The free agent departure of return specialist Pharoh Cooper has left the Arizona Cardinals with another roster hole to fill
Over the past month or so, the Arizona Cardinals front office has succeeded in filling several of the club’s roster holes. A blockbuster trade took care of a need at the wide receiver position, and some defensive reinforcements were added as well. But despite those acquisitions, there’s another area of the squad that will need to be addressed sometime before the regular-season opener.
Pharoh Cooper’s departure on March 20th left a vacancy at the Cards kickoff and punt return spots. The 25-year old free agent, who was claimed off of the waiver wire back in 2018, signed a one-year contract with the Carolina Panthers. Cooper, who made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist for the Los Angeles Rams back in 2017, will not be easy to replace.
It appears that Arizona has a couple of options for finding such an individual in 2020. Filling the void with a draft prospect is certainly a possibility if the opportunity presents itself later this month. There’s also a chance, however, that the solution to the problem may already be in the Cardinals locker room.
Second-year wide receiver Andy Isabella could ultimately be asked to handle the kickoff-return duties for the squad. In fact, the speedy youngster got a taste of what that job is like as a rookie with the Cards last fall. Isabella, who ran back five kicks for 105 yards in 2019, possesses the breakaway ability that one would need to excel at such a position in the NFL.
There are two current Arizona players who could take over as the organization’s primary punt-returner. Cornerback Patrick Peterson scored four touchdowns performing the duty back in 2011, and wideout Christian Kirk has averaged 7.3 yards on 28 career punt returns as a professional. There’s a high risk of injury that comes with being a returner, however, so the Cardinals could be playing with fire by allowing a starter like Peterson or Kirk to handle the assignment.
Possessing a return man who can provide good field position is a definite advantage for any football team. The loss of Cooper has taken that away from the franchise. Finding a suitable replacement, whether that person is in-house or not, should be an offseason priority for the Cards decision-makers.