Cards cut starters Andre Smith, Bene Benwikere after 45-10 loss

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Steve Wilks considers himself to be "very direct" and not in the business of sending messages.

But a day after the Arizona Cardinals were throttled 45-10 by the Los Angeles Chargers, that's exactly what the coach did early Monday afternoon when his team cut two starters and put two others on injured reserve.

Arizona released right tackle Andre Smith and cornerback Bene Benwikere, and put kicker Phil Dawson and linebacker Josh Bynes on IR. Former Arizona State kicker Zane Gonzalez, who was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the seventh round in 2017, was promoted to the active roster off the practice squad.

"If you're not doing it our way, if you're not giving us the best opportunity to win football games, number one, you won't be on the field," Wilks said. "And if it gets to that point, we'll move on. And that's what we did."

Smith, a 10-year veteran, signed a two-year deal in March that would have been worth up to $8 million with $2.585 million guaranteed. But Smith struggled as of late, getting flag four times for holding in the past three weeks.

"You saw the inconsistency there." Wilks said. "One of the things we have to do is we got to do a great job of protecting our quarterback, so that was one of the moves."

Rookie Korey Cunningham will start at right tackle, with left tackle D.J. Humphries expected to return from a knee injury Sunday against Green Bay. Wilks also expects safety Budda Baker, wide receiver Chad Williams and linebacker Deone Bucannon to return this week from injuries.

Deciding to cut Smith instead of demoting him to a backup was a move Arizona made looking forward. "I think, right now, when you're sitting here at 2-9, you got to do everything you can to win a football game but also look toward the future," Wilks said.

Wilks said Benwikere, who played for Wilks in Carolina, was "a little inconsistent." Benwikere was replaced as the first-team corner during Sunday's loss by David Amerson, who Arizona signed on Nov. 14, released on Nov. 17 and re-signed on Nov. 20.

"We wanted to make sure we gave other guys an opportunity to step up and see what they can do, as well," Wilks said.

Benwikere is the second starting cornerback the Cardinals have released in as many weeks. Jamar Taylor was cut on Nov. 20.

Despite a slew of missed tackles in Sunday's loss, Wilks said he's not concerned about the effort. He said it's a combination of execution and desire.

"I'm not an effort coach," he said. "If we're coaching effort, we're in trouble."

Wilks was unsure of the severity of Dawson's hip injury, which caused him to miss Arizona's Week 11 loss to Oakland. He returned this week and missed a 46-yarder while making one from 30.

"I really don't know the end factor of why he was actually put on IR," Wilks said. "I don't know how bad it was. I just know that's what we ended up doing."

With five games left, Wilks said he's still committed to helping the Cardinals improve and win games.

"Number one, I'm going to keep working hard each and every day," Wilks said. "Trying to do everything I can to help this team win football games, starting with the coaches, making sure we're doing the things upstairs and the message is being delivered downstairs and the approach in how we practice.

"I'm not changing. There's no quit. We're going to persevere. We're going to find a way to finish strong."