Defensive end, Darnell Dockett, was counted out for the season when he blew his right knee during Monday’s practice, the latest blow to a defense that already has lost several of its biggest playmakers from a year ago.
Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby departed to the Cleveland Browns in free agency. Inside linebacker Daryl Washington has been suspended for at least a year after another violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Inside linebacker Kevin Minter has a pectoral injury that could sideline him for an extended period if it requires surgery. Outside linebacker John Abraham missed the first 19 days of training camp, for personal reasons, after being arrested for driving under the influence near Atlanta.
Dockett, Washington and Abraham all have Pro Bowl selections or alternates, under their belt from last season, and Dansby arguably should have been selected after a season that included 122 total tackles, 6½ sacks and four interceptions.
Sadly, Dockett may never again put on a Cardinals uniform. He is 33 years old and due to be paid $6.5 million in 2015 in the final year of his contract with the team. His salary-cap number would be $9.8 million and if the Cardinals cut him after the season, they would save $6.8 million against the cap.
Even when he was healthy, the Cardinals already appeared to be looking beyond Dockett. This was clear when the club drafted Kareem Martin, a 6-foot-6, 295-pounder from North Carolina, in the third round and Alabama’s Ed Stinson, a 6-4, 291-pounder, in the fifth round this summer.
From a football standpoint, the loss of Washington is probably more costly to the Cardinals defense than the loss of Dockett. The Cardinals have far better depth in their defensive line than at linebacker.
Veteran Frostee Rucker has proved to be outstanding in training camp — some could argue he is as good or better than Dockett. And to further prove this, he played well as Dockett’s backup a year ago. Rucker is likely to step into the starting role.
Bigger than just having Dockett on the field, the greater loss to the Cardinals will be Dockett’s presence in the locker room.
He isn’t just the emotional and vocal leader of the defense and its anchor. He commands the respect of the entire roster. In his 10 seasons, the guy missed only two games. He started all but two of the games that he did play over that span.
In short, he was the team’s rock. Only Larry Fitzgerald has been with the team as long as Dockett.
It says something that many of his teammates and former teammates, such as Adrian Wilson and Antrel Rolle, took to Twitter to offer support, prayers and encouragement.
It says even more that the leader of a bitter rival, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, did it, too.
The domino-effect of losing so many defensive playmakers will be felt, but it doesn’t mean the season is going to be a loss.
It does mean that the “next man up” mantra doesn’t just apply to the guys stepping in for the injured. It means the Cardinals’ offensive line has to come together in front of quarterback Carson Palmer and allow an offense loaded with weapons to reach its full potential.
Maybe a healthy Honey Badger is reason to believe that the football gods finally have smiled upon Bowles and the Cardinals defense.
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