Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson

With the Arizona Cardinals' remaining cap space steady the last couple of weeks, it’s a good time to look at who’s taking up the largest portion of the Cardinals’ cap space. According to the most recent numbers by ESPN Stats & Information, Arizona’s cap space this week is $4,522,983, which changed slightly from last week because of the release of LaRon Byrd and Dan Giordano.

So, you see that the Arizona Cardinals signed two more cornerbacks earlier this week and the thought begins to cross your mind: "Why is Arizona bringing in even more cornerbacks, especially after signing Antonio Cromartie?"

Well, I'm glad you asked.

Two years ago, the NFL changed its rules to allow teams to have 90 players on their roster, up from 80, which means every team, including the Cardinals, spend their offseason evaluating free agents to fill most of those spots. In essence, they're just bodies for training camp. Come cut day, most will pack their bags and head home. Some will be cut and re-signed to the practice squad.

But coaching staffs, including the Cardinals, will use the extra players to create competition. Guys like LeQuan Lewis and Eddie Whitley, who were signed Tuesday to two-year contracts, look at the opportunity like a shot at Willy Wonka's Golden Ticket. If they impress enough and the chips fall in their favor, they can make an NFL roster. But with eight cornerbacks on the roster as of today and the starters named Patrick Peterson and Cromartie, odds are neither Lewis nor Whitley will make the final 53-man roster. But here's the thing about the NFL: You never know when your time will come.

Take Bryan McCann and Curtis Taylor for example. Lewis and Whitley are in a very similar situation as those two. The Cardinals brought McCann and Taylor in for a tryout last offseason and signed both of them a year ago today. McCann and Taylor competed for a job all through OTAs and mini camp, and then through training camp only to be cut Sept. 1 and Aug. 30, respectively.

But they proved enough during their time in Arizona to draw enough good attention from general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians. Arizona re-signed Taylor to the practice squad but McCann was out of work until mid November. After Teddy Williams injured his Achilles in Jacksonville, the Cardinals brought McCann back for the final six games to primarily be a gunner. He was re-signed again on March 17 with a good shot at retaining that role this season across from Pro Bowler Justin Bethel.

As for Taylor, he earned a weekly pay check on the practice squad until Week 14, when he was brought up to the 53-man roster. And even though he was inactive for two of the final three games, he suited up in Week 16 at Seattle.

So there's hope for Lewis and Whitley. If they make the team, Lewis will earn $495,000 and Whitley will earn $420,000 in 2014, according to ESPN Stats & Info. It's a small investment from the Cardinals for two guys who could potentially find a role on the team.

If they can make a good enough impression on Keim and Arians, they never know when their number might get called.
Last season, the Arizona Cardinals had one primary option to return kicks -- Javier Arenas -- and a few able-bodied back-ups.

Cromartie
Together, Tyrann Mathieu, Andre Ellington and Patrick Peterson combined for 47 yards to complement Arenas' 493. As a group, they totaled 540 yards -- or 55 fewer than the man responsible for returning kicks for the Cardinals in 2014.

The addition of Ted Ginn gave the Cardinals a better return man who’s more dynamic and has a longer history of better decisions than Arenas. Ginn also gave Arizona coach Bruce Arians a reliable option at punt returner if he ever wanted to rest Peterson. Last season with Carolina, Ginn had 316 punt return yards -- compared to just 198 for Peterson.

While Ginn will be the primary returner, Arizona’s back-up squad got a little deeper with the addition of cornerback Antonio Cromartie. In his eight-year career, Cromartie has returned 45 kicks for 1,059 yards -- including six for 164 yards last season with the New York Jets. His career high is 17 for 417 yards in 2011.

It’s likely that Cromartie will be the Ginn’s primary back on kick returns because Mathieu, Ellington and Peterson have a combined four career returns. And it doesn’t hurt the Cromartie’s average kick return is 23.53 yards, about a quarter yard longer than Ginn’s. But only Ginn (3) has returned a kickoff for a touchdown from the group.

When it comes to punt returns, Cromartie has seven under his belt for a total of 40 yards compared to Ginn’s 156 for 1,741 yards and Peterson’s 128 for 1,323 yards.

But having another option with Cromartie gives a little peace of mind to the Cardinals’ coaching staff.

