GLENDALE, Ariz. — Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson on Sunday tried to be diplomatic when the conversation turned to the seemingly endless debate over who is the NFL’s best cornerback.
He gave his competition credit and downplayed the topic at first but ultimately made it clear once again what he thinks.
"Do I feel I’m the best cornerback? Absolutely," Peterson said. "That answer is never going to change."
Peterson approaches his fourth professional season with perhaps more opportunity than ever to back up his claim: He was relieved of duties on punt returns and offense.
The debate over the league’s top cornerback began this offseason when Peterson expressed the belief he’s worth more than the $57 million contract Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman received in May. Sherman, competitive as he is, took exception and fired back on social media. The back-and-forth has continued since.
The talk died down recently, but with training camps underway, the conversation is back. Peterson said the discussion extends beyond him and Sherman to include Cleveland’s Joe Haden and New England’s Darrelle Revis. But can it truly ever be settled? Probably not.
"That’s going to go on for the rest of our careers," Peterson said. "All four guys have different skill sets. All of us have the ability to be the best in the league, and all of us are the best at something at the cornerback position."
Peterson maintains his superiority to Sherman due to his man-to-man coverage ability as compared to Sherman’s zone coverage. Peterson typically draws the assignment to cover opponents’ No. 1 receiver, and he likes it that way.
But Peterson might not always be on an opponent’s No. 1 receiver this season after the Cardinals added cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
"Would I be OK with that?" Peterson asked aloud, smiling before answering. "No comment."
Either way, Peterson will get the call more often than not, and he should be more prepared than ever to handle it.
Just 24 years old, Peterson is beginning his prime. And this season he’s more focused than ever on honing his ability as a cornerback. With additions of speedy receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and rookie John Brown, Peterson no longer will see much action on punt returns, despite being considered among the league’s best even if his stats dropped off after a big rookie season.
Peterson’s days on offense are over as well thanks to Ginn and Brown. He was used there situationally last season to add a speed element the offense lacked. He finished the season with 11 touches for 92 yards.
"There was a lack of straight line speed for us, and we’ve addressed it and feel very, very comfortable with it," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "We don’t need Patrick on offense anymore. He loved playing it, but even on game day it was hard to find him sometimes."
Peterson says he was happy to do whatever the team needed him to do and certainly enjoyed returning punts, but it’s clear he’s excited about what focusing solely on defensive duties can do for him.
"I think that’s just going to take my game to another level because now I don’t have to focus on punt returns and I don’t have to focus on trying to remember offensive plays," Peterson said. "Now I can just hone in on playing defensive back and being the best player I can be.
"Guarding a No. 1 receiver each and every week is tough enough as it is. Now to finally get an opportunity just to play cornerback will just make my job that much easier."
Peterson’s play this season should help dictate whether or not he does end up getting a contract bigger than Sherman’s. Peterson had hoped to settle his contract situation this offseason, but with no deal done an extension may not come until after the season.
Asked about his contract situation Sunday, Peterson said talks remain ongoing but he isn’t involved. And with training camp underway, Peterson says he isn’t thinking much about it.
"I’m here to play football," Peterson said. "I’ve got two years left on my deal, and I want to do the best I can to help this team win. I haven’t been to the playoffs since I’ve been here, so that’s my first goal and that’s what I’m focusing on right now — just football. The contract stuff, if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, I have to continue to play football."
Peterson is under contract through 2015 and the Cardinals could use the franchise tag after that. The team would presumably seek a discount for extending the deal now, while Peterson would undoubtedly want to be paid like the NFL’s best cornerback.
As for whether he is or is not, the debate continues. Peterson says it should be a motivator for all four players, but don’t expect any of them to give an inch.
"I don’t believe any guy is going to say (another) guy is better than him," Peterson said. "I can’t imagine putting another guy in front of me. That’s something that’s going to go on for the rest of our careers. I’m OK with it. My opinion and my decision is never going to change."