NFC West: Antonio Cromartie

Cardinals offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
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 With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Arizona Cardinals' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeVeldheer_ Jared 130816
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesNew left tackle Jared Veldheer gives the Cardinals an established veteran at a position of need.
Best move: Adding left tackle Jared Veldheer early in free agency solidified a position that has plagued the team for years. He is a top-tier tackle who can protect quarterback Carson Palmer's blind side, a move that was necessary to keep the veteran Palmer as healthy as possible as the Cardinals make a run for the playoffs. Veldheer also showed a change in philosophy in the Cards’ front office. Going after a big name early in free agency showed the Cards' commitment to making a postseason push.

Riskiest move: Adding a 30-year-old cornerback with a recent history of hip issues isn’t exactly the most sound move, which is why signing Antonio Cromartie was the riskiest move for the Cardinals this offseason. But if Cromartie is healthy, he also can be the most rewarding move. It is yet to be seen how healthy Cromartie actually is. By signing him, Arizona moved Jerraud Powers, last season’s starter at cornerback across from Patrick Peterson, to the bench. If Cromartie doesn't pan out, the Cards would have to go back to Powers.

Most surprising move: Not taking a right tackle in the draft was the most surprising move because of the need at the position. The Cardinals didn’t re-sign last season's starting right tackle, Eric Winston, leaving the position up for grabs between Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie. Instead of grooming a rookie in case Sowell and Massie do not pan out, the Cardinals will sign a free agent or bring back Winston.

Smartest move: Without realizing it, the Cardinals’ smartest move this offseason might have been signing Ted Ginn. The veteran speedster will be Arizona’s third wide receiver and its kick returner. He will be an instant upgrade at both and already has started to draw rave reviews from teammates. His addition gives them an established player at both positions, and his resume speaks for itself.
Bruce AriansAP Photo/Ross D. FranklinArizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians will get a look at his full team Tuesday when OTAs begin.
This time last year, the buzz around the Cardinals was about a new coach with a new culture and a new scheme. This year, it’s about how do the Cardinals make the playoffs?

As the Cardinals’ offseason team activities (OTAs) begin Tuesday, there’s a lot to ponder from the past year and much to speculate on going forward. The next month will begin determining the fate for a lot of players on the current 90-man roster. As Cardinals coach Bruce Arians loved saying last year, this is when they have to put it on tape.

Here are 10 observations as the Cards begin OTAs:

