With more than 20 players from the Cardinals' 2016 roster set to hit the free agent market this offseason, general manager Steve Keim will be a busy man over the next few weeks as he attempts to secure extensions for players Arizona wants in the fold for the future.
On Thursday, the Cardinals announced the team's first extension of the offseason, re-signing defensive end Josh Mauro to a two-year contract. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, and have not yet been reported.
The decision to bring Mauro back comes after the former undrafted free agent out of Stanford notched a career-high 13 starts and 42 tackles for Arizona in 2016, his third consecutive season with the franchise. Mauro was a mainstay in the Cardinals' defensive line rotation on a team that carried nine defensive linemen on the active roster, which proves how much Arizona valued his production.
Though Mauro doesn't earn the same type of recognition as other linemen like Calais Campbell and Frostee Rucker, he was nonetheless effective and clearly became a priority for the Cardinals entering the offseason.
Mauro's skill set
One of the reasons Mauro isn't as glorified as the likes of Campbell, Rucker and even first round draft choice Robert Nkemdiche is because Mauro is a run-stopping defensive end who excels against power and lead plays run behind guards and tackles. While it's a seemingly important role, defensive linemen are often judged by the naked eye for their pass-rushing skills, and that's where Mauro takes a backseat compared to some of his counterparts on the Cardinals' defensive line.
Aside from Campbell, Mauro was probably the most effective Cardinals' lineman at shedding run blocks this season, and this is a group that boasted impressive nose tackles like Corey Peters and Rodney Gunter who were both brought in because of their ability to play against the run. With a strong ability to anchor at the point of attack and use his hands to his advantage, Mauro is able to rip through blocks and use his leverage to square up on opposing ball carriers.
Mauro's use of his hands is a key asset for a player of his size, because at 6-foot-6 and 282 pounds, he has a wide, sturdy frame that makes him more susceptible to being blocked head on and driven off the ball. When Mauro has success at the line of scrimmage, he uses his hands to keep offensive linemen off of his chest, which allows him to control his own movements at the line of scrimmage. When Mauro is blocked, it's often times because he stands up too high or too quickly, which then allows offensive linemen to gain leverage and drive him backward.
Ultimately, Mauro was more effective than he was given credit for this season, which helps and hurts him. It helps Mauro because the Cardinals definitely wanted him to return next season, but it hurts him because he won't command the type of salary he's probably capable of earning. For Mauro to earn a larger contract in the future, he'll need to demonstrate improved quick-twitch abilities at the line of scrimmage which would in turn make him a more disruptive pass-rusher.
How Mauro fits
An ideal third or fourth defensive lineman, Mauro gives the Cardinals flexibility with the rest of their personnel along the defensive line because like Gunter, he can play anywhere at the line of scrimmage. Mauro has the tenacity to line up inside in the A-gaps or in a 1-technique, but he's most effective playing along the perimeter of the line of scrimmage as a 5-tech or even a 7-tech on run downs.
Mauro is an excellent compliment to a player like Peters, because he's effective enough to ensure that other teams would struggle if they elected to double team Peters, and he's versatile enough to play on the strong or weak side of the line of scrimmage.
Though Mauro's re-signing won't do much to offset the likely loss of Campbell to free agency, it will help the Cardinals remain stout against the run in 2017 and free up opportunities for pass rushers like Markus Golden and Chandler Jones, as long as Jones also agrees to an extension with Arizona.