“The good news is we have multiple options now,” Arizona general manager Steve Keim said. “Obviously, Patrick has had the return stuff in the past. Tyrann is coming off the injury from being in the return game. I think Ted Ginn is a guy who really gives us flexibility in the type of returner that he has become.

“But I don’t think you can ever have enough upper-echelon athletes who can be difference makers in the return game. Obviously now having Pat, Tyrann, Antonio and Ted Ginn, I think it’s a huge plus for us.”
Sometimes, having a backup plan comes in handy.

Like when negotiations with a three-time Pro Bowl cornerback don't yield a multi-year contract.

Peterson
Peterson
According to a report on AZCentral.com, the Arizona Cardinals will use their club option to keep Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson under contract through the 2015 season. The story doesn't mention the specific reason why Arizona decided to pick up the option, other than saying it was expected because it keeps Peterson a Cardinal for at least one more year.

Which is true. The decision to pick up the club option isn't surprising. The fact that it was reportedly done at this point, somewhat is.

The Cardinals -- and all NFL teams -- have until May 3rd to decide whether or not to activate the option year for 2011 first-round picks. Peterson went fifth. Team officials have been saying since the end of the season that re-signing Peterson was a priority for the offseason, but what can we read into the Cardinals deciding to exercise Peterson's option more than a month before the deadline?

There are a few things:
  • Arizona is serious about wanting to keep Peterson in a Cardinals jersey for as long as possible. This is a given. To the Cardinals, Peterson is a franchise player who they want to secure to a long-term deal.
  • There's the possibility that negotiations are ongoing but not close to ending anytime soon. The type of contract that Peterson will demand is large and most likely complex. And there's a good chance that the two sides, Peterson's camp and the Cardinals, are still waiting to see what the fair-market value of Peterson will be after this wave of free agency is over.
  • It could have been a sign of good faith. The Cardinals opt to extend Peterson's contract to make sure he doesn't leave after 2014 and Peterson will continue to negotiate until an agreement is reached or the two sides can't see eye-to-eye on a contract.
  • A contract could be close to being finished but won't be finalized until after May 3rd and the Cardinals just wanted to make sure they are protected in case something falls apart, so they picked up the option.

Arizona will do everything in its power to re-sign Peterson to a long-term deal, but it may not be as easy as getting Larry Fitzgerald to restructure his contract. Peterson has been waiting for a big pay day since he got into the league, and he's earned it with three straight Pro Bowl selections and two All-Pro nods. His résumé is worth the money. The question is whether or not the Cardinals will open their wallet for the type of deal Peterson will command. Another question to ponder is whether or not Peterson wants to stay a Cardinal?

This much we know: Arizona wants Peterson to continue playing inside University of Phoenix Stadium for as long as possible and this was the first step. After 2015, the Cardinals can franchise Peterson for two more years if the two don't agree on a contract. That means Peterson will be with the team through 2017, but the likelihood of him returning in 2018 is about as slim as it gets.
Two weeks ago, free agency kicked off with a flurry of moves. The Arizona Cardinals joined the frenzy almost immediately. During the last 14 days, the Cardinals have been steadily active and made improvements to their lineup -- some significant, some not so much.

Only two positions are truly open at the moment: right tackle and strong safety. The Cardinals will try to fill both of those in the draft if they can’t find other options through a trade or the rest of free agency.

Here’s an updated look at Arizona’s 2014 lineup as of today (new starters in bold):

OFFENSE

QB: Carson Palmer

RB: Andre Ellington (Rashard Mendenhall retired)

TE: Rob Housler

TE: Jake Ballard (Jim Dray signed with Cleveland)

WR: Larry Fitzgerald

WR: Michael Floyd

RT: (Eric Winston -- free agent)

RG: Paul Fanaika

C: Lyle Sendlein

LG: Jonathan Cooper (Daryn Colledge released)

LT: Jared Veldheer (Bradley Sowell)

DEFENSE

DE: Calais Campbell

NT: Dan Williams

DT: Darnell Dockett

OLB: John Abraham

ILB: Kevin Minter (Karlos Dansby signed with Cleveland)

ILB: Daryl Washington

OLB: Matt Shaughnessy (re-signed)

CB: Patrick Peterson

CB: Antonio Cromartie (Jerraud Powers)

FS: Rashad Johnson/Tyrann Mathieu

SS: (Yeremiah Bell -- free agent)

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Jay Feely (re-signed)

P: Dave Zastudil

LS: Mike Leach

KR: Ted Ginn Jr. (Javier Arenas signed with Atlanta)

PR: Patrick Peterson
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Antonio Cromartie didn't know why teams weren't calling.

