In the midst of Arizona's 7-8-1 campaign during the 2016 season, Cardinals' head coach Bruce Arians felt as though his team was lacking something critical.
With many of the organization's key assets hampered by injuries, including safety Tyrann Mathieu, Arians said Wednesday he thought the Cardinals lacked the leadership necessary to stay the course.
Though the Cardinals lost two key locker room presences this offseason when Calais Campbell and Tony Jefferson departed in free agency, Arizona has attempted to offset their exits and those of other key players with the additions of veteran leaders.
Within the first two days of free agency, the Cardinals signed three players --linebacker Karlos Dansby, safety Antoine Bethea and kicker Phil Dawson-- who have more than 40 years of combined experience in the NFL.
"They're (Dansby, Bethea) extremely bright, everywhere they've been, they've been captain-type leaders and I thought that was the one thing we were missing last year," Arians said Wednesday. "Ty (Mathieu) was hurt and couldn't be the type of player and leader he wanted to be, so to add those two guys in our locker room, not just as leaders. They're still playing at a really, really high level, a Pro Bowl level."
During a 45-minute interview with members of the local media at the NFL owners' meetings Wednesday, Arians explained the organization's approach to free agency this offseason and highlighted the additions of Dansby and Bethea.
Dansby, who will become the first Cardinals player to have three different stints with the organization, will take the place of departed linebacker Kevin Minter while Bethea will attempt to stand in and replace Jefferson at the Cardinals' free safety position.
"We were so much better with Karlos, with his leadership," Arians said. "Karlos has such freaky genetics that he may play four more years, you never know. I think everybody had the opinion that we stop-gapped with Antoine and Karlos but these guys have a lot left."
In an era in which most NFL teams are attempting to get younger and more explosive, the Cardinals will try to buck the trend in 2017 by relying on players like Dansby and Bethea in critical roles.
Arians said even though both players are well traveled in the NFL, he believes Dansby and Bethea are both capable of playing at a high level in 2017 and said their 2016 film reveals they each have plenty left in the tank.
"Toine (Bethea) is still a 100-tackle safety, can cover, blitzes, he does everything you're still looking at at a very high level," Arians said. "Karlos, he just never ages, and I was shocked when I turned on the tape, he looked younger this year than he did last year. So the tape doesn't lie."
One of the other transactions the Cardinals made during free agency was to re-sign veteran defensive lineman Frostee Rucker, who is entering his 12th season in the NFL.
After the Cardinals lost Campbell, a 10th-year veteran who had spent his entire career in Arizona, re-signing Rucker became a significant priority for the organization because it needed a veteran presence along the defensive line.
Now, with Rucker up front, Dansby in the middle, and Bethea at the back end of the Cardinals' defense, Arizona has at least one player at every level of its defense with more than 10 seasons of experience in the NFL.
"Frostee is one of those leaders in our locker room that you never see," Arians said. "He's a veteran guy that handles guys on and off the field. He's the core guy you want in your locker room. We did not want to lose him."