This year, the offseason has been flip-flopped. Ongoing labor problems and the lockout have forced free agency and player movement deeper into an unknown part of the summer, and left the draft first up as the way to begin retooling a team.
“We are creatures of habit,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “I think we are accustomed to free agency starting at the start of March and being able to go through that process, and this is a little bit different.
“But it is something that you adjust (to). We’ve put the same amount of prep time, as far as all of that, and we feel like we’re ready and this is our first opportunity. We know that we are going to have other opportunities. We know that we are going to play football in 2011.”
In a week the Cardinals will take part in the draft, starting with the No. 5 pick overall. There are spots on the team in desperate need of upgrade/talent infusion – quarterback and pass rusher, among others – which normally would have been at least partially addressed by now.
Best player available has always been the mantra of the draft, with a nod that grades are always slanted with needs and schemes in mind. If the Cards had already signed, for example, a pass rusher in free agency, that would have influenced draft-day decisions.
There’s a chance that the absence of free agency could actually make it easier to select “the best player available,” although general manager Rod Graves said the Cards’ approach isn’t expected to change much even with new circumstances.
“It does sort of turn things around a little bit,” Graves said. “But we are anticipating that at some point things will be up and rolling and we will have those opportunities. At least we’re keeping our fingers crossed to that effect.”
Besides, director of player personnel Steve Keim said, any team should be looking beyond a single offseason, regardless of any change.
“There is a difference between ‘now’ and building an organization correctly the long-term way, and the only way to do it correctly long-term is to go in with the mindset of the best available,” Keim said. “There are need-based thoughts to that process, but we can’t get consumed with the aspect of need. It’s something you fight every year. That’s just natural. But if you stay focused on long-term goals it keeps you safe.”
Filling in the blanks via free agency still will arrive, even though the when and how has yet to be determined.
“At some point free agency is going to start and when it starts you’ve got to be prepared,” Whisenhunt said. “We are prepared.”
Not surprisingly, Whisenhunt wouldn’t be specific about what the Cardinals may chase during the draft. Quarterback is a possibility, although the coach did not commit to the idea the Cards would take a quarterback.
Whisenhunt said there hasn’t necessarily be anxiety waiting for the draft because of a lack of free agency or an absence of players. While the entire coaching staff is used to interacting with players by now – the players would be deep in their offseason program at this point – the rest of the job, like prepping for the draft and potential free agency, remained the same as every season.
There was also analyzing the team, which after a 5-11 record, wasn’t fun.
“There is also still a feeling of hurt because we didn’t play better, and obviously your pride, you want to get into it right now and get it corrected,” Whisenhunt said. “That has been tough, because nobody wants to wait. Patience is tough.”