Maybe it was his age. Maybe it was hips. Maybe they thought he was washed up.

But when he was introduced late Thursday afternoon as the newest member of the Arizona Cardinals' secondary, none of that seemed to matter. There wasn't a chip on his shoulder. There wasn't anger in his voice when he talked about no one calling. Cromartie, a 30-year-old cornerback who had a hip-flexor strain until, he said, late last season, said signing a one-year deal was all the motivation he needed for the upcoming season.

And, to him, there were worse places he could've landed.

“You're part of a team that's right where it needs to be,” Cromartie said. “That's a team that's been there, that's committed, one, to winning and a team that's right on the edge, on the verge of being a Super Bowl champion team.

“And that's what you look for. I'm a veteran guy. I'm going into my ninth year. That's what you look for.”

It didn't hurt that when Cromartie looked at the Cardinals last week, he saw two of the most promising defensive backs in the league: Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Throughout his press conference, Cromartie wouldn't talk about one without the other.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
AP Photo/Bill FeigAntonio Cromartie joins an already formidable Cardinals defensive backfield featuring Tyrann Mathieu (32) and Patrick Peterson (21).
Together, Cromartie, Peterson and Mathieu, who's out indefinitely while he recovers from ACL and LCL surgery, form one of the top secondaries in the NFL.

“When you add all three of us into the secondary, it just speaks volumes of what this secondary can be,” Cromartie said. “You have three guys that's on the backend that have the potential of making an interception and turning it into a touchdown.”

The focus of this defense, however, will be on the corners -- Peterson and Cromartie. Playing in a tandem of this caliber isn't new to Cromartie, who teamed with Darrelle Revis on the New York Jets from 2010-12.

With Cromartie's addition, the Cardinals will have two shut-down corners -- one 6-foot-1 and the other 6-2 -- who are capable of defending an offense's top receiver. That'll give defensive coordinator Todd Bowles some freedom and creative liberties while taking some of the pressure and strain off Peterson.

“I think you have the ability where no matter what your matchups are, you have some flexibility,” Keim said. “You don't have to move Patrick around and dictate to offenses. I think now, you have the ability to be flexible defensively and then once we get Ty back, it really opens up the door for multiple defenses.”

Cromartie's tenacity playing press man coverage -- which was significantly slowed last season by his hip injury -- helped sell the Cardinals on Cromartie.

It also helped sell Cromartie on the Cardinals.

During Cromartie's visit to Arizona last week, Keim pitched Cromartie and his agent, Ben Dogra, on the potential of recovering from an off 2013 season while re-establishing Cromartie's name.

“‘Why not do it at a place where you feel like you have a top-five defense?'” Keim said his pitch was. “‘You have a team that is going to feature you on an island. You're going to get a lot of balls thrown your way, obviously because of Patrick being on the other side, so your ability to create stats and to cover in a short amount of time and play in a good defense is beneficial to you.'”

Obviously, it worked.

As Keim did before signing left tackle Jared Veldheer, he went to cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross, who coached Cromartie in San Diego. The reviews were raving. Ross said he compared Cromartie to a grad assistant in college because of his study habits and thirst for learning.

Cromartie left Arizona last Friday with an offer, Keim said, but didn't initially agree to it. While speculation flooded the airwaves and social media, Cromartie said it was simply because he had to get his wife onboard. Moving isn't easy, he talked about, especially with kids and schools involved, and Cromartie wanted his wife's input on the decision.

While he was in Arizona, however, Cromartie said he felt at home, like he'd been with the Cardinals for “two or three years.” But Keim isn't one to sit and wait. When Cromartie didn't initially sign, Keim brought in cornerback Mike Jenkins all while still actively pursuing Cromartie.

“We were very aggressive,” Keim said. “I have a great relationship with Ben Dogra, who was his agent, and we just stayed on top of things.

“We tried to turn up the heat and make sure that Antonio knew that we wanted him to be a Cardinal,” Keim added.

He got his man and the Cardinals got one of the best cornerback tandems in the league -- if Cromartie can get back to his 2012 self.

Cromartie knows what it takes to form such a formidable duo and, in this case with Peterson, it has nothing to do with them working together.

