Cooper, Watford leave Cardinals in free agency

The Arizona Cardinals indicated they wanted to re-sign cornerback Marcus Cooper, but over the weekend, the free agent agreed to a deal with the Chicago Bears.

The first day of free agency was tough to stomach for the Arizona Cardinals, but the weekend may not have been much easier. 

Within hours of the free agent window opening, the team had lost three defensive starters from a season ago, as Calais CampbellTony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger all left the organization to pursue free agent deals with other organizations.

Though the Cardinals countered the free agent losses by signing safety Antoine Bethea, linebacker Karlos Dansby and kicker Phil Dawson, the team continued to lose key contributors over the next few days.

By the end of the weekend Sunday, a fourth defensive starter, cornerback Marcus Cooper signed with the Chicago Bears while the team's Swiss Army Knife along the offensive line, Earl Watford, followed Campbell to Jacksonville. Additionally, kicker Chandler Catanzaro reached an agreement with the New York Jets following the Cardinals' decision to sign Dawson, and tight end Darren Fells agreed to a deal with the Detroit Lions.

Cooper was a Pro Bowl alternate at corner in his lone season with Arizona, but agreed to a three-year, $16 million contract with Chicago that includes $8 million worth of guaranteed money, according to ESPN's Adam Caplan.

After the Cardinals traded for Cooper at the end of the 2016 preseason, he took over as the team's starting cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson in week three of the regular season. Cooper finished the year with 69 tackles and four interceptions and was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts in the Cardinals' early-season win over Tampa Bay.

Watford spent the first four seasons of his career in Arizona after being selected by the organization in the fourth round of the 2013 draft out of James Madison. Watford earned his most extensive playing time in 2016, as he appeared in 15 games and started 11 for the Cardinals as the team battled injuries along the offensive line. Though Watford likely wouldn't have earned consideration for a starting spot had he returned to Arizona, the Cardinals emphasized the importance of the versatility Watford brought to the team's line and appreciated his ability to play center, guard and tackle.

According to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, Watford's deal in Jacksonville is for two years and $6 million.

Catanzaro also left the Cardinals over the weekend, as the writing was on the wall for him after Arizona signed Dawson. Catanzaro was sharp during the first two seasons of his career in Arizona, but missed seven of his 28 field goal attempts in 2016 and also missed four extra point attempts.

On Saturday, Fells agreed to a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions, and according to NFL.com's Mike Garafolo, Fells will earn $1.5 million during the 2017 season. 

The Cardinals had an opportunity to extend tender offers to both Catanzaro and Fells, but opted to let both players walk in free agency. 

Arizona will also likely wind up losing a fifth defensive starter in free agency, as inside linebacker Kevin Minter is unlikely to return to Arizona. Minter has spent four seasons with the organization and the last two as a starter, but the Cardinals' decision to bring Dansby back for his third tour of duty with the franchise will likely force Minter to look elsewhere to find an opportunity to compete for a starting spot. 


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