TEMPE, Ariz. — Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told his players that Monday would be the last day anybody discussed or answered questions about inside linebacker Daryl Washington’s year-long suspension.
"We obviously hope that Daryl gets his life straightened out, but he also was very unaccountable to his teammates, the organization, the fans and everybody else," Arians said after last week’s announcement Washington again violated the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. "We will not talk about guys who are not with us ever again."
Now comes the business of determining how to move on without Washington on the field.
The Cardinals gained some experience in that last season, when Washington was suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the same policy. But Arizona had Karlos Dansby to ease the blow then. Now the Cardinals must open the season without both of their starting inside linebackers — two players who accounted for 199 tackles (173 solos), 9.5 sacks and six interceptions.
Would the Cardinals have changed their draft-day strategy had they known what Washington had in store for them? Perhaps. General manager Steve Keim wasn’t available Monday to answer that question, but Arians shrugged it off as water under the bridge.
"Hopefully, this is the biggest thing that happens to our football team this year but there’s going to be another two or three bumps in the road," he said. "You have to march on; you cannot use it for an excuse."
Washington’s loss places an even greater importance on the development of 2013 second-round pick Kevin Minter, who will step into Dansby’s role. But when it comes to filling Washington’s spot alongside Minter, Lorenzo Alexander and 13-year veteran Larry Foote appear to be the top current options.
Alexander has been focusing solely on the inside as he rehabs from a Lisfranc injury suffered in Week 3 last season. He welcomes the opportunity to battle for a starting role.
"In Washington, it was something I did behind (Redskins linebacker) London Fletcher, who was one of the best to ever play the position, so I’m very comfortable stepping into that role and playing while I lean on Foote for expertise," said Alexander, who made a name for himself with the Redskins on special teams. "I think (inside linebacker is) better fitted toward my skill set. I’m not a natural pass rusher, but if I get out there I’m able to do it. Playing special teams and playing in space covering kicks is more like a linebacker, sideline to sideline, making tackles, so I definitely think it’s going to be a benefit for me."
If nothing else changes, Alexander could be in a rotation with Minter and Foote, a 13-year veteran whom Arians believes still can be a two-down linebacker despite the mileage on his body. Arians also noted that second-year Michigan product Kenny Demens is having a good camp.
The Cardinals will watch the free-agent ranks to see if there’s a way they can improve the position. Veteran Ernie Sims was in for a visit recently and could be an immediate option. So could former Packer and Viking Desmond Bishop. The Cardinals also will pay special attention to cut-down days during training camp, when some players are almost always cap casualties. But Arians wants to go to camp with seven inside linebackers.
"It’s always an ongoing process — the bottom half of your roster and free agency," Arians said. "It’s changed a little bit this year with the cap going up. There’s fewer guys out there that are available, but you’re always looking."
Since the Cardinals released guard Daryn Colledge and designated him a June 1 release, they should have about $9.5 million in cap space, with only first-round pick Deone Bucannon still to sign. That will help in bringing in another player at two at the position. But beyond Sims or Bishop, they might have to wait to fill out the roster, or they might choose to stand pat.
As for Washington, Arians said he has not talked to him since pulling him out of the locker room immediately after the news broke, and he is not allowed to talk to him anymore.
When asked if he could foresee any scenario where Washington plays for the Cardinals again, Arians said: "I don’t even think about it."
Despite some players expressing their anger and frustration with Washington when the news broke, Alexander said the job now is to support their teammate.
"There are lot of people on him right now, so we as teammates are just trying to lift him up. Being away from football, as I was last year, it’s easy to get depressed and lose yourself and make more mistakes. We’re here to be his supportive cast and try to help him through this time," said Alexander, who said he hopes Washington has learned his lesson. "Playing in this game, you have a lot of responsibility. A lot of us are role models making a lot of money and you’ve got a lot of people looking at you — a lot of young kids as well.
"We’ve got to remember that — got to try to make the best decisions not only for yourself but for the people who are depending on you."