ESPN ranks two Arizona Cardinals in top-50 NFL free agents of 2019

Jan 17, 2019, 6:55 AM | Updated: 7:24 am
Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Markus Golden (44) and Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker De...
Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Markus Golden (44) and Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Deone Bucannon (20) celebrate Golden's sack of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan during the second of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

After a 3-13 season for the Arizona Cardinals, changes need to be made, and they will be coming on the roster this offseason.

While the team is still finalizing the coaching staff for the upcoming season, the next step is free agency.

All NFL players without a contract for the 2019 season will become a free agent March 13 unless they re-sign or are franchise tagged by their current team prior.

Two Cardinals have cracked ESPN’s top-50 NFL free agents of 2019: linebacker Deone Bucannon and defensive end Markus Golden.

Bucannon was the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2014.

Prior to the 2018 season, the former Washington State Cougar was never lower than third on the team in tackles.

In his rookie season, Bucannon played all 16 games and finished third on the team in tackles with 86.

Following the departure of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Bucannon’s sophomore season in 2015 was his best.

The 26-year-old lead the team in tackles (109), which was eighth in the NFL and was second on the team in tackles for loss.

However, following injuries and another defensive coordinator change that resulted in a new 4-3 defensive scheme, Bucannon’s 2018 production fell to only 38 tackles on the year on limited playing time.

He was placed at No. 39 by ESPN.

Once viewed among the new wave of hybrid safety/linebackers that teams value, Bucannon didn’t have a great season in his contract year. He missed three games because of injury and played only 35 percent of the Cardinals’ snaps. But teams with a clear plan for his unique skills could mount strong pursuit.

Although he has never been solidified as a safety or a linebacker because of his ability to play both, perhaps the return of a 3-4 scheme — the scheme he was drafted into — will return Bucannon back to the production of his first four years in the league — if he can stay healthy.

Golden, the other notable player that could be leaving the Cardinals this offseason, was drafted in the second round of the 2015 draft.

The former Missouri Tiger finished third on the team in sacks (4.0) his rookie season.

Golden’s sophomore season was also his best.

In 2016, the 27-year-old lead the team in sacks with 12.5.

Unfortunately, Golden tore his ACL in 2017 and was only able to play in four games.

His 2018 season, like most Cardinals, was a down year. Golden was only able to muster 2.5 sacks in 11 games.

ESPN placed him at 47th on the rankings.

Golden had 12.5 sacks in 2016 but hasn’t regained form after a 2017 ACL tear. He managed only 2.5 sacks in 11 games last season, but with pass-rushing at an annual premium, it isn’t difficult to imagine significant interest on the market.

After only playing in 15 games in the last two seasons, durability has become a question for the former second-round pick.

And in a league that demands pass rushers, the Cardinals will have the first crack at widely regarded No. 1 prospect Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa in April’s draft.

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ESPN ranks two Arizona Cardinals in top-50 NFL free agents of 2019