President Michael Bidwill (left), general manager Rod Graves (center) and head coach Ken Whisenhunt have much offseason work to do to have a chance at another NFC Championship trophy in 2009.
Some of the dots are easy to connect, with the Cardinals making the playoffs and with the franchise facing many difficult decisions with regard to its free agents and roster.
But potential parallels between what happened with the Cards following their 1998 playoff season ? when the Cards lost key players Lomas Brown, Jamir Miller and Larry Centers -- and what could happen a decade later aren?t as simple to see when delving into the details.
The fear the Cards could again run off the rails after one dynamic playoff run ? a understandable fear with part of the fan base ? hasn?t crept into the Cards? Tempe facility. The franchise is different, general manager Rod Graves said, and so too should be the results.
?The landscape has changed quite a bit from where we were in 1998 and the team today,? Graves said. ?The league has changed, our situation with University of Phoenix Stadium has changed our economic model and in many respects, I feel we are a much stronger organization across the board. We are in a much better position to keep the momentum going.? That doesn?t mean the Cardinals don?t have major choices to make and serious work to do. In some ways, Graves acknowledged, the challenge this offseason is greater than the team faced in 1998.
For a roster breakdown of the Cardinals going into the offseason, click here.
Quarterback Kurt Warner and defensive starters Antonio Smith, Karlos Dansby and Bertrand Berry are scheduled to become free agents. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin hasn?t changed his stance since training camp in that he doesn?t want to be a Cardinal any longer. Safety Adrian Wilson, with a year left on his deal, is due an extension, and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett would like his contract upgraded as well.
But Graves also said he doesn?t feel any added pressure this offseason than any other, and doesn?t want a Super Bowl run to blind the organization from addressing issues for a team that posted a 9-7 record during the regular season.
Already, the coaching staff has been affected, not only with offensive coordinator Todd Haley leaving to become Kansas City?s head coach but with coach Ken Whisenhunt deciding to make a change at both defensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
?You have to be careful about being complacent,? Graves said. ?Our goal has always been to be a championship team and a championship organization. We want to improve in all aspects of it. Although we had a Super Bowl run and a great season, we recognize there are areas we can improve. We haven?t lost sight of that.?
The priority list was fairly easy to compile, and some are simply obvious. The team will have contract talks quickly with Warner, who has expressed his desire ? repeatedly ? to stay in Arizona if he doesn?t choose to retire. That is one key deal the Cards hope will be in place before the free-agent period begins Feb. 27.
?It?s our hope we can get Kurt extended and see him retire as an Arizona Cardinal,? Graves said.
Graves emphasized the team sees Dansby as one of their core players and a player the team wants with a long-term deal. Dansby sees big dollar signs after being franchised at more than $8 million last season; if the Cards choose to use the franchise tag on him again, it would cost them more than $9 million. But the tag would also buy the Cards time in trying to get a long-term deal negotiated.
Smith?s situation seems more in flux; the Cardinals like what he has become, but he figures to gather a big offer on the free-agent market and the Cards do have young players like Calais Campbell and Kenny Iwebema who could potentially step in.
The Cardinals cannot re-sign everyone, Graves acknowledged. The much talked about $40-some million in cap room the Cardinals have will be shaved considerably once the various tender offers are extended, new contracts are accounted for, and escalators are added to the 2009 payroll. That will change the cap room dramatically once the league year starts Feb. 27, although Graves said ?we?re not anticipating cap issues, obviously.?
The Cards could end up with a little extra cap space if they were to release running back Edgerrin James, who is scheduled to make $5 million in salary. James believed he wouldn?t be back this season ? even after playing a big role in the playoffs ? but Graves wouldn?t be specific.
?Edge made a great contribution to the season and in my opinion he is on track for a Hall of Fame induction,? Graves said. ?Any future moves that we consider for our team, whether it be Edgerrin James or any other player, will have the effect of strengthening our team. If that?s not the case, those moves won?t be considered.?
What the Cardinals probably won?t do is chase big-name free agents on the market. Not only do the Cards want to spend most of their money on their current players, Graves also said the team has done well filling out its roster with lower-tier free agents, guys like defensive tackle Bryan Robinson, linebacker Clark Haggans and cornerback Rod Hood.
The Cardinals did have to make up some time for offseason work after spending so much time in the playoffs, but Graves said the team isn?t as far behind as people might think. Planning for the offseason has been an ongoing process.
?Our main goal,? Graves said, ?is continue the momentum we started in 2008.?
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 2/11/09.