The key to maintaining a successful NFL program is having the foresight to extend young players before they turn into superstars. The Arizona Cardinals did just that Saturday by signing cornerback Justin Bethel to a three-year extension worth $15 million with up to $9 million in guarantees, according to the team’s website and multiple media outlets.
“I’m just thankful I could stay with the team that drafted me,” Bethel said Saturday. …“You want to stay with the team that brought you in. You talk with your agents, you talk with your family, you want to do what’s best for you and your career. Not everybody plays the game for a long time. I didn’t want to go and be greedy if they gave me a really good deal, which they did. I’m thankful.”
The Cardinals will soon be thankful as well when they have one of the league’s rising stars playing every Sunday on the cheap.
Most average fans who don’t follow the Cardinals likely don’t know who Bethel is, but they soon will.
The 25-year-old cornerback, who is slated to start for an injured Jerraud Powers this Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, has twice been voted into the Pro Bowl as a special-teams player.
He’s already shown himself to be quite capable playing in Arizona’s vaunted secondary, as well. In limited action, he has hauled in one interception this year, taking it back 21 yards for a touchdown.
Powers may or may not be back with Arizona next year as he plays out the final year of his contract. Even if he does return, at the age of 28 and coming off an injury-riddled season, it’s likely Bethel will exceed him on the depth chart in 2016.
Earning a spot as a starter in Arizona’s secondary is a laudable accomplishment. This team uses three corners often, and it says a lot about his abilities for Bethel to crack the lineup playing alongside guys like Patrick Peterson, Deonne Buchannon and Tyrann Mathieu.
“With the guys we’ve got here, especially in our secondary, Pat (Peterson), Ty (Mathieu), Rashad (Johnson), Jerraud, Deone (Bucannon), Tony (Jefferson), all those guys, I think we have a really, really close group,” Bethel said.
The Cardinals are dominating opposing offenses utilizing a defense that is built around this outstanding secondary. In fact, it’s not crazy to assert that this group is actually more formidable than their NFC West counterpart up in Seattle.
Next year, and the year after that, Bethel will be playing at a level that far exceeds the three-year deal the team announced on Saturday.
Arizona will have to deal with that conundrum a little further down the road. However, by locking him up to a multi-year right now the Cardinals are avoiding the current fate of the Carolina Panthers. The team waited a year too long to negotiate with rising star Josh Norman — a guy who is going to haul in the cash in free agency next spring.
This is just smart planning by general manager Steve Keim, and it’s going to help him keep this Super Bowl-contending team together for the next few seasons.