When the Arizona Cardinals announced their 53-man roster at the end of training camp, the most surprising aspect of the team's roster makeup was the decision to keep nine defensive linemen.
Instead of adding an extra defensive back, another wide receiver or an additional offensive lineman, Arizona kept nine defensive linemen on its roster, which is one to two more linemen than most teams keep.
In fact, if teams feel extraordinarily satisfied with the depth they have on their roster at the position, some franchises operating 3-4 schemes are even willing to keep just six defensive linemen.
However, after its defensive line was beaten down due to injuries in 2015, the Cardinals opted not to take any chances this season, and ensured players like Ed Stinson, Xavier Williams and Olsen Pierre all had roster spots in 2016.
Though Stinson was projected by most to be a member of the Cardinals' week one roster, Williams was on the bubble while Pierre was considered an obvious candidate to be released.
Still, Arizona felt that if any injury issues ravaged the defensive line this season, it wanted to be as prepared as possible, so the Cardinals kept both Williams and Pierre around for the duration of the 2016 season.
2016 in review
Where did that leave Stinson and Williams?
Because the Cardinals primarily played with six active defensive linemen on game days, Stinson was only active on four occasions, making a career low one start, while Williams was active just eight times. As the ninth defensive lineman on the roster, Pierre was inactive for the entirety of the 2016 season, essentially serving the Cardinals as a glorified practice squad player.
The trio of defensive linemen combined for just 12 tackles in 2016, but because Arizona's top players remained healthy for much of the year, Stinson, Williams and Pierre were rarely called upon.
Stinson suffered through the toughest season, as the Alabama product likely would have earned more playing time this season if not for a toe injury that kept him out for a significant portion of the year.
As for Williams and Pierre, the Cardinals appeared satisfied with the progress the young, former undrafted free agents made, but without the opportunity to showcase their progress on the field, it's difficult to gauge how far they've come.
2017 in review
Heading into the offseason, none of the members of the trio are under contract for the 2017 season, which raises interesting questions about their futures in Arizona.
At the outset of the year, the Cardinals were considering Stinson for a first or second-team role, but injuries derailed his progress. Would Arizona be willing to bring him back at a low cost on a one or two-year basis to provide depth to the defensive line? The likelihood of Arizona doing so is much stronger if players like Rucker and Calais Campbell don't return next season, because the Cardinals would probably prefer Stinson over free agent options considering the team wants to avoid starting from scratch with its depth.
Williams is another intriguing player for Arizona because the Cardinals have kept the undrafted free agent on the roster in back-to-back seasons, and he has the makeup to be a true backup nose guard. With Peters' injury history and Gunter likely spread out to different positions along the line, there is inherent value in bringing Williams back, but he might look for another opportunity on a depth chart that could prioritize him more.
As for Pierre, he spent all 16 games on the Cardinals' inactive list, and even though Arizona liked him enough to keep him out of camp, it's difficult to envision a scenario where he becomes a regular contributor for the team. Even if the Cardinals elect to bring him back to the fold next season, he would still have to go a long way and prove himself in training camp to once again earn a roster spot.