Will both stars be at camp
The Cardinals have been searching for an impact tight end since the dawn of time -- not quite, anyway -- but it must seem that way to their fans. Ever since they let Jay Novacek depart via free agency in the late 1980s, the Cardinals have been looking for a tight end capable of both blocking and catching...
Or at least do one of the two parts of a tight end's job description well enough to keep around for a few years.
That hasn't happened.
A steady stream of draft picks and free agents have come through Arizona over the past two decades, and hardly any made an impact.
The club is still searching. There are three youngsters and a veteran on the roster now, and there are serious questions about each.
Stephen Spach, signed last October, played well down the stretch but suffered a torn ACL in the playoffs. Spach, 26, is hoping to be ready for training camp but that seems optimistic.
Leonard Pope, a third-round pick in 2006, has battled injuries the past two years. Even when he's been healthy, his impact has been minimal. He runs well and has good hands, but his blocking is suspect and he has trouble grasping the offense.
Ben Patrick, a seventh-round pick two years ago, has shown flashes of ability but has been limited by nagging injuries. Veteran Anthony Becht is a solid blocker but this will be his 10th year and he's probably not more than a role player.
The Cardinals aren't likely to take a tight end in the first round, unless they determine that the team's biggest need, running back, can be addressed later in the draft.
--The three other NFC West teams will hold their training camps at the regular team facilities. But the Cardinals are committed to returning to Flagstaff, as they have every season but one since moving to Arizona in 1988. Coach Ken Whisenhunt likes getting away for camp; he thinks it builds camaraderie. And the Cardinals don't have an indoor facility in Tempe, where temperatures often exceed 110 degrees in the summer.
--Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald is expected to be a part of the cover of the NFL Madden 10 video game this year. Sources said Fitzgerald and Steelers safety Troy Polamalu will appear. The game will be released on Aug. 14, and the Steelers and Cardinals, open preseason against each other on Aug. 13.
--Specials teams coach Kevin Spencer was thinking seriously of going to a four-man wedge on kickoffs after watching several other teams have success. Then the NFL made wedges illegal and Spencer is back to the drawing board. The bigger problem, Spencer joked, is now giving special teams standout Sean Morey a focused assignment. Morey, who weighs about 180 pounds, often was assigned to run into wedges on kickoff coverage.
--NT Alan Branch's goal is to report to training camp under the weight coaches have prescribed. Branch weighed more than 340 pounds most of last season, about 10 more than coaches wanted. Branch would like to get down to 325 or so before training camp.
"Last year I really didn't understand how much the weight was important to the coaches," Branch said. "I thought even if I was a little overweight, even if I played well, it wouldn't matter. But what coach Whisenhunt told me was not coming in at the weight he wanted proved that he couldn't fully trust me."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not sure it's able to get done." -- LB Karlos Dansby on the chances of signing a long-term deal before training camp starts.
Dansby is in the process of hiring a new agent.
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 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 shop for bargains.
TEAM NEEDS/OFFSEASON STRATEGY
The Cardinals would like re-sign inside linebacker Karlos Dansby and strong safety Adrian Wilson. Dansby signed his franchise tender, while Wilson has one year remaining on his current 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 wide 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 they find a youngster who 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 minicamp 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; $745,000/1 yr.
--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.