“We're two different styles type of players, and at the end of the day, if we're going out and doing the jobs and shutting down the receivers and doing the things that we're supposed to do, then you start talking about how that tandem is, and how long can this tandem play for, or this is one of the best tandems in the NFL,” Cromartie said. “That's what we look for.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Antonio Cromartie's signing with the Cardinals on Thursday created competition at the cornerback position opposite Patrick Peterson.

Peterson will start, that’s almost as much of a guarantee as there is in the NFL. But Cromartie and Jerraud Powers will compete for the other corner job, although it’s likely Cromartie has the upper hand.

How do the three compare to each other? Here’s a breakdown of Peterson, Cromartie and Powers:

 
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.

Cromartie
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.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Free agency is a never-ending carousel. Players come and go. They might even get lunch in the process.

Jenkins
The latest visitor to the Arizona Cardinals' Tempe practice facility is former Oakland Raiders cornerback Mike Jenkins, according to Kent Somers of AZCentral.com. Jenkins was in town Tuesday. General manager Steve Keim isn’t one to sit around and wait, so when a deal obviously wasn’t struck with Antonio Cromartie last week or over the weekend, Keim stole a line from his head coach, Bruce Arians: Next man up.

So, in came Jenkins, who made $1.5 million last season with the Raiders, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Last season he had 65 tackles and two interceptions in 15 games. According to Pro Football Focus, Jenkins had 22 stops and seven missed tackles for the Raiders.

He came to the Raiders after his tenure with Dallas, the team that drafted him, fizzled in 2012. His career peaked in 2010, a year after making his only Pro Bowl, but he started just two of 13 games in 2012.

With the Raiders, he had a resurgence.

He started all 15 games he played -- he missed one because of a concussion. Becoming a regular starter again proved beneficial for both the Raiders and Jenkins, who had 42 tackles on plays when between six and 10 yards were needed for a first down.

Jenkins is 28, Cromartie is 29 and Jerraud Powers, Arizona’s incumbent starter across from Patrick Peterson, is 26. While with the Raiders, Jenkins had 55 of his tackles from the left corner spot. Last season, Peterson floated to both sides of the field.

Cromartie’s future is still up in the air with multiple reports saying the New York Jets, his former team, are not actively trying to bring him back to the Big Apple. With that news coming out today, Cromartie’s meeting with the Cardinals can be viewed differently.

If a contract was not offered, was Arizona not sold on Cromartie’s hip, which hampered him all season? Were Cromartie’s salary demands too high?

Or if a contract was offered by the Cardinals, was it too low? He made $9.5 million last season for the Jets, but that range isn’t in the cards for Cromartie in Arizona, especially with the Cardinals preparing to make a run at re-signing Peterson.
For those of us sitting around with our noses buried in Twitter on a Saturday night -- yes, I’m included -- we saw an interesting conversation that brought the collective Cardinals Nation to the edge of their seats.

Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson was openly tweeting with free agent cornerback Antonio Cromartie. But these weren’t your run-of-the-mill “Hey, how are you?” tweets. These were your “Hey, let’s go win championships together” tweets.

To which, Cromartie responded: @realpeterson21 We going to make it happen.

Then, back to Peterson:

 

But there’s a twist. Cromartie’s tweet to Peterson was deleted later Saturday night (which is why it’s not linked above.)

What does this all mean? Not. A. Thing.

Cromartie was in Arizona Thursday and Friday visiting with the Cardinals and the friendly banter was simply one superstar cornerback trying to recruit another star corner. Although I do find Cromartie’s response interesting: “We going to make it happen.” Either he was being nice, or he needed to weekend to think about Arizona’s offer -- if there was one. It’s unlikely the Cardinals will pay him the type of money he made with the New York Jets -- Cromartie earned $9.5 million in 2013.

But either way, Cromartie seems at the minimum, slightly interesting in being a Cardinal. This could make for an interesting St. Patrick’s Day.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- He'll return punts or kickoffs or both.

He'll line up in the slot or outside.

Whatever Arizona head coach Bruce Arians wants Ted Ginn, Jr. to do, he'll do.

“I wanted to go somewhere where I can help the team,” Ginn said. “Coming to the Cardinals was a big deal. They needed a fast guy, which I could bring to them. The return game, I could help out.”