  1. The top three running backs are established with Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer sitting atop the depth chart, but after that is a major drop-off. As of now, there isn’t is a viable option for the fourth back, which was occupied by Alfonso Smith a season ago. He’s gone and so is Ryan Williams, leaving the fourth spot up for grabs. That running back, however, may not be on the field Tuesday.
  2. There’ll be a lot of eyes on the newcomers this offseason, such as quarterback Logan Thomas, cornerback Antonio Cromartie, safety Deone Bucannon and left tackle Jared Veldheer. But the most intriguing position battle of the offseason starts Tuesday with two returning offensive linemen at right tackle. Arizona hasn’t re-signed Eric Winston for a reason: It wants to see what Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie can do. The two were college teammates at Ole Miss but neither are the clear-cut choices to assume the starting job. There have been questions about Massie’s ability to pick up the playbook for the last few seasons and Sowell was able to hold his own at left tackle last season but there’s a reason Arians didn’t keep him there. It’s yet to be seen if he’ll fare better on the right side.
  3. Losing Karlos Dansby was a major blow to the Cardinals’ inside linebackers but it could get worse. Having Daryl Washington practice with the first team may be for naught if he’s suspended for a significant amount of time by the league for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The Cardinals are already in tryout mode with second-year linebacker Kevin Minter but if Washington is lost for more than a game, what was a strong point of the Cards’ defense will be its liability. Veteran Larry Foote may need the reps this offseason to get ready for a larger role next year but this is also a chance for an unknown inside backer to get noticed.
  4. It’s one thing for Cromartie to say his hip is better but it’s another for him to go out and show it. He’ll have the eyes of the media – although it’s not quite like New York – on him this offseason. If Cromartie’s hip isn’t an issue, he’ll be half of one of the league’s top cornerback tandems. If his right hip flexor is still hampering him during OTAs, he’ll be wise to just sit and let a young cornerback earn some time. But next up on the depth chart is the man Cromartie replaced, Jerraud Powers, who is likely itching to win back his spot.
  5. The top three wide receivers are a shoe-in. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Ted Ginn will have jobs in 2014. It’s the other eight receivers on the roster who’ll be fighting for their jobs starting Tuesday. Arians clearly likes small, speedy receives -- he drafted two -- but now he has an abundance of them on the roster and will start weeding through them this week. One or two will make the cut but the rest will left fighting for the final few spots on the roster as a gunner or a special-teams machine.
  6. What a difference a year makes. Last May, the Cardinals were as confused as ever when it came to learning Arians’ offense. This year they know the wrinkles and intricacies of his complex offense. The days of Fitzgerald and Floyd lining up in the wrong places are over. The next step can be taken, which could mean a quicker start for the Cardinals than a year ago. And the result of that could then a game or two in January.
  7. Throughout the smokescreens before and during the draft, there was one truth that rose above it all: Arizona wasn’t drafting a quarterback unless he could win a spot on the roster. After the Cardinals picked Logan Thomas, Arians made it clear the first two quarterback spots are taken. That means Ryan Lindley’s third-string job is up for grabs. He’s been lending a helping hand to Thomas but when practice gets going Tuesday, he’ll need to turn it up to show Arians that he made a mistake. That may be harder than anticipated because Logan was drafted to not get cut.
  8. One of the few players with the most to lose and the most to gain during OTAs is tight end Rob Housler. He fell short of expectations last season and never grew into the player Arians had envisioned him being. It doesn’t help Housler, cut from the receiving tight end mold, that he isn’t fond of blocking. The Cardinals went out during the offseason and added two tight ends who are tailor made to fit Arians’ two-tight end scheme. Add in Jake Ballard, who joined the team around midseason last year, and Arizona has a three-tight end rotation that could see Housler as the odd man out.
  9. Tuesday will be the first day that left guard Jonathan Cooper can take the field for since he broke his leg against San Diego in the Cardinals’ third preseason game. How much Cooper can do starting this week will be an indication of how far along in his rehab he is. If he’s practicing in full, training camp will be a sure thing. If not, then training camp may be the first time Cooper will work out at full capacity.
  10. Another offensive lineman the Cardinals are anxious to see on the field is guard Earl Watford. The second-year player feels he has a better grasp of the playbook and the offense in his second offseason. He’ll be given a chance to win the starting job over last year’s starting guard Paul Fanaika. If he does, the job may be Watford’s for the foreseeable future.
The first month of free agency in 2013 was decidedly busier than the first month this year, but the Arizona Cardinals went more for quality over quantity in 2014.

Arians
Arians
Since March 11 the Cardinals have signed seven players, including three who are penciled in as starters: Jared Veldheer, Ted Ginn and Antonio Cromartie.

In the first month last season, Arizona went on a signing binge to restock a roster in the mold of then-recently hired coach Bruce Arians. They inked four full-time starters during the opening month, including Carson Palmer, Rashard Mendenhall, Yeremiah Bell and Jerraud Powers. During that haul, the Cardinals also signed Lorenzo Alexander, a starter until a Lisfranc injury sidelined him in Week 3, as well as his replacement, Matt Shaughnessy who started 12 games. Former linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who started three games in place of Daryl Washington, was also signed.

Last year's signings during the opening month of free agency helped fill out the roster. Despite the flurry of additions, Arizona went 10-6 and barely missed the playoffs. A lot of those signings also laid the foundation of this less aggressive, more pragmatic approach to 2014.

The Cardinals didn't need to fill a bevy of holes and were able to focus on their needs, hence just three major signings compared to the slew in 2013.

Each year provides a building block for the next and that's what the busy 2013 did for 2014.

Here's a list of new signings from the first month of free agency in 2013 and 2014.

2014: LT Jared Veldheer, WR/KR Ted Ginn, CB Antonio Cromartie, RB Jonathan Dwyer, OL Ted Larsen, CB Eddie Whitley, CB LeQuan Lewis.

2013: QB Carson Palmer (traded for), RB Rashard Mendenhall, QB Drew Standon, DE Frostee Rucker, CB Antoine Cason, DE Matt Shaughnessy, S Yeremiah Bell, CB Lorenzo Alexander, CG Jerraud Powers, G Chilo Rachal, P Will Batson, CB Bryan McCann, S Curtis Taylor, S Jonathon Amaya.
It has been a month since the frenzy started, but now there’s a different kind of buzz surrounding the Arizona Cardinals.

