Arizona Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington has been suspended for at least the 2014 season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
With Karlos Dansby already having signed with the Browns, the Cardinals have lost both of their starting inside linebackers from 2013, two blows to a defense that ranked first against the run last season.
ESPN insider John Clayton joined the Doug and Wolf show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Friday and said that the Cardinals can still be a playoff team in 2014, despite the depleted linebacker corps.
"Every team's going to suffer setbacks, everybody's going to lose one player," Clayton said. "Daryl Washington, as good as he is, they won 10 games missing him for a good portion of last year."
Washington was suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. The Cardinals went 2-2 in his absence.
Playing in the NFC West is tough sledding for the Cardinals, but Clayton said the loss of Washington isn't a death sentence.
"They can still make the playoffs, but this is how tough it's going to be particularly with what's going on in the league," Clayton said. "You just watched the two middle linebackers, inside linebackers weighing 234, 236 pounds, Ryan Shazier and C.J. Mosley go in the middle of the first round. Two guys I'm sure were targeted by Arizona. Why did they go that light? Because you need speed players or good players in 3-4 defenses in the middle of the field that can chase people down. Daryl can do that. If he's not out there, that's really going to put a big burden on this defense."
Washington was originally drafted by the Cardinals in the second round in the 2010 draft. In 2012, he made the Pro Bowl and led the Cardinals with 108 solo tackles and nine sacks.
With Washington suspended, linebacker Larry Foote likely gets the first crack at stepping into the starting lineup alongside Kevin Minter. The two combined for 12 total tackles in 2013.
"Larry Foote cannot run as well as Daryl Washington," Clayton said. "Look at Dallas. They have no replacement for Sean Lee. It's hard right now to find anything that's a three-down linebacker to be able to replace guys like that."
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