The Cardinals finished with a losing record in 2016, but believe they can bounce back quickly and revert to contender status next season. Free agency will be key, as several of the team’s starters are scheduled to hit the open market. The Cardinals’ front office has plenty of decisions to make as free agency beckons on March 9. We’ll break down each position as it draws near.
Free agent primer: Cornerback
Cap hit of players under contract for 2017 (via OverTheCap.com):
Analysis: Peterson is one of the best at his position, but the question heading into a second straight offseason is the cornerback spot opposite him. Cooper started there for much of the year and was serviceable. The team would like to have him back, although coach Bruce Arians said at the NFL Scouting combine that Cooper is in high demand on the free agent market. If someone else gives Cooper a lucrative offer, the Cardinals will need to look elsewhere.
Justin Bethel was dogged by a foot injury most of the season and lost his presumptive starting job, but played well down the stretch. His cap hit is high for a backup, so the front office must decide whether Bethel will have enough value to forgo the $3.75 million it would save by releasing him.
Brandon Williams struggled as a rookie and hopes to make enough progress to be in the mix for playing time, while it remains to be seen if Harlan Miller will stay at cornerback or be moved permanently to safety. Elie Bouka was injured all of last season but the Cardinals want to see what he can do when healthy.
Top-flight cornerbacks are expensive on the open market, and it would be hard for the Cardinals to fit one in under the cap without sacrificing needs at other positions. It seems unlikely the Cardinals go after a big fish like Stephon Gilmore or A.J. Bouye, but they could look at mid-tier options, whether it be Cooper or another player.
If the Cardinals don’t have a clear-cut second cornerback after free agency, they could also address the position in the draft.
Notable past free agent cornerback signings: Jenkins (2016); Antonio Cromartie (2014); Powers (2013); Antoine Cason (2013); William Gay (2012); Bryant McFadden (2009); Roderick Hood (2007); Ralph Brown (2007); David Macklin (2004); Duane Starks (2002).