Arizona Cardinals (Getty)
The Cardinals haven't made progress this spring in locking up some key, younger players to long-term contracts. But they have managed to retain some key veterans who play important roles.
Negotiations are at a standstill with inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, the club's franchise player. No move has been made to extend receiver Anquan Boldin's contract.
Talks with the agents for strong safety Adrian Wilson haven't moved beyond the preliminary stages.
With the exception of quarterback Kurt Warner's new two-year deal, there has been little movement in re-signing core players.
Several key backups have re-signed, however, so the free agent period hasn't been without some success.
Outside linebackers Bertrand Berry and Clark Haggans have re-signed, giving the club depth at those two spots.
Haggans split time on the strong side last year with starter Chike Okeafor and was more effective than Okeafor for much of the year. Berry led the team with five sacks, playing as a situational pass rusher for most of the season.
The signing of free-agent running back Jason Wright, formerly of the Browns, should be a boost to special teams.
Wright is a third-down back, although it's questionable if he's any better than the guy he's replacing, J.J. Arrington.
But Wright can play on coverage teams, something Arrington couldn't do.
--The Cardinals like to keep their injury situation quiet during the season. There were rumors that Kurt Warner's left hip was bothering him, but no one would confirm them. Warner underwent surgery this week to repair a torn labrum and remove loose particles from the hip. The team thinks he will be able to participate in voluntary practices in May or June. The club obviously knew about the injury when it signed Warner to a two-year, $23 million deal earlier this month.
--This is a key off-season for nose tackle Alan Branch, the second round pick in the 2007 draft. Branch has been a bust so far. He needs to lose weight and show that he's motivated to stay in the league. "It's an important off-season for him," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
--Ken Whisenhunt and former offensive coordinator Todd Haley are fierce competitors. While assistants with the Jets, they fought so hard in one-on-one basketball games that they nearly came to blows several times. That competitiveness is continuing now that Haley is head coach in Kansas City. The Chiefs signed away former Cardinals linebacker Monty Beisel, but not before the Cardinals came in with a last-minute offer. Beisel reportedly turned the Cardinals down because he had already given his word to the Chiefs that he would sign.
--The Cardinals will begin their off-season program on March 30 under strength and conditioning coach John Lott. Whisenhunt credits the team's good fortune on the injury front last year to off-season work with Lott. Whisenhunt puts a heavy emphasis on player participation, and the Cardinals have normally had about 80 percent of their players working in the program.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The 'R' word is not in my vocabulary." -- DE/OLB Bertrand Berry, 33, who signed a one-year deal this week.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Cardinals have the salary cap space to accommodate the big contracts required by inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, receiver Anquan Boldin and safety Adrian Wilson.
It's questionable, however, if they will decide to pay that much in cold, hard cash over the next few months. The organization's commitment to winning will be tested, and fans are ready to judge.
The club stepped up in the contract with quarterback Kurt Warner, guaranteeing $19 million of the $23 million total.
The Cardinals haven't been a major player in free agency, preferring to sharp for bargains.
TEAM NEEDS/OFFSEASON STRATEGY
The Cardinals would like re-sign inside linebacker Karlos Dansby and strong safety Adrian Wilson this spring.
Dansby signed his franchise tender this week while Wilson has one year remaining on his deal.
The club is around $12 million to $15 million under the cap and will add another $5 million when it releases running back Edgerrin James, as expected.
The Cardinals will take another shot at extending the contract of receiver Anquan Boldin, although Boldin has been emphatic that will never sign another deal with the team.
1. Running back: The Cardinals struggled to run for most of the season. Edgerrin James will be released this spring and J.J. Arrington signed with Denver as an unrestricted free agent. That leaves Tim Hightower as the only top-tier back on the roster.
2. Outside linebacker: The Cardinals are old and beat up at those two positions and need some youth, especially if the youngster can rush the passer.
3. Center: Starter Lyle Sendlein improved as the year progressed, but the Cardinals could use more strength inside.
MEDICAL WATCH: OLB/DE Travis LaBoy underwent surgery to repair a torn biceps tendon suffered in the NFC title game. He is likely to miss most of the spring workouts.
QB Kurt Warner underwent surgery on his left hip to repair a torn labrum and remove loose particles. He won't participate in mini-camp in early May but should be able to practice later that month or in June.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--CB Ralph Brown is a solid nickel and dime corner. A 10-year veteran, he's a great influence on younger players. Could return for a reasonable price.
--G/C Scott Peters suffered a severe knee injury in camp. He likely won't return.
--FB Terrelle Smith is still an effective blocker and he is anxious to stay in Arizona. He might be expendable, however, because the club has Tim Castille.
--TE Jerame Tuman showed his age this season, was cut in December and then brought back because of injuries. He won't return.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--TE Leonard Pope (tendered at $1.01M with third-round pick as compensation) is a decent player but he has trouble picking up nuances of the offense.
--NT Gabe Watson (tendered at $1.545M with second-round pick as compensation) played through knee difficulties. A solid player.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
-CB Michael Adams is only about 5-8 but he's competitive and a special teams standout.
--FB Tim Castille is a decent special teamer who must improve his blocking.
--TE Ben Patrick has the talent to be a solid starter
--C Lyle Sendlein started all 16 games and might be due for a longer-term deal.
--LB Pago Togafau is undersized, but played on a lot of special teams.
--T Elliot Vallejo has good size and decent feet. This is a key off-season for him.
--DE Bertrand Berry: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--OG Elton Brown: UFA; terms unknown.
--LB Karlos Dansby: Franchise FA: $9.678M/1 yr.
--P Ben Graham: UFA; terms unknown.
--LB Clark Haggans: UFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--QB Brian St. Pierre: UFA; $1M/1 yr.
--TE Stephen Spach: ERFA; terms unknown.
--QB Kurt Warner: UFA; $23M/2 yrs, $15M SB; 2009 cap: $11.5M.
--TE Anthony Becht: FA Rams; terms unknown.
--LS Mike Leach: FA Broncos; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Keith Lewis: FA 49ers; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Bryant McFadden: UFA Steelers; $10M/2 yrs, $1M RB/5M guaranteed; 2009 cap: $5M.
--RB Jason Wright: UFA Browns; $2M/2 yrs, guarantees unknown.
--RB J.J. Arrington: UFA Broncos; $10M/4 yrs, guarantees unknown.
--LB Monty Beisel: UFA Chiefs; terms unknown.
--CB Eric Green: UFA Dolphins; terms unknown.
--LS Nathan Hodel (released/failed physical).
--DE Antonio Smith: UFA Texans $35.5M/5 yrs, $12.5M guaranteed.