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The Peterson Principle/Principal

Cleveland Browns v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Background: Patrick Peterson #21 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates with teammates after making an interception in the end zone on a pass that was intended for Odell Beckham Jr #13 of the Cleveland Browns during the first quarter at State Farm Stadium on December 15, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona.

Patrick Peterson recently said he is very excited to be an Arizona Cardinal.

Peterson views the Cardinals as having a “championship caliber” roster. “I just feel like this year can be special not only for me but for this football team,” he said.

He is optimistic that his agent and the Cardinals will come to an agreement on a new multi-year contract that would enable him, like, Larry Fitzgerald, his teammate for 7 5/8 seasons, to be a “Cardinal for life.”

Peterson said recently during his 51 minute Zoom interview with the Arizona media, “I feel I have something to prove. I think this will be an incredible year for me because the defense, I believe, is tailor-made for some of my strengths.”

Hmmm...”tailor-made for some of my strengths”?

Well, we know that the Cardinals’ 2nd year DC Vance Joseph prefers to employ a high pressure, man press coverage defense—-one that places the utmost priority on getting a ferocious pass rush and creating turnovers with CBs who can win their matchups and get to the football as soon as it’s thrown.

Joseph conceded that he had to back-burner his preferred style of defense last season when CB1 Patrick Peterson was suspended for 6 games for a PED violation/cover-up and CB2 Robert Alford broke his leg in practice during the pre-season.

When the Cardinals decided to keep Peterson and Alford in the fold for this season, the 2020 salary cap investment on the pair of veteran CBs is $20.7M combined. Peterson is the 2nd highest paid player on the 2020 roster at $13.2M and Alford is the 10th highest paid player at $7.5.

Both CBs are coming off their worst seasons in the NFL, per PFF. Peterson graded as the #41 CB in the NFL for full-time starters (63.1—-giving up 39 rec. on 58 targets, 67.2%, for 527 yards, 215 RAC yards, 13.5 ave., 4 TDs, and 2 ints.) and Alford graded (in 2018) as the #156th of all NFL CBs (56.6—-giving up 51 rec. on 74 targets, 68.9%, for 849 yards, 283 RAC yds., 16.6 ave., 7 TDs, 0 ints.).

Peterson, Alford, Steve Keim, Kliff Kingsbury and Vance Joseph are banking on the kind of solid CB play that Peterson displayed in 2018 (82.5) and Alford achieved in 2017 (76.7). With Peterson and Alford, the questions are not about sheer talent, they are about age, mitigating circumstances per suspension (Peterson)/injuries (Alford) and recent drop-offs in production.

Plus, with Patrick Peterson, Cardinals’ fans are well aware that Peterson takes a great deal of pride in is ability to cover the league’s #1WRs—-and that he is one of the best in the NFL doing it (7 Pro Bowls), when he is on top of his game. When Peterson said, “the Cardinals know the value of what I bring to the team,” his man cover ability is certainly what sticks out.

On the flip side, Cardinals’ fans and opponents know that over the years Peterson not only quickly lost interest in returning punts (where he dazzled as a rookie), but also in doing the dirty work at his position with regard to tackling and busting up screens.

No coach in football anywhere would teach a CB to tackle as high and passively as Peterson continually does. As a result, Peterson is easy to stiff arm or to swim right through, which is one of the reasons why so many sweeps, reverse and screens go for big chunk yards to Peterson’s side.

It’s not that Patrick Peterson has forgotten the fundamentals of tackling—-it’s that he abandons them in order to look like he got caught unaware or that he was fooled by the play. That’s the disguise that players typically wear when they don’t want to tackle.

No one wants to see Patrick Peterson get injured. But, football is a game of sacrifices that requires players to give their utmost effort in support of the team and the team’s collective desire to win.

Fundamental tackling is not difficult and it is relatively safe. No one is asking Peterson to do anything out of the ordinary, or even hit like a ton of bricks. All Peterson needs to do is make the customary tackles that NFL CBs are asked to make.

The fear of injury is natural for every player. But, as the slogan goes, in a team sport like football, players are asked to “take pride in your side” of the football.

The good news is that during Patrick Peterson’s three game stretch of good football at the end of the 2019 season, he took more pride in his side of the ball and what he found is that it jacked up his teammates and whipped them into a frenzy.

