The Arizona Cardinals will have to pay a premium price to keep David Johnson and Tyrann Mathieu on their roster this season, but they may be able to get some much-needed help in return.
According to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, the Cardinals could use some help in the defensive backfield.
The Cardinals, who are in a tie for first place in the NFC West with the San Francisco 49ers, have the second-worst defense in the NFL, allowing an average of 28.6 points per game.
That is a significant drop from the season before, when they were the worst team in the league allowing 31.6 per game and finished the year with an average defense of just 29.6.
While the Cardinals are not going to make it to the Super Bowl, they have some serious options in the backfield.
Arizona has the top-rated running back in the draft in Ezekiel Elliott, but the team has struggled to find a reliable receiving option.
The team also has a handful of other talent in the secondary that could help improve the Cardinals’ defense.
One of those players is defensive tackle Solomon Thomas, who has yet to play a game for the Cardinals.
Thomas was taken in the second round of the 2015 NFL draft by the Seattle Seahawks and has started all eight games for them this season.
He has also started in all 16 games he has played this season for Arizona, starting 14 of them.
He started every game for Arizona last season and finished with a sack.
Thomas would be a good fit for the Arizona Cardinals, as he would give them some solid depth in the middle of their defense.
The Cardinals have the NFL’s eighth-best defensive DVOA at just 29th, meaning that they have been able to generate enough points per play to win games despite their defensive struggles.
The other option the Cardinals can use in the linebacking corps is defensive end David Johnson.
Johnson has been on the decline since the end of last season, as the team had him playing only two games in the first half of the season.
His production dropped off significantly after he got injured against the Rams in Week 14, when he played just seven games.
The former LSU star has started only three games this season and has played just two more than he did last season.
Johnson is not a great pass-rusher, but he has the versatility to play both inside and outside linebacker.
That makes him a perfect fit for a Cardinals defense that has struggled against the pass this season despite the team’s success against the run.
With Thomas gone, Johnson could help fill the void that the team left on defense by moving inside.
The Arizona secondary has a very deep group of linebackers that have shown a willingness to stick with the ball, and Johnson could fill that role well.
The biggest question mark with Johnson is whether he will be able keep up with the pace of play.
The 49ers and Broncos were the only teams to rank lower than the Cardinals in Football Outsiders’ run-defense DVOA ratings this season before they started to show signs of improvement.
Johnson has also been inconsistent in pass coverage, and that is a concern with him in a scheme that is designed to play off of his athleticism.
His inability to do that has made it difficult for the team to get to the quarterback and, with only one game of experience at the position, Johnson will have some growing to do if he is to stay on the field for much of the year.
It will be interesting to see how the Arizona defense responds to Johnson moving inside, especially if the Cardinals plan to go to a 4-3 defense.
While the team could use a few more pieces in the front seven, it may be hard to keep up without one of its best players.