It’s the dead time between the end of minicamp and training camp, and again, there is the question: Who will be the cornerback starting across from Patrick Peterson? As it stands, Justin Bethel is the leader in the clubhouse, although he was that at this time last year (despite a foot injury) and he never started a game. As we talked about in the latest Cardinals Underground podcast, Bethel has looked better than he had. Health helps. But until the pads come on and the games count, it’s impossible to know for sure.
But it got me to thinking about the position since Patrick Peterson arrived. Peterson, the fifth overall pick in 2011, had a learning curve himself when he was drafted. He wasn’t a great cornerback as a rookie, but he was solid. And he started all 16 games. His cohort opposite? It has not been the same player two years in a row, and that’s a trend that will continue this season regardless of whether it is Bethel or a veteran who might sign before camp or whoever.
2011 — Richard Marshall 9 starts/A.J. Jefferson 7 starts: Jefferson actually was the starter coming out of camp, but he faded quickly and was replaced by the veteran Marshall. Marshall was OK. He was probably better known as one of the better punt return blockers that got Peterson loose for his spectacular rookie year as a return man.
2012 — William Gay 15/Greg Toler 1: Gay signed as a free agent but was up and down. He immediately went back to Pittsburgh, where he was better suited and still starts. Then again, 2012 wasn’t good for any of the Cardinals. Remember 4-0 that year?
2013 — Jerraud Powers 16: One of the first free agents signed after Steve Keim and Bruce Arians took over. Powers was steady, although he was probably better suited in the slot. The Cardinals had Tyrann Mathieu plans there, so Powers dutifully worked the outside, and he was fine.
2014 — Antonio Cromartie 16: Cro was the ultimate Keim blue light special. Came in, was mostly good (although there were a few high-profile hiccups, especially later in the season when the team struggled) and made the Pro Bowl. But he wasn’t going to re-sign for cheap again, the Jets made him a big offer, and Cromartie started showing his age in New York.
2015 — Powers 13/Justin Bethel 3: Powers was disappointed but a team player when the Cards upgraded to Cromartie, and stepped back in the breech as the only two-time Peterson companion (Bethel’s starts came during Powers’ injuries.) Again, he was solid for a team that made the NFC Championship. But the Cardinals wanted to upgrade, there was belief Bethel could take a step forward, and Powers was allowed to leave in free agency when the sides couldn’t match up on the money it would take to keep him around.
2016 — Marcus Cooper 13/Brandon Williams 3: We know the story by now. Bethel was the pick, but was hurt. Mike Jenkins was the likely starter before blowing out his knee in preseason. The veteran Cooper was the late trade before the season, and got the spot after the rookie Williams showed he was clearly not ready after being the early choice. Cooper left as a free agent, getting a surprisingly nice deal in Chicago. And here we are again.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Antonio Cromartie, Brandon Williams, Greg Toler, Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel, Marcus Cooper, Patrick Peterson, Richard Marshall, William Gay
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So, with training camp starting in a little more than a week, the Cardinals have signed a veteran cornerback. (With Steve Keim, did you expect anything else?) Mike Jenkins, with whom the Cardinals flirted before as a free agent back in 2014, is the one now in the defensive back mix.
You knew they would get a vet. Early in offseason there were talks with Bengals vet Leon Hall (who is still unsigned) and Jerraud Powers (who eventually signed with Baltimore). Jenkins has spent the last two years in Tampa, where he signed after nothing materialized with the Cards two years ago. At the time, the Cardinals instead signed Antonio Cromartie (who made the Pro Bowl.)
Jenkins joins a crowded secondary. There is no set starter across from Patrick Peterson. Justin Bethel has a slight edge, and Jenkins — who has started just five games the past two years in his 15 appearances — has a chance to get in the lineup. But he isn’t a lock to win a spot necessarily, either. Third-round pick Brandon Williams will join Peterson and Bethel on the roster. Draft pick Harlan Miller has a chance. Former undrafted corner Cariel Brooks has a chance. There are also a couple of guys who have been around — Asa Jackson and Shaun Prater — who have had an offseason to show themselves.
