ARIZONA CARDINALS

Cardinals reportedly to decline DL Robert Nkemdiche’s 5th-year option

May 2, 2019, 10:30 AM | Updated: 2:32 pm
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) is hit by Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Robert ...
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) is hit by Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (90) during the first half of NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Arizona Cardinals have decided against picking up the 2020 option for the fifth year on defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche’s rookie contract, reported NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero on Thursday.

Nkemdiche, the Cardinals’ 2016 first-round pick taken 29th overall, is coming off his most productive season yet but one peppered with reminders that he has thus far failed to reach his potential.

Under first-year head coach Steve Wilks’ 4-3 scheme, the fourth-year pro recorded 32 tackles, nine for loss, and 4.5 sacks last year. He had a strong camp, suffered a foot injury that limited him to begin the year and appeared in 10 games (six starts) before he suffered a season-ending ACL injury.

Due to injuries and inconsistency, Nkemdiche has appeared in 27 of a possible 48 regular games since he entered the NFL. His knee injury suffered in December put his health status heading into the 2019 regular season in doubt.

“I certainly am not going to be one to hide behind anything, and looking at it now based on the fact that he was a first-round pick and the limited time on the field and production on the field, you would certainly have to question that draft pick,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station in December.

“I would expect that he’ll heal up fine. Again, he’s got to come back with a chip on his shoulder. If he wants an opportunity to have a long-term career, he has got to do it on the field.”

Nkemdiche’s 2019 salary is set with a base of $1.1 million with roster and workout bonuses totaling $500,000. Including his signing bonus, the cap hit is $2.7 million, according to Spotrac.

The fifth-year option for NFL players must be picked up a week after the start of the draft, landing the deadline on Thursday, May 3, this year.

Arizona will enter training camp with competition for the recovering Nkemdiche. Currently listed as a defensive end, he is joined on the roster by free agent pickup Darius Philon, returnee Cameron Malveaux, and rookies Zach Allen and Michael Dogbe. Tackles Corey Peters and Rodney Gunter also return.

Before the year, Keim said it was a “real concern” that Nkemdiche had yet to produce on the field considering his physical profile that pegged him as a high draft pick coming out of Ole Miss. An off-the-field issue likely contributed to his draft stock falling, as he was charged for drug possession after he fell out of a hotel window in Atlanta late in his junior year.

In his third season with the Cardinals, Nkemdiche played his best game on Nov. 25, 2018, against the Los Angeles Chargers.

He finished the 45-10 loss with seven tackles, four for loss, and 2.5 sacks, adding three quarterback hits.

“It’s good to understand the concept of process … and how to become better at your craft,” he said after the game at Los Angeles. “Don’t let other people decide (expectations) for you. Kind of have your own pace of what you’re doing … but always know you’re working at a high rate of speed.

“That game was more of a testament for me and just clarity, solidification (to) just keep doing what you’re doing. Keep getting better, pay attention to the little things, be aggressive,” Nkemdiche added. “You go forth from there keep getting better and keep trying to bite the other peoples’ face mask off when you have a chance to do it.”

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