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How safe will Cardinals be in secondary?

Posted by Darren Urban on December 27, 2016 – 5:01 pm

Tony Jefferson, that one-time undrafted free agent who was not a happy man when he was undrafted, will wait to see what his future holds. He’s on IR after hurting his knee, his best season over after 92 tackles, 13 for loss, two sacks, five pass breakups and even four tackles on special teams (the unit on which Jefferson got hurt.)

The Cardinals want to bring Jefferson back, and I believe Jefferson wants to return. But money talks, and when you have a guy who was undrafted in the first place (and then got less as a restricted free agent, with no competing offers, last offseason, much to his chagrin) money will be screaming this time around. Understandable.

The thing is, the Cards will have to figure out this complex puzzle of their secondary and safety. D.J. Swearinger is also an unrestricted-free-agent-to-be, and he too will be looking for money after falling to practice squad status as recently as last season. Tyrann Mathieu will be back next season, fully healthy without surgeries and that bodes well. Tyvon Branch should be back too, but when Mathieu goes into the slot, that leaves a spot. And that’s assuming Branch and Mathieu can stay healthy, with which both have had issues.

Jefferson is the kind of home-grown talent you’d love to keep around. He’s had a good season. But he’s also one of those players that might’ve fallen into the cracks — too good to afford to keep him, not quite good enough that you don’t think you can’t replace him. Plus there are the intangibles that are hard to measure.

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29 Responses to “How safe will Cardinals be in secondary?”

  1. By Scott H on Dec 27, 2016 | Reply

    Swearinger has done a HELLUVA job for this team this year, and I hope he will be back.

    I’ve been thinking about the kind of money Jones is probably going to want, and wondering if he is going to be worth it. We got a lot of needs here….

    Also been thinking about the Honey Badger – who we haven’t REALLY seen in over a year now, since the injury in Philly last December – and wondering if he is going to be worth it going forward. When he is 100%, he is absolutely worth it. When he is 100%, he is a RARE defensive player. But…how often are we seeing that?? Not often enough recently. He does not seem capable of playing a full season. And if we’re not getting full seasons out of him…..well, how would finish this sentence?

    Jefferson has been a nice player but I don’t see him as a necessity.

    And Branch? What did we get out of him this year – about 8 minutes?? Pretty hard to feel good about a guy who we put on IR in 2016. TWICE.

    I know this is an easy fan thing to say but above all else, we need to go into 2017 with fewer question marks than we did in 2016. This secondary was just not good enough this year. Can’t just come back next year counting on the same players but somehow expecting a better result.

    PP is the only sure thing we have back there. HB is not a sure thing because of the frequent injuries. Branch? HUGE questions about his durability and we didn’t even get a CHANCE to see if he gives us what we need. Jefferson? A nice player, may have reached his ceiling this year. And also now coming back from injury. Brandon Williams? Who knows? Cooper? Simon? When you put it all on the table, it just feels like we need to up-grade / solidify this group with at least ONE player who provides ability AND durability.

    But I know, easy for me to say.

  2. By Erik on Dec 27, 2016 | Reply

    Jefferson and Swearinger have been great. I have a feeling we only keep Swearinger though. I am happy about that, though. He brings a toughness this team desparately needs. I feel the team could keep both though if they cut both Branch and Bethel. I’m no cap guy, but that has to be 8-10 million freed up if that happens. I may be wrong on that, if so, please call me out.

    Branch has been terrible all year. Sure, he had a lot of tackles early on, but that was because so many passes were being caught on him. Bethel is what he is at this point, not at all worth the money he is being given. They will keep Williams just to see and because he is so cheap to pay, but goodness. He has to be the worst corner back in the NFL. That will be a miracle if he pans out.

    Not trying to rip on the team too bad. I just feel the secondary is where they are weakest and they can save money by cutting two of those weak links. I’m hoping a cb is chosen with that first pick. I do think they can right the ship for one more go at a super bowl and getting a lock down corner opposite Peterson will really help with that.

  3. By Berdj J. Rassam on Dec 27, 2016 | Reply

    You can never have enough quality DBs.