However it plays out, Keim has made sure there is that veteran security blanket heading into camp. Maybe the Cardinals already in place will show it was unnecessary. But usually, that vet who signs now not only ends up necessary but an integral part of the upcoming season.
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, Asa Jackson, Brandon Williams, Cariel Brooks, Chris Culliver, Harlan Miller, Justin Bethel, Mike Jenkins, Patrick Peterson, Shaun Prater
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Steve Keim has proved excellent at bringing in players on one-year deals and having them make an impact: Eric Winston, Matt Shaughnessy, Karlos Dansby, Antonio Cromartie, Larry Foote, Chris Johnson, Dwight Freeney. They won’t all work out, though, and Sean Weatherspoon — which looked so promising when it happened — did not work out.
Weatherspoon is re-signing with the Falcons after his one year out West. Weatherspoon only had 12 tackles in an extremely limited defensive role (he played just 125 snaps all season) over 14 games. He needed to show he could stay healthy again and he did that, although it was a red flag to his time in Arizona when he was active but didn’t play against the Rams in October and then the next week, was a healthy scratch against the Lions.
It’s hard to believe that Weatherspoon played with the first unit through the entire offseason work, although at that point, Deone Bucannon was working a lot at safety too. But training camp came, Weatherspoon’s hamstring became a problem, and when he missed most of the month, he had dug himself a hole he could never escape — especially after Kevin Minter showed more than expected when he was on the field.
To Spoon’s credit, he never sulked (although he did seem resigned to the fact early on he wasn’t moving up the depth chart). It was clear he wouldn’t be around in 2016. And that’s the upside about seeking one-year deals. Yes, sometimes a guy like a Dansby blows up and leaves for another team. Then you have a “miss” like Weatherspoon who creates no issue because his contract is up and both sides can just move on.
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, Chris Johnson, Dwight Freeney, Eric Winston, Falcons, free agency, Karlos Dansby, Larry Foote, Matt Shaughnessy, Sean Weatherspoon, Steve Keim
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The Cardinals signed linebacker Darryl Sharpton last week and the timing meant something. By signing Sharpton Wednesday, the Cardinals cleared the date for free agents signing counting against them for next year’s compensatory pick equation. Any free agent signed at the point will not count.
(The Cardinals were awarded one comp pick this past draft; they ended up with the final selection of the whole thing, which they used on Lousiville tight end Gerald Christian.)
It’s too early to know exactly how the comp pick equation might play out. Part of how it’s determined is playing time in the upcoming season. It also takes into account how much money for which each player signed. A quick look at who the Cardinals could have counting for and against them in the comp pick equation next draft. As always, a quick reminder that if a player was cut by the Cards or cut by another team, he does not qualify on these lists. For example, losing Darnell Dockett does not factor in because Dockett was released.:
FREE AGENTS GAINED
G Mike Iupati (5 years, $40M)
DT Corey Peters (3 years, $10.5M)
DE Cory Redding (2 years, $6M)
LB Sean Weatherspoon (1 year, $3.6M)
FREE AGENTS LOST
LB Sam Acho (1 year, $825,000)
CB Antonio Cromartie (4 years, $32M)
G Paul Fanaika (3 years, $6.1M)
TE Rob Housler (1 year, $1.76M)
DT Dan Williams (4 years, $25M)
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see GM Steve Keim make another signing (or two) at some point before camp, or even into camp. But the numbers are set for the compensatory math.
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, compensatory picks, Corey Peters, Cory Redding, Dan Williams, Darnell Dockett, free agency, Mike Iupati, Paul Fanaika, Rob Housler, Sam Acho, Sean Weatherspoon, Steve Keim
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The spring owners meetings get underway Monday here in town at the Biltmore, and among the many things that will go on will be the annual reveal of the compensatory picks for April’s draft.
A quick refresher for those who don’t know about comp picks: Each year, there are a bunch of extra draft picks sprinkled in through the draft (starting in the third round) that are awarded to teams with a net loss of free agents from the year before. The exact formula for doling out picks isn’t public, but it’s a mixture of the player, his free agent contract and performance. Basically, if you lose more free agents than you sign, you’ll get an extra pick or two.
