LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. — If the Arizona Cardinals ultimately decide cornerback Antonio Cromartie is not part of their plans going forward, chances are it will be more of a financial decision than anything else.
In fact, it would be not unlike what happened with Karlos Dansby last year, whose great season had the Cardinals wanting to bring him back but also brought him a substantial offer from the Cleveland Browns.
However, also not unlike last season, when the Cardinals felt Kevin Minter would be able to step in and replace Dansby, the team has another young player whom they believe is ready for a larger role next year.
And if Cromartie departs, you can expect Justin Bethel to get a shot at replacing him.
A Pro Bowl selection for the second consecutive season due to his special teams work, Bethel said the goal is to return to the All-Star game as a cornerback.
“That’s my plan,” he said. “Move forward in that position in the offseason and see where I can get to. I definitely look forward to trying to come back as a corner.”
At 6-foot-0 and 200 pounds, Bethel has excellent size for the position, and both his speed and quickness make him an intriguing prospect for the team. Last summer, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he had the athletic ability to become the best cornerback on a roster that included Pro Bowlers Patrick Peterson and Cromartie.
“Bethel, to me, is the most athletic guy I’ve probably been around,” Cromartie said, “just from the standpoint of the freakish talents that he has, the quickness that he has. He’s fast. He doesn’t mind being physical, coming up in the run game.
“I really think the sky’s the limit for him. And honestly, the only person that can stop Bethel from being the player that he wants to be is himself. And I think at the end of the day he wants to be a great player. He’s always willing to learn, and that’s what you look for in a defensive back. He’s a quiet guy that’s always willing to learn, always trying to take his game to another level. And that’s what he has to do coming into this offseason and going into the season.”
Bethel was in for 104 defensive snaps this past season, tallying six total tackles and one fumble recovery. Maybe he did not take the step forward everyone was hoping, but at the same time, opportunities were a bit limited due to the overall performance and health of the team’s primary cornerbacks.
If Cromartie does leave, though, that would seem to open the door up for Bethel to emerge. And more than anything else, he believes the necessary improvement will come by believing in himself.
“I think it’s more for me, it’s not athletic ability, it’s more of confidence,” he said. “Just coming out with the confidence knowing I can play.”
And does the 24-year-old, who will be 25 when next season starts, have that?
“Oh yeah, for sure. For sure.”