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Cardinals Ready For Free Agency

Posted Mar 12, 2012

Focus is on fewer holes, re-signing own players

Defensive back Richard Marshall is one of the free-agent players the Cards would like to re-sign for 2012.

The free-agency period couldn’t be much more different for the Cardinals this year compared to last.

For starters, it begins Tuesday at 1 p.m. Arizona time, more than five months before last year’s date, when the lockout forced a reenactment of the Oklahoma land rush when it came to chasing players and getting them signed. The Cards also have significantly less salary cap space to work with – in fact, in prelude to Tuesday’s time, the Cards will have to trim a good chunk of money to be cap compliant for the new league year.

And then, of course, there is the chase of the biggest free agent out there, quarterback Peyton Manning, which has already begun.

Manning’s ultimate decision one way or the other will eventually impact the course of some of the Cards’ decisions, but the team has lined up its plans – factoring in the pursuit of Manning – and is prepared either way.

The Cards’ decision makers have not spoken publicly since Manning’s release or subsequent world tour, but on the subject of free agency, general manager Rod Graves was realistic last week: “You have to remain fluid.”

“We do have options,” Graves said. “Sometimes you don’t know specifically what those options are. I’d like to be able to say, ‘OK, if we don’t get this person done, then we’re going after this person.’ We have guys we have identified as prospects in free agency. But there will be players that will be released that we haven’t even evaluated yet. We will keep the options open. We want to keep options open. It’s a balancing act.”

The cap situation will dictate some of that. Unlike 2011, when the Cards had considerable cap room and filled the roster constantly with veterans during the truncated free-agent time, the franchise is actually over the cap as of Monday. The long-awaited decision on tackle Levi Brown sometime before Tuesday afternoon will change that – dropping Brown’s $16.9 salary cap figure will ease almost all if not all of the overage – and there are other cuts/restructures that can be done.

“We don’t expect we will be as aggressive as last year because we don’t have quite as many holes to fill, but I also suspect we won’t have the salary cap room advantages as last season so there will be restrictions on what we can do,” Graves said.

Graves’ balancing act will force focus, however. Whether the team brings back Brown or not, and they still want him, his release would mean both starting tackle spots will be vacant since fellow starter Brandon Keith is also a free agent.

The team is hoping to bring back defensive back Richard Marshall too, and Tuesday will be his chance to finally see his worth on the open market, which will dictate his negotiations.   

“The closer we get to free agency, the more challenging it is sometimes to get those deals done,” Graves said. “Sometimes we are better off seeing what the market holds and then doing deals after that.”

There are also the talks with franchised defensive end Calais Campbell, who carries a $10.6 million cap hit until/unless the Cards can work out a long-term contract.

On that subject, Graves continues to be hopeful – “I’m very optimistic a long-term deal can be done with Calais” – but the sooner would be the better.

As for targeted positions in free agency, the Cards are expected to look at the offensive line, particularly tackle, and at wide receiver. Pass-rushing linebacker is also a possibility, although it will be interesting to see when the Manning decision comes down and its butterfly effect afterward.

“Rod Graves has done a great job over the course of my career here,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “We were aggressive in free agency last year and I don’t see anything that is going to change. I know the Bidwill family is committed to keep us on top.”

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