ARIZONA CARDINALS Cards’ ‘defensive exodus’ biggest free agency loss in NFC West

Apr 5, 2017, 11:10 AM

free agency...

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff is sacked by Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Markus Golden, right, and defensive end Calais Campbell during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Going into the offseason, it seemed obvious that the Arizona Cardinals were in line to lose some major talent in free agency, particularly on defense.

This “defensive exodus in Arizona” became so significant that writer Marc Sessler believes that it constituted the biggest free agency loss in the NFC West.

The editors want me to pick one player, but the rash of departed bodies in Arizona will have an immediate — and negative — impact on one of last year’s more loaded defensive units. It starts with the defection of big-bodied lineman Calais Campbell, who exited stage left for the Jaguars. The Cardinals also waved farewell to reliable veteran safety Tony Jefferson (Ravens), a move bound to haunt a team that already needed secondary help. Losing linebackers Alex Okafor (Saints) and Kevin Minter (Bengals), safety D.J. Swearinger (Redskins) and cornerback Marcus Cooper (Bears) doesn’t help. The team added pass rusher Jarvis Jones and cover man Antoine Bethea, but talented general manager Steve Keim is under pressure to find new blood in this month’s draft.

The Cardinals are losing a lot of defensive production, as the six defensive players who left via free agency accounted for 378 tackles, 19 sacks and eight interceptions last season, while the three defenders brought in combined for 266 tackles, two sacks and two picks.

The losses of Campbell and Jefferson are expected to hurt the most, as the two played at a very high level last season for the No. 2 defense in yards allowed per game.

Campbell made the Associated Press’ Second-team All-Pro by totaling 53 tackles, eight sacks and six passes defensed, while Jefferson totaled 96 tackles, two sacks and five passes defensed as one of the league’s premier safeties against the run.

While the additions of established veterans in Bethea and inside linebacker Karlos Dansby along with a wildcard in former first-round pick Jones should help lessen the blow, the team still has plenty of needs to address.

As far as what Arizona should focus on moving forward, Sessler thinks the upcoming draft is of utmost importance to the club.

The Cardinals must comprehensively nail the draft after losing so much help. Arizona’s most obvious need begins at cornerback, a position they might address with the 13th overall selection. The draft also could see the Cards take a swing at finding Palmer’s replacement under center. And it wouldn’t hurt to add another receiver following last year’s departure of Michael Floyd. Have we mentioned the offensive line?

Arizona head coach Bruce Arians seemingly disagrees with Sessler, as he recently said that he does not see a hole at cornerback despite Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams being the main options to replace Cooper opposite Patrick Peterson.

Most recent mock drafts have the Cardinals taking a quarterback in the first round, as nine of the 12 mock drafts since April 1 in Arizona Sports’ mock draft tracker have the team selecting a signal caller at 13. Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson lead the group with four mock drafts apiece, while ESPN’s Todd McShay has North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky going to the Cards.

Washington wide receiver John Ross has also been linked to Arizona, with two mock drafts having the team looking towards him as a potential future replacement for Larry Fitzgerald.

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