(Or more, perhaps. Baltimore often lets players leave as free agents with the idea of stockpiling comp picks to replenish the roster with cheap labor. It’s great if you hit on many draft picks. The Ravens have made it an art form.)
As for the Cardinals, overthecap.com has estimated that the Cards are in line for an extra seventh-round pick. Now, there are caveats to the various qualifying players in this admittedly complicated guesswork. The Cards could conceivably get an extra fifth-rounder instead of a seventh or maybe no comp pick at all. As it stands, the Cardinals have their seven original draft picks, starting with the 24th overall in the first round. Last season, the Cardinals added tackle Jared Veldheer, wide receiver Ted Ginn, guard Ted Larsen and running back Jonathan Dwyer in free agency. They lost linebacker Karlos Dansby, wide receiver Andre Roberts, tight end Jim Dray and cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Javier Arenas. (Players that are cut by their previous team do not factor in the equation, which is why bringing in Antonio Cromartie did not hurt the Cards in this example and why losing Darnell Dockett this year will not help in next year’s comp equation.)
Tags: Andre Roberts, Antoine Cason, Antonio Cromartie, compensatory picks, Darnell Dockett, draft, Jared Veldheer, Javier Arenas, Jim Dray, Jonathan Dwyer, Karlos Dansby, Ravens, Ted Ginn, Ted Larsen
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The inevitable happened Thursday, with Antonio Cromartie getting the long-term (four years) and hefty ($32 million, at least at its max, reportedly) contract he sought and right where he wanted to be — back with the Jets, back with Todd Bowles and Darrelle Revis, and back where he has his home. The Cardinals knew for a long time Cromartie was a likely one-and-done, like Karlos Dansby before him.
There is a reason Bruce Arians often talks about Justin Bethel’s potential as a cornerback, and now here we are, with — at least as of today — Bethel seems the choice to step in across from Patrick Peterson. That’s assuming Jerraud Powers remains the slot cover man, where he is most effective. Even Bethel reacted to the Cromartie departure news in a similar vein:
Time to take the spot I already thought was mine. #nextlevel
— Justin bethel (@Jbet26) March 12, 2015
Bruce Arians has never been shy about praising Bethel’s potential as a cornerback. Last offseason, he said he thought Bethel could end up being better than Peterson and multiple times during the season said Bethel might be starting if he were on another team and not stuck on a depth chart populated with Peterson, Cromartie and Powers.
“Oh, he’s moved up the depth chart in my mind,” Arians said in mid-December. “He’s a starter. He has potential to be a starter in the league. I’m very excited about his future.”
As usual, there are moving pieces to all of this. Powers — who is going into the last year of his contract — could be in the mix to return to the starting spot he had with Peterson before Cromartie arrived. That possibility could increase if the Cardinals decide to use Tyrann Mathieu in the slot, like he was used in his rookie season before tearing his ACL.
(Quote to note on Powers from Arians: “I don’t think anybody played any better than Jerraud Powers last year. He was probably our best guy.”)
The Cardinals probably need to add a cornerback at some point, either by free agency or the draft, for depth. But the secondary still has a lot of good remaining, with four safeties that can play (Mathieu with Rashad Johnson, Tony Jefferson and Deone Bucannon) and the ability the mix-and-match.
Still, this seems to be Bethel’s chance to emerge beyond being a Pro Bowl special teamer.
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, Bruce Arians, Deone Bucannon, Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel, Rashad Johnson, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu
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The Cardinals now have some official free agent additions, with Mike Iupati, Sean Weatherspoon and Corey Peters. (#asexpected). But they will also have some departures from that defense that played so very well in 2014.
Nose tackle Dan Williams played very well last season, and it was becoming clear his future might not be in Arizona because he’d find free agent riches elsewhere. Turns out those riches were in Oakland. Williams will get, according to Kent Somers, about $15 million guaranteed and an average of $6 million a season, which is a lot more than the Cardinals were ever going to give him. Once the Cards turned to Peters, it was pretty clear that was going to be the sign Williams would exit.
Meanwhile, all signs out of New York continue to point to cornerback Antonio Cromartie getting something done with the Jets, where he can be reunited all at once with fellow cornerback Darrelle Revis and new coach and former Cards defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. If he gets Cro, Bowles will go from Patrick Peterson and Cro as his cornerbacks to Revis and Cro. That’s the way to run a defense.
