Cardinals turn eye to young WRs after releasing Michael Crabtree
TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said it was about a youth movement, nothing more.
Releasing veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree will give Arizona rookies KeeSean Johnson and Andy Isabella, improving speedster Damiere Byrd and second-year pro Trent Sherfield more opportunities.
“We feel like there’s a lot of very talented young players in that receiving core and we needed to see what they got and see how they developed as this season goes on,” Kingsbury said Wednesday.
But something seemed missing when Arizona cut Crabtree on Monday.
That’s because little has changed since the team signed him.
Why did the Cardinals pay out so much money — Crabtree will reportedly earn his $500,000 signing bonus and $1.75 million base salary — for a month of service that produced four catches for 22 yards?
Even in two games where Crabtree was active, the Cardinals gave rookies priority over him. Crabtree recorded 31 snaps in two games with the Cardinals, and 13 of those came in their most recent game, a Week 3 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
After the 11-year pro was released Monday, he posted this cryptic tweet:
The assumption moving forward for Arizona is that second-round pick Andy Isabella might receive more playing time after appearing in just one offensive snap in Week 3 and being inactive in Week 2. But Kingsbury suggested that is to-be-decided and dependent on Isabella improving.
“We’ll see where that goes with Andy,” the head coach said. “He’s going to have to earn those reps, but he’s definitely able. We’ve moved him around a bit inside, outside, and so that probably hasn’t helped his development.
“He’s working hard at it and I’d expect him to see more time down the road.”
As it stands, there are several factors to watch.
Johnson, Arizona’s sixth-round pick in the 2019 draft, is the most likely to see a bump in production. He has nine catches for 90 yards on 16 targets this year.
“I’m only getting more and more comfortable as the weeks go by. I feel like there’s definitely more to help my team win and it’s just on me to do it and compete,” Johnson said.
Sherfield appeared in a handful of snaps in Week 3. While he dropped a sure touchdown, his work ethic has made him an integral part of the receiver room, and his preseason and practice performances still carry a lot of weight.
Isabella, the Cardinals’ second-round choice and main trade acquisition for former Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen, has yet to prove himself capable of playing time.
His speed, however, could be deemed a much-needed tool for an offense that failed to take the top off of the Panthers zone defense, which sat back comfortably in pass coverage last week.
Byrd has earned rave reviews for his improvement as a route-runner, and his speed also could be leaned upon more.
As for Crabtree, it came down to fit — either from a skillset standpoint or beyond. Sure hands and solid route-running or not, he didn’t earn enough of the coaches’ trust to get more snaps a month into his tenure.
“You never want to see someone just leave the group,” Johnson said, “but at the end of the day … it’s the business side of it and I’ll take it as a role that my coaches want me to grow into and (I have to) just go out there and prove them right.”
— Veteran punter Andy Lee did not practice on Wednesday, and it remains unclear if he will be available Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. Arizona would promote rookie Ryan Winslow from the practice squad if Lee is not healthy enough to punt.