Robert Nkemdiche

Cardinals Decline Nkemdiche’s Option

The Cardinals are declining defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche’s fifth-year option, a source tells Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (on Twitter). The option would have been worth $7.690MM and guaranteed for injury only, but the Cardinals did not feel comfortable enough to pull the trigger. 

Nkemdiche is coming off of the best season of his career after notching 45 sacks in ten games (six starts). While he showed some promise, Nkemdiche has struggled to stay healthy since being selected with the No. 29 overall pick in 2016. He suited up for just 15 games in his first two seasons and last year’s campaign ended with a torn ACL in December. But, given his physical tools, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Nkemdiche having a bounce back year in 2019 and setting himself up for a huge payday next March.

The deadline for fifth-year option decisions isn’t until tomorrow, but we more or less know the outcome for every 2016 first-round pick already.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Trade Rumors: Cardinals, Armstead, Haskins

The Seahawks and Chiefs agreed to a blockbuster trade earlier today that will send Frank Clark to Kansas City. And as Albert Breer of SI.com writes, the veteran trade market is expected to remain hot this week. Breer says that rival clubs are “keeping an eye” on Cardinals‘ DL Robert Nkemdiche, and given that Nkemdiche suffered a torn ACL in December, it’s possible that he could be had for minimal compensation. He has battled injuries throughout his career and has not really lived up to his potential when on the field, but as a former first-round pick who won’t turn 25 until the regular season starts, it makes sense that he would draw some interest. He did post 4.5 sacks in 10 games (six starts) last year.

Now for more trade rumblings from around the league:

  • Assuming the Cardinals draft Kyler Murray with the No. 1 overall pick, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen expects the club to be patient with a Josh Rosen trade (Twitter link). If they cannot get fair value for Rosen prior to the draft, the Cards could wait until after a few signal-callers come off the board and QB-needy teams start to get a little anxious. We heard earlier today that Arizona is still undecided as to what it will do with the first pick in the draft, but if the Cardinals don’t nab Murray, it would be a major surprise.
  • Breer writes that 49ers‘ DE Arik Armstead is also expected to draw some trade interest, though he remains in San Francisco’s plans. Raiders‘ DT Justin Ellis is also said to be available, while Cowboys WR Allen Hurns is the best wideout that could be had via trade [SOURCE LINK].
  • In a separate piece, Breer writes that rival clubs are monitoring Jaguars LB Telvin Smith and Broncos CB Chris Harris Jr. as potential trade targets, though neither player is on the trade block just yet.
  • Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports continues to hear that the Lions and Jets are interested in trading down from their current first-round slots, and he sees the Falcons as a potential partner for Detroit (Twitter link). Interestingly, Breer hears the same [SOURCE LINK]. Clemson DT Christian Wilkins could be the target if Atlanta wants to move up, though Breer says the team has been “nosing around” offensive linemen as well as defensive linemen.
  • As La Canfora writes in a separate piece, the Redskins could be the Jets‘ trade partner if Washington feels it needs to trade up to land Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins. One way or another, JLC believes the Redskins will come away from the draft with Haskins in tow. This is at least the second time La Canfora has written about a potential deal between Washington and New York.
  • The Chargers are open to trading down from the No. 28 overall pick in Thursday’s draft, per the team’s official website. But given that there is a lot of depth in this draft and not many obvious first-round talents, GM Tom Telesco could find it difficult to execute such a deal.

Cardinals DT Robert Nkemdiche Suffered Torn ACL

The Cardinals placed defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche on injured reserve earlier this week, but declined to give details on the nature of his injury. Today, Arizona head coach Steve Wilks announced that Nkemdiche actually suffered a torn ACL against the Lions (Twitter link via Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com).

The revelation of Nkemdiche’s ACL tear has numerous implications, beginning with his availability for the 2019 campaign. ACL recovery times can vary in length, with most players taking anywhere from six-to-twelve months to regain full health. Clearly, that timeline creates a wide range of outcomes for Nkemdiche’s 2019 season. If he can heal quickly, the former first-round pick could be ready for training camp. If not, Nkemdiche could potentially miss most or all of next year.

