Aaron Francisco (Getty)
The Cardinals' 53-man roster is finalized for the time being, with a few surprises along the way. A handful of contributors during last year’s Super Bowl run are no longer with the team and are now looking for a new employer. A select number of underdogs defied the odds and made the team, supplanting more experienced players. Brad Wilbricht analyzes the final cuts and Arizona’s current roster.
On both sides of the spectrum, the Arizona Cardinals made the expected decisions on final cut day but also offered up a few surprises along the way. Of the players that made the 53-man roster, rookie LB Reggie Walker made the biggest strides on the depth chart. Walker was a relative unknown coming out of Kansas St but a tremendous preseason earned him a spot on the Cardinals’ opening-day squad. Although Walker secured a roster spot, it came at the expense of veteran LB Victor Hobson who was released.
On the offensive side of the ball, WR Lance Long had been positioning himself for a spot in the NFL since last season. Long spent 2008 on Arizona’s practice squad but will now be competing in the professional ranks. While Long’s status is far from solidified, the Cardinals move to keep him on the active roster could have been a play to keep him away from opposing teams. Arizona enters the regular season with seven wideouts and if any of the unheralded players don’t perform their fate could be in jeopardy.
TE Leonard Pope was the team’s third-round pick in the 2006 draft but the former Georgia standout never materialized as expected. Pope showed flashes of brilliance during his career in the desert and looked to have developed into an excellent red-zone target. However, injuries derailed that plan and the Cardinals’ extreme depth at the tight end position ultimately made Pope dispensable entering the 2009 campaign. Taking Pope’s place is TE Dominique Byrd, who’ll help fill in for the suspended Ben Patrick.
The other significant move by the Arizona front office was the release of safety Aaron Francisco. Francisco played a major role on special teams and as a reserve secondary member during his time with the Cardinals. Unfortunately, Arizona’s depth at the position was Francisco’s demise particularly with rookie safety Rashad Johnson now in the mix. To the Cardinals surprise, Johnson was still on the board in the third round of the draft and ended up costing Francisco a roster spot.
Assuming they’re able to pass a physical, Pope and Francisco should find a new home sooner rather than later. Both are capable players and will likely be targeted by teams seeking help at either position. DE Keilen Dykes, OG Trevor Canfield are among the notable players already signed to the Cardinals’ practice squad that will continue to develop in hopes of making the main stage. Several newcomers are also expected to be added along with holdovers WR Ed Gant and DE Alex Field.
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