DAN BICKLEY

Malcolm Butler’s absence adds more doubt around Cardinals defense

Aug 31, 2021, 6:13 PM | Updated: Sep 1, 2021, 2:13 pm

In Arizona, we deem the following unacceptable in the upcoming NFL season: Bubble screens. Missing the playoffs. Stagnant offense. Bad body language. Pre-snap penalties. Kliff Kingsbury praising the other team’s gameplan. The sound of Patrick Peterson gloating all the way from Minnesota.

The latter is a very recent concern.

The Cardinals officially placed Malcolm Butler on the retired list on Tuesday. Details are scant. Those who know are extremely tight-lipped. The consequences are obvious.

For years, our NFL franchise scoured for a quality cornerback opposite Peterson. Now, they have neither and are dangerously thin at the position, in quality and quantity.

Butler was a household name, a former Super Bowl hero who produced one of the greatest clutch plays in NFL history. He intercepted Russell Wilson at the goal line with a championship hanging in the balance. The game was held in our backyard, at State Farm Stadium in Glendale. Butler felt very familiar, right down to the No. 21 he briefly wore in his chest. No player has ever inflicted more pain on Seahawks fans, partly why we all felt so reassured when he signed with the Cardinals.

The developments are shocking, but they only feel swift. Truth is, Butler has been gone from the team for over a week. His retirement is just another unexpected development on a defense full of preseason weirdness. To wit:

General manager Steve Keim told returning captain Jordan Hicks he could not compete for a starting job, instead awarding it to rookie Zaven Collins. Can you imagine how many eyes will roll inside the locker room when Hicks is asked to play a huge role in 2021?

Isaiah Simmons continued to struggle mightily at inside linebacker only to be working with the safeties during a recent practice. Chandler Jones requested a trade, returned to camp, was injured during practice and has yet to return. J.J. Watt seemed to scoff at the bubble wrap treatment surrounding his hamstring injury, but the Valley has yet to see him play a snap of competitive football with the Cardinals.

As for the depleted cornerback room? Surely, additional players will be arriving in Arizona. They will hail from a giant pile of leftovers, players who were recently cut by their previous teams. None will be capable of playing shutdown cornerback in the NFL.

That leaves Byron Murphy Jr., one of the most improved players on the team. But can he really defend elite NFL receivers?

Fourth-round pick Marco Wilson has shined in two preseason games, and is playing a position made for instant impact, where a young buck can be assigned to cover a certain wide receiver, taking all mental calculus out of the equation. But can you really trust the limited snaps Wilson has played in the preseason? Can he hold up for the duration of a real NFL game?

Meanwhile, Robert Alford’s next regular season will be his first in three seasons with the Cardinals while Tay Gowan seemed relieved just to make the roster.

Butler’s retirement is the first groundswell of real adversity in Arizona. There will be plenty more. The defense might feature a rookie middle linebacker, a rookie cornerback and a former No. 8 overall pick who played in only 34% of the defensive snaps in 2020.

They will face four elite wide receivers and two top-shelf running backs in the first two weeks of the regular season. Against the Titans and Vikings, they will encounter Derrick Henry, Julio Jones, A.J. Brown, Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, in a year when non-divisional wins are paramount.

What could possibly go wrong?

In the end, Butler’s retirement underscores the high-stakes tightrope act facing the 2021 Cardinals, an entire team on the hot seat. Where few have a clue how they will actually look when the lights go on, enemies abound and stuff gets real in a hurry.

Life Changer Loans

Comments

Comment guidelines: No name-calling, personal attacks, profanity, or insults. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate comments by reporting abuse.
comments powered by Disqus

Dan Bickley

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Marquise Brown catches a pass ahead of Carolina Carolina Panthers c...
Dan Bickley

Arizona Cardinals no worse for the wear after win over Panthers

Some rules are sacred in the NFL. Like never complaining about a road victory. That includes the Cardinals’ win over the Panthers on Sunday.
2 days ago
Head coach Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns talks with Deandre Ayton #22 in the second half of ga...
Dan Bickley

Silence between Deandre Ayton, Monty Williams defies all expectations

The indifference of Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams is stunning. So much that it must be the entire point, writes Dan Bickley.
7 days ago
Arizona Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (7) runs back for the winning touchdown after a fumbl...
Dan Bickley

Cardinals save season with all-time comeback win over Raiders

The Cardinals’ 29-23 victory over the Raiders was breathtaking, unbelievable and saved the franchise from last place and fan-based mutiny.
16 days ago
Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver sits during the first half of the NBA game against the Golden Stat...
Dan Bickley

NBA punishment to Suns owner Robert Sarver is slap on the wrist

A slap on the wrist. That’s what most NBA people think about Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver’s punishment.
21 days ago
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals paces the sidelines during the second half of t...
Dan Bickley

Cardinals organization top-down responsible for embarrassing Week 1 loss

The Cardinals lost 44-21 to the Chiefs, but the game wasn’t as close as the final score, and that’s saying something.
23 days ago
Arizona Cardinals mascot, "Big Red" leads teammates onto the field before the NFL preseason game ag...
Dan Bickley

Can Arizona Cardinals rebuild home-field advantage by beating Chiefs?

The Arizona Cardinals haven't had much of a home-field advantage lately, something they must recapture in 2022.
26 days ago
Malcolm Butler’s absence adds more doubt around Cardinals defense