Kurt Warner (Getty)
The Arizona Cardinals season may be over, but the offseason speculation is just warming up. Arizona has a high number of core players who become free agents this year. Others could be used as trade bait. In case you haven't heard, there's also a situation at quarterback. Amberly Dressler outlines 10 players to watch this offseason.
1. Kurt Warner: The 38-year-old quarterback is on the retirement bubble. But he may be leaning closer to hanging up his gloves, than he is to suiting up for another year. Warner used definitive language when he spoke to ESPN.
"You have a game that isn't that great and people are like, 'What's wrong with Warner?' That wears on you," Warner said. "You don't have the joy and the fun and satisfaction of having one of those great games because everybody expects you to. You never get to exhale."
Get your forks out, Warner sounds done. Bad news for Arizona.
Ken Whisenhunt often (let's say very often) gets credit for "changing the culture in Arizona." Warner deserves a big piece of that credit pie. Warner's character, leadership and competitiveness boosted the Cardinals to be contenders, not pretenders. Arizona has a long road in front of it without the gloved one.
Warner is waiting to give official word because he does not want to make an emotional decision.
2. Anquan Boldin: The physical wide receiver has one more year left on his contract. For the first time in two years, it doesn't appear that there will be offseason rumblings for a trade request. But the Boldin saga is all but over.
The Cardinals are between a rock and a hard place if Warner retires. Boldin could be the trading bait that they need in order to pick up a top-caliber replacement quarterback.
3. Matt Leinart: Speaking of quarterbacks, the Cardinals true feelings about Leinart will come to light soon. Whether Warner retires or not, the Cardinals will have to use a first or second-round draft pick on a franchise quarterback. That is, if they don't pool from the slim pickings of the free agent market (to view the free agent quarterbacks, click here).
The Cardinals company line expressed confidence in Leinart's ability and future in the desert. Leinart's play didn't beg the same confidence. He was inconsistent but did look comfortable in the pocket, and his arm strength continues to be impressive. In the regular season, Leinart completed 51 out-of 77 passes. He posted fives games without picks, nor touchdowns. He was picked off in Chicago (for one) and twice in the regular-season finale (Green Bay).
In the Cardinals loss to the Saints, he completed 7 out-of 10, with no interceptions and no score.
It's also not at the realm of possibility that Pete Carroll could want his former Heisman Trophy winner in Seattle. Leinart's unproven pro play would leave more questions than answers for the Cardinals division rival but it would be the best-case scenario for Leinart. Although, the Cardinals wouldn't want that decision to haunt them twice a year.
4. Deuce Lutui: Continuing on the USC alumni front, Lutui, who was drafted with Leinart, becomes a restricted free agent this offseason. He should be retained. Lutui continued to be a spirited member of the Cardinals offensive line. He had less mental errors this season than in the past, which should put him on Whisenhunt's good list.
5. Karlos Dansby: Most Cardinals free agency talk is directed around Dansby. The Cardinals slapped the franchise tag on the linebacker for two consecutive years. It seems that the Cardinals could have received more bang for their buck last offseason, after he came off a four-sack, 119 tackles season. But this year, Dansby is an even hotter commodity because of the tight market. He is the first or second most sought after linebacker this year. Dansby only helped add millions to his bank account with his fumble recovery in overtime that kept the Cardinals alive for one more game in the playoffs.
6. Neil Rackers: On the flip side, Rackers' missed field goal attempt against the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, sent the Cardinals into overtime rather to the locker room. Rackers is still considered the top kicker available in the market. The Cardinals don't really have another option, and Rackers was consistent before a groin injury. All around the league, it seemed to be the worst season for kickers (just ask Nate Kaeding).
7. Steve Breaston: The Cardinals go-to receiver in Boldin's absence is a restricted free agent and has the league's attention. As part of the three-headed 1,000-yard-plus monster in 2008, Breaston has made a name for himself. The 2009 season was no different. He fell short of the 1,000-yard milestone, but he posted seven 60-yard-plus performances in the regular season. He added a touchdown in the post-season.
The Cardinals have Early Doucet waiting in the wings. He took on a more prominent role toward the latter half of the season, but the Cardinals will need Doucet and Breaston if Boldin is trade bait.
8. Mike Gandy: The left tackle ended the season injured and was replaced by Jeremy Bridges. Gandy fell victim to quite a few burns throughout the season. Gandy picked up the extra penalties that Lutui left behind. Gandy's injury disrupted the Cardinals streak of starting the same offensive line members (tied for league-longest) but it was time for a change. Bridges coming out party was impeccable. He kept Jared Allen off the box score, but Bridges struggled as games went on.
9. Bertrand Berry: The 12th-year veteran is as reliable as his experience would suggest. He can be counted on to come up with big plays in big games and is a key member of the Cardinals organization. The situational pass-rusher took a $3 million pay cut in 2008. In 2009, he took a $1 million offer instead of navigating through the free agency waters. The Cardinals will likely keep Berry if they can and if the price is right. He finished the season with eight sacks (including the playoffs).
10. Chike Okeafor: The 11th-year outside linebacker out of Purdue is in a very similar boat as Berry. The two bring the same pass-rushing ability to the field. Both will be missed if they depart the desert. They are considered neck-and-neck for desirability in the open market.
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