Like Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson broke the news on Twitter that he and the Cardinals had reached an agreement on a five-year contract extension.
According to Peterson, his new five-year deal is worth $70 million total and $48 million in guaranteed money. This, in turn, means Peterson is now the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL. It also means he is the highest-paid corner in league history.
Based on the offseason news cycle, it’s no surprise that Peterson and the Cardinals were able to reach an agreement, considering both parties have been trying to hammer out a deal for a while now.
Yet, it’s surprising to see that Peterson was able to pull in as much coin as he did. By no means is that a knock on the All-Pro corner—he is one of the NFL’s best at his position—but I think we can all agree that the amount of guaranteed money he is set to make doesn’t fairly represent his play on the field. It represents his potential as a player.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Peterson was the 11th-best cover corner in the game last year. In coverage, he surrendered 668 yards receiving and seven touchdowns, and opposing quarterbacks amassed a 91.3 rating when throwing into his coverage area.
Those numbers aren’t awful, but they could stand to improve in 2014. For the sake of comparison, Sherman ended the 2013 season as the the sixth-best cover corner in the game statistically. And he only surrendered 348 yards receiving and one touchdown.
Not to mention, opposing quarterbacks tallied a measly quarterback rating of 36.2 when they threw into his coverage area. Nonetheless, the Peterson deal has already happened, and we could easily debate Peterson and Sherman until we were blue in the face.
Right now is neither the time nor the place for that discussion. Here's the real question that Cardinals fans should be pondering: How does Peterson's deal impact Arizona in the short term and the long term?
On the surface, no matter the number, the deal had to get done. Not only is Peterson a key piece to the Cardinals’ future, he is the most talented defensive back in Arizona’s secondary.
However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be some short-term salary-cap stress put on the organization. As it stands right now, according to Spotrac, Arizona has $6,866,831 in available funds after Peterson’s extension.
Obviously, $6,866,831 in funds still gives the Cardinals plenty of wiggle room heading into the season, but the true test will come after the season. Why? Because Peterson’s cap number jumps to $14,791,200 in 2015.
That’s an extremely large number in the grand scheme of things since Arizona’s list of valuable free agents will be lengthy at the end of the season. With Peterson’s large cap number looming, the Cardinals will have to entertain the idea of re-signing quarterback Carson Palmer, cornerback Antonio Cromartie, outside linebacker John Abraham and defensive tackle Dan Williams.
If Palmer plays well in his second year with Arizona, you know head coach Bruce Arians will want to extend him. The same goes for Cromartie. Despite not yet playing a down in defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ defense, Cromartie could have a bounce-back year in 2014 and command a large contract to return to the desert.
As far as Abraham and Williams go, there probably isn’t as much optimism surrounding them. I say that because Abraham has been a no-show for training camp in wake of his DUI arrest report and Williams’ snaps have decreased significantly over the last two years.
In 2012, he logged 428 defensive snaps for Arizona. And in 2013, he only logged 291 defensive snaps. That’s not to say the Cardinals won't bring him back on a short-term deal, but the arrow isn’t exactly pointing up thanks to Alameda Ta’amu’s emergence in 2013.
The good news is that the Cardinals have some options in regard to re-signing players and salary-cap relief. For example, they could dump wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s salary at the end of 2014 and save $9.2 million.
Additionally, they could alleviate some pressure by cutting defensive end Darnell Dockett and cornerback Jerraud Powers. By ridding themselves of both players, the Cardinals’ cap number in 2015 would shrink by $11.05 million.
As you can see, Peterson’s large cap number will force Arizona to get creative in the short term. But in the long term, the organization shouldn’t have a problem keeping its home-grown players as long as it continues to draft well.
Moreover, let’s not forget, the salary cap is set to rise in the coming years. Per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, the salary cap should reach $150 million by 2016.
If that ends up being the case, Peterson’s cap number will only account for 10.5 percent of Arizona’s total cap in 2015. In 2016, that percentage drops to 8.6 percent, which means the Cardinals’ deal with Peterson will look like an absolute steal down the road.
Clearly, it’s not ideal to have multiple players account for 10 percent of your respective team's salary cap, but the truth is that there are certain players who demand exorbitant amounts of money. And Peterson is one of them.
He may not be the best cover corner in the game yet, but he is only 24 years old and is motivated to be one of the game's greats. Here’s what Peterson told Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com: "I want to be in the Hall of Fame one day. I have bigger goals than a massive contract."
A tip of the hat to general manager Steve Keim for getting Peterson’s contract extension done before the start of the season. Getting the extension hammered out did two things: It removed a potential distraction and set Arizona up for long-term success.