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Cards Prep For Free Agency

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The Cardinals gave restricted free agent defensive tackle Gabe Watson the second-round tender offer Thursday.

The top priority for the Cardinals remained quarterback Kurt Warner Thursday, as the clock ticked down to the beginning of the free-agent period at 10:01 p.m.

Perhaps that is fitting, since the Cards? main thoughts on free agency lean toward taking care of their own players first rather than splurging on other available players over the next couple of weeks in an NFL atmosphere anxious to see how the economy affects the market.

A new Warner deal still hasn?t been completed. Warner and his agent were in Tempe to meet with general manager Rod Graves Thursday, and conventional wisdom remains that Warner ? even if he reaches official free agency -- will end up playing in Arizona in 2009.

?We would very much like to get the deal done before free agency starts but we are not overly concerned with that thought,? Graves said at the recent scouting combine.

The Cardinals took care of some other business Thursday when they extended a host of one-year tender offers, including to both restricted free agents on the roster: defensive tackle Gabe Watson and tight end Leonard Pope.

Watson received the $1.545 million tender, meaning if a team signs him away the Cardinals would receive a second-round draft pick in exchange. Pope got the $1.01 million tender, meaning a team would have to surrender a third-round pick to sign him. In both cases, the Cards have the opportunity to match any other offer. Players can shop themselves through April 17.

The Cards also Thursday surprisingly released long snapper Nathan Hodel, who had appeared in 112 straight regular-season games with the team. That leaves a hole that must be filled.

Including linebacker Karlos Dansby ? who is virtually locked into coming back after receiving the team?s franchise tag ? the Cardinals have 14 unrestricted free agents of their own. Defensive end Antonio Smith figures to get significant offers at the beginning of free agency, as might Warner should he become free. But many of the Cards? free agents will likely have to wait out a cautious market.

That was the warning from many NFL general managers at the combine, who expect the downturn in the economy to affect free agency.

The Cards want to work on contracts for Warner and Dansby, in addition to possibly looking into extensions for safety Adrian Wilson and wide receiver Anquan Boldin. While looking to add some pieces in free agency ? spots like offensive line, cornerback and linebacker, for example ? the Cardinals aren?t necessarily trying to sign a player to walk in and start.

As has been the case previously, coach Ken Whisenhunt simply wants to add depth and create competition for starting roles. That served the Cards well in 2008, and it helped get them to the Super Bowl.

?Our coaches and personnel staff have done a good job of indentifying players we felt were good fits for what we?ve tried to do,? Whisenhunt said. ?We?ve had great success with Bryan Robinson and Clark Haggans and some of those guys we brought in. You?d like to do that every year, but there?s not a guarantee you can do that. We?re certainly going to try.?

Whisenhunt didn?t rule out chasing a front-line free agent ?if we go after a player we feel can really help our football team.?

While the rumor mill has linked the Cards to interest in players like Ravens linebacker Bart Scott and Ravens center Jason Brown, those are the types of players expected to get significantly bigger offers than the Cards would want to consider.

EXTRA POINTS

The Cards also extended tender offers to seven exclusive rights free agents: cornerback Michael Adams, fullback Tim Castille, tight ends Stephen Spach and Ben Patrick, linebacker Pago Togafau, center Lyle Sendlein and tackle Elliot Vallejo. Center Pat Ross did not receive a tender offer.

In addition, the Cards signed defensive tackle Jason Banks, tight end Alex Shor and running back Chris Vincent to the roster. All three players spent time with the team last year.


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 2/26/09.

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