It was clear that the Arizona Cardinals young secondary overachieved in 2021. And what was a strength of the team in September and October was a glaring liability in December; a lack of depth was painfully apparent. Heading into the off-season, the Cardinals bolstering their secondary will be a priority once more. However, this off-season, a deep cornerback class, and free agency options provide the Cardinals the opportunity to improve their cornerbacks room.
Arizona Cardinals Must Improve Cornerbacks Room This Off-Season
In 2021 Arizona’s secondary showed that they are good but not good enough. The group has some promising talent, but they need some more pieces to take that next step. Adding to the Cardinals cornerbacks room is going to be vital in making this group effective in 2022. The Cardinals have talent at cornerback, but not nearly enough depth and that cost them in 2021. Fortunately, this off-season provides the Cardinals franchise the chance to supplement a promising outfit with some top-tier talent. Utilizing the draft and free agency correctly, the Cardinals could build an ideal secondary for a pivotal 2022 season.
Good, but Not Good Enough
In 2021 Byron Murphy garnered Player of the Week honors, Marco Wilson did a commendable job as a fourth-round starter, and the fact that Robert Alford played at all is somewhat of an achievement. This is not a unit that needs an overhaul but instead needs to add some depth. Consequently, it would be beneficial for the Cardinals to retain their key secondary pieces in 2022. Murphy and Wilson are under contract, so they will be back, but Alford, an underappreciated role player in 2021, is a free agent. Improving on Alford might be necessary, but bringing him back would help address Arizona’s needs in both depth and experience.
It is somewhat of a blessing in disguise that the unit fell off in 2021. This decline exposed the shoddy construction of the group that was apparent before the season, ensuring that the necessary improvements would become a priority this off-season. Despite what Wilson and Alford offer, the Cardinals should be targeting two new stars on the outside. The Cardinals must add depth to their cornerbacks room and adding pieces and regressing the roles of Wilson and Alford would provide this.
Maximizing Value in Deep Cornerback Draft
The 2022 NFL draft has an unprecedented level of talent at cornerback. It is headlined by Derek Stingley Jr, Kaiir Elam, Roger McCreary, and Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner who could all go in the first round. The top of the draft is loaded with exceptional talent at the position. With the Cardinals picking at number 23 overall, some of these stars might very well be in play to be Arizona’s first selection in the draft. Given the need at the position, if the franchise sees a starting cornerback on the board at 23, that would be a solid pick to make at that time.
The collapse at the end of the 2021 season, including a 34-11 loss in the Wild Card round to the Los Angeles Rams, proved the Cardinals have a bevy of positions to improve so the 23rd pick is far from decided. What is clear, though, is that there is a value at corner beyond the first round. Names like Washington’s Kyler Gordon and Cincinnati’s Coby Bryant have been projected as Day Two and Day Three picks. Therefore, it is possible that Arizona’s first-round pick might be better utilized at another position, or in a trade, rather than spent on a first-round corner. The Cardinals will most likely draft someone they hope is an immediate contributor at cornerback and that player could be available outside of the first round. Targeting Day Two and/or Day Three corners would provide the necessary talent, while almost guaranteeing better value for Arizona’s first-round pick.
The Cardinals can find a contributor at corner in the draft, but they should also look for a star in free agency. Arizona’s cornerback group may have been average overall last year, but with two starters on rookie deals and the other on the vet minimum, they were good value. The Cardinals are looking at a similar cost for the group in 2022. Adding a contributor from the draft, rather than targeting two free agents, makes it financially viable for the Cardinals to target a top cornerback in free agency.
Both Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson will most likely be in the mix for the Cardinals in free agency. However, Arizona probably needs to focus more on Jackon, Gilmore’s former understudy. Jackson is the ideal candidate to elevate the Cardinals secondary. He is big, fast, strong, and has a talent for creating turnovers. Coming out of the same Bill Belichick system that made Gilmore a star, Jackson’s proficiency in an aggressive man-coverage scheme makes him an ideal fit for Arizona’s defense. Granted, Jackson will be expensive, but with so little currently invested in cornerback, the Cardinals should be able to go after Jackson.
The Cardinals have a clear path to assembling a formidable group at cornerback. There are quality cornerbacks in this year’s draft, including those who will go outside of the first round, and talented free agents, including Jackon, the Cardinals can acquire to help improve their cornerbacks room. By supplementing last year’s group in both the draft and free agency, the Cardinals can bolster the secondary this off-season.