Travis LaBoy; Bertrand Berry; Adrian Wilson
Arizona needs to emerge from the draft with some prospects at outside linebacker. The top four players at those spots, all free agent signees over the past few years, either are over 30 or have injury issues or both. The team hasn't drafted a productive OLB since 2004, when it took Karlos Dansby, who eventually moved inside.
An argument could be made that the last true quality outside linebacker taken was Jamir Miller in 1994.
Since then, the Cardinals have filled the gap with free agents and other journeyman.
The starters now, Travis LaBoy and Chike Okeafor, each have issues. LaBoy, who turns 28 in August, was hampered by a variety of leg issues last season.
LaBoy's backup, Bertrand Berry, will turn 34 in August.
The Cardinals don't need to get a starter out of this draft, but they do need the infusion of a young, talented player. Or maybe two.
New coordinator Bill Davis would like to move toward a more traditional 3-4 alignment, and outside linebackers are the key to making that system work.
It's a complicated job, one that takes many players three or four years to grow into. The Cardinals need to start the process immediately.
--The Cardinals will open the preseason in Pittsburgh on Aug. 13, but don't call it a rematch of Super Bowl XLIII.
"You can't call it a rematch," said receiver Steve Breaston. "That was a whole bigger game."
--It will mark a homecoming of sorts for cornerback Bryant McFadden, who signed with the Cardinals this off-season after four years with the Steelers.
"It makes the preseason that much more anticipated," McFadden said. "It's kind of strange, finishing my last playoff game and the starting the first game, even though it's preseason, of the 09 season at Heinz Field."
--The club opened its off-season conditioning program on Monday. Coach Ken Whisenhunt stresses the importance of the program, and attendance has generally been good the past two years.
"I think it's very important," said receiver Steve Breaston. "Coaches and teammates see you out here working hard and you become a reliable player."
--The agent for inside linebacker Karlos Dansby is expected to meet General Manager Rod Graves within the next few days to discuss a contract extension. Dansby, the team's franchise player, is due to make $9.7 million unless a long-term deal can be reached. The two sides have not exchanged serious offers for about a year.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The most important thing is knowing we're all going to work and we're going to work hard. This gives you a chance to know your fellow teammates and know what to expect from them." -- Cornerback Bryant McFadden on the importance of off-season team workouts.
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 about $1.5 million under the cap, but could create space by releasing running back Edgerrin James ($5 million) and extending the contracts of Wilson and Dansby.
The Cardinals will take another shot at extending the contract of receiver Anquan Boldin. Boldin has backed off his vow never to re-sign with the team, but if a deal is going to be done, he must be willing to take a contract worth an average of around $7 million to $9 million a year. That's less than the $10 million average teammate Larry Fitzgerald is receiving.
1. Running back: The Cardinals struggled to run for most of the season. Edgerrin James will be released this spring and J.J. Arrington left for Denver. That leaves Tim Hightower as the only back on the roster. If Georgia's Knowshon Moreno or Connecticut's Donald Brown is available at No. 31, the Cardinals won't pass on them.
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.Tight end: Stephen Spach is the best tight end on the roster but he's coming off ACL repair. Leonard Pope has dealt with several injuries and he has trouble grasping the offense at times. The Cardinals could use an infusion of talent.
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.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: LB Karlos Dansby: Tendered at $9.678M; signed tender March 4.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--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.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered)
--C Pat Ross (not tendered as ERFA) was the backup all year.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--CB Michael Adams: ERFA; terms unknown.
--DE Bertrand Berry: UFA; $1M/1 yr.
--OG Elton Brown: UFA; terms unknown.
--CB Ralph Brown: UFA; $745,000/1 yr.
--FB Tim Castille: ERFA; 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.
--TE Ben Patrick: ERFA; terms unknown.
--TE Leonard Pope: RFA; $1.01M/1 yr.
--QB Brian St. Pierre: UFA; $1M/1 yr.
--C Lyle Sendlein: ERFA; terms unknown.
--TE Stephen Spach: ERFA; terms unknown.
--LB Pago Togafau: ERFA; terms unknown.
--OT Elliot Vallejo: ERFA; terms unknown.
--QB Kurt Warner: UFA; $23M/2 yrs, $15M SB; 2009 cap: $11.5M.
--NT Gabe Watson: RFA; $1.545M/1 yr.
--TE Anthony Becht: FA Rams; $745,000/1 yr.
--FB Dan Kreider: FA; 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.