This off-season, cornerback Malcolm Butler was one of the marquee free-agent signings for the Arizona Cardinals. The loss of cornerstone Patrick Peterson, in addition to 2020 starter Dre Kirkpatrick, left a Cardinals secondary decimated by departures. The signing of Butler was expected to headline a well-rounded group of both young and veteran talent. However, Monday night brought the news that Butler was reportedly considering retirement. The decision, supposedly brought on by a personal issue with which Butler has been dealing for the past week, has thrown Arizona’s secondary, and indeed their starting defense, into uncertain waters. The Cardinals have to consider their options if Malcolm Butler retires.
Arizona Cardinals Have Options If Malcolm Butler Retires
An Internal Affair
In the early days of the off-season, the future of Arizona’s cornerback group looked particularly bleak. The signing of Malcolm Butler was a port in a storm of discontent when the Cardinals took Zaven Collins in the first round, rather than drafting a much-needed cornerback. However, after utilizing Vance’s Joseph’s phonebook and making some savvy moves late in the draft, the Cardinals conjured up a fairly reliable group to reinforce the once-desolate secondary.
The news about Butler’s impending retirement, unfortunately, coincided with the announcement that Darqueze Dennard, a veteran pickup from Cincinnati, would be heading to season-ending IR. With Daryl Worley not expected to make the roster, the Cardinals appear to be back at square one somewhat, with the prospect of Byron Murphy and Robert Alford starting Week One against the Tennessee Titans as the team’s most experienced cornerbacks. There was a conversation that Murphy could start on the outside anyway; Butler’s decision could force Vance Joseph’s hand in this regard.
Yet, the performances of Arizona’s rookie cornerbacks, Marco Wilson and Tay Gowan, have thrust the young pair into serious consideration for a greater role. Throughout training camp and the abbreviated preseason, both have impressed. In particular, Marco Wilson, a fourth-round pick and three-year starter in the SEC for Florida, had ostensibly pushed his way into the rotation, even before the Butler rumors surfaced. If the Cardinals choose to replace Butler with a starting duo of Alford and Murphy, it could mean a greater role for Wilson and a more secure roster spot for Gowan.
Back to Free Agency If Malcolm Butler Retires
Arizona’s recurring cornerback issues have been a theme of this off-season. In retrospect, their plan in the draft seems to have been a success. They picked up great value with Wilson and Gowan. However, if Malcolm Butler retires, then Arizona’s biggest dip into free agency for their secondary would appear to have backfired. Whilst the options have certainly narrowed, there may still be some serviceable veterans available for a ‘Keim-Time’ signing.
One of the most high-profile names still on the market is former Seahawks and 49ers star Richard Sherman. The 33-year old hit free agency this year after leaving San Francisco. As an elder statesman who has plied much of his trade in zone-heavy schemes, he is not the best fit for the aggressive press-man upon which Arizona’s defense is predicated. Nonetheless, he does boast the tackling ability that has been a feature of Arizona’s cornerback recruitment this year. At this stage of his career, utilizing his instincts and savvy rather than gambling on fading athleticism might be best for Sherman. He has been forced to handle some off-field issues publicly this off-season. With some charges still pending, it is unclear if Sherman will be up-to-scratch and available this season.
Similarly, Quinton Dunbar comes with his own baggage, amid speculation surrounding his involvement in an armed robbery incident in 2020. However, Dunbar is a strong fit with Arizona because of his ability to play press technique. Furthermore, the 29-year old Dunbar has the potential to be more than a one-year rental. At 6’2″, Dunbar also adds some much-needed height to an 0therwise-undersized group. Ultimately, he would be a welcome addition to the room.
Get Malcolm Butler Back
The Cardinals must prepare for Butler’s retirement, but the hope is that he will return. Granted, the team will allow him time to deal with his personal affairs. Yet having Butler back in the fold for Week One would be the overwhelming preference for Arizona.
Malcolm Butler has not, as of yet, made any public decision about his future. The Cardinals star could still return to the team, which would be the best outcome for the organization. However, with the decision looming, the Cardinals must prepare a contingency if Butler chooses to walk away from the game.