Philip Rivers isn't a quarterback any defense wants to face without its best players.

The Cardinals, however, will lack two standout linebackers when Rivers and the Chargers visit in September to open the season Sept. 8.

Having already lost Karlos Dansby to the Browns in free agency, Arizona was counting on Daryl Washington, a Pro Bowler in 2012, to lead its defense.

That won't happen because the NFL on Friday suspended Washington for the '14 season, for violating the league's drug policy. Washington, 27, is a dynamic defender who served a four-game suspension last year for a positive drug test. He had 75 tackles and three sacks for a defense that led Arizona to a 10-6 season.

"It's completely unacceptable that Daryl has once again put us in this position," General Manager Steve Keim said in a statement.

Losing Dansby was a blow too. He had 6.5 sacks and led the team in tackles (114), interceptions (4) and passes defended (19). Dansby's departure stung defensive lineman Darnell Dockett, who in April told ArizonaSports.com: "He chased the money. I've got a lot of respect for our guy that left, I love him like a brother. But we were one or two pieces away from really making a lot of noise."

Washington's status for the opener was in doubt before the suspension, owing to his guilty plea in March to an aggravated assault charge stemming from an incident in May of 2013 with his child's mother.

Ten days ago I deemed the opener a "very winnable" game for the Chargers, even though oddsmakers made Arizona a 3.5-point favorite. The line remained unchanged after Friday's report, as Vegas doesn't adjust the point spread just because a linebacker is out. Understandably, the home-team Cards are favored.

The Cardinals should have a decent defense, but if the Chargers get to Sept. 8 in good health, their seasoned offense will pose problems not only for the linebackers, but a secondary that may need time to gel. Safety Tyrann Mathieu had knee surgery on Dec. 13 to repair a torn ACL and LCL. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie, the former Charger and Jet, joined the Cardinals in March. It's expected that rookie Deone Bucannon will compete for a starting job at safety.

Second-year pro Kevin Minter is a expected to replace Washington. He played just one defensive snap last season.

Veteran Larry Foote is a candidate to start next to Minter in Dansby's spot. The 33-year-old appeared in one game with the Steelers last year.