Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Position capsule: Cornerback

The Arizona Cardinals attempted to have rookie cornerback Brandon Williams start opposite Patrick Peterson, but Williams wasn't ready to handle the transition of moving from college to the pros.

Position capsule: Cornerback

Returners: Patrick PetersonBrandon WilliamsJustin BethelHarlan Miller

Free agents: Marcus CooperMike Jenkins 

Contracts: Peterson: 2017-$13,706,965, 2018-$14,956,965, 2019-$11,884,588, 2020-$13,184,588, Williams: 2017-$731,673, 2018-$824,173, 2019-$908,676, Bethel: 2017-$5,250,000, 2018-$5,750,000, Miller: 2017-$540,000

Current roster number: 4

Ideal roster number: 4-5

2016 performance: Outside of Peterson, the Cardinals' cornerbacks struggled through an underwhelming 2016 campaign, despite the fact the team finished with one of the top defenses in the league.

Peterson was sensational yet again in 2016, much as he has been for most of his career, and his ability to shut down a team's most consistent threat in the passing game is critical for the Cardinals on a weekly basis. Teams often can't throw the ball to Peterson's side of the field, and he was deserving of his Pro Bowl nod this year.

On the other side of the field, however, teams often had a field day, as No. 2 receivers and slot receivers matched up well throughout much of the year against the Cardinals' cornerbacks. The Cardinals tried to rush Williams into the lineup after publicly giving the rookie a vote of confidence during the preseason, but the Texas A&M product clearly couldn't handle speed and his below average ball skills crushed the team's ability to defend the pass. After two weeks, Williams was out of the starting lineup.

Cooper played well in spurts for the Cardinals this year, taking over after an NFC Defensive Player of the Week-worthy performance against Tampa Bay, but too often, he was beat in the open field, struggled in space, and couldn't play man coverage to the same degree Arizona's other defensive backs could.

As for Bethel, head coach Bruce Arians called him a "failure in progress" at the cornerback position, but near the end of the season, he found a home as a slot cornerback. A seemingly more difficult role, Bethel actually performed reasonably well and gave the team hope that perhaps it may have a dependable nickel back other than Tyrann Mathieu on its roster.

2017 readiness: Unless Williams makes a massive jump over the offseason, which is entirely possible given his rookie season was just his second playing the cornerback position, the Cardinals aren't nearly ready for the 2017 season at the cornerback position. Even if Mathieu returns to full health and can handle the slot cornerback role, pushing Bethel further down the depth chart, Williams didn't prove he's dependable enough as a No. 2 option.

With Miller on the roster late in the season, the Cardinals learned their sixth round draft choice was talented enough to fill in on the spot as a reserve safety, but he was drafted to play cornerback, so how effective can he be in his sophomore campaign? 

Right now, there's too many question marks facing the Cardinals in the defensive backfield, and with uncertainty looming at the safety position given the free agent status of Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger, finding a No. 2 cornerback is imperative if the team wants to improve against the pass in 2017.

In all likelihood, Arizona will lose Calais Campbell to free agency up front, and without the same dynamic pass rush to aid the team's secondary, the Cardinals know other teams can look to exploit them if they can't find a compliment opposite Peterson heading into next year.

The long haul: Is Williams ever going to be the No. 2 cornerback for this team? It's so hard to say early in the process, especially because he's so new to the position, but it's a question that could haunt the Cardinals in the coming years if they bank on his abilities and he flounders. 

We like Williams' raw tools, but can one season turn him from one of the league's largest liabilities into a competent starter? Furthermore, if the Cardinals do keep Williams as a backup and add a better No. 2 cornerback, what will Arizona do about Bethel, who's scheduled to make nearly $11 million over the next two years?

The long-term situation at cornerback may actually be more complicated than the short-term for the Cardinals because both Bethel and Williams are under contract through at least 2018. If Arizona wants to add another cornerback, its best bet may be doing so in the first two rounds of the draft, because if the team splurges in free agency, it might have to part ways with Bethel, one of its most critical special teams assets.

Draft need: Medium to high priority

Position overview: At least until 2021, the Cardinals know that they have one side of the field locked up because they have Peterson locked up. Arizona pays Peterson to be one of the league's most dominant cornerbacks, and for the most part, he's filled that role throughout his career.

If Mathieu returns to full health in 2017, Arizona will have a shutdown slotback at its disposal who gives the defensive backfield a massive amount of flexibility. Is that flexibility enough to mask the deficiencies of a cornerback like Williams or Bethel? How the Cardinals handle the upcoming free agency and draft periods will be a tell-tale sign of what they think of their cornerback depth. 

If Arizona pursues a high-profile name in free agency or uses one of its first two selections on a cornerback, chances are good that the team is underwhelmed by the potential of both Williams and Bethel at the position moving forward. 


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