As for the Cardinals, their own defensive overhaul continues. Peters and Weatherspoon are here, the Cardinals are trying to get deals done with Colts defensive end Cory Redding and perhaps Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo and Broncos linebacker Nate Irving. The front seven could look a lot different this season (especially if Daryl Washington is reinstated) and these are all the moving pieces with which new coordinator James Bettcher must work.
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, Brian Orakpo, Corey Peters, Cory Redding, Dan Williams, James Bettcher, Jets, Nate Irving, Raiders, Sean Weatherspoon
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As the official start to free agency approaches, some quick lunchtime stuff:
— The Cardinals bring in outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley on a one-year contract. Woodley was recently cut by the Raiders. Woodley had no sacks in six games last season in Oakland, tearing his biceps against, of all teams, the Cards. Before that, Woodley had a solid career in Pittsburgh. He has just nine sacks since 2011, though, and will be depth. This year’s Larry Foote signing, a vet for cheap.
— That’s why it isn’t surprising to hear that the Cardinals still are pursuing Redskins soon-to-be-free agent Brian Orakpo.
— Cornerback Antonio Cromartie went on Stephen A. Smith’s radio show and said his decision where to sign is coming down to the Cardinals, Cowboys and Jets. Cro has said the decision comes down to family; we’ll see what that means. But money always talks.
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, Brian Orakpo, LaMarr Woodley
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Normally, a key veteran like Darnell Dockett is released and I try to sum up his career in Arizona as his tenure comes to an end. Dockett certainly is one of those guys. But that plan is in a holding pattern now because, quite frankly, his tenure might not have come to an end yet. This has happened before; Levi Brown was released because of his big contract numbers, he spent a few days to explore what else might be out there for him, and he decided to return.
Dockett gets that chance. He’ll have more than a week’s jump on the scheduled free agents out there waiting for March 10 (although there are plenty of other veterans who have already been released) to see what is available. No reason to talk about Dockett as if he’s gone when it could turn out that he’s not.
In some ways, Dockett is in the same place Karlos Dansby was last year when Dansby became a free agent. Or Antonio Cromartie figures to be in this year. The Cardinals want such players, but with the way they have organized their roster and salary cap while using analytics, there are contract numbers the team can live with. In Dansby’s case, the money per year was about the same that he was offered from Cleveland, but the Browns offered four years (so naturally, more guaranteed money) and the Cardinals two. So Dansby went with Cleveland. Cromartie is expected to be in the same boat in terms of considering competing offers, and it makes sense that Dockett will too, judging by Steve Keim’s comments today.
Dockett has played a huge role in how this franchise has turned it around in the last decade. Team president Michael Bidwill has said that, like Larry Fitzgerald, he wants to have Dockett retire a Cardinal. I don’t think that thought has changed.
So if Dockett ends up signing elsewhere, then yes, I’ll post a retrospective. We’re not there yet.
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, Darnell Dockett. Karlos Dansby, free agency, Steve Keim
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The Cardinals have signed cornerback Damond Smith, a move that likely has more to do with building up to the 90-man roster, you’d think. Smith, who was in camp with Kansas City last season, also has played in the Canadian Football League. He has not appeared in an NFL game.
Until the Cards find out what will happen with free agent-to-be Antonio Cromartie, it’s hard to know exactly where the Cardinals need to go at the position this offseason. Cromartie figures to have a market, and it’s long felt he could be this offseason’s Karlos Dansby — the Cardinals want him back and have a price, and the player might just be money-whipped to go elsewhere. Cromartie also has made it clear he misses living back East, so that also could play a major role (the defensive coordinator he liked is now the head coach of the team he long played for, so you can connect some potential dots there.)
If Cromartie leaves, then with no additions you figure Justin Bethel is in probable line to get to play cornerback, with Jerraud Powers — whom Arians loved in 2014 — playing the slot and Patrick Peterson being the anchor, perhaps going back to following the No. 1 receiver all over the field. If Cro goes, though, it makes sense the Cardinals made an addition at the position at some point.
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, Damond Smith, Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel, Patrick Peterson
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