State of the Arizona Cardinals Roster: Safeties

Now that we're knee deep in all things off season, our positional breakdowns will get rolling. We'll break down the Arizona Cardinals roster, position by position, as well as look at the team's free agents at the position and potential free agent targets from around the league. We'll try to cover at least one positional group per day. Thank you CG for doing all the homework.  Enjoy!

The Arizona Cardinals opened camp with one solid play maker at strong safety and one big question mark at free safety. We expected quite a bit from the safety position prior to training camp, but did they produce?

Adrian Wilson

Age and 2008 Stats: 29 years old (10/12/79) - 75 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 interceptionsRolle_and_wilson_medium

Contract Status: Signed through 2009

2008 Analysis: Wilson entered the season looking to re-establish himself as a premier safety in the NFL and he did exactly that. He didn't set career high stats but his ability to change a game was as prominent as it's been in several seasons. He played in 15 games (starting 14 of them) and as the season wore on the coaching staff finally started using him in blitz packages again. He picked up 2.5 sacks in the final nine games, as well as two more in the playoffs. Wilson's contributions don't always show up in the box score but when he's not in the lineup, the entire defense suffers.

2009 Outlook: Wilson's not a young pup anymore but he's still the heart and soul of the defense. He should get an extension sometime in the next couple of months that will keep him in the desert for the next four to five seasons. He may not be the absolute best safety in the league but he's versatile enough to be a force around the line and deep in coverage. He'll be leading the Cardinals defense for another handful of seasons.

Antrel Rolle

Age and 2008 Stats: 26 years old (12/16/82) - 89 tackles, 5 passes defended, 1 interception, 1 touchdown

Contract Status: Signed through 2010

2008 Analysis: We had no idea what to expect from Rolle going into this season. Opinion ranged anywhere from 'he'll be Pro-Bowler' to 'he shouldn't start over Aaron Francisco.' He was hampered by an ankle injury during training camp and that slowed his transition from corner to safety. During the bye week, we labeled him as the most disappointing player on the team but he apparently reads the blog though because he followed that up with a great second half of the season. He started each and every game this season and down the stretch he finally started to look like a safety, instead of an athlete playing out of position.

2009 Outlook: Rolle's progress in the second half of the season was encouraging and with a full off season to focus on playing safety, we should expect even more in 2009. If the Cardinals can shore up their corner position and stop shifting Rolle down to play nickel corner, he'd be an even better safety. His blend of ball skills and athleticism is rare at safety and it's something the Cardinals should exploit. 2009 might finally be the year that the fourth year pro from Miami lives up to the hype that made him the eighth overall pick in 2005.

Aaron Francisco

Age and 2008 Stats: 25 years old (7/5/83) - 56 tackles, 1 pass defended, 1 forced fumble

Contract Status: Signed through 2010

2008 Analysis: According to his raw stats, Francisco had the best season of his career in 2007, at least in reference to tackles. In reality though Francisco was often victimized in coverage when he was caught out of position or just flat out beaten in coverage. He played in every game this season and started four games during the regular season but he's one of the major reasons why many draft-niks are listing safety as an area of need for the Cardinals.     

2009 Outlook: Francisco's not a terrible player and he's too often pegged as a scapegoat, but in today's NFL a team needs three quality safeties to deal with the complicated passing attacks and Francisco's not ready yet. He's still very young despite having four full seasons under belt, so there is hope that he's still growing as a player. He'll have to improve in 2008 if he wants to stay third on the depth chart at safety and it'll be very interesting to see if the Cardinals target another safety in free agency or the draft. 

Matt Ware

Age and 2008 Stats: 26 years old (12/2/82) - 21 tackles

Contract Status: Signed through 2009   

2008 Analysis: Ware is primarily a special teams player, who only gets onto the field with the regular defense when someone is injured or the game is a blowout. It's hard to judge performance in those situations but Ware's  decent depth guy who can play a couple of different positions. 

2009 Outlook: Ware's a solid role player but little more. He's still young and cheap (counts just $650K against the cap next year) so he's probably back with the same responsibilities.

Dennis Keyes

Age and 2008 Stats:  23 years old (3/26/85) - N/A 

Contract Status: Signed through 2009  

2008 Analysis: Keyes spent most of the season on the practice squad after going undrafted out of UCLA. He had a decent preseason totaling 11 tackles in limited playing time and returning an interception 84 yards for a touchdown.

2009 Outlook: Keyes will be an interesting name to keep an eye on in 2009. He's got the size (6'2 200) to be an NFL safety and a decent amount of athleticism. He was very productive in college and has a knack for big plays. He's a candidate to fill Ware's role next season.

A look at free agents and an overview of the position, after the jump.....

The Cardinals don't have any free agent safeties at this time. They signed Keyes last week.

Position Overview and Possible Needs: The Cardinals seem to be completely set with Rolle and Wilson as the starting safeties. They're a dynamic duo who should be even better in 2009. There is some depth behind them but it's questionable at best right now. Francisco played quite a bit in 2008 and had many more negative plays that positive. An upgrade at the '3rd' safety position would really help the secondy considering how much A-dub plays around the line of scrimmage, especially on passing downs.

There are quite a few free agent safeties on the market right now ranging from big name talents to role players. Assuming that the Cardinals are set with Wilson and Rolle as the starters, here are some safeties that are currently looking for a job and whether or not the Cardinals should pursue.

Guys who are too expensive or wouldn't accept 3rd on the depth chart:

  •  Brian Dawkins - Premier safety even at 35 years old
  • OJ Atogwe - Perfect free agent age and tons of production
  • Jermaine Phillips - Considered by some to be best safety on the market
  • Yeremiah Bell - Breakout season in 2008 and two years of starting experience
  • James Sanders - Youngster (25), with 36 games as a starter
  • Sean Jones - Youth (26) and solid production in three seasons as starter
  • Jim Leonhard - He's borderline but I bet he gets 'starting money' elsewhere. 
  • Gerald Sensabaugh - His first season as starter was very productive.

Guys who might be in the Cardinals range:

  • Eugene Wilson - Finally a guy we can talk about. Wilson will be 29 before the season starts and he's had problems staying healthy (missed 21 games in the past 3 seasons), but when he's healthy he's productive. He's a veteran free safety who can play centerfield and break on the ball when it's in the air. 
  • James Butler - Might not accept a non-starting role but the 26 year old is a decent safety that the Giants aren't expected to retain. He doesn't have eye popping stats but 14 pass breakups in the past two seasons suggests he can make a play on the ball. 
  •  Chris Crocker - The soon to be 29 year old has played on four teams in the past four seasons, but he's versatile. He can play corner, safety and special teams. He started six games in Cincy this past season and finished with 1.5 sacks and one interception. 
  • C.C. Brown - Normally a 26 year old with 47 games of starting experience wouldn't be considered but Brown's not really starting material. When he broke his arm early in 2008, the Texans defense didn't miss a step. He might be the kind of guy who is better in a reserve role and I doubt he'd command big money.
  • Renaldo Hill - Hill was a Cardinal for those who still remember the early '00's and he's had a decent career. Most say his starting days are over given that he'll hit 31 during the season and wasn't a great player to begin with. Still though he plays a decent center field and has picked off at least one pass every year since 2002.
  • Vincent Fuller - Fuller's an interesting free agent because of his versatility. He's listed as a safety but was actually the Titans nickel corner this season and started one game. He's still young (26) and could be enticed to come to the desert if he gets a larger role. 

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Anyone on that list sound interesting or are there any names that we didn't mention? Do the Cardinals need an upgrade at safety or are you comfortable with keeping the same group together for 2009?

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