There is one certainty at cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals in 2014.
That is Patrick Peterson. The three-time Pro Bowl corner enters his fourth season as one of the foundations of the Cards’ defense. He will for sure be on one side of the field, lining up across the opponent’s best receiver. But it's unclear who will start opposite Peterson.
Last season it was Jerraud Powers, a cerebral player who Cardinals coach Bruce Arians brought with him from Indianapolis. Despite leading the Cardinals’ corners with nine missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, he was the most productive cornerback on the roster. He had a secondary-best 14 pass breakups and disrupted 15 dropbacks according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also led Arizona's cornerbacks with 65 tackles.
But there is a chance -- a good chance -- that Powers could be a cap casualty because his cap number jumps to $4.75 million in 2014. Then what would the Cardinals do?
Arizona is scheduled to lose cornerbacks Antoine Cason, Javier Arenas and Bryan McCann to free agency on March 11, but that might not be a bad thing. The crop of free agent cornerbacks is strong, but could be expensive. Last offseason, Arians and general manager Steve Keim stocked the position with inexpensive talent. Only Cason of that group made more than $1 million.
There are some big names on the market this year, such as Asante Samuel, who was cut by the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago’s Charles Tillman, former Cardinal and current Denver Bronco Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, New England’s Aqib Talib, Miami’s Brent Grimes and Washington’s DeAngelo Hall. And there is a slew of cornerbacks who made less than $1.5 million in 2013 who would be solid additions to the Cardinals, but most aren’t standouts.
While Arizona won’t shell out a lot of money to a backup cornerback, it will be looking for a versatile defensive back to fill the role of Tyrann Mathieu, who will most likely be out until at least September. And the Cardinals might have to pay for that.
Among the best options at cornerback within the Cards’ price range are Rodgers-Cromartie at the high end and Seattle’s Walter Thurmond at the low end. In between includes Green Bay’s Sam Shields, Oakland’s Tracy Porter, and Tennessee’s Alterraun Verner.
Arizona could also consider someone like Giants cornerback Aaron Ross, who missed significant time last season with a back injury but would be healthy this year, or San Francisco’s Terrell Brown, who made $1.5 million last season, but was injured.
If the Cardinals choose to release Powers to save money, they could opt to make the cornerback opposite Peterson as tough to play against as the two-time All-Pro with someone like Rodgers-Cromartie, Talib, or Shields. Two of Washington’s cornerbacks, Hall and Josh Wilson, could also fill that void.
How the Cardinals handle their own free agents will determine how much they want to spend on other free-agent cornerbacks.