As we all know, it’s never too early to look forward to the next season which can’t come soon enough no matter how deep a playoff run lasts.
First off, let’s look at, whom in all likelihood, will not be back next season and who were relevant players this past season.
Kurt Warner hung up his cleats. This is a huge blow to the team, but it happens to every team with a great quarterback and the Cards are no different. We all acknowledge how great he’s been the past two seasons, but I wouldn’t say their chances of winning the division are out of the question with him gone. Thanks for everything you’ve given to us fans and to the league.
Karlos Dansby is going to hit the market. The Cards have to look at what others are offering and weigh their decision from that. If he’s offered Calvin Pace/Smith money, then congratulations to him, but the Cardinals should look elsewhere. The Patriots, Colts, Steelers, etc. don’t overpay for players and I think the Cardinals should follow suit.
Mike Gandy is gone. He is a solid player at a very important position, but not worth what he’s been paid the past two seasons. I also have a feeling that the Cardinals would like to get someone new in the tackle position that they can build a future around.
The Anquan Boldin situation is a tricky one. No doubt that when healthy, he is a Pro Bowl caliber wide receiver and a locker room favorite because of his effort. But in this situation, I think it’s best to get whatever can be gotten from him due to the depth at receiver and because he is worth a lot to a lot of other teams around the league. He works in any system, so suitors shouldn’t be hard to find.
Chike Okeafor has been a bit of a disappointment as a Cardinal and he could be replaced for less money and like Gandy, could be replaced by a player who could be a long term fit in the position. The Cardinals lacked a real pass rush threat and that void could be filled by Okeafor’s replacement.
Bertrand Berry retired, and although he led the team in sacks, he is much like Okeafor in the ability to find a more permanent replacement.
Bryant McFadden was only slightly better than Rod Hood, the man he replaced last season, and for the salary, I see him being let go. Greg Toler showed signs of being a suitable replacement and the Cards could look elsewhere for someone with the same ability but a smaller price tag.
Now on to what the Cards can look forward to in free agency and the draft.
I know the sack total was good this year, but in nearly every loss this season, the inability to get to the opposing team’s quarterback was a glaring problem. In both of the San Francisco games, the Titans comeback, the Colts game, the Saints loss, and the near loss to the Packers proves the point. If my point doesn’t resonate clearly enough from those games, then I suppose I’ll have to remind everyone of the end of the game drive in the Super Bowl where Big Ben carved up the secondary due to huge amounts of time provided by his less than stellar offensive line.
Game changing pass rushers are by no means easy to come by, but the Cardinals have to upgrade the rush if they hope to three-peat as NFC West Champions. With Warner retiring, it’s hard to imagine the Cardinals winning games the way they did against the Packers in the playoffs. Being able to stop teams in obvious passing downs will be crucial to being able to stay in the top of the NFC.
They finished -7 in the turnover category and one of the most cliché, yet true statements in the NFL is very relevant here: “The team that wins the turnover battle wins the game”. I always think it’s kind of a “duh” statement, but nonetheless true. Everyone knows a great pass rush creates turnovers.
The Cards were better than last year in points allowed, but still gave up over 20 points a game which ranked in the bottom half of the league. Once again, a pass rush is key to the improvement in this category.
I know I’m only diagnosing the problems without a solution, but it’s difficult to say exactly what players the Cardinals can pursue so early in the offseason. Between FA and the draft, the Cardinals need to address defense fervently.
Although he is immensely talented, I think Karlos Dansby is relatively replaceable if a pass rusher can be found. Gerald Hayes has proven himself to be a very able tackler, so the Cardinals should go out looking for someone who can cover and run sideline to sideline very well and can fill in well enough. I don’t think a player of Dansby’s ability is easily replaceable, but I also do not see it as something the Cardinals can’t move forward from. Too many other teams have done it successfully to think otherwise.
Resigning Steve Breaston is a no-brainer. Get it done.
Same goes for Whisenhunt, only times 10.
I bring back Ben Patrick because if Q is gone, the passing game still has another weapon.
Gabe Watson showed enough to get another shot at the starting job. Let’s not forget who was getting all the praise two years ago from Darnell Dockett when he was piling up early season sacks: Watson. Bryan Robinson is a bit trickier. He is a solid player and depth at the nose tackle in a 3-4 defense can’t be understated, but the Cardinals could try to address the position in the draft and would certainly be something to consider.
Lutui and Sendlein should be back next season, but look for the team to bring in serious competition at both positions. I’d say they come back, but shouldn’t feel that it means they’re jobs are secure.
I think you bring back Neil Rackers as well. He flat out choked in the wild card playoff game, but otherwise had a very respectable season. He doesn’t seem to be able to make the 50+ yarders anymore, but the trend in the league seems to be pointing and trying to pin teams deep rather than attempting a difficult kick of 50+. Although I say that the Cards should bring him back, if the opportunity rises, a kicker with a bit more consistency in the kickoff game wouldn’t be a bad move either.
The Cards gave fans another season they should be thankful for and moving forward, staying on this wave of success is very attainable. Defensively, not overspending on Dansby’s position is crucial and finding a pass rusher to go along with Dockett and Campbell are the first priorities.
Offensively, shoring up the O-line will be the next move. The offense will shift even further to a hope of balance between pass and run with the emergence of Beanie Wells and having Matt Leinart behind the wheel. Giving Wells and Hightower holes to run through and Leinart time to pass will be crucial to the transition, although I know it’s easier said than done.
The lack of a salary cap will make things weird, but the Cards free up a lot of money with the assumed departure of Dansby and the retirement of Warner. Add on contracts that are not huge but substantial in Okeafor, Boldin, and Gandy, and the Cardinals have a decent amount of money to use in resigning players and landing new ones.