. It's hard not to feel bad for Canaday because the rookie made two game-changing mistakes in his first three games as a snapper, but if the Cardinals wanted to avoid long-term mistakes at the position, they had to make a move and they were fortunate Brewer was on the market.

Cut: Marqui Christian

Replacement: Brittan Golden

Verdict: Golden is listed as a wide receiver, but ironically, the former undrafted free agent was warming up before Thursday's game in San Francisco with the safeties. Christian wasn't going to cut it as a safety as a rookie, and the Cardinals surely would have signed him to the practice squad had he cleared waivers, but Golden is a demonstrable upgrade on special teams and sometimes, you win some and you lose some. While an organization never wants to part ways with a draft pick, this move was about improving in the interim and some awful special teams coverage units improved with the addition of Golden off the practice squad. 


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