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:Safety
Cap numbers of players under contract for 2017 (via OverTheCap.com): Tyrann Mathieu ($8.1 million); Tyvon Branch ($4.19 million); Christian Bryant ($615,000); Trevon Hartfield ($465,000)
Scheduled free agents: Tony Jefferson; D.J. Swearinger
Images of NFL safeties expected to hit the open market on March 9
Analysis: Even though Mathieu struggled through a frustrating year, the Cardinals were strong at safety in 2016 because Jefferson and Swearinger stepped in impressively. Now both are unrestricted free agents as they enter their physical primes, which could lead to multiple suitors for their services, and leave the safety group in flux.
Mathieu should be healthy next season and will be counted on to return to star form. Branch signed a two-year deal last offseason but was injured for much of the year. Harlan Miller was drafted as a cornerback, but performed well at safety at the end of the season, and could be a depth option.
The Cardinals would be happy to keep the status quo at this position. They often use three safeties on the field at the same time, and either Swearinger or Jefferson would remain a perfect fit as the run-stopping strong safety if the team can retain one of them.
However, salary cap restrictions make it unclear if the team can afford to bring Jefferson or Swearinger back into the fold. A lot of it depends what kind of market develops for each player. Swearinger is a former second-round pick, but was released by two teams before excelling with the Cardinals.
Jefferson is a former undrafted free agent who thought he would have a stronger market as a restricted free agent a season ago. There will be high demand for his services this time around and it seems like he could garner a more lucrative offer elsewhere.
This has long been one of the team's deepest positions, but if both Jefferson and Swearinger depart, the Cardinals will need to find replacements, either in free agency or the draft.
Notable past free agent safety signings: Branch (2016); Yeremiah Bell (2013); James Sanders (2012); Hamza Abdullah (2009); Dexter Jackson (2003); Matt Darby (1996); Andre Waters (1994); Mike Zordich (1989).