Injured Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu (left) and General Manager Steve Keim meet up before the NFC Championship game.
In the middle of the night at 30,000 feet, Steve Keim and Bruce Arians starting talking about their roster.
The Cardinals had just lost in the NFC Championship, but there was no reason not to begin the process of building the roster for 2016, how to fill holes and fix problem areas.
"This offseason already has begun," Arians said Monday.
The Cardinals did win 14 total games and fell just short of reaching a Super Bowl. They set offensive records and had a
top 10 defense. But there are places to upgrade, and the normal roster turnover that is inevitable every offseason. Keim has 17 unrestricted free agents with which to deal, plus six restricted free agents.
"Each year is a different year," said cornerback Jerraud Powers, one of the unrestricted free agents-to-be. "This is the time when the business side kicks in and everybody knows how the NFL business is."
As of now, without the 2016 salary cap finalized, the Cardinals are expected to have around $20 million of cap space.
The secondary has the most potential turnover. Powers and safeties Rashad Johnson, Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger all will have their contracts expire. The team will also likely look hard at a possible contract extension for injured safety Tyrann Mathieu, who has one year left on his deal.
There are also a host of short-term older veterans that must be reevaluated – and may end up moving on. Linebacker Dwight Freeney, running back Chris Johnson, tight end Jermaine Gresham, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, linebacker Jason Babin and defensive tackle Red Bryant all are scheduled to hit the market.
And on the offensive line, right side starters Bobby Massie and Ted Larsen will be free agents, although the Cardinals in theory have their replacements in line with former first-round picks D.J. Humphries and Jonathan Cooper. Center Lyle Sendlein is also a free agent, and the Cardinals are expected to try and upgrade there.
"It's the nature of the business," defensive tackle Calais Campbell said. "It's that way every year. … This team will never be the same. There are a lot of key pieces that are going to move on and some things that will surprise people. I hope the core nucleus will stay strong. I know the front office knows what it takes to win."
Both Keim and Arians said finding more of a pass rush is a priority, and the Cardinals could use both an edge rusher and someone who can ruin the pocket inside. "Long, tall" cornerbacks and safeties would help too, Arians said, as well as "another David Johnson" to join the current David Johnson in the backfield.
Arians also mentioned finding "another Fitz" later in the draft, a nod to adding even more depth at receiver. Like Mathieu, Michael Floyd and Fitzgerald are both going into the final year of their contracts.
"I have all the faith in the world in the front office to make all the necessary moves to add to this team," Campbell said. "We are going to be good for a long time to come."
The Cardinals signed cornerbacks Cariel Brooks and Asa Jackson to "future" contracts. Brooks was with the team in 2015, appearing in three games before getting injured and released. Jackson has played 18 NFL games, all with Baltimore.