Quarterback Kurt Warner signs a helmet for teammate Ed Gant as the Cardinals wrapped up the 2009 season Sunday morning.
Ken Whisenhunt smiled, because everyone knew the Cardinals' coach would like to lobby his quarterback to return for another year.
But whether he would actually do that to Kurt Warner?
"If I thought lobbying would help, I would certainly lobby," Whisenhunt said Sunday after the Cardinals wrapped up the 2009 season with a final team meeting. "We all know how intelligent and grounded and well-centered Kurt is. I know there will be a lot of things that go into that decision, and hearing from me is not going to be high on that totem pole. I can promise you that."
Of all the questions surrounding the Cards going into the offseason, Warner's status is topic No. 1. Nothing changed Sunday with everything Warner had said previously, including after Saturday's loss in New Orleans – he wants to take some time to decide, because it was impossible to make such a life-altering choice this quickly.
"Last year I really thought I might retire coming in to the end of the season," Warner said. "Two days away, I realized I missed the game and I just knew it wasn't the right time. If I'm still thinking about it two days after the season, then it's not out of my system yet. You want clarity."
Warner reiterated he didn't want to take long to decide, but insisted "I haven't made the decision one way or the other." He also said the one year remaining on his contract will not influence his decision (although the Cardinals would have the option to try and keep a pro-rated part of Warner's signing bonus should he walk away from the deal).
"I don't want to come back just to get the paycheck if I can't do everything I want to do or I am not willing to do everything I've done in the past," said Warner, who received a $15 million signing bonus on his two-year deal last year and is due a $4 million salary in 2010.
Warner acknowledged game days still are exciting to him and "that'll never change."
"What gets harder is the preparation, the expectations, the pressure, physically when you aren't healthy and having to manage your body," Warner said. "All that stuff takes away from the excitement and fun you have in the game."
WATSON, LUTUI IN CBA LIMBO
Two players who have double uncertainty going into the offseason are defensive tackle Gabe Watson and guard Deuce Lutui. Under the current rules, each were set to become unrestricted free agents in March.
But unless negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the players' union suddenly pick up speed, the NFL is headed for a year with no salary cap in 2010, drastically altering the free-agent landscape. One of the rule changes in such a scenario is that it would take six years in the league and not four to reach unrestricted status – and it would steal the leverage of Lutui and Watson by making them restricted.
"You think about it somewhat, but you can't stress yourself out too much worrying about it because you don't have any control," Watson said. "If something happens and the CBA doesn't go through and I am restricted … I'll just keep praying on it."
Teams can lock in a restricted free agent with a one-year tender offer at different levels, offers that carry with them draft-pick costs. If the player is signed by another team, that team must give the original team draft picks – a process that severely limits movement by restricted free agents.
Watson already was restricted this past season, playing under a $1.55 million tender offer. Lutui's rookie contract is just running out, making this his first chance at free agency.
"It'll be interesting to see," Lutui said. "Of course, I'd rather have a long-term (deal). … We'll have to see what the Cardinals will do."
Whether wide receiver Anquan Boldin comes back in 2010 remains a question mark. The Cardinals could try to sign him to a long-term deal, although it's uncertain either side wants that to happen. They could have him play out the final year of his contract. They could try to trade him.
Whisenhunt said it was too early to discuss the subject.
"As I have said all along, we are a better football team with Anquan," Whisenhunt said. "I'm disappointed he wasn't able to play (Saturday) because I'm certain he would have helped us."
Boldin wasn't available for interviews, but he said after the Saints' game he would not ask for a trade and let his situation play itself out.
BELIEVING IN LEINART
If Warner were to retire, the Cardinals would apparently become Matt Leinart's team. Whisenhunt said it was difficult to judge Leinart's season given his sporadic chances to play, but didn't waver on his support of the quarterback.
"I know he didn't have a great outing in the last regular season again Green Bay but I thought he did a good job (in New Orleans) and he played well against Tennessee," Whisenhunt said. "I still maintain I have great confidence in Matt. I know at some point he's going to play and I have confidence he is going to play well."
DRC AND THE INJURY FRONT
With players undergoing exit physicals at the same time Whisenhunt met with the media, the status of injured players was not clear. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie didn't have crutches after his left knee injury Saturday, but leg was still tightly wrapped in a brace. Rodgers-Cromartie briefly said he didn't know his prognosis but didn't want to be interviewed.
UPDATE: Rodgers-Cromartie chipped his tibia and injured his MCL, but did not hurt his ACL and it's possible he will not have to have surgery.
Whisenhunt said there are always a couple players who end up having surgery after a season – he pointed to guard Reggie Wells, who ended up having a minor knee procedure after what was found in his exit physical last season – but he didn't know for sure yet.
WHIZ WANTS COACHING STAFF INTACT
With reports continuing that the Buffalo Bills want to interview assistant head coach Russ Grimm for their vacant head coaching job, Whisenhunt said he was hopeful his coaching staff stays intact.
"I anticipate them all coming back unless guys get opportunities with other teams, which when you have success, those things happen," Whisenhunt said. "I think our staff did a great job overcoming some pretty significant (coaching) losses last year and did a great job this year.
"I think we'll be even better next year (as a staff) if we can stay together. Plus it makes my offseason a little less stressful."
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