The players on the Cardinals who are scheduled to hit free agency on Tuesday
Bruce Arians said he was ready to get started on the new season already, and his players were confident in where the Cardinals were headed toward the future.
It doesn't matter that an 11-win season eventually fizzled, because in the big picture – like a team does week-to-week in-season – it's time to look forward.
"I don't look at 'What if?' " Arians said. " 'What if' will drive you crazy. I look at what can be and what can be is a great football team with a few new pieces. The core is here now."
There are a lot of players who for now are scheduled to go into the final year of their contract in 2015. There are a handful of other players who are free agents this offseason. And, of course, there are choices to be made on wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and linebacker Daryl Washington as well.
Free agency begins March 10. (For a full breakdown of the Cardinals' roster and individual contract status, click here.) So much of the bulk of the offseason won't be known until the Cardinals can assess their biggest offseason question mark: Fitzgerald's $23.6 million salary cap number. It seems inevitable to be reduced in some way, and that may or may not include Fitzgerald still remaining in Arizona.
Extensions are always possible. The Cardinals tried to extend defensive tackle Tommy Kelly during the season, he said, but he deferred, preferring to concentrate on football until the season was over.
"At this point in my career, you're talking about one-year deals," Kelly said. "I'm not trying to sign no multiple year deals. Plus, in the NFL it's all one -year deals anyway. They can sign you for three years and still cut you after one year. It don't matter."
It's a poignant point from Kelly, especially when it comes to the veterans the Cardinals have been signing of late. Linebacker Larry Foote is another player who played a crucial role in the defense this season and who will be a free agent, and retirement might be an option. After listening to him talk about his small salary this year, however, it'd be interesting to see what the Cardinals would be willing to pay to bring him back – and what he'd be willing to take.
"I'll give it some thought," Foote said. "There's got to be two sides. The team has got to want me back, and I've got to want to play."
The biggest free agent question will be cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who played well for the Cardinals all season. Cromartie will be 31 in April and could be this year's version of Karlos Dansby – a veteran who is wanted back but at a certain price. With players like that, there is always the chance some other team swoops in with a big contract, like the Browns did last year with Dansby.
With the restricted free agent market drying up – more and more rookies sign four-year contracts, taking them to unrestricted status – the Cardinals only have three restricted free agents of note: quarterback Ryan Lindley, tackle Bradley Sowell and nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu.
The list of unrestricted free agents:
LB John Abraham
LB Sam Acho
LB Marcus Benard
CB Antonio Cromartie
RB Jonathan Dwyer
G Paul Fanaika
LB Larry Foote
TE Rob Housler
DT Tommy Kelly
LS Mike Leach
DT Dan Williams
The players remain under contract until March 10, so there are opportunities to come to contract extensions before then, and the Cards are expected to try and make that happen with some players. But for guys with the potential of a strong market – Cromartie, defensive tackle Dan Williams – it makes sense to want to wait to see what the market might bring too.
This is the business side of the year.
"We won't be the 2015 Cardinals until the week of the first (regular-season) game," Arians said. "First, we'll get 90 guys in here that will start fighting for positions.
"It's 'Me' right now. Get a job."