Running back Beanie Wells cleans out his locker Monday. For photos from the final day, click here.
Before the finale against the Seahawks, coach Ken Whisenhunt told his team it was in an unusual situation, given that they weren't going to be in the playoffs.
Most of the time, non-playoff teams face some sort of overhaul. With this team, Whisenhunt said then and again Monday in his wrap-up to the season, "you don't anticipate a lot of changes."
It points to a 7-2 finish over the last nine games and enough improvement from young players to dictate encouragement. Whisenhunt, over the final couple of months, was happy with progress. Yet Whisenhunt also talked about the evaluation process that still needs to happen over the next few weeks, first regarding his coaching staff and then pouring over the players.
Change is the given. It's the amount of change that differentiates each year.
"I'd say if we won the Super Bowl we'd feel more comfortable," center Lyle Sendlein said. "We are just happy with the way we finished. We just have to figure out how we can start the same way.
"I've never had the feeling of comfort. I think there are only a couple of guys in this locker room that are always safe. You never know what decisions they will make upstairs."
Still, Whisenhunt's tone Monday was a far cry from his message following the 2010 season, when he acknowledged he had to be harder in judging some players. Then again, last season the Cardinals finished losing nine of 11, whereas 2011 ended with nearly the opposite. Closing with an 8-8 record is considered a significant achievement, given the circumstances, throughout the locker room.
Whisenhunt joked he wished he had a hidden camera in the now famous team meeting the Cards held around midseason. The whole group aired concerns, and somehow, the Cards didn't splinter when their six-game losing streak put them at 1-6.
"(Splintering) is inevitable, and I'd be lying if I didn't say you didn't see a little bit of that within the confines here," kicker Jay Feely said. "But we were able to hold it and not give into that natural desire.
"Just like losing can be contagious, so can winning. And you start to believe you can win every game."
There are needs to address. The offensive line – since starting tackle Brandon Keith will be a free agent and fellow starting tackle Levi Brown will either be restructured or released – could look much different next season. The Cardinals want to add some defensive depth. They will likely look at the receiver position for an upgrade.
And then there is the quarterback position. Unlike the last three years, when next year's quarterback was so uncertain in January, Whisenhunt made clear Monday he likes his current quarterbacks. John Skelton will get time to grow this offseason and Whisenhunt said Kevin Kolb is going to have competition, but Kolb figures to be the best bet to be the starter when 2012 arrives now that he will actually have an offseason to work with his teammates and coaches.
"I think you become comfortable with the system and the players (with an offseason)," Kolb said Monday. "In my opinion, that's where leadership and camaraderie starts, and chemistry. That's what I look forward to, getting to know these guys a little more away from football, messing around on the field a little bit, working out and lifting weights every day. That's when you start to develop relationships and become a true team."
That's another reason significant change isn't in the offing. After spending an entire season contemplating what could have been had the lockout not ruined offseason time – "It took us a little more time to get on the same page; Maybe we didn't do as good a job coaching, I don't know," Whisenhunt said – the Cardinals figure to want to keep the pieces together so they aren't starting over,
"If you think about getting an offseason together, working in the scheme together, you would naturally think that all you are going to do is get better," Whisenhunt said.
Whisenhunt said the organization has to be "very careful" with making decisions within a day or two of the end of the season. Emotion has to be taken out of the equation. After the coaches are evaluated, the group will then start breaking down all the plays from the season as the Cards prepare for free agency (beginning March 13) and the draft (April 26).
"Some of the additions we make, they're going to have to adapt to who we are," Whisenhunt said. "If they don't they are going to stick out like a sore thumb. They won't be here."