TEMPE, Ariz. – There’s having depth on a roster and then there’s having functional depth.
By claiming cornerback Alfonzo Dennard from the New England Patriots, the Arizona Cardinals went from having a deep well of options at cornerback to having a versatile group of veterans to choose from.
Arizona has been on the hunt to replace Antonio Cromartie since he signed with the New York Jets in mid-March. When the Cardinals didn’t draft a cornerback last week, it appeared Arizona’s brain trust was content with the current roster. And with 10 – now 11 – cornerbacks on their roster, the Cardinals had a plethora of options to play right corner opposite Patrick Peterson.
“Well, [at] corner we’re extremely comfortable,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.
In reality, though, it was a two-man race between Jerraud Powers and Justin Bethel. Powers was the likely choice to replace Cromartie because he started at outside corner in 2013 before moving to nickel corner last year. While Bethel has the athleticism, he doesn’t have the reps.
Bethel didn’t play cornerback at Presbyterian College and has only played 103 defensive snaps in his three-year career.
“Jerraud Powers played as well, maybe better than 'Cro' the year before,” Arians added. “'Cro' played very well for us last year and allowed us to play J.P. inside, but I’ve got all the confidence in the world [in him].
“I think Justin Bethel is ready to break out and allow J.P. to go back inside when we go into the nickel. We have so much flexibility there.”
That’s what the Cardinals like about Dennard.
General manager Steve Keim said on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday that Dennard’s position flexibility is what made him an attractive option to claim after the Patriots released him Tuesday. Dennard, like Powers, can play inside and outside “where we can do some different things schematically,” Keim said.
Having Dennard as an option outside on nickel downs – if he doesn’t win the outside job outright during training camp – will give first-year defensive coordinator James Bettcher the chance to work in Bethel on more plays when Arizona uses four or more defensive backs.
It’s been clear that strengthening the roster at cornerback has been a priority for Arizona. Aside from claiming Dennard, Arizona signed two free agent corners after the draft Saturday.
But Arizona’s move Wednesday gave them the depth it needed to enter offseason practices with the comfort the Cardinals’ wanted.
“We’ve got a couple of guys we really, really like that are undrafted free agents and we also picked up a couple of guys with some length that I’m anxious to get out on the field and look at them,” Arians said. “Not concerned with that depth whatsoever.”