New of Nkemdiche’s knee injury will likely also affect his future earnings. The Cardinals hold a 2020 fifth-year option on Nkemdiche, and they’ll have to make decision on that option by May 2019. It’s guaranteed for injury only, and given Nkemdiche’s ACL tear, it seems highly unlikely that Arizona will exercise the option. Were Nkemdiche unable to pass a physical in 2020, the Cardinals would be on the hook for his salary (which will be in excess of $7MM) regardless of whether he can play or not.

Whether Arizona would have any interest in exercising Nkemdiche’s option even if he were at full health is an open question. After being selected 29th overall in 2016, Nkemdiche hasn’t done much in the NFL. Health questions have kept him off the field for much of his career, and he’s only played in 27 total games over three years. This season, Pro Football Focus graded Nkemdiche as just the No. 102 interior defender among 118 qualifiers.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cardinals To Place Robert Nkemdiche On IR

Cardinals defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche is going on IR, coach Steve Wilks announced on Monday. Wilks declined to give details on the injury, but he did say that Nkemdiche will require surgery. 

[RELATED: Cardinals Place D.J. Humphries On IR]

Nkemdiche, 24, was a first round pick of the Cardinals back in 2016. His bruising physique had the team excited back then, but he has been unable to put it all together as a pro. Injuries have kept him off the field for much of his three-year career and he’ll end this campaign with just 27 appearances out of a possible 48 games.

Nkemdiche recorded 4.5 sacks this year – including 2.5 agains the Chargers a few weeks ago – but his run defense has left much to be desired. Nkemdiche currently ranks as Pro Football Focus’ No. 102 ranked interior defender out of 118 qualified players.

The Cardinals will have Nkemdiche under contract for 2019 and they’ll have to decide on his fifth-year option for 2020 in May. Last year, the option cost for non Top-10 defensive tackles was $7.154MM. The cost will rise this year, and the Cardinals will have to think long and hard about whether they’re willing to roll the dice on Nkemdiche given his injury history.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Gase, 49ers, Cards, Bortles

With Miami set to face San Francisco on Sunday, first-year Dolphins head coach Adam Gase revisited the 49ers’ past pursuit of him on Wednesday (via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle). After the 49ers and head coach Jim Harbaugh parted ways at the conclusion of the 2014 season, the club replaced him with Jim Tomsula. But it also interviewed a slew of other candidates – Gase included. It turns out Tomsula tried to hire Gase as his offensive coordinator, the latter revealed Wednesday. Gase instead took the same role with the Bears, with whom he fared well, and is now atop a 6-4 Dolphins team. Since passing on Gase, the 49ers have gone 6-20 under the since-fired Tomsula and his replacement, Chip Kelly.

Although they went in a different direction in 2015, Gase harbors no ill will toward the 49ers. “Spending all the time with (general manager) Trent (Baalke) was a really valuable experience for me and it was extremely helpful for me when I went through that next round of interviews,” Gase said. “The dos and don’ts of what to do. Just kind of the expectations. I owe those guys a lot just for the fact that they did give me that second interview … Nobody else gave me that second interview.”

