On Wednesday17 March both Peterson and Reddick agreed to one year deals with teams that weren’t named the ‘Arizona Cardinals’. Peterson, following ten years of excellence with the Cardinals, has decided to join the Minnesota Vikings, while Reddick, following a career year, has buddied up with another elite young linebacker, Brian Burns, in Carolina.
The departure of both Peterson and Reddick, while unfortunate, was necessary. Evidently, the asking price for both, or even one was too high. The Cardinals still have several key positions to fill and build out depth on their roster, and this would not have been possible if they delegated $16 million to just two players ($8 million each).
Now that these chips have fallen and the front office can move forward with more clarity around how they’re going to build out the roster, it begs the question – who fills the gaps?
Patrick Peterson’s production in the 2020 season – 61 total tackles, 3 interceptions and a 98.2 passer rating allowed when targeted – may not be irreplaceable, but his reliability and consistency in a position, particularly for the Cardinals, that often doesn’t have these qualities are.
Headlined by a relatively productive slot corner in Byron Murphy and an aging Robert Alford who hasn’t played in over two years, to say the Cardinals secondary is ‘paper thin’ would be an understatement. Peterson would not have fixed the depth in this team’s cornerback room, that’s an issue for Steve Keim to figure out, however, what he did provide was; size, speed and the ability to cover just about any receiver one-on-one without giving too much up. While the crop of free-agent cornerbacks is still ripe with talent, and many of them possessing at least some of the characteristics that made Peterson so great, the idea of the Cardinals paying one player the money that would be necessary to lure them to the team would go against their reasoning for not re-signing Peterson in the first place – money.
A problem that will likely overshadow every decision the Cardinals make this off-season, there’s only one solution for the team’s money woes – the draft. I don’t think it’s presumptuous to say that the Cardinals will use one of their first two picks (Round 1, Pick 16 and Round 2, Pick 17 or 59 overall) to try and find a replacement for Patrick Peterson. While the chances of getting someone like Patrick Surtain II with the 16th pick is improbable, the Cardinals will likely find themselves in a position to take a top three-five ranked cornerback.
Haason Reddick made his mark in 2020 and bagged a contract he deserved but was never going to get from the Cardinals. While Reddick’s departure from the team may not be as immediately felt as Petersons he clearly transformed Arizona’s ability to get to the quarterback. Reddick was the top pass rusher, with 12.5 sacks, for a team that ranked among the five best in getting to the quarterback (48 total sacks).
With arguably the best crop of starting quarterbacks out of any division in the NFL, the Cardinal’s ability to rush the passer in the NFC West will be one of the key determinants in the team’s ability to get above .500 in 2021
The addition of J.J. Watt will certainly help in this effort, however, to assume that the former three-time defensive player of the year will return to a form close to 12.5 sacks would be wishful. The team will likely look for combined efforts from recently re-signed Markus Golden and Chandler Jones, along with the continued development of swiss-army linebacker, Isaiah Simmons.
With little to no cap room to work with at this point in free-agency and a draft that will likely be focused on building out skill positions such as cornerback and wide receiver, the replacement of Reddick and his production will be based on the creativity Vance Joseph and the Cardinals use to get all of their existing assets in a position to succeed.