It certainly would have been fun to see what the Arizona Cardinals could have done had they made the playoffs. They were playing as good a defense as any team in the NFL, and after winning at Seattle, would have proven a tough out.
But Arizona came up short despite winning 10 games, and while division rivals Seattle and San Francisco play for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, Arizona makes offseason plans.
The first priority is restructuring Larry Fitzgerald and reducing that cap hit of $18 million. Fitzgerald, while still a good receiver, is clearly on the decline. He has a base salary of $12.75 million and would be willing to move money around and restructure, but doesn’t appear willing to take a pay-cut.
Arizona also needs to address the left tackle spot. Levi Brown was addition by subtraction and Bradley Sowell, while game, does not project as a starter. The Cardinals could use the draft or free agency. Kansas City’s Brandon Albert is 29 and could be a prime target in free agency, but he will come with a hefty price tag.
The Cardinals could hold the rights to star cornerback Patrick Peterson through 2016 if they use franchise tag, but they could also look to lock him up long term. He is scheduled to count just $5.9 million on the cap with $2.9 million of that in base salary. Peterson wants a new deal, but Arizona should be in no rush as they have three years of control. A new deal will likely cost them in the $35-40 million range.
Linebacker Karlos Dansby wants to return and Arizona should want to have him back, as he is not only a leader on the field but also in the locker room. And he is still a great player. Odds are Arizona lets him test the market to set his value before determining if they can afford him.
Expect the Cardinals to pick up the $10 million option on linebacker Daryl Washington despite a pending aggravated assault charge against him. Paying him the $10 million keeps him under contract for four more years.
And while Carson Palmer likely played well enough to come back for one more season as the stopgap quarterback, Arizona will certainly look at the draft to see if they can find a future franchise signal caller. LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, who tore his ACL late in the season, could be worth a look in second round.