In other NFL news…

  • Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was frank in explaining why first-round defensive end Robert Nkemdiche was inactive for the club’s previous two games, telling Darren Urban of the team’s website, “Talent, not an issue. Maturity is. It’s just maturing.” Arians also took a shot at Nkemdiche’s work ethic (or lack thereof), saying that 2015 first-rounder D.J. Humphries – who was inactive his entire rookie season – put in more of an effort last year. Nkemdiche was a highly regarded talent at Ole Miss, but character concerns helped him fall to 29th in the draft, and several scouts opined beforehand that he’d bust in the pros. It’s early, but with just three appearances and one tackle thus far, Nkdemiche certainly hasn’t made those scouts eat their words.
  • A disappointing season from Blake Bortles has led to speculation that the Jaguars will decline his fifth-year option for 2018 in the offseason, but team management still believes he’ll be a franchise quarterback, says Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (video link). Bortles is tied for the league lead in interceptions (13), though that isn’t a new problem – he tossed 17 picks in 14 games as a rookie and 18 in 16 contests in 2015. The third overall pick of the 2014 draft otherwise showed promise last year with 37 touchdowns (35 passing, two rushing) and over 4,700 total yards. While Bortles is on pace to throw for a fairly prolific 29 scores this year, his completion percentage (a career-high 60.2), yards per attempt (6.32 – down from 7.31 last season) and passer rating (80.0) rank toward the bottom of the league. Worse, of course, is that the Jags have stumbled to a 2-8 mark after entering the season with playoff aspirations.
  • Ravens tight end Nick Boyle practiced Wednesday for the first time since the preseason, as Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun tweets. Boyle, whose 10-game suspension ended this week, has now served two bans since he entered the league as a fifth-round pick in 2015. He earned a four-game suspension last year for performance-enhancing drugs, which prematurely ended an 18-catch rookie campaign.
  • The Chargers tried to sign wide receiver Paul Turner before the Eagles promoted him to their 53-man roster this week, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Impact Rookies: Arizona Cardinals

The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?

To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.

First Round – Robert Nkemdiche, DT (Mississippi State, No. 29 overall)

The NFL Draft Report casts a wary eye on the Cardinals’ first round selection. In sort of a déjà vu’ for the staff, could this Ole Miss prospect pull a “Honey Badger” and see the error of his ways off the football field, or are we again seeing a remake of the Demetrius Underwood situation, where a talented player simply self-destructs in life? We are very cautiously including him in this article, because it’s hard to cast the troubled Nkemdiche as an “impact player,” despite his talent. Robert Nkemdiche (Vertical)

[RELATED – Click here to read our in-depth recap of the Cardinals’ offseason] 

Currently, Nkemdiche is slated to be one of the first defensive ends off of the bench in relief of Chandler Jones and Calais Campbell. The Cardinals say they want to extend Campbell, but that could be a tall order as they also have to carve out a monster deal to retain Jones. If all works out with Nkemdiche, he can serve as insurance against Campbell going elsewhere in free agency.

Nkemdiche has Ndamukong Suh-like athletic ability, but his problems occur when he seems to throttle down more than he plays with intensity. His occasional “let-ups” on the field became much more noticeable this year and he did seem to be more concerned about his running back duties than he did in giving pursuit as a defender. The Ole Miss defender made only two long distance tackles this year, despite having valid lateral agility and burst to give proper chase. When his head is in the game, Nkemdiche demonstrates the ability to easily take plays from the chalkboard to the field.

He needs minimal reps to retain and evident by the fact that he has started every game during his career, he has a good feel for blocking schemes and the vision to locate the ball in a hurry. He understands his assignments and his feel for the ball is above average, but his woeful inconsistency and attention to detail can be maddening, at times. He is not the type who will make an effort on every play to get to the ball and there are more than a few times where he is caught out of position due to a mental error.

Nkemdiche is a hard worker in the weight room, but is the type that needs to be pushed to get the best effort out of him. He has the ability to be a self-starter and he is a good field leader who lets his actions speak louder than his words, but his inconsistency has now become an issue. He is compliant to the coach’s wishes and plays with good intensity and effort when he performs to his ability, but he runs too hot-and-cold to be strongly considered a football player on par with his athleticism.

Ultimately, on the field, we believe that Nkemdiche has a lot to offer. How he performs at the next level, however, will hinge largely on his own head.

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NFC Notes: Cardinals, Redskins, Wentz, Saints

The Cardinals added a number of big names this offseason, including rookie defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and linebacker Chandler Jones. While the two players have a relatively tumultuous past, the organization believed it was worth the risk to acquire the duo.

“You have to take some risks,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said (via Tom Pelissero of USA Today). “Let’s be honest: Not every player out there that is extremely gifted has done everything right in his life. Yet at the same time, we want to create a culture in the locker room of positive guys, good people in the community.”

Jones made the news last season following a bad reaction to synthetic marijuana, while Nkemdiche was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession.

“We feel like we got two high-character guys who made mistakes and know that they made a mistake and don’t feel like it’ll happen again,” said coach Bruce Arians.

