It's true what they say: all good things eventually come to an end.
But for the Arizona Cardinals, that end cannot—and should not—be now.
Not after 61 years of what can only be described as a terribly depressing romantic attachment with the cellars of the NFC East and West; you know, the kind of attachment that makes "Bennifer" in Gigli appear rational and heartwarming.
Never has there been an offseason as important for the Cardinals as this one, and if Bill Bidwill and Rod Graves want another shot at the Super Bowl, they need to take care of five crucial tasks.
1. Convince Kurt Warner to Sign an Extension
We can talk about Larry Fitzgerald's brilliance, Anquan Boldin's toughness, and Steve Breaston's speed all day long, but without Warner fearlessly slinging the football around, the Cardinals' offense just isn't the same.
Much like playing a rock song without the passionate, yet steady drummer, the Cardinal's offense without an experienced and talented quarterback like Warner tends to lose its explosiveness.
The Cardinals' much-heralded passing game relies heavily on precision, timing, and anticipation--three successful staples of Warner's repertoire that Matt Leinart has yet to perfect.
A two-year, $18 million contract is more than reasonable if Warner continues to produce at such a high level—especially with the overrated Eli Manning likely set to make around $15 million/year.
With Warner looking great physically and the continued development of his receivers, the Cardinals' offense should continue to excel.
Now, if the Cardinals could just pry Brenda Warner off his husband long enough for Kurt to sign...
2. Place the Franchise Tag on Karlos Dansby if a Long-Term Contract is Not Possible
Dansby was a key player on a young Cardinals' defense that, by and large, continued to improve throughout the season.
During the regular season, the middle linebacker had a whooping 119 tackles, two interceptions, and two interceptions—statistics that will undoubtedly draw the attention of teams scouring the market for young linebackers in their prime.
As the franchise player last year, Dansby is reportedly looking for a contract similar to the one former Cardinals' linebacker, Calvin Pace, signed last year with the Jets—a six-year $42 million deal with $20 million guaranteed.
While Dansby is a fine player, he has yet to reach Ray Lewis status, and if the Cardinals can't reach a more affordable deal, it would be in their best interest to put the franchise tag (around $10 million) on him again this year. The tag will allow the Cardinals to retain the centerpiece of their improving defense, while providing Dansby an incentive to produce next season in hopes of cashing in on a future long-term deal.
3. Don't Waste a First-Round Pick on a Running Back
If the 2008 draft taught us anything, it's that talented running backs are still available after the first round. Matt Forte (1,238 yards, 8 TDs) was drafted in the second round, Steve Slaton (1,282 yards, 4.8 avg, 9 TDs) was drafted in the third round, and the Cardinal's own back, Tim Hightower (10 TDs) was drafted in the fifth round.
With the likelihood of Edgerrin James leaving and J.J. Arrington becoming a free agent, the Cardinals do need to draft a running back to complement Hightower--but definitely not with a first-round pick.
The Cardinals can most likely pick up a tough inside runner with a low center of gravity like Javon Ringer (MSU) or Ronald Brown (Connecticut) in the second round. Ringer's been compared to Chester Taylor while Brown's strength and speed allowed him to be the nation's leading rusher this past season.
I strongly believe that either choice will boost Arizona's running game--giving them a one-two punch with Hightower that will really help out the passing game.
Perhaps the most intriguing possibility would be Devin Moore of Wyoming. Despite lacking the strength and size, Moore runs a sub 4.4 and has a nice cutting ability that can give linebackers plenty of headaches. He'll likely be a late rounder pick, but he might surprise everyone and morph into Darren Sproles version 2.0.
4. Go with the Unsexy First-Round Pick
Instead, the Cardinals should use that pick to draft either a physical cornerback who can tackle or an offensive lineman who can really excel in the running game.
A cornerback like DJ Moore or Alphonso Smith—both of who tough, quick, and athletic—would nicely complement DRC. Moore is an excellent return man, and can take over nicely for J.J. Arrington if he leaves for free agency, while Smith's toughness and attitude has been likened him to a Pacman Jones without the unnecessary baggage.
The Cardinals could also go with a talented center, like Alex Mack (California), if he is available near the end of the first round. With so many talented offensive tackles in the draft, Mack might coast under the radar until the Cardinals' 31st pick.
If so, the Cardinals would be reasonable in taking Mack, whom many consider to be one of the best centers to enter the draft since Nick Mangold.
5. Restructure Anquan Boldin's Contract
In an act that revealed the respect Boldin's teammates have for him, Fitzgerald said that he would restructure his own contract to give management more money for a new contract for Boldin.
Forget the whole outburst with Todd Haley; Boldin simply let his emotions get the best of him for one of the few times in his career.
When it boils down to it, Boldin is simply a tough, consistent competitor who has always been known for his dedication to the team. He's a wide receiver that fears no one (much like Hines Ward) and runs like a running back.
His type is an extremely rare breed in the NFL--especially among the whining, selfish wide receivers in the game--and the Cardinals would be wise to hang onto him.