Heading into the off-season it wouldn’t have been amiss to see a tumbleweed roll through the Arizona Cardinals cornerback room. Arizona’s long-serving custodian Patrick Peterson had left to try his fortunes up north and Byron Murphy was left as the lone gunslinger in the barren landscape that was Arizona’s secondary.
Re-signing Robert Alford, The Man With No Durability, was the first step. Since then, a host of guns for hire have rolled into town. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler blew in from the Music City. Vance Joseph rustled up another former Cincinnati Bengals corner in Darqueze Dennard. With greenhorns Tay Gowan and Marco Wilson trying to make a name for themselves out west, the Cardinals have dragged together a serviceable group. However, there are some who believe the Arizona Cardinals cornerback room still needs work.
Arizona Cardinals Cornerback Group Is Better, but May Need To Add More
The Good, The Bad, and the Injury-Prone
There’s a reason Byron Murphy was the only one left standing when the dust cleared in Arizona’s cornerback room. Other than the fact that he was the only one under contract, he’s developed into a top player. Vance Joseph has been quick to praise Murphy, calling him the team’s best corner throughout 2020. He struggled riding the line on the outside in his rookie season, but has since found a home in the slot and is a bolt-on starter in 2021.
In terms of the other hires, there is a lot to like in the group. Malcolm Butler is renowned for his heroics at State Farm Stadium in Super Bowl 49, but also performed well after moseying on down to the Tennessee Titans. In 2020 Butler displayed a range of talents, racking up numbers in interceptions, passes defended, and tackles.
Playing Devil’s Advocate, Cardinals media member Paul Calvisi did raise some concerns about some of Butler’s stats. Butler’s tackling numbers were some of the highest for the Titans, unusual for a corner. Calvisi noted that, on the other hand, the fact that Butler ranked so highly in tackles, but was only average in passes defended is somewhat concerning. The insinuation that Butler’s tackles were coming after the catch doesn’t bode well for the man expected to be Arizona’s primary pass defender.
And Arizona still has a problem at the number two corner spot. Namely, they don’t yet know who’s the deputy to Butler’s sheriff. The ghost of Robert Alford looks to be the favorite heading into training camp, which for the past two seasons, has been the Robert Alford Showcase Experience. Before each of his season-ending injuries, Alford has shone what he is capable of. Unfortunately, it seems no amount of snake oil can prevent Alford from falling apart like a rusty spur. After two years on the shelf, he’s got a lot to prove.
In Dennard, Wilson, and Gowan, the Cardinals have rounded out their cornerback room, but of those three, only Wilson seems to be assured of a spot.
How the West Will Be Won
The wagon may look complete, but there are holes in the cover and rot in the wheels. Thankfully, the Cardinals still have options, and are no strangers to a late off-season move.
Down in Florida, Miami Dolphins star Xavien Howard is an expected holdout over a contract dispute. After leading the league in interceptions in 2020, Howard could be the hottest available gun on the market. And the Cardinals do have some cap space for a move. The trade compensation and the expectation of a bumper contract, however, likely prices Howard out of a move to Arizona.
Alternatively, up in the Thirteen Colonies, the Cardinals may have a chance at reuniting Butler with his old running mate Stephon Gilmore. A storm surrounding Gilmore has been brewing for some time, with the New England Patriots reportedly interested in shopping the former Defensive Player of the Year. The Cardinals are an attractive prospect because of their man-heavy defensive scheme. Turning 31 in the season, Gilmore will command less than a Xavien Howard. Yet in Gilmore, the Cardinals would gain another Defensive Player of the Year, another of Not-So-Wild Bill Belichick’s revered man coverage specialists, and add another infamous face to the 2021 Cardinals roster.
The landscape of the old west is changing. For the Arizona Cardinals cornerback room, the new world approaches in 2021. The group is good but not great. The Cardinals will need more than just Manifest Destiny to manifest a move for some of the prime talent reportedly available back east. Gearing up for a hell of a gunfight in the NFC West, Arizona will still need a top-tier corner to reach the playoffs.