This is the perfect time of year for teams that did not make the postseason to start planning for next season. Those teams are at somewhat of an advantage, because they have more time than Superbowl-bound teams to evaluate their current needs.
The Arizona Cardinals just happened to be one of those teams.
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt suggested that the Cardinals won't shuffle too many pieces on their roster this offseason.
"Usually, if you're not in the playoffs there's going to be a lot of changes with your team. With our team, you don't anticipate a lot of changes," Whiz said.
Despite Whisenhunt's optimism, Cardinals brass is surely working night and day on moves they will make in free agency and preparing for their 2012 draft strategy come April.
Here's a look into Arizona's war room, or at least what it should look like this offseason.
The Arizona Cardinals offensive line ranked third to last in the league this season, according to the guys over at Pro Football Focus.
Far too often, either Kevin Kolb or John Skelton were picking themselves off the ground—kind of like the picture to the left.
Arizona is in a good draft position (13th pick in the first round) to land a solid offensive tackle. The last time the Cardinals used a first-round draft pick to acquire an offensive tackle was in 2007, when they selected Levi Brown fifth overall. We all know how that went.
Brown was a colossal disappointment for four years and 10 games. Then he decided to earn his paycheck the last six games.
Brown played much better at the end of the season, probably knowing that he may be cut from the team.
Despite Brown's recent uptick in performance, the Cardinals' first priority this offseason will be to upgrade the offensive line.
Landing a talent like Stanford's Jonathan Martin will provide that upgrade.
Next season, it is imperative that the Arizona Cardinals have someone other than wide receiver Andre Roberts line up next to Larry Fitzgerald in the huddle.
Roberts was given the starting role (read: not earned) all season and did very little with it.
He hauled in 51 passes for 586 yards for and average of 11.5 yards per pass.
Roberts' first touchdown pass (of his two) didn't come until Week 14. He needs to be replaced.
Early Doucet is the next man up, but he's not much better of an option than Roberts.
The Cardinals need to target a capable and dependable second wide receiver for either Kevin Kolb or John Skelton.
The wide receiver free-agent market will be more saturated than a Denny's sampler platter.
Securing Robert Meachem, Mario Manningham or Pierre Garcon would be ideal and feasible for Arizona.
The quarterback Ferris Wheel that turned all season between Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Richard Bartel made Cardinals fans dizzy.
The blazing Arizona sun during this summer's training camp should sweat out the starting signal-caller for the Cardinals in 2012.
No matter who ends up with the starting gig (my money is on Kolb), this season taught us that the Cardinals need to give some attention to their third-string quarterback.
Neither Kolb nor Skelton separates himself from the other talent-wise.
Currently, Richard Bartel is the third quarterback on Arizona's roster. He saw action in two games in 2011 and did nothing to impress.
The Cardinals coaching staff made sure that Bartel only threw passes that traveled less than the length of your car. He averaged 3.9 yards per pass.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Troy Smith would be a solid third-stringer for the Cardinals.
In spot starts with the Niners, Smith showed that he has the talent to be a starting quarterback in the league. Despite working with subpar talent at wide receiver (Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan), the former Buckeye proved capable of winning at the highest level.
He also secured the starting gig over Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco but lost it due to an illness that required hospitalization.
Currently, Smith is playing for the Omaha Nighthawks in the UFL. Having the former Heisman winner on the Cards' roster for 2012 would be a major upgrade over Bartel.
Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton was the guy holding the strings to the Cards' surging defense this season.
At the beginning of the season, the young defense couldn't work with Horton's entire complex playbook—he had to dumb it down.
After a few weeks, Horton let loose, and the Cardinals became one of the stingiest, attacking defenses in the league.
The one player that Horton named his MVP was cornerback/safety Richard Marshall.
Marshall is an unrestricted free agent this season—so is defensive end Calais Campbell.
And while all the attention is focused on re-signing Campbell, the Cards cannot afford to let Marshall slip through the cracks.
Cornerback Greg Toler is set to return to the active roster in 2012, but Marshall is still a rock for what was a struggling Arizona secondary.
It is vital to retain Marshall—he is a significant upgrade over A.J. Jefferson at cornerback. He also gives the Cardinals more pieces to work with once they have a full, healthy roster of defensive backs.
Haley has not committed to the Cardinals just yet.
Haley was the Cardinals offensive coordinator from 2007-2008.
In his two seasons with Arizona, Haley orchestrated an offense that made it to the Super Bowl in 2008.
Current offensive coordinator Mike Miller put together some game plans that left fans scratching their heads.
In several games in 2011, running back Beanie Wells received only a handful of carries in the first half of close games.
Also, the screen pass was underutilized given the inability of the offensive line to pass block.
Haley would be a compelling upgrade to Arizona's coaching staff. That is, if he decides to come back to the desert in 2012.
In 2011, the Cardinals linebackers gelled into a formidable group.
Each week, the group appeared to solidify and wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks and running backs.
The linebacking corps is made up of older and younger players. Joey Porter, Paris Lenon and Clark Haggans are all 34 years old and will soon need to be replaced.
Daryl Washington (25), O'Brien Schofield (24) and Sam Acho (23) all showed that the Cardinals will have solid linebackers for years to come.
Porter, however, is likely done playing for the Cardinals and playing football altogether.
Lenon has put together two consecutive seasons of spectacular play, but at his age, he may not be able to sustain his high level performances. The same goes for Haggans.
These guys will need to be replaced.
Arizona brought in 28-year-old Stewart Bradley, but he didn't pan out as hoped. Perhaps a full offseason will bear fruit for Bradley.
Either way, the Cardinals will need to upgrade the outside and inside linebacker positions this offseason.
Arizona Cardinals kicker Jay Feely got off to a rocky start in 2011.
He missed several field goals that would've given the Cardinals a victory.
Feely is now an unrestricted free agent.
Toward the end of the season, Feely's leg straightened up and his kicks flew right.
Still, the Cardinals can find another kicker that could fill Feely's shoes cheaper than his $2 million price tag.
In the 2011 offseason, the Arizona Cardinals brought in punter Dave Zastudil—formerly of the Cleveland Browns—to compete with Cardinals punter Ben Graham.
The Cardinals were not satisfied with Graham's 36.6 net yards per punt in 2010.
In 2011, Zastudil saw Graham's 36.6 net yards and raised him 0.5 net yards—Zastudil averaged 37.1 net yards per punt, good for 25th among all punters who kicked in at least 10 games.
It's doubtful that the Cardinals are content with Zastudil's extra 0.5 net yards per punt.
Look for them to replace Zastudil—hopefully with someone that can raise Zastudil more than 0.5 yards.