Cornerback Jerraud Powers, a free-agent-to-be Wednesday, is among the players who can start talking to other teams today.
Free agency doesn't begin for another couple of days, but free-agent talks have officially started.
The NFL's "legal tampering" period got underway Monday morning. Actual contracts cannot be entered into before Wednesday at 2 p.m. Arizona time, but much of the ground work for the first free agents off the board will be done by then.
For the Cardinals, the start of free agency provides a lot of questions. Only one of the team's unrestricted free agents has re-signed: safety Chris Clemons. Among those now free to start talking with other teams include starting cornerback Jerraud Powers and starting safety Rashad Johnson. Safety Tony Jefferson, who was tendered an offer as a restricted free agent last week along with wide receiver Jaron Brown and safety D.J. Swearinger, still has to hold off talking to other teams until Wednesday.
"When they get to this point likely they want to test the market," General Manager Steve Keim said at the recent Scouting combine. "It's part of
Other Cardinals' free-agents-of-note include backup quarterback Drew Stanton, running back Chris Johnson, offensive linemen Bobby Massie and Ted Larsen, tight end Jermaine Gresham and linebacker Dwight Freeney.
But limited resources impact this next period of the offseason. It's hard to know exactly how much cap space the Cardinals have to work with – both overthecap.com and spotrac.com estimate the space around $20 million (when you factor in both tender offers and Daryl Washington's prorated bonus but not his scheduled salary, as he remains suspended). The team could still release players to gain cap space if someone of interest comes available.
The team must also consider holding some space back for contract extensions of one or two key players before they reach free agency after 2016 – although in some cases, those contract extensions could actually lower some player's cap number this season, like defensive tackle Calais Campbell.
It is through this prism Keim will approach the next few weeks.
"It's like a big pizza," Keim said. "You only have so many slices."
Players – if they haven't already – will now have a sense of what their value is on the open market, which should push most toward an understanding if they are staying with their old teams or moving on.
"Sometimes change is inevitable," Rashad Johnson told Sirius XM NFL radio. "And if I have it make a change it's something I'll have to do. At the same time would love to have the opportunity to finish out what I would say would be a great career for me. Whatever happens, I'm ready for it."
The Cardinals have built their free-agent board, ranking in order their free-agent targets (including their own players).
Using this model in Keim's first three offseasons, the team has made a flurry of additions in the first few days of free agency before settling in and looking for bargains.
Because the NFL overall is flush with cap space, the top available players will see their prices go up – and likely out of the Cards' range. A good example is center Alex Mack, who plays a position of need for the Cardinals but will be too expensive for them to pursue.
Pass rusher is a top priority this offseason. Grabbing a Tamba Hali may or may not make sense (he'll cost a pretty penny and is will turn 33 in November) and a Jason Pierre-Paul is the right age (27) but not really an outside linebacker. Does a Robert Ayres, who has had just one good season in his career and has played as a defensive end, make sense?
The Cards could also look at interior offensive line (perhaps C Stefen Wisnieski or G Alex Boone), cornerback (Prince Amukamara, for example) and tight end (former Colts Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen both played for Arians).
"It's one of those situations where you always have to be in a 'Win-now' mode," Keim said. "You can never say, 'We're building for the future.' Fans don't want to hear that. Organizations don't want to hear that. Our expectations are to win and win now.
"So, again, you have to draft well and you have to supplement through free agency. It's a difficult task because you have to have a tough balance but at the same time, in free agency, it can be fool's gold. You see these guys, why do they hit the market, number one? And number two, the money that comes attached to those players. My philosophy has always been to somewhat sit back, let the market play itself out, see where the numbers go and find the guys who are the right people."
Images of each player who scored for the Cardinals in the regular season