  4. By Bill Camp on Dec 27, 2016 | Reply

    Jefferson should cost about a mid-range salary for a safety, so we should keep him. Rashad Johnson and Powers were both let go last year in an effort to get taller defensive backs. The players we brought in were not as effective and some were more expensive. We should let them go and get Johnson and Powers back, assuming they are on one year contracts now. The defense was much more cohesive when Johnson was here and Powers was more effective at CB than either Bethel or Williams.

  5. By JTDG on Dec 27, 2016 | Reply

    Can’t agree more with you Scott and Erik about Branch

    Sure, he looks the part. And yes, the 4.26 in the 40 is impressive.

    But we aren’t running track. This is football. He has been on 3 teams in 3 years and started 11 games total in the last 4 years.

    He might be able to run but was easily beat when he came down in the slot. I would save 4 million and release him for sure. And yes Bethel adds another 3 million if cut. That 7 million, with the 35-40 million in cap space already could get Jones Swearinger and Jefferson done.With money to spare.

    Now this will not be popular but,
    Frankly, I would have Badger on a short list. He will count 14 million against the cap in 2018. If he is hurt all of 2017 again or doesnt play well, like this year, I would consider parting ways. Lets face it, he is a Slot CB with a 14 million cap hit and released could save 5 million off the cap in 2018. To me , 2017 would be a big year for him.

    Because of that, I would have to sign both Swearinger and Jefferson
    As for depth, Miller is working there right now and I would move Williams there to take a look. Heck, Bucannon could move if needed if you bring back Moore.

  6. By dan on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    Gonna miss Tony Jefferson, hope he gets a big contract somewhere else, he deserves it.

  7. By Eazy E on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    Swearinger and Jefferson should be Cardinals most definitely! Branch is iffy although he was good when he played but he got hurt early on and then came back and unfortunately got hurt again.

  8. By Marlin on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    Darren,

    Your opinion…. chances that we we re-sign Kareem Martin?

  9. By Darren Urban on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    Marlin —

    RE: Martin

    Honestly, had not thought much about Kareem. I could see him returning on a smaller deal. But he’s the kind of guy I could see them just replacing too.

  10. By Marlin on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    Erik,

    Remember Greg Toler? Took him a couple years but he turned into a terrific cover corner. That’s what s going to happen with Williams. Re Branch, he is a good player when healthy, but he hasn’t been healthy for a few years. His contract is “incentive-laden” so I don’t think he costs much when he isn’t piling up numbers. Re Bethel, agree with you totally! I’m hoping they can trade him… even if they pick up a late round draft pick. To be honest, he isn’t all that good on ST anymore either.

  11. By CardinalChris on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    Bethel has been dealing with an injury all year and is just getting over it. You can tell by watching his “get off ” on field goal attempts. Watch the tapes from last couple years when he was healthy vs early this year vs last couple weeks. And his movement at CB last couple weeks is better – coinciding with public call out by Arians. Don’t see Keim letting Bethel go anywhere.

    Jefferson and Swearinger are similar players and it appears to me Swearinger has more upside and more coverage skills. Love to see them keep both but it’s going to be too expensive.

    I think there are going to be some serious changes in personnel. Hopefully some of the young guys come through.

  12. By Big Ken on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    Agree with JTDG, 2017 is make or break for ‘Badger’.

  13. By clssylssy on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    Yep…Toler was another talent that we dumped when the new regime came in; most of those guys have found more success elsewhere than they ever would have here (also more money) as we don’t seem to know talent when it hits us in the face. One of my biggest criticisms with BA/Keim is their stubborn arrogance and their personal “favoritism” (not sure that is how to describe it) where every season they pick a guy who becomes a sacred cow, then continue to push that player long after it’s obvious that it’s time to consider alternatives…we saw it/continue to see it, with Ellington, John Brown (he was dropping catches long before his diagnosed medical issue) and to some extent with DJ. With DJ, it’s not so much that they ride him beyond his talents but more that they need to “show off”their new toy even when it would be more prudent to not risk injury by putting him out there and the same outcome can be accomplished.
    Every year we lose talents just when we’re starting to get it together, and the excuse is that the Cards don’t want to pay players who become FAs, what they could get some place else. Gee, that sounds like we’re expecting to win a SB without having to pay for it, and yet our GM has no problem throwing large amounts of our Cap at players who “could be” a good investment down the road but haven’t earned it just yet?
    I’m afraid this game against the Rams is going to be a trap game in which we face a desperate team who has had our number more than once,with Cards players who have nothing to play for. We had our Win against Seattle, which was our big hurrah for a nightmare season, and an attempt at redemption. Players, I’m sure, know who will be back as their futures have been outlined in the media and by now they understand team politics. While this would be an opportunity for the Cards to have a blow out game, I’m just hoping that it doesn’t turn into the ultimate humiliation.

