Position capsule: Outside linebacker
Contracts: Golden: 2017-$1,068,636, 2018-$1,246,742, Martin: 2017-$851,890
Current roster number: 2
Ideal roster number: 4-5
2016 performance: One year after finishing 20th in the NFL in sacks, the Arizona Cardinals set out to make significant improvements in their pass-rushing capabilities. Last offseason, general manager Steve Keim took a risk, trading the Cardinals' second round draft pick to New England in exchange for Jones, whose contract was set to expire at the end of the 2016 season.
Most NFL general managers are wary of trading with the Patriots, and rightfully so, but at least in the short-term, the deal helped Keim look brilliant. Jones turned in an impressive season, performing up to the high level of expectations set forth for him as he finished with his third season of double digit sacks in five years. Jones' 11.0 sacks tied for eighth in the league, and helped the Cardinals ultimately lead the NFL in sacks in 2016.
As impressive as Jones was, though, Golden, the Cardinals' second-year pass-rusher out of Missouri, was even better. Aided by a monstrous week 17 performance, Golden finished the season tied for third in the league in sacks with 12.5 and became a dominant presence against the run.
Golden proved to be the far superior edge run defender this season as teams were routinely forced to run opposite of him whenever he was anchored at the line of scrimmage. Golden's ability to hold the edge became a powerful weapon for the Cardinals' defense, and he also demonstrated an impressive ability to chase down plays from the backside at the line of scrimmage.
Though most of the team's production came from two players, Okafor also put together a strong season as a reserve and special teams weapon while Martin chipped in with 1.0 sack and plenty of special teams contributions.
2017 readiness: Having Golden under contract for the next two seasons means the Cardinals will have one of the game's up-and-coming edge rushers anchoring their defense up front for the foreseeable future. The impact of drafting well should not go unnoticed, and though many analysts though Golden was a reach when the Cardinals selected him in the second round of the 2015 Draft, he's so far showcasing incredible value and helping Keim balance the roster.
The Cardinals need more than just Golden to engineer a successful pass rush, though, and re-signing Jones to a long-term deal is one of the team's top priorities this offseason. Even if the Cardinals don't bring back defensive lineman Calais Campbell, the team believes it can make up for the lost firepower with another season of Jones and Golden clamping down offenses from the edge of the line of scrimmage.
Head coach Bruce Arians said if it comes down to it, the Cardinals will use the franchise tag on Golden, so as long as the team is true to its word, Arizona will have one of the most dynamic one-two punches of edge rushers in the league back next season.
The long haul: Even though bringing Jones back is a top priority for Arizona, the team must be careful with how it handles his contract situation. The Cardinals are already paying defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson top dollar, and Arizona must ensure it's able to get market value for Jones if the team extends him a long-term deal. Jones is a great pass rusher, perhaps among the league's elite, but he's an average-to-below-average run defender who doesn't provide the same type of versatility that Golden does.
The Cardinals need to think long-term with Jones and Golden and realize that perhaps signing Jones under the franchise tag is the best option here because it allows the team one more season to see if Golden is truly as elite as his 2016 campaign proved or if he was just a one-hit wonder. That way, the team will be ready to make a more calculated decision come 2018, because it's unlikely the Cardinals have the budget to re-sign both players to long-term deals.
Draft priority: Low
Position overview: The Cardinals shouldn't be focused on adding pass rushers in the upcoming draft unless the team wants to plug and play another defensive lineman up front. Outside linebacker was the strongest position on the roster in 2016 and as long as Golden and Jones return to form next year, Arizona should have no problem ranking at or near the top of the league in sacks once again.
A dominant pass rush does many things for a defense, but one of the underrated aspects of the Cardinals' pass rush is it can help mask weaknesses in the secondary. By pairing Jones and Golden on the field together, opposing quarterbacks have less time to throw and are consistently worried about negative yardage plays.