Arizona Cardinals positions of need: Defensive line breakdown

Jan 20, 2022, 9:12 AM | Updated: 4:27 pm

Corey Peters #98 and Zeke Turner #47 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrate against the Tennessee Titan...

Corey Peters #98 and Zeke Turner #47 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrate against the Tennessee Titans during the second quarter at Nissan Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

The Arizona Cardinals’ first major offseason move last year was signing defensive end J.J. Watt to bolster the defensive front.

Watt’s addition proved to be fruitful through seven games, as he collected 10 quarterback hits and defended the run well. However, he missed the final 10 games of the regular season after suffering multiple injuries in his shoulder during Week 7.

The defensive line overall struggled against the run in 2022, allowing the second most second-level rushing yards on average in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders.

There were a lot of big holes up front, as gap discipline was an ongoing topic.

That continued in Monday’s playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams, even though Watt returned to action. L.A. ran for 94 yards in the first half, gaining 5.6 per carry when Watt was off the field, according to Next Gen Stats.

Most of Arizona’s defensive line remains under contract for next season, although, the position is a popular target in many mock drafts.

Under contract in 2022:

– DE J.J. Watt
– DT Jordan Phillips
– DE Zach Allen
– DT Leki Fotu
– DT Rashard Lawrence

Watt’s and Phillips’ contracts are set for a nearly $30 million combined cap hit in 2022.

Phillips played just nine games in each of the past two seasons and was not available for Arizona in the playoffs.

He is entering the final season of a three-year contract.

Cutting him would open just over $4 million in cap space, but the team would have to eat a $9.2 million dead cap hit unless the contract gets reworked. There are already three void years on it.

He was valuable when healthy, though, racking up three sacks, four quarterback hits and three tackles for loss.

Watt will be 33 years old next season and Phillips will turn 30.

The three remaining linemen are all on rookie contracts.

Allen had his most impactful and healthiest season thus far in Year 3, although he admitted on Tuesday that he still has a lot to work on.

Lawrence has dealt with stints on injured reserve in each of his first two seasons, but he has shown promise at nose tackle when available.

Fotu played all 17 games in 2021, but he only started in three while not seeing the production of Arizona’s other primary linemen.

The Cardinals have spent several draft picks on defensive linemen over the past three years, but ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has them taking another in the first round on his latest mock draft.

He projects they will take defensive end George Karlaftis from Purdue with the No. 23 pick. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler has Arizona selecting Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis in that spot.

Upcoming free agents:

– DT Corey Peters
– DT Jack Crawford
– DE Michael Dogbe (restricted)

Peters had another steady campaign for Arizona, his sixth with the team.

He will be 34 next season, although Lawrence’s and Phillips’ injury history may lead the Cardinals to value Peters further for depth.

Dogbe’s improvement was praised by defensive coordinator Vance Joseph early in the season. The 2019 seventh-round pick will be 26 by training camp and could be a worthwhile depth piece for a friendly contract.

The Cardinals had a lot of fluctuation on their defensive line this past season with injuries and COVID-19 cases.

With health concerns and the age of some key defenders, Arizona could be in the market to sign or draft a high-end lineman to solidify the position going forward.

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