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Veldheer
Cromartie
Free agency began one month ago and with just a few select moves, the Cardinals have put themselves at the forefront of the conversation about contenders this coming season. The addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer was Arizona’s prize piece of the 2014 class and he’ll anchor an offensive line that continues to be rebuilt.

For the first time since Arizona drafted Levi Brown in 2007, the Cardinals have promise on the quarterback’s blind side -- the only difference is that Veldheer is a proven commodity.

Compared to 2013, this free-agency haul was chosen to fill specific needs, where as last year the Cardinals were looking to quickly revamp a roster to fit then-newly hired Bruce Arians' style. After a surprising run last season to a 10-6 record and the brink of the playoffs, the Cardinals saw exactly where their deficiencies were and set out to address them.

Arizona signed seven players in the first month of free agency, but three will have instant and significant impacts on the field come September. Veldheer is one, as is Arizona’s second major signing of the season, wide receiver and kick returner Ted Ginn.

Ginn was a two-for-one signing, replacing third receiver Andre Roberts and kick returner Javier Arenas. While Roberts is younger, Ginn may be more dangerous than both of those players. His return skills alone was worth his signing, but he’s proven himself as a receiver throughout his career and won’t have the pressure of being a primary option with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd ahead of him on the depth chart.

The last major piece of the first month of free agency was the surprise addition of cornerback Antonio Cromartie. He instantly supplanted Jerraud Powers as the starter across from Patrick Peterson, giving the Cardinals one of the most formidable secondaries in the NFL.

Arizona also added two quality backups in running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive lineman Ted Larsen. Recently, the Cards signed cornerbacks LeQuan Lewis and Eddie Whitley to add competition to the cornerbacks room.

All told, Arizona’s signings put them in the thick of the 2014 playoff race. Yes, it’s April and yes, the NFL hasn’t even begun to practice yet. But on paper, the Cardinals filled needs that could be the difference between the seventh spot and a wild-card berth -- or even an NFC West crown should the chips fall in the right places.

The Cardinals only have a couple of needs left to fill before training camp begins, but with the way general manager Steve Keim combs through the waiver wire and is dedicated in his draft evaluations, finding a safety and right tackle is inevitable.

Unlike last season, when after the first month of free agency, there were still a lot of question marks about how the roster was going to shape up, the sense around the Cardinals’ 2014 edition is that free agency made Arizona better.
Carson PalmerSam Greenwood/Getty ImagesCarson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals just missed out on the playoffs this past season.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday the NFL owners meetings that the Arizona Cardinals could be the first team to play a home Super Bowl.

“There's no reason we can't be the first team to play a home Super Bowl,” he said, according to multiple reports. “Absolutely no reason.”

Doing it would be as hard as a college basketball team playing in the Final Four in its home city. A lot has to happen; a lot of pieces have to fall into place.

After a 10-6 season in 2013, the Cardinals are closer than most teams in the NFL. Even more so after solidifying left tackle, cornerback, third receiver and kick returner during free agency. Those additions give Arians a case for the Cardinals making a run to Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

Then again, at this point in the year, every coach believes his team can do the same thing -- although some coaches know it’s more likely while others are crossing their fingers and toes.

But as Arians sat in Orlando, Fla., talking to the media during this week’s meetings, the Cardinals aren’t Super Bowl ready just yet. They’re close, but they’re not there.

The offense is the primary reason. Sure, the adage is defense wins championships -- it also wins games, as was the case at Seattle in December when quarterback Carson Palmer threw four interceptions and the defense still led Arizona to a win -- but the offense needs to produce consistently for the Cardinals to even think about making a deep run in January. The Cards have to convert more third downs and keep drives going longer than in 2013.

Throughout last season, they showed glimpses of a high-octane offense hidden under the plethora of interceptions and failed drives, scoring 10 offensive touchdowns on five plays or fewer. The Cardinals failed to convert on 136 of 210 third downs in 2013. If they can convert even 25 percent more of those drives into a field goal or a touchdown, a Super Bowl may start coming into focus.

