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Free agent profile: Cornerback Patrick Peterson

Should the Broncos chase a veteran All Pro corner?

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Detroit Lions v Arizona Cardinals
Could Peterson become the Broncos’ new CB1?
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The Broncos played 10 different cornerbacks in 2020 and recently cut their starting boundary corner A.J. Bouye. To call the position a dire need is an understatement. It’s the most obvious need on the team and one that George Paton will surely address at some point this off-season.

Fortunately the veteran market looks like it will be loaded at the position this March, so Paton has options if he goes that route. A future Hall of Famer should be near the top of his list.

Player Profile

Patrick Peterson, Cornerback, Arizona Cardinals
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 203 lbs.
Age: 30
Experience: 10 NFL Seasons

Peterson was the fifth overall pick in the loaded 2011 NFL Draft and has spent the entirety of his career in the desert. He’s played in 16 or more games every season of his career except 2019, with 157 games played in total.

Peterson made the Pro Bowl every year from 2011 to 2018 and was an All Pro in 2011, 2013, and 2015. Counting playoffs, he’s batted down 92 passes in his career to go with 29 interceptions.

If signed, Peterson would immediately become a starting boundary cornerback.

Why it makes sense

The Broncos have what appears to be a rather pressing need at left corner and Patrick Peterson has played that position his entire career. Signing the All Pro would allow Bryce Callahan to lock down the nickel and provide competition for base personnel snaps with Michael Ojemudia.

Taking a step back from the obvious fact that Peterson will be 31 in July, the situation he’s played in the last three seasons is notable. In 2018 the Cardinals were the worst team in football and Peterson’s running mate was Bene Benwikere, who hasn’t played in the NFL since. In 2019 Steve Keim hired Kliff Kingsbury, who brought on former Broncos’ head coach Vance Joseph to coordinate his defense. The Cardinals brought in free agent reclamations like Dre Kirkpatrick and Day 2 draft picks like Byron Murphy to patch up the corner room. While the defense improved by leaps and bounds this year, Peterson was still counted on to travel with opposing WR1s.

Assignments matter a great deal for a cornerback. If a receiving corps. is built like an NBA starting lineup with a superstar number one, the opposing defense has to have an answer for it. The Cardinals’ answer was often Patrick Peterson. He typically played left corner and against certain matchups would move with the opposing WR1, and the strategy worked well enough for Arizona to wind up with the 9th ranked pass defense by DVOA last season. They also finished 16th against opposing WR1s.

One of the first things I noticed as I went over Peterson’s tape is how Vance Joseph still doesn’t have his corners hand off crossers very often and Peterson was routinely isolated against opposing receivers. Moving to a Fangio defense with a reputation for being “corner friendly” could help to hide an inevitable decline in athletic ability by leaning on Peterson’s mental processing and ability to read the quarterback.

Why it doesn’t make sense

Price relative to questions about future production.

Peterson is two years removed from his last Pro Bowl berth and has reached the age range in which most corners hit a wall. By Sports Info Solutions’ charting, opposing quarterbacks completed 41 of 66 attempts in Peterson’s direction last year for 570 yards and allowed six touchdowns. Whether it’s PFF grade, advanced box score stats, or the eyeball test, it’s clear that Peterson wasn’t an elite player in 2020.

Given his age and the decline in play, it’d make sense to offer Peterson a short-term deal and reevaluate. His peak play was so good that this would look unlikely in a typical free agent class.

How much does he have left and is it worth the risk to find out?

Final Thoughts

As is the case with most free agents, the decision to sign Patrick Peterson should come down to cost and guarantees. At his age, a precipitous drop in production wouldn’t be a huge surprise and signing a greybeard corner for big money is a decision that could easily blow up in George Paton’s face.

At the same time, if the Broncos can sign Peterson to a flexible deal that gives them an out after 2021 or 2022, there’s a decent chance Vic Fangio can help him revive his Hall of Fame chances. He still displays the savvy and ball skills you dream of at corner and he’s been extremely durable over the course of his career. For the right contract Patrick Peterson is a no brainer because even if he doesn’t rediscover his former self, he could be a substantial upgrade at CB3.


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