<
>

Cardinals may be in search of experience, leadership on defensive line

Calais Campbell had eight sacks for the Cardinals last season. AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Leading up to the start of free agency on March 9, we'll evaluate the situation at every position for the Arizona Cardinals. We'll look at who will return to Arizona in 2017, who's set to hit the open market, what the Cardinals need at each position, and we'll throw out a few potential options to fill those open roster spots.

Position: Defensive line

Under contract: Robert Nkemdiche, Ed Stinson, Josh Mauro, Olsen Pierre, Corey Peters, Rodney Gunter, Xavier Williams

Pending free agents: Calais Campbell, Frostee Rucker

What's needed: The Cardinals have been preparing for Campbell's and Rucker's potential departures by drafting Robert Nkemdiche last year and Rodney Gunter in 2015, so replacing them physically won't be priority if both leave in free agency. Instead, the Cardinals will be faced with replacing their 20 years of combined experience in the locker room. Rucker and Campbell are the Cards' two longest-tenured defensive linemen and have had the responsibility of initiating, grooming and policing their room over the last few years. And with the exception of Corey Peters, who completed his seventh season in 2016, the most experience any of Rucker's and Campbell's defensive-line peers had last season was three.

Both Campbell and Rucker are two of the most respected players in the locker room and their leadership is viewed around the building as invaluable to some.

Losing either or both Campbell and Rucker would surely be a hit to Arizona's talent on the defensive line. Campbell had eight sacks last season while Rucker, dealing with a lingering injury from 2015 as well as a new injury suffered early in the season, didn't record a sack for the first time in his career 2007. But when he was healthy in 2015 and 2014, Rucker had three and five sacks, respectively.

With seven defensive linemen under contract, losing both would be a hit to the depth of the defensive line, which proved to be a strong point for the Cardinals last season. Arizona may be able to sign a veteran or two, or even draft a defensive tackle, but replacing their leadership and experience both in the Cardinals' defense and the locker room will be difficult to find.

Possible fits: Stacy McGee (Raiders), Jonathan Hankins (Giants), Devon Still (Texans).