Arizona Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington is suspended without pay for the entire 2014 NFL season for violation of the league's substance abuse policy, and their general manager is not happy about it. In a statement released by the team, GM Steve Keim said:
“It’s completely unacceptable that Daryl has once again put us in this position. We all know what the consequences are and will deal with them. From a personal standpoint, our hope is that this suspension will give Daryl the opportunity to accept the necessary help and guidance to get his life back on track and we will certainly support him however we can.
“As it pertains to our team, our approach is the same as it’s always been: next man up. We talk a lot about how critical depth is to a team because situations always arise where you lose players, whether by injury or other circumstances such as this one. One player’s absence is another’s opportunity. That approach has served us well in the past and we will rely on it now.”
Strong words for sure. The Cardinals' level of disappointment, however, is not being hidden here.
Washington's agent, Jordan Woy, issued a statement from Washington on Twitter.
Additionally, the NFL could further discipline Washington for an assault case related to a domestic incident last offseason. Washington pleaded guilty last month to assaulting the mother of his daughter and was sentenced to a year of probation. Washington's charge can be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor if he completes his probation without issue.
The Cardinals got a taste of life without Washington the first four games of last season as he served a suspension for a first violation of the substance-abuse policy. The Cardinals' defense suffered, with the team losing two of those four games, and allowing at least 21 points in three of the four.
In his first game back, the Cardinals shut down the Carolina Panthers, holding them to six points, and Washington was the star in the game with two sacks, a 41-yard interception and nine tackles. The Cardinals' defense would go on to rank seventh in points allowed and sixth in yards allowed and turnovers, allowing 14 or fewer points in six of the final 12 games.
Washington did not have his best season in 2013, never quite playing to the level of his transcendent 2012 season, but he was very solid and a key contributor for a unit that had to be considered among the 10 best in the NFL with him in the middle of things. Now all of that is up for question.
Fox Sports 910's Mike Jurecki first reported the news that Washington would be suspended for the entire 2014 season. The Cardinals clearly were bracing for some kind of a suspension, but reports had indicated that they thought it might be related to the assault case — and not another substance violation.
You can see why Keim is so upset at his defensive star.
There are some internal candidates to take Washington's place in the lineup — Kevin Minter a leading one — but no one can fully fill his role. There just aren't linebackers with Washington's blizting ability on every roster, and certainly not on the Cardinals' bench. Washington is not big, but when shielded properly, he's a fast, instinctive, rangy and ball-seeking missile.
You almost have to wonder if they might not have tried to re-sign Karlos Dansby, who bolted for Cleveland, had they known about the possibility of losing Washington when free agency began. They clearly did not, and their recent efforts — signing Larry Foote and bringing in Ernie Sims for a workout — suggest that the team was not at all expecting a full-season ban.
There are other players who could fill a void, such as free agent Paris Lenon, who played for the team previously and who stepped in nicely on the Denver Broncos' defense in the run up to the Super Bowl. Minter was a second-round pick, and he left LSU with the reputation of being a hard-hitting, between-the-tackles linebacker. That's not an exact match for what Washington did in this defense, playing all three downs, and it's likely that the Cardinals will have to identify a linebacker who can be a third-down factor in subpackages against the pass.
Coordinator Todd Bowles, who did a nice job with this defense last season in his first year with the team, now suddenly has his hands seriously full with one of his finest defenders having been taken from him.
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