[+] EnlargeKevin Minter
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesKevin Minter has some big shoes to fill on the Arizona defense.
On paper, the offense looks like a playoff-caliber unit. The question then becomes: Can the Cardinals start training camp at the same place offensively as they ended 2013? And can they continue to improve without taking one step back to take two steps forward?

The defense, as it is today, is a playoff-caliber unit, but it’s a few pieces away from being a championship-level defense. The Kevin Minter experiment, finding a safety who will neutralize tight ends and Tyrann Mathieu returning from his knee injury are three factors standing between the Cardinals and a Feb. 1, 2015, home game.

Minter will be given the starting job at inside linebacker, which was vacated when Karlos Dansby left for Cleveland, until he loses it, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said last week. How Minter can adapt to the NFL speed as an undersized thumper who played just one down on defense last season will dictate how effective Arizona’s secondary will be.

The defensive line will again be strong, especially with the return of Sam Acho and Lorenzo Alexander from injuries. With John Abraham and Matt Shaughnessy coming off the edges, the linebackers will need to be responsible for the second layer so the secondary can focus on slowing down receivers. Last season, Dansby’s speed allowed him to get from sideline to sideline effectively. But does Minter have that same quickness? Only time will tell.

By adding cornerback Antonio Cromartie, the Cardinals’ secondary was drastically improved, but there’s still a major gap at strong safety. Last year, that position was filled by Yeremiah Bell, who at 6-foot-0, struggled against tall tight ends. A bigger safety will have to be one of Arizona’s top priorities in May’s draft because Tony Jefferson, Bell's apparent successor on the current roster, is only 5-11. With 17 of the 29 touchdowns thrown by opponents going to tight ends last season, slowing them will be the difference between 10 wins and 12 or 13.

The last major piece on defense that could make the Cardinals into a championship-caliber team is Mathieu. He missed the final three games with ACL and LCL injuries, and a return date hasn’t been set because recovery from an LCL injury typically has an indefinite timetable. If Mathieu can return to form quickly, he’ll add another playmaking dynamic to the Cardinals’ secondary that has the potential to make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.

With his versatility, Mathieu can play three positions -- inside and outside corner and safety -- while filling in at nickel without the Cardinals needing to substitute. That seamless flexibility will keep the defense as one coherent unit and allow defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to alter the scheme on the fly.

It’s clear a lot needs to happen for Arizona to enjoy the comforts of home during Super Bowl week, but for all the right reasons. It’s possible, but there’s plenty of work to be done.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Last season wasn't one of Antonio Cromartie's finest because of a lingering hip-flexor strain, yet the cornerback still made the Pro Bowl as an alternate.

Cromartie
When he visited the Arizona Cardinals late last week, the team's medical staff evaluated Cromartie's hip and “felt very good … where he was at physically,” which gave general manager Steve Keim the green light to sign the three-time Pro Bowler.

Cromartie said his hip feels “like I'm 100 percent.” He's cutting, running and “doing everything else” cornerbacks do. During the season, his hips impacted his ability to turn and run with receivers. According to Pro Football Focus, Cromartie allowed an average of 19.1 yards per reception last season but only allowed 53.3 percent of passes to be completed against him.

Before he hopped a flight to Arizona on Thursday, Cromartie did some field work and said he feels “great.”

Keim said he noticed the hip bothering Cromartie on tape around Weeks 8-10. Cromartie said it was clearing up by Weeks 12 and 13.

“I haven't had any problems with it,” Cromartie said.

“I just want to make sure I'm feeling great so I can come out and play at the highest level that I can play at for this organization.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- When there are three players vying for two spots, there's always an odd man out.

Ponder
Powers
When Arizona signed cornerback Antonio Cromartie on Thursday, Jerraud Powers found himself on the outside looking in. But he'll land on his feet with the Cardinals, Arizona general manager Steve Keim said.

Powers will be Arizona's primary nickel back until second-year safety Tyrann Mathieu returns from ACL and LCL surgery.

“The good thing about (Powers) is that he's really versatile,” Keim said. “Not only can he play outside, he can play inside.”

Of the three, Powers has the most experience at nickel and it's likely Cromartie wouldn't have come had Arizona made him play in the slot.

Keeping Powers and his $3.75 million salary and $4.75 million cap hit gives Arizona some lineup flexibility when it comes to Mathieu's health, Keim said.

“If (Mathieu is) not back early, we have a guy who can be a standout nickel because in today's NFL, we know that nickel corners are generally playing anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of the time,” Keim said.

