The Cardinals are busy surveying the free agent landscape, hoping to add more key pieces to a core which has won 21 games over the past two seasons. Free agency begins on March 10, and we'll break down the team's needs at each position leading up to the signing period.
Free agent primer: Linebackers
Cap numbers of players under contract for 2015: ILB Daryl Washington ($6.5 million); OLB Matt Shaughnessy ($2.78 million); OLB Lorenzo Alexander ($2 million); ILB Kevin Minter ($1.2 million); OLB Alex Okafor ($703,607); ILB Kenny Demens ($585,000); ILB Glenn Carson ($512,333)
Scheduled free agents: OLB John Abraham; OLB Sam Acho; OLB Marcus Benard
Images of notable linebackers scheduled to hit free agency
Analysis: Without John Abraham for nearly all of the season due to a concussion, the Cardinals failed to find a consistent four-man pass rush in 2014. Defensive end Calais Campbell is the most proven sack-artist on the team and Alex Okafor came on strong halfway through the season, but while those are two nice pieces, one of the biggest priorities in the offseason will be finding another player to pressure the quarterback off the edge. That could come in free agency, as players like Jason Worilds, Brian Orakpo and Pernell McPhee highlight a strong group of outside linebackers. The Cardinals have aligned themselves for a Super Bowl shot this season, and adding a premier pass-rusher would dovetail into that plan, even if it comes at a hefty cost. Abraham, Sam Acho and Marcus Benard are the Cardinals' own free agents at the position, but it's unknown if any will return.
The team needs to fortify the inside linebacker position as well. Daryl Washington is one of the best in the game, but the Cardinals have not confirmed they will keep him when his year-long suspension for violating the substance abuse policy expires in May. If they do, he still faces a possible suspension for pleading guilty to aggravated assault last March. The Cardinals would like to move 2014 first-round pick Deone Bucannon back to safety, but will need some reinforcements at linebacker to feel comfortable doing so. Kevin Minter returns as a run-stopping specialist, and while Larry Foote is on the coaching staff, he could still decide to return for one final year as a player. General Manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians want to get faster at the linebacker position, so they could target a player who excels in coverage if there is one available to their liking. While the Cardinals may be content to feel out the market at several other positions, linebacker is a spot where they could strike quickly.
Notable past free agent LB signings by the Cardinals: Foote (2014); Karlos Dansby (2013); Abraham (2013); Joey Porter (2010); Paris Lenon (2010); Clark Haggans (2008); Travis LaBoy (2008); Seth Joyner (1994).