The Arizona Cardinals had a stellar regular season campaign as they ended with an 11-6 record. However, they were sent home right after they absorbed a 34-11 loss in their Wild Card Round matchup against division rival Los Angeles Rams.
Without a doubt, it wasn’t the kind of ending that head coach Kliff Kingsbury has envisioned for his squad for the 2021 season. Yes, the disappointing performance of QB1 Kyler Murray had a big part in their playoff loss though it was primarily rooted in his lack of playing experience in the postseason. At 24 years old, he is still bound to make mistakes but should definitely get better as his career progresses.
Biggest need the Cardinals must address
Beyond the quarterback’s woes, the biggest need the Cardinals should address is their lack of depth in the cornerback position. According to Pro Football Focus, the team was ranked as the 21st in the league in terms of the performance of their cornerback unit and 26th in outside coverage grade.
The absence of reliable cornerbacks in their secondary was evident as they got burned by the Rams’ offensive attack bannered by Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. which eventually led to an early playoff exit.
In 2021, they rolled with slot corner Byron Murphy Jr. who had the most productive campaign of his young career. He notched a total of 64 combined tackles, four interceptions, and 0.5 sacks in 16 appearances. While his improvement was evident, his numbers are still far as compared to the performances of the other CB1s in the league.
Rookie Marco Wilson also saw significant action in his first year in the pros after starting 13 of 14 games played over the past season. Despite being in the regular rotation, he still had an underwhelming campaign as he compiled 48 combined tackles without a sack and interception recorded for the Cardinals.
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph also tried to utilize the returning Robert Alford who hasn’t played since 2018 after suffering consecutive injuries over the past few years. Certainly enough, his long absence on the field hindered him from playing at his best form. The 33-year-old merely contributed 37 combined tackles, four passes defended, and an interception in 13 appearances.
He is also bound to be a free agent in the upcoming offseason and it remains to be seen if the Cardinals will be active in trying to retain his services moving forward. Meanwhile, buried deep into the depth chart is journeyman Antonio Hamilton who has already played for his fourth team in six years. He didn’t make much of an impact as he produced 38 tackles and four passes defended in 17 games played where he came off the bench.
Currently, the Cardinals do not have much cap space in order to acquire a big-name cornerback to help them out next season. If they try to be active in targeting free agents then they will probably have to settle with a veteran CB whom they can take on a short-term, bargain deal.
A more sustainable route that they can take is through the 2022 NFL Draft. The Cardinals currently have the 23rd overall pick and can use it to select Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner who tallied a total of 99 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and nine interceptions in three years of playing for the Bearcats.
Marco Wilson’s college teammate in Kaiir Elam from the Florida Gators would also be a realistic target for the Cardinals. He is known for his speed and natural instinct as he recorded 78 tackles and five interceptions as a three-year letterman. Both Daxton Hill from Michigan and Trent McDuffie out of Washington are also expected to be considered by the team as options late in the first round.
It can’t be denied that the Cardinals have an effective pass rush unit but their lack of depth in the secondary often hurts them, especially in tightly-contested games. With that, many are expecting the front office to specifically address the cornerback position in the upcoming offseason.
Who knows, maybe the Cardinals can finally make a deeper playoff run with a more complete defensive unit at their disposal next season.