“Each person’s an individual. You look at Nkemdiche’s history and the family he comes from and everything. He had a bad night in Atlanta. And we all have bad nights. You don’t condemn them for that. You find out why, and what are you going to do about it? Chandler’s episode was bizarre – but he went to the police.”

Let’s take a look at some other notes from the NFC…

  • Pierre Thomas ended last season with the Redskins, and ESPN.com’s John Keim believes the team could still use the free agent. The team has some talented running backs in Matt Jones, Keith Marshall, and Chris Thompson, but the writer believes the organization may still be seeking some reinforcement at the position. Considering his experience and familiarity with the organization, Thomas would appear to be a natural fit.
  • After being activated from the PUP list, Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis missed the majority of this past week’s practices. The veteran admitted that he was relieved that the lingering injury popped up during the preseason, and he added that he doesn’t anticipate a trip to the injured reserve. “I ain’t (going on) IR,” he told Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com. “That definitely ain’t my plan. I worked too hard this offseason. I stayed in New Orleans the whole time and grinded. So, offseason is definitely not on my calendar or in my notebook.”
  • Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz took quite the hit during his team’s first preseason game, leading Bob Ford of Philly.com to write that the coaching staff should do a better job of protecting the generational talent. Meanwhile, considering the presence of veteran signal-callers Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel, Jeff McLane of Philly.com wonders how long it will take for the Eagles to become Wentz’s team.

Cardinals Sign Robert Nkemdiche, Two Other Draftees

The Cardinals have officially signed three draft picks, locking up first-round defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche and a pair of fifth-rounders – Midwestern State safety Marqui Christian and Harvard offensive tackle Cole Toner – the team announced (Twitter link).

Nkemdiche is obviously the most notable player of the trio, having earned a first-team all-SEC selection and second-team Robert NkemdicheAll-America honors at Ole Miss last season. The 21-year-old is one of two major pass-rushing additions the Cardinals have made this offseason, joining trade acquisition Chandler Jones. Nkemdiche’s draft stock fell because of past off-field transgressions, enabling the Cardinals to snag him at No. 29. If those issues are behind him, Nkemdiche should help boost a Cardinals defense that finished just 20th in the NFL in sacks last season.

Nkemdiche’s four-year rookie deal will be worth upward of $8.6MM, including more than $4.45MM in guarantees, according to data from Over the Cap. As a first-rounder, his contract will also include a fifth-year option, though its worth won’t be known until 2019.

With Nkemdiche, Christian and Toner now under contract, the Cardinals have nearly half of their draft class signed. Four remaining draftees – including third-round cornerback Brandon Williams – still have to ink deals.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Rumors: Cards, Giants, Cravens, Lions, Vikings

A participant in the NFL draft since the inaugural selection gathering in 1936, the Giants did not take a lineman for the first time in team history this weekend. However, offensive line was a priority going into the draft, a source tells Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, and Jack Conklin was a top-two choice on the Giants’ board before he went No. 8 to the Titans.

There were discussions here or there,” Giants VP of player evaluation Marc Ross told media, including Vacchiano. “But nobody at the time who was the highest-ranked player on our board, or close to that.”

After cutting Will Beatty and Geoff Schwartz prior to the start of free agency, the Giants spent wildly to upgrade their defense but have left their offensive front unchanged. Marshall Newhouse and John Jerry remain atop the depth chart at right tackle and right guard, respectively. Ben McAdoo told media after the draft the right side of the Giants’ line is far from settled.

Here’s the latest from the NFC coming out of draft weekend.