Ginn was surprised the Carolina Panthers let him walk away as easily as they did, but awaiting him was a three-year contract in Arizona. A couple of teams showed interest, the 28-year-old said, especially after his best receiving year since 2008.

He had 556 yards and a career-high five touchdowns on 36 catches.

“My season last year brought me a rebirth type of season to show that I'm still a receiver,” Ginn said. “And I can still get it done.”

Being a receiver in Arians' offense means Ginn will have to learn every position. The outside routes won't be an issue for him, but he's never played much in the slot, catching just 13 of his 197 career passes inside, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

But, as was his motto all press conference, he's open to trying it.

“I do whatever,” Ginn said. “I never had the opportunity to really be a slot guy. Everybody always uses me outside. I'm available to do whatever.”

And if that means supplant Patrick Peterson as Arizona's punt returner, add that to the list of Ginn's duties.

He returned 26 punts for 316 yards last season and was open about lending a hand to Peterson.

“Patrick Peterson is a great returner,” Ginn said. “We can help him concentrate on ‘D' a little bit more.”

Ginn has been familiar with Arians' high-octane style of offense for years. A Cleveland, Ohio, native, Ginn would watch the Steelers -- with Arians as its offensive coordinator -- plow through the Browns on an annual basis. He understands his role as a receiver will be to utilize his speed and take the top off defenses. Ginn was quick to rattle of his 40-yard-dash time at 4.38 seconds -- “without working.”

Ginn watched closely how receivers like Mike Wallace and Santonio Holmes were used by Arians, so when the Cardinals came calling, it was an easy decision for Ginn.

“Just a great team and (they) have a fiery defense,” Ginn said. “I just know that they needed that one or two pieces on the offensive side to make them more explosive. Just wanted to come out and do what I can do.”

That's whatever the Cardinals need him to do.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Even though they checked off their top priority of free agency with left tackle Jared Veldheer just minutes after the mayhem began, the Arizona Cardinals haven't been sitting idle, happily basking in their take.

On Wednesday, they re-signed one linebacker -- Marcus Benard -- while reportedly agreeing to a two-year deal with another -- Matt Shaughnessy -- and added a running back and another offensive lineman.

Cromartie
Ginn
Ginn
Two other visits to the Cardinals' Tempe training facility on Thursday are raising eyebrows. It was confirmed that Arizona met with former New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie and, according to reports, former Carolina wide receiver and returner Ted Ginn.

Both would instantly make the Cardinals better.

Both would instantly make the Cardinals a contender.

Both showed that Arizona is serious about winning this year.

Competing in the NFC West is a chess match. Every team is trying to one-up the next. By bringing Cromartie and Ginn in, the Cardinals are showing not just the West, but the rest of the league that they're playing at the high-stakes tables.

Ginn would be the third receiver for the Cardinals, a speedy threat that head coach Bruce Arians would use to take the top off. He'd also be Arizona's kick returner -- a major upgrade from Javier Arenas last season. Ginn is also a punt returner, but I don't see Arians taking Patrick Peterson off punt duty especially after he didn't give Tyrann Mathieu a chance last year before his knee injury.

As for Cromartie, he'd be an upgrade from Jerraud Powers across from Peterson and would solidify Arizona's secondary as one of the best in the league. It would also prevent teams from picking on Powers, which was often the case last season when teams stayed away from Peterson. More importantly to the Cardinals, Cromartie could be the answer to defending tight ends. At 6-foot-2, he'd match up better with the likes of Jared Cook and Vernon Davis than Powers or any of the Cardinals' safeties. And if Cromartie lined up across a tight end, in the slot possibly, Mathieu is capable of sliding to the corner spot on the edge after he returns.

However, while Ginn would be affordable, Cromartie would most likely have to take a significant pay cut to come to Arizona. But he'd be one piece that could help Arizona make a run to next February.
Cornerback starters: Patrick Peterson, Jerraud Powers