  14. By Darren Urban on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    Clssy —

    RE: Talent

    “Talent when it hits us in the face.”

    If that’s true, we must have the best coaches in the league, considering this team won all those games coming into this season.

    Oh, and as for Toler, he has been injured quite a bit. And the few times I have seen him over the years in Indy and Washington, I don’t exactly see a shutdown corner.

  15. By Andy Kw on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    Hey Darren,
    Do you think AZ will bring back Sio Moore? He has been very impressive so far.

  16. By Darren Urban on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    Andy Kw —

    RE: Moore

    I could see that. As always, depends on his monetary demands.

  17. By Erik on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    Marlin,

    I do remember Greg Toler. I actually liked him a lot and was sad when he was not resigned. But that is because he actually made plays when he had the chance. Williams has not, he has been downright awful every time he has stepped on the field, pre season included. I really hope he makes the leap his sophomore year and shows us something but, I’m not just going to assume that happens simply because I want it to. A lot of times as fans I think we have this hope that every draft pick will turn into a good player. That is just not the reality, unfortunately.

  18. By Andy Kw on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    At last, people agree with that Justin Bethel AND Tyvon Branch are the weak links in the Cardinals secondary. If they cut both, AZ will save over $5M in cap space for the 2017 NFL season. Cutting Troy Niklas & Daryl Washington would save around $5.5M in cap space for the 2017 season. That would mean over $10.5M in cap saving for the Arizona Cardinals!

    I think Brandon Williams will develop into a nice slot CB one day but for now, I can see him as our new special teams ace if AZ lets Bethel go. He was considered to be the best special teams player in college football entering the 2016 NFL Draft.

    Harlan Miller might have impressed enough at the S position that he might stay there full time. I wish AZ kept Marqui Christian. It was really stupid for Steve Keim to keep Drew Butler as a holder and cutting Christian as a result. He had so much potential.

    The secondary is a big weakness. The Cardinals should draft a CB opposite Patrick Peterson. Sidney Jones or Quincy Wilson should be available when it comes time for AZ to draft in the first round. I am a big fan of Corey Davis but I have a feeling AZ will be making this draft more defense oriented.

    There is a lot of young potential on this team and so many FA to be after the season. I’m sure AZ will either bring back Tony Jefferson or DJ Swearinger. Unfortunately it will be difficult to bring both back. Calais Campbell has to be a priority for AZ. He is the best 3-4 DE in the NFL in my opinion. Jermaine Gresham has been reliable as a blocker and receiver but how much will he ask for?

    I heard from Mike Jurecki that Calais Campbell, Tony Jefferson, and Jermaine Gresham are the priority free agents that the Keim wants to bring back. Hopefully he can bring all three back, including Chandler Jones.

  19. By Marlin on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    Erik,

    I hear ya! Good points.

  20. By clssylssy on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    Darren…
    As usual, you missed my point that most of the time, talent cut by the Cards go on to find success elsewhere…even get SB rings! And, I do know Toler has been injured, as I keep an eye on my guys after life in Cardinal land. As for the best coaches in the league, I have to agree that we’ve had some good ones who could have probably been great if the Organization had been willing to spend money on giving them players. We might have even made the SB this year with quality replacement players from the beginning.
    I don’t think I’m the only one on this blog who has been disappointed in our ability to recognize and draft talent, with a few rare exceptions when we got lucky or had an inside track (Honey Badger).

