TEMPE, Ariz. -- As has been his modus operandi since he became the Arizona Cardinals' general manager in 2013, Steve Keim continued to look to the future Monday when he gave Frostee Rucker a one-year extension.
As of Tuesday night, there were 18 Cardinals heading into the final year of their contracts as unrestricted free agents. Among them, three deserve to get extended before the season begins.
Rashad Johnson, safety: Johnson should be the top priority for Arizona to extend beyond 2015. Since he took over the starting safety duties in 2013, he’s been a productive leader in the deep secondary. He missed just six snaps last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and returned two of his four interceptions for touchdowns. It’s nearly impossible to question Johnson’s toughness. He returned two games after the tip of his left middle finger was ripped off in the third game of the 2013 season. But what makes him so valuable is his leadership. He’s the quarterback on the field, directing a young secondary that includes a bevy of talent in Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Johnson has been a steadying factor, and with a young group around him, the 29-year-old should remain in Arizona for years to come.
Justin Bethel, defensive back/gunner: Even before the Bethel experiment at cornerback takes place this season, his rookie contract should be extended. Bethel, 24, has unique speed and athleticism, both of which aren’t going away anytime soon. Arizona will try to turn Bethel into a cornerback this season, which could be a Herculean effort because of his inexperience at defensive back. He just started playing the position after he was drafted in 2012. Of his 103 career defensive snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Information, 93 came last season. But even if Bethel doesn’t pan out as an every-down defensive back, he’s worth extending because of his special teams duties, which earned him a Pro Bowl trip the last two seasons. Having a weapon like Bethel as a gunner forces teams to game plan around him, giving Arizona advantages both psychologically and strategically since most teams tend to double- -- or sometimes triple- -- team Bethel.
Jerraud Powers, cornerback: Among myriad of reasons to keep Powers, which includes Bruce Arians' fondness of the small corner, is Powers' versatility. He spent 2013 at outside corner before moving to nickel corner last season to make room for Antonio Cromartie and was productive at both positions. He had three interceptions while playing 708 snaps last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Last month, Arians said Powers was a better cover corner than Cromartie, improving his value to the defense. Even though he’s slated to earn $4.35 million next season, he’s worth holding on to for another two or three years, especially at 27 years old.