TEMPE, Ariz. — The Cardinals took another stab at filling Daryl Washington’s void when they signed veteran linebacker Ernie Sims to a one-year deal on Tuesday.
Sims worked out for the Cardinals last week but he told Sirius XMNFL on Friday that he left Arizona without a deal because the Cards weren’t ready to sign him yet. The Cardinals likely knew already that Washington was about to be suspended for the year for violating the league’s policy and program for substance abuse, but Arizona also cleared additional cap space this week when released guard Daryn Colledge’s June 1 designation went into effect.
Sims, a nine-year veteran, will be in a rotation with 2013 second-round pick Kevin Minter, 13-year veteran Larry Foote, Lorenzo Alexander and possibly Kenny Demens.
Sims, 29, played the last two seasons with Dallas, where he started 12 of 22 games and amassed 86 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He was the ninth overall pick by Detroit in 2006, averaging 123.7 tackles while starting every game the first three seasons of his career.
The Cardinals will be Sims’ fifth team. He has played outside linebacker for much of his career, but the Cardinals clearly have a bigger need inside. Minter is expected to start at one spot. Foote had been playing with the first unit in OTAs alongside Minter.
Bruce Arians says Kevin Minter was better off learning from veteran Karlos Dansby last year than he would have been playing: ‘He was very fortunate as a rookie he didn’t get thrown into the fire and fail, which he probably would have.’
Arians hasn’t been shy about giving rookies prominent roles, but aside from special teams, playing time was hard to find for Minter last season with Karlos Dansby performing at a Pro Bowl caliber level ahead of him. Arians thinks that was a good thing.
"He was very fortunate as a rookie he didn’t get thrown into the fire and fail, which he probably would have last year," Arians said of Minter. "He got to play behind an outstanding preparations guy and a great leader in Karlos, so he knows what to do now. This is his time."
Minter took exactly one defensive snap last season, but he admits he gained invaluable knowledge. With Dansby having departed in free agency and Daryl Washington suspended for the season, robbing the Cardinals of both 2013 starting inside linebackers, the pressure to perform has increased exponentially on Minter.
"I feel like it’s no more than usual," Minter said. "We’re all pretty much going to have to step up, really."
Had the Cardinals known that Washington was going to be suspended for the season, it’s reasonable to wonder if they would have used their second-round pick on an inside linebacker instead of Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas.
Niklas is still recovering from hernia surgery, so the Cardinals won’t have a true read on his abilities until training camp. But one of Arizona’s top free-agent acquisitons, John Carlson has impressed Arians in offseason workouts.
"John is having a great camp. He’s very flexible in the two tight end positions he can play," Arians said. "I really like our tight end room right now. It’s very NFL looking."
The other key cog in this mix is Rob Housler, who hasn’t played with the consistency the team would like to see but possesses the speed to create major mismatches in coverage. Drafting Niklas and signing Carlson was a clear message to Housler that this is a make-or-break season for him. It’s also the last year of his rookie contract, with a base salary of about $1.4 million and a cap number of about $1.6 million.
The Cardinals also have Jake Ballard, Darren Fells and Andre Hardy as depth options, making tight end one of the better camp battle to watch.
Here is QB Carson Palmer’s take on replacing Washington’s play-making ability (75 tackles, 69 solos, three sacks).
"We have to find a way to come up with those 60 to 70 tackles or four to five forced fumbles or whatever it was," Palmer said. "Now it’s either somebody else at that position that needs to make them or somebody else on that defense that needs to make them or it’s 14 more points a game we have to figure out how to score on offense."
The Cardinals picked up an additional $5 million in cap space on Monday when Colledge’s June 1 designation went into effect. The Cardinals released Colledge in March, but the designation allows them to spread his dead money cap hit over the next two years.
The Cardinals were carrying Colledge’s entire 2014 cap charge of $7.275 million until now, but going forward, Colledge only costs the Cardinals $2.275 million on the cap this year and $2.275 million of dead money in 2015.
The NFLPA website listed the Cardinals cap space at $7,359,608 as of Tuesday morning, but it’s not known whether that reflects Sims’ one-year deal. Although the team still must sign No. 1 draft pick Deone Bucannon, it will have some money to spend on additional free agents.