  21. By Darren Urban on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    Clssy —

    RE: If that was your point, perhaps you should revise your choice of words that “we don’t seem to know talent when it hits us in the face.” Whatever your point, that sentence doesn’t say guys go on to have success.

    Again, I argue, how does a team win 10-plus games three straight years without knowing talent?

  22. By creditcard on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    i agree with Scott H, JTDG, and Erik on secondary personnel.

    Cards need to part ways with Branch ASAP. Bethel is ST and slot corner player, probably part ways with him, but depends on other candidates in secondary. Not popular, but HB looked, slow, and small on defensive and was a complete liability this year. 2017 is a big year for the HB. Consideration s/b looking into trading HB during this off season. Cards should pull the trigger if they can get a couple of quality draft picks for the HB.

    B Williams plays CB in a fashion of not to lose or get beat vs. allowing his talents and instincts to come into effect. I think his confidence is shattered beyond repair. the Cards ruined his career — as a result he needs to be released.

    Wish we still had Marquis Christian, imagine we cut him so that Butler could hold kicks, not that anybody else on the entire team could practice for 1-week holding kicks. Arguably the worse professional football decision I’ve ever seen. Christian plays safety and CB, used in a back-up and ST role for the Rams before getting hurt.

    Cards have many needs (secondary, O-line, Linebackers, WR, QB, backup RB, and TE) we need multiple picks. Trade down the 1st pick for a 2nd rounder and 3rd rounder. Cut players listed above. Trade HB for draft picks.

  23. By creditcard on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    The Cards also desperately need a few different coaches. When guys “off the streets” are continually coming in and are immediately are better than the back-ups; something is horribly wrong. First, the Cards inability to scout out quality linemen in the draft, also their inability to mold them into a decent player.

    The other area is special teams (No surprise.)

    It would be great if the Cards could attract two men: Tom Caughlin and Mike Leach. Caughlin knows linemen, both offensive and defensive linemen. He knows how to draft them, and coach them. The Giants got the nick-name big blue for their dominating line play because of Caughlin. Whether Caughlin will be a position coach is another issue — but the Cards need a coach who knows linemen and how to sniff out talent.

    Leach was perfect on his long snaps his entire career. In addition, he made 10+ tackles each year — as the long snapper on punts! Nkemdiche will not even have 2-tackles as a # 1 pick this entire season.

    Leach was not big nor particularly athletic — but he knew on how to play the game. The Cards need to get a seasoned pro like Leach, whom the players respect and knows how to teach them on how to play ST the right way. Whether Leach wants to coach is mystery — but the Cards need a retired player who played ST for a long period of time, and knows all the ins/ outs of ST play.

  24. By Adam Smith b1723 fka DTL on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    Safeties, another take (aka memo to Keim;):
    Rashad Johnson burned on size/speed issues, (same with Powers at CB);
    Swearinger balls, future leader, resign;
    Jefferson balls, leader on field, warrior, resign;
    Bethel not a CB, better in slot, natural Safety based on play;
    Branch can play slot and Safety, availability is issue, cut/renegotiate or cut;
    Mathieu, availability big issue, only great leader when plays, wonder if injury protections favored him or Cards, fear he got too a good a deal;

    I’d keep all five, another year together might be the solution, Steve;)

    Let Hartfield/Bryant compete for Special Teams with Bethel, newcomers;

  25. By Andy Kw on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    creditcard

    RE: Linemen/Draft

    The Arizona Cardinals have to understand that although mental aspect of the game is very important, physical aspects just as important, as in the combine results. Speed, strength, and all of that is very important. You can draft a player that has 100% understanding of the playbook and the game but if the player is not fast or strong enough, they will get beat every time. At times the Cardinals find those people with the mind blowing combine results but is not mentally ready for the game. The Cardinals need to find that balance of mental & physical ability and they will have many successful drafts. A combination of both is ideal. Last but not least, AZ can’t reach for players-referring to Brandon Williams.

