The Cardinals finished with a losing record in 2016, but believe they can bounce back quickly and revert to contender status next season. Free agency will be key, as several of the team's starters are scheduled to hit the open market. The Cardinals' front office has plenty of decisions to make as free agency beckons on March 9. We'll break down each position as it draws near.
Free agent primer:Linebacker
Cap hit of players under contract for 2017 (via OverTheCap.com): ILB Deone Bucannon ($2.45 million); OLB Markus Golden ($1.07 million); OLB Kareem Martin ($851,890); Zaviar Gooden ($690,000); ILB Alani Fua ($620,668); ILB Scooby Wright ($540,000).
Scheduled free agents: OLB Chandler Jones; ILB Kevin Minter; ILB Sio Moore; OLB Alex Okafor
Images of notable free agent linebackers scheduled to hit the open market
Analysis: The need would be higher if there was the possibility of Jones leaving, but the Cardinals franchise-tagged him on Monday, making it extremely likely he returns. The two sides have until July 15 to negotiate a long-term contract extension, or else he will be a free agent again after the season. Jones, Golden and Bucannon are a great foundation at the position, as the first two hit double digits in sacks last season and the latter is a playmaker on the inside.
There is a hole at the starting inside linebacker spot next to Bucannon, as Minter is scheduled to hit free agency. He has been a serviceable piece and had the best season of his career in 2016, but if his contract demands are too high or the Cardinals prefer to go a different direction, he could depart.
Moore filled in nicely after Bucannon got hurt late in the season, amassing 40 tackles and two forced fumbles in only four games. The Cardinals may want to bring him back at a reasonable price. Alex Okafor led the Cardinals with eight sacks in 2014 but has since seen his role decrease, and with limited playing time available, he's likely to search out a bigger role somewhere else.
Martin and Fua are valuable special teams players who will aim to increase their snaps on defense. Wright and Gooden will battle for roster spots.
If the Cardinals re-sign Minter or Moore, they could avoid the inside linebacker free agent market. If both leave, the position would become a bigger priority through free agency or the draft.
Notable past free agent linebacker signings: Dwight Freeney (2015); Woodley (2015); Larry Foote (2014); Karlos Dansby (2013); John Abraham (2013); Joey Porter (2010); Paris Lenon (2010); Clark Haggans (2008); Travis LaBoy (2008); Seth Joyner (1994).