Predicting what happens with the Cardinals’ many free agents

Feb 6, 2017, 11:10 AM | Updated: 12:51 pm

With Super Bowl LI now a thing of the past, it is officially time to move on to the 2017 season.

For the Arizona Cardinals, that means making a good many decisions this offseason.

Coming off a campaign that began with Super Bowl expectations but finished with a 7-8-1 record, the goal may not necessarily be to rebuild the roster, but instead tweak it just enough to get it back into the postseason.

“Really to sign our own guys,” head coach Bruce Arians said of what his team’s biggest offseason need is. “If we can get our own guys back and not have to teach a lot of new guys things.”

Whichever direction GM Steve Keim, Arians and the rest of the organization takes will be made more difficult by the fact that the team has a substantial number of free agents, many of whom played key roles for the team in 2016 or previous seasons.

What will the Cardinals do? Well, much of their plan will likely be dictated to the kind of offers their own free agents receive.

For some of them, there is probably a mutual understanding that it is best for both sides to move on from each other. But for others, they may have professed a desire to return, and it would be wrong to call that into question. But money and opportunity talk in the NFL, and if a player finds more with another team, it would not be a surprise to see them bolt.

With that in mind, here is one man’s guess as to what will happen with the Cardinals whose contracts are up.

Note: * indicates player is a restricted free agent

They’ll be back

Arizona Cardinals' Chandler Jones watches the scoreboard during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Oakland Raiders Friday, Aug. 12, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. The Raiders defeated the Cardinals 31-10. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Chandler Jones: Had 11.5 sacks in first season with Cardinals. Team did not acquire him with idea of being a one-year rental. Arians has said they would use franchise tag, if necessary, though hope has been that the sides could come to a long-term agreement.

Tony Jefferson: Did not get the contract he wanted last year and turned that motivation into a career season. May have more value in Arizona than with another team and can’t see Cardinals parting with another key member of secondary, though money talks and that could make things interesting.

Chandler Catanzaro*: Did not have a particularly good season, though did have some big moments. Arians has expressed confidence, though if nothing else, no reason not to bring him back as part of any camp competition.

Sio Moore: A late-season pickup, Moore played well over the final few weeks as injuries pressed him into the lineup.

Probably returning

Arizona Cardinals tight end Jermaine Gresham carries the ball after a catching a pass against the Seattle Seahawks in the first half of an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Jermaine Gresham: Took less money to come back to the Cardinals on a one-year deal. Played especially well in season’s second half and was cited as an emotional leader for the team.

Frostee Rucker: Solid veteran whose impact was more as a leader than statistical. Has dealt with injuries last couple of seasons that have impacted his on-field performance. At 33, does he want to continue his career?

A.Q. Shipley: Finally got his chance to be a full-time starter and was only offensive lineman to get through season without injury. Solid player who can play guard, too. Would role be the same in 2017?

Zaviar Gooden*: Contributed on special teams. Intriguing young player who the team has no reason to part with.

Stepfan Taylor: Solid special teams player who never carved out a significant role with the offense. Has value, though, as he can help out in a pinch.

Marcus Cooper: Led the team with four interceptions and was named a Pro Bowl alternate. Struggled at times, but when you play opposite Patrick Peterson, the ball will come your way often.

Taylor Boggs*: Coaches seemed impressed with his progression and are intrigued with his potential.

Brian Dixon*: Added from the Saints’ practice squad late in the season and has been a productive special teams player in the past. Doesn’t hurt to keep him through the offseason and bring him to training camp.

Darren Fells*: Has shown flashes of being an above-average tight end but injuries and inconsistency have held him back. Not a bad player, though, and seems unlikely he will receive a big offer from another team.

Jeremy Ross: Caught four passes — including a touchdown — as he was pressed into action with the Cardinals struggling at receiver. Big bodied player who should make it to training camp, at least.

Wouldn’t bet on it

Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell reacts after a sack against the Seattle Seahawks in the first half of an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Calais Campbell: Can you imagine the Cardinals without Campbell, who followed up a pair of Pro Bowl seasons with an eight-sack campaign in 2016? Still an impact player, good chance he will find a more lucrative contract offer elsewhere.

D.J. Swearinger: Played very well in first full season with Cardinals, showing solid coverage ability as well as the big-hitting style he was known for. Tough to imagine his best offer coming from Arizona, though if Jefferson does not return Swearinger would move into the “probable” category.

Chris Johnson: Was a bit of a surprise when he came back for another season in what was bound to be a decreased role. Uneven start to a year that was cut short due to an injury that landed him on injured reserve. Can he find more carries elsewhere?

Kevin Minter: Played well, finishing second on the team in tackles while posting a career-best 3.5 sacks. Has value, but will the Cardinals want more speed and range at his middle linebacker position and another team might value him more.

Earl Watford: Arizona’s “Swiss Army Knife” along the offensive line, he has filled in at multiple positions but has yet to truly establish himself as a starting lineman. Arizona’s newfound depth up front, along with Watford’s desire to start, may lead him elsewhere.

Not coming back

FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2016, file photo, Arizona Cardinals' Andre Ellington (38) is tackled by Carolina Panthers' Leonard Johnson (23) in the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C. Panthers cornerback Leonard Johnson made a big impact in his first game with Carolina last Sunday with eight tackles and a sack against the Arizona Cardinals. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn, File)

Mike Jenkins: Was brought in during camp and seemed to have a shot at earning significant reps until a broken hand ended his season before it could even begin.

Alex Okafor: A couple years ago he was one of the team’s rising young pass rushers, but uneven performances and shaky off-the-field issues led to his role being diminished. Played well on special teams, but will want more than he can get in Arizona.

Andre Ellington: Once the centerpiece of Arizona’s offense, Ellington turned into a bit player who struggled in his primary role as a kick returner. Not seen as a lead back, and in Arizona, nowhere for him to play.

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Predicting what happens with the Cardinals’ many free agents