TEMPE, Ariz. -- With the stroke of a pen Thursday, the Arizona Cardinals strengthened their weakest link on defense.
While the run defense topped the NFL rankings in 2013, the pass coverage was middle of the pack, ranked 14th in passing yards allowed per game.
Well, that’s about to change. By signing former New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie to a one-year deal, the Cardinals instantly upgraded their secondary. With Cromartie expected to play across from Patrick Peterson, Arizona can make a case for having one of the best corner tandems in the league, alongside the New England Patriots and the New York Giants.
Last season Cromartie had 38 tackles, six pass breakups and three interceptions. And despite being hampered by a lingering hip-flexor injury, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN New York, he played in the Pro Bowl as an alternate.
At 6-foot-2, Cromartie’s height gives the Cardinals a new approach to covering tight ends, which accounted for 17 of the 29 touchdowns thrown by opponents in 2013. However, Cromartie has only lined up in the slot -- where tight ends primarily line up if they’re not coming off the end -- in 16 of 127 career games. But as Cardinals coach Bruce Arians showed last season with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, he’ll make players learn different positions. Will he do that with Cromartie is the question.
Cromartie will replace Jerraud Powers as the starter across from Peterson, leaving Powers’ future uncertain. He’ll make $3.75 million in 2014 with a cap hit of $4.75 million, a lofty number for a backup, but he might fill in at nickel and slot corner until Tyrann Mathieu returns from his knee injury. Of the team’s top three cornerbacks, Powers has the most experience in the slot.
When Cromartie didn’t sign late last week, speculation overflowed. Was his hip worse than expected? Was he asking for too much? Did the Cardinals offer too little? Then the news about the Jets not actively pursuing Cromartie came out, and his future seemed uncertain. On Saturday, he had a Twitter exchange with Peterson, during which Peterson recruited him hard to the desert. Clearly, it worked.
Maybe all it took was a wake-up call from the Jets and a chance to compete for a title in the league’s toughest division to land Cromartie.
His addition now gives Arizona two feared cornerbacks. During the past two seasons teams often chose not to throw toward Peterson. What will they do now? Not throw at all? Cromartie’s reputation precedes him, but Arizona made a smart move by locking down another high-profile, high-impact cornerback for 2014. Quarterbacks will have to think twice now about which cornerback to target.
Now imagine when Mathieu returns from injury. Will there be a better secondary in the NFL? It'll be hard to beat Arizona’s.