When Mathieu returns, Powers' role will be altered because Cardinals coach Bruce Arians likes using Mathieu as a free safety and nickel back so the defense doesn't have to substitute.
Antonio CromartieAP Photo/Alan DiazIn Antonio Cromartie, the Cardinals know that they are getting an athletic cornerback with size.
While New York Jets fans are looking for cornerbacks on every street in Manhattan, they saw an all-too-familiar sight in the desert.

By signing Antonio Cromartie on Thursday, the Arizona Cardinals solidified one of the league's top secondaries with Cromartie teaming up with Patrick Peterson -- similar to his tandem with Darrelle Revis.

ESPN.com Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Jets reporter Rich Cimini take a look at Cromartie's cross-country move.

Weinfuss: With just 38 tackles in 2013, was it just an off season for Cromartie or did teams stay away from him? Doesn't seem like it was a very Cromartie-esque year.

Cimini: No, it wasn't a good year for Cromartie -- and he'll be the first to admit it. He played the entire season with a strained hip flexor (that's what he called it) and it obviously hampered his ability to turn and run with receivers. He allowed a bunch of long pass plays, one of the reasons why the Jets finished 22nd in pass defense. By the end of the year, he no longer was assigned to the opponents' No. 1 receiver. That said, I give him points for gutting it out; some players would've packed it in. If the hip issue is resolved, he has the ability to recapture his 2012 form. He was terrific in 2012, probably his most consistent season. In terms of scheme fit, Cromartie is a man-to-man corner all the way. He's a scary good athlete, although he's known for losing focus. The coaches were on him a lot because he tended to get too passive in bump-and-run situations. How does he fit with the Cards?

Weinfuss: I think he'll be a great complement to Patrick Peterson if he's healthy. Those two would make up one of the toughest corner tandems in the league and could give quarterbacks fits. As it was last season, Peterson wasn't getting thrown to much. Pair him with Cromartie and Arizona's defense, which is under the watchful and creative eye of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, will just get better. The Cardinals needed to get better against the pass and Cromartie can help them improve not only because he's athletic but also because he's tall (6-foot-2). But the question will be how he's used. He'll most likely be out wide most of the time, but will Arizona utilize his height and line him up against tight ends in the slot? Looking at Cromartie's history, he's not much of a slot corner.

Speaking of his injury, how much of an impact did it have on his attractiveness to other teams in free agency? Did the Cards get the Cromartie of old or were they duped?

Cimini: First of all, let me say this: The Jets cut him because of economics. It was the last year of his deal, and he had a $15 million cap charge, including a $5 million roster bonus. There was no chance of that happening. General manager John Idzik said they were interested in re-signing Cromartie (for less money, obviously), which tells me they weren't too concerned by the hip. However, I have to think it hurt him on the open market. Look at the facts: Questionable hip, bad season and age (he turns 30). That's not a good combo for a free agent. But like I said, if Cromartie is healthy, it'll end up being a good bargain for the Cards. He can play receiver in a pinch (handful of snaps there in 2012) and he can return kickoffs. And you're right, Josh, he's not a slot corner. He's strictly an outside guy. A few years ago, they used him a little on athletic tight ends, but I don't think Cromartie is physical enough for that assignment.

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. -- 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. -- 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.
Free agency starts at 4 p.m. ET (1 p.m. PT) Tuesday.

It is clear the San Francisco 49ers' plan of attack will be to sign their own top free agents. They secured their top free-agent priority, receiver Anquan Boldin, last week. Their other targets are safety Donte Whitner, cornerback Tarell Brown and kicker Phil Dawson. Dawson and Brown both may get quick action on the open market.

If any of these players leave, the 49ers will likely have to go find a replacement in some form. Let’s take a look at who they may be:

Safety

Possible free-agent options: Mike Mitchell (Panthers), Malcolm Jenkins (Saints), James Ihedigbo (Ravens).

Summary: The free-agent market is thin, and, in my opinion, signing Whitner is, by far, the best option. If not, one of the above-mentioned players could be a suitable, but not equal signing. If Whitner’s market doesn’t get crazy, the 49ers need to try to keep him. In-house potential replacements are C.J. Spillman and Craig Dahl, but neither are considered top options.

