Cardinals add veteran presence in secondary with Antoine Bethea

Antoine Bethea is known as a versatile, tough safety in run support, but he'll be 33 when the season starts. Erik S. Lesser/EPA

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals didn’t waste any time replacing safety Tony Jefferson in their secondary.

The Cardinals agreed to a three-year contract Thursday with safety Antoine Bethea, who asked the San Francisco 49ers for his release on Tuesday.

Grade: A-minus. Bethea instantly fills a need, so the Cardinals get points for bringing in someone to replace Jefferson in a likely role in which Bethea will play in the box. The Cardinals will be down one safety when free agency begins and could be down a second depending on what happens with D.J. Swearinger.

What it means: By signing Bethea, the Cardinals will be able to bolster the freedom of their other safeties -- Tyrann Mathieu and Tyvon Branch -- and Swearinger, if he is re-signed. Bethea has had more than 100 tackles in six seasons and is fundamentally sound, versatile player. He’ll likely take over Jefferson’s role at strong safety but has the ability to play free safety if needed. With his ability to hit in the box, Mathieu and Branch will have more flexibility and freedom to roam and make plays. Bethea will also be a veteran voice in the locker room, a role that's needed after the likely loss of defensive tackle Calais Campbell. Bethea is familiar with the Cardinals' staff, having played for the Colts in 2012 when Bruce Arians was offensive coordinator and interim head coach. Arizona offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and defensive coordinator James Bettcher were also both on that staff.

What’s the risk: The biggest risk with signing Bethea is his age. He’s 32. He’s been durable throughout his career, missing 14 games in 11 seasons, with seven coming in 2015 due to a pectoral injury. However, he’ll be 33 when the season starts. That's old by any NFL standard.