Let’s take a look at the Arizona Cardinals’ roster position by position as we near the NFL free agency period that can lead to signing beginning on Wednesday, March 18, at 1 p.m.
At defensive back, reinforcements are incoming. But improvement needs to be drastic.
Players under contract: S Budda Baker, CB Patrick Peterson, CB Robert Alford, DB Byron Murphy, S Jalen Thompson, S Deionte Thompson, CB Chris Jones, CB Jalen Davis, CB Andre Chachere, CB Authentic Sojourn Shelton Jersey (futures), CB Authentic Duke Thomas Jersey (futures)
Free agents: CB Kevin Peterson (restricted), CB Brandon Williams, S Chris Banjo, S Charles Washington (restricted)
What we know
Let us not review the Arizona Cardinals’ league-worst pass defense for the umpteenth time. It was bad — very bad.
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Now that’s out of the way, and we can explain why it was bad and why Arizona might feel like it can get better. Patrick Peterson was suspended for six games and didn’t click back into Pro Bowl form until the final three games. Robert Alford, who was supposed to be the Cardinals’ long-term No. 2 corner, got hurt and missed the entire season after arguably being one of the best defensive players in training camp.
If they’re healthy, throw second-year pro Byron Murphy in the slot, and there’s good talent to work with. Fellow cornerback Chris Jones held up well in his first year of NFL action and Kevin Peterson, if he’s brought back, showed signs he can fill in as nice depth as well.
Big question: Is there enough S depth to significantly improve?
It seems there’s enough depth to survive even an injury or two at cornerback. Murphy didn’t exactly get better as the season went on as teams more and more went at him while he was outside. But he should be more prepared in his sophomore year, whether he’s forced to play multiple positions and especially if he can stick inside where Arizona feels he’s best suited.
Safety is where the concerns lie. Backup Josh Shaw was the No. 2 in camp but got hurt before finding himself in an NFL betting scandal. That, combined with veteran D.J. Swearinger getting waived midseason, allowed young players like safety Jalen Thompson to gain experience. The supplemental draft pick flashed, posting two of his three best PFF-graded games in the final three weeks of the year.
Fellow rookie Deionte Thompson, a fifth-round pick, could provide depth behind him, but there’s a chance Arizona can look at the free agent market to bolster the safety group led by Pro Bowler Budda Baker.
Anthony Harris, Justin Simmons, Jimmie Ward, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Vonn Bell, Devin McCourty and Damarious Randall are among the expensive-to-second-tier free agent safeties who will hit the market. Like the Cardinals did two years ago with a late signing of safety Tre Boston, however, the positional value doesn’t match the financial desires of the players. There’s a chance to add depth here later in free agency to get a capable player on a smaller deal.
The Cardinals, after all, likely want to invest in Baker’s future beyond 2020, when his rookie deal comes to an end. Considering his rise, that might be pricey.
So could an extension for Peterson if Arizona locks him in contractually before 2020 or wants to re-enter negotiations after seeing if he’s still got it in his 10th NFL season.