Cornerback

Possible free-agent options: Nolan Carroll (Dolphins), Antonio Cromartie (released by Jets), Champ Bailey (released by Broncos), Walter Thurmond (Seahawks), Asante Samuel (released by Falcons), Antoine Cason (Cardinals), Charles Tillman (Bears), Captain Munnerlyn (Panthers).

Summary: Replacing Brown may be easier than replacing Whitner. There are a ton of decent cornerbacks. Carroll is one of the players the 49ers have checked in on. If the 49ers lose Brown, they could wait out the market and get a decent player or two here. A wild card could be Darrelle Revis, who reportedly either is going to be traded or released, as soon as this week, by Tampa Bay. He will likely be pricey but if something crazy happens, perhaps the 49ers could get involved.

Kicker

Possible free-agent options: Steven Hauschka (Seahawks), Adam Vinatieri (Colts), Josh Brown (Giants), Dan Carpenter (Bills).

Summary: There are some decent kickers available, but I think Dawson is the best fit and I expect him to be back. If not, any of these kickers could be the fix. Just a guess, but I don’t think it gets to that point.

Seahawks won't miss Revis on Sunday

November, 8, 2012
11/08/12
4:45
PM ET

The Seattle Seahawks won't have to worry about Darrelle Revis when the New York Jets visit CenturyLink Field in Week 10.

Revis, widely acknowledged as the NFL's best cornerback when healthy, will not play until 2013 after suffering a knee injury during the Jets' second game of the season.

This can only be a good thing for the Seahawks' improving pass offense. The Jets run a complex defense putting additional pressure on rookie quarterback Russell Wilson to figure out the scheme. Not having to worry about Revis has to help.

"It's a very difficult scheme on defense for our offensive guys," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters this week.

The first chart shows per-play defensive passing stats against the Jets with and without Revis on the field this season. The second one shows the same information for 2011 and 2012.

Antonio Cromartie is the cornerback Wilson and the Seahawks need to worry about the most.

Pro Football Focus recently named Cromartie to its all-AFC team at midseason.

"Cromartie earns it for how he has stepped up since Darrelle Revis went down," PFF's Khaled Elsayed wrote. "Hes allowed just 41.9 percent of passes into his coverage to be complete, so you can look past the high (six) penalty count."

Officials have flagged Cromartie three times for defensive pass interference, twice for illegal contact and once for unnecessary roughness. That included three penalties during a Week 6 game against Indianapolis.

The Jets' other starting corner, Kyle Wilson, has had a tougher time.
Referee Ron Winter waved off one of the interference penalties against Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson in Week 9.

"There is no foul for defensive pass interference," Winter announced. "The contact and the ball arrived at the same time."

Peterson has incurred nine assessed or declined penalties this season, one behind NFL leaders Brandon Browner, Rodger Saffold and Ryan Clady. Six of the nine were for coverage-related violations on defense.

But as Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton told reporters Friday, Peterson isn't the only one making an adjustment. The rookie's aggressive playing style might require officials to adjust as well. Winter's decision to pick up the flag for pass interference might indicate that is happening already. What looks like interference isn't always interference.

The chart shows NFL players with the most penalties for defensive pass interference, defensive holding and illegal contact this season. Peterson ranks tied for second on the list. He has additional penalties for roughing the kicker, jumping offside and illegal use of hands.

Peterson has impressive company on the list, notably Ike Taylor and Charles Woodson. A few other big names, including Nnamdi Asomugha, have three such penalties.

Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information provided the penalty info.

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NFC West Penalty Watch: Flags flying

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
10:20
AM ET
It's been a rough first four games for NFC West teams in the penalty department, and not just in the tripping department.

Officials have flagged teams from the division 153 times, assessing penalties covering 1,054 yards. The other divisions average 118 penalties and 835 penalty yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information. No division has as many in either category.

The totals count declined penalties.


The chart below shows all 14 NFL players with at least five declined and assessed penalties this season. Five of them play for NFC West teams.

On a side note, penalties for unnecessary roughness are on the rise, with 57 having been called through the first four weeks of the season. There were 25 through the first four games of the 2007 season. That number has risen to 37 (2008), 41 (2009), 53 (2010) and now 57.

I doubt players have gotten any rougher unnecessarily. Officials are likely calling these penalties more aggressively. Calls for unsportsmanlike conduct are also up. There have been 17 through four games this season, up from an average of nine at this point in the previous four seasons.

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