  • A hybrid linebacker/safety at USC, Su’a Cravens will begin his career with Washington at safety, Stephen Czarda writes for the team’s website. The 20-year-old Cravens started his career as a true freshman in 2013 as a strong safety before moving to an outside linebacker/safety hybrid role in the ensuing two seasons in Los Angeles. He compiled 10.5 career sacks and nine interceptions in three seasons.
  • Thanks to former teammate Laremy Tunsil‘s unfortunate Thursday night, Robert Nkemdiche‘s name didn’t come up much during Round 1 until the Cardinals took the polarizing Ole Miss defensive lineman at No. 29. The Cardinals did their due diligence on the former No. 1 overall recruit, meeting with him on four occasions, Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic writes.
  • Drafting for need has become a somewhat of a frowned-upon phrase in modern drafting, but the Cardinals were pleased their picks filled some of their depth chart’s key voids, Mike Jurecki of Fox Sports 910 reports (TwitLonger link). “This is not always the goal, because we said we were going to trust our board,” GM Steve Keim said, “but we filled needs with players we’re excited about. That’s not always the case when you walk away from the draft.” After Nkemdiche in the first and a second-round pick that went toward fortifying their pass rush in the Chandler Jones trade, Arizona selected two corners — Brandon Williams and Harlon Miller — and after losing Ted Larsen in the offseason selected a center in Evan Boehm.
  • Under new GM Bob Quinn, the Lions are expected to give UDFAs base salary guarantees, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reports (on Twitter). This is a tactic the Lions haven’t used in the recent past, although Quinn’s former organization, the Patriots, as Birkett writes, do so often. Although the Lions haven’t unveiled their UDFA contingent yet, offensive lineman Chase Farris is expected to be among them. Birkett reports (via Twitter) the Ohio State product will have $10K of his base salary guaranteed in addition to a $10K signing bonus.
  • The Vikings are expected to place Mackensie Alexander behind Captain Munnerlyn at slot corner, Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Vensel offers that Alexander’s selection — the Vikings’ third cornerback taken in the top two rounds in the past four years, joining Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes — could bring about an end to Munnerlyn’s tenure in Minnesota after 2016. Munnerlyn was the Vikings’ top corner in 2015, according to Pro Football Focus. The 28-year-old corner is entering the final season of a three-year contract.

Draft Rumors: Spence, J. Smith, Rankins, Vikes

Eastern Kentucky edge defender Noah Spence, who had multiple positive drug tests during his time at Ohio State, sent each of the NFL’s 32 teams the results of the 20 drug tests he has taken since last May, league sources tell Adam Schefter of ESPN.com. According to Schefter, Spence had Eastern Kentucky conduct five drug tests from May through December, then submitted to 15 more – one per week – since January.

In terms of pure on-field talent, Spence is viewed as one of the top pass rushers in this year’s draft class, but his off-field question marks may cause him to slip a little further than he’d like. Still, he continues to be viewed as a first-round pick, and receiving evidence that he has been clean for the last year may make some teams a little more inclined to roll the dice on him.

Here are a few more of today’s pre-draft rumors and updates:

  • Despite his significant knee injury, which is expected to sideline him for the entire 2016 season, Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith is still viewed as a potential day-one or day-two pick, according to Adam Schefter (Twitter links). Schefter hears that Smith is likely to be selected before the end of round three, and one NFL head coach even believes the linebacker could come off the board late in the first round.
  • The buzz surrounding Louisville defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins has intensified today. Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com and Matt Miller of Bleacher Report (Twitter links) both have heard that Rankins will be considered as early as No. 4 by the Cowboys, with La Canfora predicting that he’ll end up as a top-10 pick. Tony Pauline at WalterFootball.com has heard that the draft stocks for both Rankins and Mississippi State DT Chris Jones have risen, with teams seeking interior pass rushers.
  • Several NFL teams think Ohio State wideout Michael Thomas is being undervalued, and will transition well to the NFL, according to Tony Pauline, who says the Chargers and Bengals are among the teams with interest in Thomas. Pauline adds within the same article that the Vikings aren’t a lock to draft a receiver in round one, and will consider Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche if he’s available.
  • With Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley being mentioned in the same conversations as Laremy Tunsil recently, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk looks into whether or not the Tunsil/Stanley debate is real.
  • The NFL is considering Philadelphia and Los Angeles to host the 2017 NFL draft, with Philly emerging as the favorite, tweets Adam Schefter. As Schefter points out, neither of those cities’ teams has a first-round pick in 2017.
  • Purdue defensive tackle Ryan Watson has visited, worked out for, or received inquiries from eight teams since his pro day, tweets Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

Zach Links contributed to this post.