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Preseason Games Over; Roster Cuts Loom

Some difficult decisions ahead as Cardinals must reduce roster to 53 by Tuesday.

The Cardinals ended the preseason with a last-minute loss to the Titans and the most notable takeaway is that these games are over.

Now, the great debate will be what the roster will look like after the cut to 53 by Tuesday and then how many changes might be made after that.

Some of the biggest roster questions center around injuries and how long they will affect edge rusher Markus Golden, defensive tackle Leki Fotu, guard Justin Pugh, running back Jonathan Ward, cornerback Antonio Hamilton and wide receiver Antoine Wesley.

With Golden, we don’t know whether he has a toe injury or if he’s staging a “hold-in” and angling for a deserved upgrade to his contract. As for Hamilton, it’s unknown if he has an actually injury or a non-football health issue.

While rosters must be at 53 by 1 p.m. Arizona time Tuesday, there can be maneuvering with players placed on reserve/injured Wednesday who have to miss a minimum of four games. Those players can be replaced by cuts by the Cardinals or other teams.

Teams can bring back a maximum of eight players during the season that are designated for return.

Here are some of the most significant debates not only among fans and media, but likely with the coaches.

Running back: Will the Cardinals keep four or five?

Rookie Keaontay Ingram staked a claim for a job after running hard, smart and rushing for 61 yards in 16 attempts with one receptions for eight yards against Tennessee. It would be a gamble to place him on waivers and have him claimed by another team.

In the first scoring drive of the game, Eno Benjamin ran three timed for nine yards and caught two passes for 25, including an outstanding 20-yard grab. Darrel Williams, seen by some is jeopardy, totaled nine yards on two attempts including a 1-yard touchdown.

Ward is the wild card. He injured his shoulder in Week 2 against Baltimore and is it serious enough where he could miss four games? Will he be available for the season opener? The team might know, but we do not. Williams, a vested veteran, does not have to go through waivers, so he could be cut and then re-signed to the roster if Ward is placed on reserve/injured or go on the practice squad. Of his $1.035 million base salary, $895,000 is guaranteed.

Wide receiver: What is Wesley’s status?

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DeAndre Hopkins will be placed on reserve/suspended Tuesday and miss the first six games of the season. Assured of jobs are Marquise Brown and Rondale Moore. Wesley’s situation mirrors Ward. If Wesley isn’t available, whether it’s for four games or less, spots are needed.

At this point, it appears Andy Isabella and Greg Dortch will be on the roster. Isabella (5-115 with a long of 74 against the Titans) and Dortch (6-64) combined for 11 catches for 179 yards against the Titans. In the three preseason games, Isabella had 14 receptions for 226 yards and drew three pass-interference penalties, while Dortch totaled 164 yards, also on 14 catches.

Three levels of defense

Everyone talks about cornerback and outside linebacker, but what about the defensive line?

The conundrum there is Fotu and his injury. Without him, if that’s the case at the start of the season, depth is needed. Does that create a spot for Manny Long, who has a non-stop motor and just seems to make plays. At the least, he should be on the practice squad.

At linebacker, rookie Jesse Luketa (outside) and Ben Niemann (inside) have been impressive. Might Devon Kennard be on the bubble? It’s not a contract issue because he agreed to lower his base salary for this season to $1.12 million with $600,000 guaranteed.

It might be a luxury to keep Luketa thanks to the improvement of Victor Dimukeje and the presence of rookies Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders.

Finally, especially with the mystery surrounding Hamilton, cornerback has to be the top priority heading toward the season. Even with Hamilton, help is needed. Otherwise, at minimum the first three games could be ugly defending quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes, Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford.

The Cardinals will be watching the personnel notice closely for any surprise cuts, but quality corners are not usually set free by teams. A trade can’t be ruled out or signing a veteran corner that hasn’t been with a team this year, a group that includes Joe Haden, Chris Harris Jr., Janoris (Jackrabbit) Jenkins and Robert Alford if he’s healthy.

Breathe deep at kicker

Some fans appeared to be in panic mode after Matt Prater missed two extra points in the preseason opener and was badly wide right on a 54-yard field-goal attempt against Baltimore.

Prater calmed everyone down against Tennessee, hitting both his extra points and three field goals, two from 42 yards and one from 53. The latter one he drilled right down the middle.