Anquan Boldin (Getty)
The Cardinals had the luxury last year of being able to bring their draft class along slowly. The roster was deep enough that the rookies didn't have to start right away. That allowed the Cardinals to limit players such as cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the first-round pick, who could work on his game in practice and in a reserve role.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie became a starter at midseason and had great success.
A year later, however, it's time for the rest of the class of 2008 to fill key roles.
Calais Campbell, a second-round pick, and Kenny Iwebema, a fourth-rounder, are competing for the starting right defensive end job formerly held by Antonio Smith. Smith left via free agency for Houston.
Third-round pick Early Doucet needs to show he can become at least part of the rotation at receiver.
Running back Tim Hightower, a fifth-rounder, moves up to the starter's slot, and will share the position with rookie Beanie Wells.
Hightower played well in short-yardage and third-down roles last year, but didn't fare as well when he started ahead of James. Hightower needs to reduce his number of runs for negative yards.
Coaches are encouraged by the development of offensive lineman Brandon Keith, the Cardinals' 2008 seventh-round pick. He can play both tackle and guard, and the club needs him to be a competent backup at both spots.
A year from now, he could slide out to left tackle and replace Mike Gandy, who is in the final year of his current contract.
There have been various reports that receiver Anquan Boldin wanted a new contract that would put him in the same expensive neighborhood as teammate Larry Fitzgerald, who averages about $10 million a year.
But Boldin's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has disputed that via Twitter, saying he recently made a proposal to the Cardinals for less.
How much less isn't known. Also unknown is how serious the Cardinals will consider it.
General Manager Rod Graves has continually said that re-signing strong safety Adrian Wilson and inside linebacker Karlos Dansby are higher priorities than Boldin.
Both Wilson and Dansby will be unrestricted free agents in 2010, while Boldin has two years remaining on his contract.
Graves recently stepped up negotiations with the agents for Wilson and Dansby and he hopes to know soon the chances of re-signing the two key defenders.
It's more likely the Cardinals will be able to reach a deal with Wilson. Drafted in 2001, he's been with the team longer than any other player, and he hasn't made a huge fuss about getting a new contract.
Wilson wants to stay in Arizona, and his agent, Eugene Parker, has been successful in dealing with the Cardinals in such matters. He negotiated Fitzgerald's extension a year ago.
Dansby, in contrast, has talked recently of how attractive it would be to hit unrestricted free agency in 2010, when there might not be a cap.
The challenge for the Cardinals is there is a bigger salary cap benefit to re-signing Dansby. He is making $9.7 million this year, the franchise figure, and a new contract would decrease his cap figure.
That conceivably could give the team enough to room to accommodate Wilson and one more veteran, perhaps Boldin.
--President Barack Obama mentioned quarterback Kurt Warner in his commencement address at Arizona State, using Warner as an example of someone who didn't give up pursuing his dreams. Warner and the President met at the Phoenix Airport before the speech and the President invited Warner to the White House for a game of hoops one day. Obama openly cheered for the Steelers over the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII because Steelers chairman Dan Rooney campaigned for him.
--Add coach Ken Whisenhunt to the list of Cardinals who have undergone surgery this offseason. Whisenhunt had a scope job on a knee to fix a condition left over from his playing days. It was outpatient surgery and Whisenhunt expected to be available for the start of voluntary practices next week.
--Offensive tackle Herman Johnson impressed coaches by showing up to minicamp at 365 pounds. The fifth-round pick from LSU weighed around 400 pounds at times in college, where he played guard. The Cardinals are going to see if he has the agility to move to tackle.
--The club cut defensive end/outside linebacker Travis LaBoy after the draft, partly because LaBoy was facing serious ankle surgery. One doctor thought LaBoy could play in 2009 without the surgery. Other doctors, however, advised LaBoy to have the ankle repaired. The surgery is expected to keep him out in 2009. The Cardinals decided to cut their losses and released LaBoy. The club paid LaBoy $8 million in the year he was in Arizona.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know he was cheering for Pittsburgh last year, so hopefully through our meeting here, he'll become a Cardinals fan and cheer for us. Maybe we'll get him on our side." -- QB Kurt Warner on meeting with President Obama during his recent trip to Phoenix.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Cardinals would like re-sign inside linebacker Karlos Dansby and strong safety Adrian Wilson this spring.
The club is about $5.2 million under the cap. The priority is trying to re-sign Dansby and Wilson. If the Cardinals get both of those deals done, Boldin likely will have to wait until 2010 for his situation to be addressed.
Dansby, however, has talked of cashing in on being an unrestricted free agent in 2010, when there might not be a salary cap. The Cardinals would like to re-sign him and lower his cap figure of $9.7 million, which is the franchise number.
If they can't get a deal done, it's going to be difficult for the Cards to fit new deals for Wilson and Boldin under the cap.
MEDICAL WATCH: QB Kurt Warner underwent surgery on his left hip to repair a torn labrum and remove loose particles. He participated in individual drills and 7-on-7 sessions at the recent minicamp. The only thing Warner didn't do was work in the full team sessions. FB Tim Castille (knee) and NT Gabe Watson (knee) did not participate in minicamp. They had knee surgery this off-season but are expected to return before the start of training camp.