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Free Agency Will Impact Cardinals

Posted Jan 3, 2017

Makeup of 2017 roster will depend on how many players team is able to keep

Linebacker Chandler Jones (left) and defensive tackle Calais Campbell (right) are among the 19 Cardinals scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in March.

Tony Jefferson stood in front of his locker – for perhaps the last time – talking about his future as a scheduled unrestricted free agent.

“Of course I want to be here,” the safety said. “They know that.”

Jefferson isn’t the only one. The Cardinals have 19 players scheduled for unrestricted status (and another three restricted free agents), and many, not surprisingly, have expressed their desire to return. Defensive tackle Calais Campbell. Center A.Q. Shipley. Tight end Jermaine Gresham. Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker.

In his season-ending press conference, coach Bruce Arians sounded like a man who wanted to bring back a good number of free agents. The Cardinals have a roster they believe can compete.

“We will evaluate every single situation and try to improve it,” Arians said. “I have all the faith in the world in (General Manager) Steve Keim that we will have a heck of a roster. We will start building all of that soon.”

Free agency isn’t the only thing that will impact the roster. The team will wait to hear from wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and whether he will choose to play in 2017 or retire. Quarterback Carson Palmer has already said he plans to return next season.

The NFL salary cap is projected to be between $166 million and $170 million for 2017. The Cardinals reportedly have about $130 million in 2017 cap commitments as of now.

Bringing back certain players is not just about cap space, however. It’s about the open market, and the budget in which the Cardinals are operating.

[READ: A BREAKDOWN OF THE ROSTER, INCLUDING POTENTIAL FREE AGENTS]

Gresham was offered more than the one-year, $3 million deal he got from the Cards last season, but he chose to come back. Is he willing to do that again? Will the Cardinals ask him to? Campbell, who will be 31 at the beginning of next season, had a salary of $9.5 million this season and a cap hit of more than $15 million. The Cardinals don’t figure to want to go that route at his age, although the recent hefty contract given to Seattle’s Michael Bennett – who is older than Campbell – will likely complicate matters.

Linebacker Chandler Jones, meanwhile, is the likely target for the franchise tag if an extension is not reached by March.

“There are a lot of guys (whose contracts are up), great guys, a lot of talent,” money linebacker Deone Bucannon said. “We have great comradery and we are tight-knit. I would love for everybody to stay but that’s not my department, so I can’t call it.”

Expiring contracts mean the Cardinals will need to find running backs behind David Johnson, figure out offensive line depth and deal with a secondary that could potentially lose cornerback Marcus Cooper and safeties Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger.

“We will get those questions answered in the near future,” Arians said. “I think the core is here and there is no doubt that we had high expectations coming into this year with the roster we had.”

Jefferson was a restricted free agent last offseason. He was disappointed with the low tender offer the Cardinals extended, and disappointed further when he could not generate a bigger offer from another team.

“You never know what’s going to happen (in free agency),” Jefferson said. “It’s always kind of a tricky thing. But I think this time around will be kind of fun.”

Why?

“I’m not restricted. That’s why.”

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