Cardinals Can Replace Malcolm Butler With Patriots’ No. 1 Free Agent

J.C. Jackson

Getty The Cardinals can raid the Patriots for Malcolm Butler's replacement.

Malcolm Butler’s release has left the Arizona Cardinals a player short at an already suspect position. Fortunately, Cards’ general manager Steve Keim could make cornerback a strength again by making a splash in free agency.

Keim should have his sights set on a shutdown cover man from the New England Patriots. Three different NFL writers believe this player is the defensive back capable of bolstering a weak secondary and bringing defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s schemes to life.

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Consensus Forming About Which CB Cardinals Should Sign

Butler, himself a former member of the Patriots, was officially let go from the Cardinals on Thursday, February 17. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport had the news:

As Rapoport noted, Butler had been on the reserve/retired list. The veteran signed for the Cardinals last offseason but opted for retirement before September.

Butler’s decision meant Joseph was left without a credible third cornerback to play in nickel packages. He was also shorn of a proven Super Bowl-winner adept in man coverage.

That’s what the Cardinals will find if they make the right offer to J.C. Jackson, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler and Matt Bowen. They believe the Cardinals offer the best fit for Jackson once free agency officially opens this year, on Wednesday, March 16.

Fowler believes going all in on Jackson would fit the Cards’ recent win-now mentality: “The Cardinals have shown they will do whatever it takes to win, and signing Jackson would be a win. A top-shelf cover corner in his prime with serious ball production (17 interceptions since 2020) gives Arizona just what it needs to stabilize the secondary.”

It’s a reasonable argument for a franchise that’s traded for DeAndre Hopkins and handed deals to big-name veterans A.J. Green and J.J. Watt in recent years.

Meanwhile, Bowen thinks Jackson suits the coverage schemes the Cardinals have been struggling to run: “Jackson is an upper-tier corner in this league, with the coverage traits and playmaking ability to consistently find the ball. It’s an easy transition here to Vance Joseph’s scheme, where we should see more man coverage and pressure with Jackson in the mix.”

Jackson has proved his talent for taking away receivers in man coverage. He was outstanding in this area last season, per Evan Lazar of Patriots Beat, who also used stats from Pro Football Focus to underline Jackson’s excellence:

The Cardinals need a cornerback this capable after giving up 30 touchdown passes in 2021 and allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 65.4 percent of their passes.

Fowler and Bowen aren’t the only ones who think Jackson could be the solution to the Cards’ problems in coverage. It’s a view also shared by Seth Trachtman of, who predicts the Cardinals “would likely jump at the opportunity” to sign Jackson.

Trachtman also noted how the Patriots have rarely been shy about letting star defenders walk if it means saving money. The Pats may not have a choice, according to NBC Sports’ Phil Perry, who revealed the franchise is “in a financial pickle with J.C. Jackson. He wants to get to free agency. He knows he’s going to be the top corner on the market.”

Whatever happens with Jackson, cornerback is emerging as the position set to define much of the Cardinals’ approach to both free agency and the 2022 NFL draft.

All About CBs for Arizona

Jackson isn’t the only cornerback who may find himself on the radar of the Cardinals. There’s also Rasul Douglas.

He actually started last season as a member of the Cardinals, but Douglas left the practice squad to join the Green Bay Packers back in October. He impressed for The Pack, and now Anthony Treash of Pro Football Focus believes the Cardinals could be anxious for a reunion.

Of course, the Cards don’t have to go the free agency route to solve their cornerback problem. Not when this year’s draft class also offers some intriguing options.

Among them is Florida’s Kaiir Elam, somebody PFF’s Seth Galina thinks could go to Arizona as the 23rd pick in the first round. Like Jackson, Elam is more than capable in man coverage.

Either player would be an upgrade over last season’s starters, Byron Murphy, Marco Wilson and Robert Alford. The latter is a free agent and has a lengthy history of injuries, so the time appears ripe for Keim to upgrade the position.

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