The question is—-with Peterson being in a contract year—-will he be eager to maintain the late season pride he showed in all aspects of his CB assignments? Or—-will he be more tentative and cautious than ever?

The other big question is—-what kind of a salary does Peterson command as he heads into his 30s coming off a PED suspension marred season that was compounded by a public trashing of the team front office, a refusal to attend OTAs under a first year coaching staff and a 7 game stretch upon his return in which he looked miserably out of shape and uncharacteristically uncompetitive even doing what he likes to to do best.

Yes, Peterson rebounded late in the season and it helped to contribute to two good wins over the Browns at home and the Seahawks on the road.

Will Peterson’s late season charge carry over into 2020? He insists that it will.

But, Peterson has informed the Cardinals that he wants to work out a new contract asap, because once the seasons starts, all negotiations are off.

Peterson said that his $12.5M base salary this season is “good enough” money—-but none of it is guaranteed and the tenor of his comment suggests that $12.5M isn’t exactly what he believes he deserves, if it is simply “good enough” for playing in defense that he says is “made to order for some of my strengths.”

This is where things get more than a little dicey.

If one looks at the PFF grades over the past 4-5 years, there are 5 CBs who have graded out consistently higher than Peterson (during his prime):

Here are the top average CB grades over the past 4-5 years:

  1. 82.0—-Casey Hayward, Chargers—30—-in 2nd year of a 3 year, $33M contract
  2. 80.8—-Chris Harris, Chargers—-30—-in 1st year of a 2 year $20.5M contract
  3. 79.4—-Stephon Gilmore, Patriots—-29—-in the 4th year of a 5 year $65M contract
  4. 79.1—-Richard Sherman, 49ers—-32—-in the 3rd year of a 3 year $27M contract
  5. 77.1—-Jalen Ramsey, Rams—-25—-in the 5th ($13.7M option) year of his 5 year $37M rookie contract
  6. 76.7—-Patrick Peterson, Cardinals—-in the 5th year of his 5 year $70M contract

Note: even in playing on his 2nd contract with Cardinals that he signed 5 years ago, Patrick Peterson remains the highest paid CB per year ($14M) among these six top graded CBs.

5 year Production:

Hayward—-given up 16 TDs, 239 tackles, 23 assists, 13 interceptions, 16 penalties

Harris—-given up 13 TDs, 259 tackles, 26 assists, 10 interceptions, 26 penalties

Gilmore—-given up 17 TDs, 222 tackles, 18 assists, 20 interceptions, 38 penalties

Sherman—-given up 9 TDs, 239 tackles, 31 assists, 13 interceptions, 37 penalties

Ramsey (4 years)—-given up 10 TDs, 241 tackles, 21 assists, 11 interceptions, 20 penalties

Peterson—-given up 17 TDs, 209 tackles, 21 assists, 11 interceptions, 31 penalties

When you study the top CBs grades, ages, salaries and production—-what salary figures (years, total $$$, guaranteed $$$) do you think Patrick Peterson deserves on his next contract?

Are you confident that Peterson can still be one of the premier CBs in the NFL for the next 3-4 years?

If you are the Cardinals, would you give Peterson a new contract asap? At what figures?


I believe that before committing to a new contract for Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals would be wise to see whether Patrick Peterson can pick up where he left off last season.

I believe that it is also in Patrick Peterson’s best interest to re-establish his market following his most disappointing and question filled performance in 7 and 5/8 seasons.

While it may be tempting to give Peterson an $11-12M a year extension and characterize it as “Larry” type of compensation—-has Peterson displayed the kind of overall production and leadership that Larry manifests year in and year out?

Seeing as Peterson is saying that his 2020 $12.5M base salary is “good enough” for now—-it would appear unlikely that he would settle for $11.7M a year—-thus making such an offer at this juncture a moot point.

Again, this is why it is incumbent on Patrick Peterson to prove that he still deserves to be considered one of the top 5 CBs in the game and that he therefore still warrants top 5 CB money—-which, as we can see from the top 5 CBs above, especially the ones in their 30s—-is about $10-11M a year—-figures that Peterson and his agent are apt, at this point in time, to scoff at.