One by one, the Arizona Cardinals keep adding talented players to their roster. First it was left tackle Jared Veldheer, then it was wide receiver Ted Ginn, and now it is cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
According to Kent Somers of AZCentral.com, the Cardinals and Cromartie agreed to a one-year deal on Thursday. The one-year deal will pay the Pro Bowl corner $3.25 million in base salary and another $500,000 if he plays every game.
After a subpar season in 2013, it’s evident the Cardinals want Cromartie to prove he can bounce back and play at the level he was playing at in 2012. Furthermore, Arizona may have been hesitant to make a long-term investment based on the fact the ninth-year pro turns 30 on April 15th.
Nevertheless, Cromartie will have an immediate impact on Todd Bowles’ defense. Despite getting torched on a weekly basis as a member of the New York Jets last season, the first-round pick out of Florida State proved to be an absolute ball hawk.
In 1,095 snaps, he intercepted three passes, registered nine passes defended and forced one fumble. This is good news for Bowles, because his secondary was starved for playmakers in 2013. Of the 31 turnovers the Cardinals defense forced, the secondary was only responsible for 15 of them.
Luckily for the Cardinals, Cromartie has played well enough over the course of his eight-year career to average 4.1 takeaways per season. Without a doubt, four additional turnovers last season would have helped Arizona make its first playoff appearance since 2009.
However, playing cornerback is not all about forcing turnovers. You have to be able to cover and play on an island against opposing wide receivers. The problem is, covering pass-catchers was Cromartie’s biggest downfall in 2013.
The analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded Cromartie out as the second-worst cover corner in the NFL with a minus-17.4 coverage grade. On 92 attempts, opposing quarterbacks recorded 49 completions, 937 yards passing, seven touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 100.7.
Some people attribute Cromartie’s dreadful year to an aging skill set, while others believe he played through a bothersome hip injury for the majority of the season. Odds are the hip injury was the main reason for his sharp decline. Why? Because one year prior, he was one of the 10 best cover corners in the league.
Per PFF, Cromartie finished the 2012 season with the fifth-highest coverage grade at his position. Additionally, he nabbed three interceptions, defended 13 passes and held opposing signal-callers to a 69.7 quarterback rating.
For the sake of comparison, Cromartie looked better on tape than fellow cornerbacks like Patrick Peterson, Antoine Winfield and Champ Bailey. Matt Miller of Bleacher Report spoke highly of the veteran corner when he evaluated his skill set at the end of the 2012 season for B/R NFL 1000:
Antonio Cromartie’s raw athletic ability makes him standout from others, as does his length and height to match up with bigger, stronger receivers. He is smooth in his backpedal and has the speed to turn and run with receivers. He’s a very fluid athlete overall and that shows up on film.
In coverage, he did a great job knocking away passes and keeping receivers from bringing in the ball. He was abused a bit underneath with soft zone coverage, though. In the red zone he had trouble with back-shoulder throws and must play with better position there.
Unlike his 2013 nomination, Cromartie actually deserved the Pro Bowl bid he received that year. He answered the call and filled in nicely for All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis when he went down with a torn ACL.
It’s apparent that Cromartie has immense talent. He has shown it on multiple occasions throughout his career, which is why his signing makes the Cardinals defense one of the most dangerous units in the NFL.
A number of you may be thinking, “How does a 30-year-old cornerback coming off the worst season of his career make the Cardinals defense one of the most dangerous units in the NFL?”
Under the assumption that Cromartie has fully recovered from his hip injury and is healthy, the idea of that sentiment being true is not that far-fetched. Arizona has a talented front seven, Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu shut wide receivers down and Bowles is as creative as they come.
Let’s not forget, Jerraud Powers played about as poorly as Cromartie did last year, and he wasn’t hurt. Per PFF, he squandered 972 yards receiving in his coverage area on 73 receptions. That was the second-highest number of receiving yards allowed in the NFL.
Clearly, that was something the coaching staff didn’t expect after the organization gave Powers a three-year, $10.5 million contract prior to the 2013 season. Yet, as we know, free-agent deals don’t always pan out.
Kudos to head coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim, they were proactive about the cornerback position. Instead of waiting around and banking on Powers to improve, they went out and upgraded a position of need.
Moreover, there’s no guarantee Mathieu will be ready for the team’s Week 1 contest. He manned the slot during his rookie season, so we may see a defensive backfield that consists of Peterson, Cromartie and Powers until he returns.
Throw in Mathieu when he does return, and the Cardinals now have one of the deepest secondaries in the league. And for the first time in a long time, the back end of Arizona’s defense is arguably its strongest unit on defense thanks in large part to Cromartie.
The NFC West arms race is usually a head-to-head battle between the 49ers and Seahawks, yet the Cardinals are proving they can pull out all the necessary stops to be crowned division champs in 2014.
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