    Great/good Draft Picks: RB David Johnson (’15, 3rd) LB Markus Golden (’15, 2nd), $LB Deone Bucannon (’14, 1st), WR John Brown (’14, 3rd), FS Tyrann Mathieu (’13, 3rd)
    -David Johnson, Deone Bucannon, John Brown and Tyrann Mathieu had very impressive stats in college and backed up their case as good draft picks with their impressive combine results. Markus Golden had the stats but had terrible combine results. So far he has turned out to be one heck of a find because of his relentless motor and mental toughness.

    Good late round Draft Picks: WR JJ Nelson (’15, 6th), RB Andre Ellington (’13, 6th)
    -Ellington was not the fastest RB in the draft but he displayed his unreal quickness with the good short dash times. JJ Nelson was probably the fastest WR in the draft posting, I believe, a 4.28 40 time.

    Unfortunate bust: OL Jonathan Cooper would have been good had he not sustained that leg injury in his rookie year. His combine results were impressive and the tape backed up the high praise he received. Not only did the leg injury hurt his physical ability, it destroyed his mental ability and confidence. He was never the same guard who did so well in the first few preseason games he played with AZ as a rookie.

    Bad Draft Picks: TE Troy Niklas (’14, 2nd), LB Kareem Martin (’14, 3rd), QB Logan Thomas (’14, 4th)
    -Niklas had hernia surgery before the draft and AZ really has to keep in mind the injury history before drafting a player. Kareem Martin had the stats in college, poor combine results, but tapes show that he was never consistent as a pass rusher at the DE position at North Carolina. Logan Thomas was a TE converted to QB at Virginia Tech. Of course he had impressive combine stats because his combine QB results were a result to his tight end background. Yes he has a strong arm but was nowhere near ready to play QB in the pros.

  26. By Christian on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    You know, I kind of get upset sometimes with how our secondary is talked about. Williams is raw, and I didn’t like having him in early this season. But Bethel has had a foot injury, and those aren’t easy to get past sometimes. Playing hurt, especially in he feet, can significantly hurt your performance. Plus, the Cardinals tried to get secondary help with Jenkins, but his season ended before it started. While the secondary has been bad, what do you expect with injuries to two of your top corners and two of your top safeties?

  27. By Erik on Dec 28, 2016 | Reply

    Christian,

    You make a great point about injuries. I do believe Mike Jenkins would have been a good cb opposite Peterson. It was unfortunate he got hurt. But depth has to added because those injuries happen all too often in football. I think they have a good chance to do that this offseason.

  28. By SeeingRed on Dec 29, 2016 | Reply

    Good points Bill but we wont get back either Johnson or Powers. I wouldn’t take them if they were available. I loved the mental smartness and toughness that Rashad gave the team and personality seemed to really resonate with his teammates but at some you have to cut bait on his limitations (physical) on the field. We need more length/range from a FS-something more akin to when we first got Kerry Rhodes. Don’t get me wrong-I saw him during a TN game this season and missed seeing him in Cardinal red.
    Powers however may not even be in the league next year-he didn’t seem to do to well in Baltimore and when I saw him on All or Nothing say he’s not the “big brother type” my thoughts were “do not re-sign that man”. You cant grow young guys like Williams and others and have mediocre/aging players like him not willing to get in their ears and mentor them. Its an intangible that you must have. Its a business but you’re also a team.
    I’d like to see Swearinger stick around-he’s got some of that dirty bird which is a nice compliment for that unit along with HB. I’m not sure about Cooper. I like his size and physicality but something seems missing but also not sure how realistic a greater upgrade may be in draft etc.
    Still not happy we departed so quickly with the kid who was picked up by the Rams-the one A-Dub was high on.

    Still wish we could’ve found a way to sign Janoris Jenkins but he rightfully demanded too much money on the market.

    Bethel may work out in the nickel-definitely not someone to count on out on the edge-his tackling and physicality could be a good mesh. Wonder if they’ve tried him at FS?

    Darren, any word or do you see a chance of Dockett becoming more involved with the Org? Would be nice to see him watch film and work with the DLine-particularly RK. I know he’s got other things going on but it would be nice.

  29. By Darren Urban on Dec 29, 2016 | Reply

    SeeingRed —

    RE: Dockett

    I do not see that happening.

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