Backup: Javier Arenas, Antoine Cason

Under contract in 2014: Peterson and Powers

Cash committed in ‘13: $8.1 million

Cap committed in ‘13: $9.17 million

Peterson
Peterson
Recap: Consistency was key at cornerback for the Cardinals in 2013. Patrick Peterson, who has continued to improve every year, was rewarded for his work with a third-straight trip to the Pro Bowl and his first All-Pro nod as a cornerback. While his numbers weren't Peterson-esque -- 42 tackles, 13 passes defensed, 3 interceptions -- he has solidified his reputation as a shutdown cornerback. Peterson regularly covered the opponents’ top receiver and regularly shut them down. He had 17 tackles on the left side of the field and 22 on the right. When he wasn’t on the field -- which wasn’t often -- opposing quarterbacks were 3-for-4 for three touchdowns. With Peterson on the field, opposing quarterbacks completed 58.6 percent of their passes and threw 26 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Throughout the season, quarterbacks had a tendency to stay away from Peterson, a testament to his ability. Across from Peterson, Powers struggled at times, namely because of his size and strength. He led the team with nine missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, but came on in the final half of the season, which included an interception against Houston. The backups -- Arenas and Cason -- didn’t see much time, but Cason found a role in the final few games as the Cardinals’ nickel back when rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu went down. Cason had the game-winning interception at Tennessee in Week 15.

Safety starters: Yeremiah Bell, Rashad Johnson, Tyrann Mathieu

Backup: Tony Jefferson, Curtis Taylor

Under contract in 2014:, Johnson, Mathieu, Jefferson and Taylor

Cash committed in ‘13: $3.8 million

Cap committed in ‘13: $2.7 million

Mathieu
Recap: Arizona’s secondary improved as Mathieu gained experience. The Honey Badger started seeing regular playing time in Week 4, the game after Rashad Johnson lost the tip of his left middle finger against New Orleans. From then, Mathieu started the next nine of 10 games before getting hurt, giving Arizona a versatile secondary. Mathieu could play safety, cornerback or nickel back, giving the Cardinals opportunities to change defenses on the fly without substituting. Johnson began filling in when healthy and had a solid season. Bell showed that at 35 -- he just turned 36 on Monday -- he still had what it takes to play safety at a high level. The biggest knock against Bell, who had 69 tackles, two interceptions and a sack, was that he wasn’t fast enough to keep up with younger, quicker receivers or tight ends. But he was certainly strong enough. The Cardinals are in good shape going forward with Jefferson entering his second season. He’s athletic and fast enough to cover ground, but his size might be his biggest hurdle, especially since the Cardinals need a regular safety to defend tight ends.
The NFL combine doesn’t just test a prospect’s agility, explosiveness and football skills – among other physical capabilities. It also challenges the mind. Aside from interviews, the players take the Wonderlic test, a 50-word quiz with a 12-minute time limit.

A score of 20 represents “average” intelligence.

The Wonderlic measures cognitive ability, but it doesn’t quite have a direct correlation to on-field production. Take Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson. He reportedly scored a nine on the test when he took it in 2011, according to ESPN Stats & Information. All Peterson’s done is make three Pro Bowls in each of his three seasons as a professional and be named All-Pro in two of them.

Since the Wonderlic results aren’t published publicly, all scores that are circulated have been reported by various media outlets.

The score of another Cardinal has also been reported. Quarterback Carson Palmer reportedly scored a 26 on the Wonderlic, the same number reportedly as Tampa Bay’s Mike Glennon, Chicago’s Jay Cutler, Dallas’ Kyle Orton and New England’s Ryan Mallett. And all Palmer has done in 10 years is throw for nearly 34,000 yards and 213 touchdowns.

Among other scores that have been reported were those of NFC West quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick (37) and Sam Bradford (36).

Cardinals' young talent recognized

February, 14, 2014
Feb 14
2:55
PM ET
Give the credit to Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim. He has a nose for finding top young players and building a franchise around them.

Peterson
Peterson
Mathieu
Two Cardinals were named to NFL.com's All-Under 25 team on Thursday, making Arizona just one of a handful of teams to place two on the 26-man team.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson, who'll be 24 when the 2014 season kicks off (the requirement was to be under 25 by Week 1) and safety Tyrann Mathieu, who turns 22 in May earned the honors. Both are among the league's best at their position and have the potential to be among the top tier of defensive backs for as long as they play.

Peterson has made the Pro Bowl in all three of his professional seasons and has been an All-Pro twice -- as a rookie it was as a punt returner and this year as a cornerback. Mathieu was making a strong case for defensive rookie of the year until he went down in Week 14 against St. Louis with an ACL and LCL injury.

Of the teams who had two players on the All-Under 25 teams was NFC West foe St. Louis, with defensive end Robert Quinn and punter Johnny Hekker.

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