Cardinals: Lockout leads to more uncertainty

The lockout is causing even more uncertainly for the Cardinals, in what stands to be a critical offseason.

A prolonged lockout will hurt the Cardinals more than most teams, and they have only themselves to blame.

After re-signing defensive end Darnell Dockett shortly before last season, the Cardinals put the checkbook away.

That's the main reason why several key starters, most of them on offense, could become free agents, depending upon whatever rules are implemented for 2011.

Center Lyle Sendlein and right guard Deuce Lutui have at least five years of service and are unsigned. Receiver Steve Breaston, another starter, falls into that category, too.

Only one tight end, first-year player Jim Dray, is under contract for 2011. There is a lack of depth on the defensive line and at outside linebacker.

But a prolonged lockout will be felt most at the game's most important position: quarterback. Derek Anderson, a part-time starter last season, isn't expected to return.

That leaves three quarterbacks under contract: John Skelton, Max Hall and Rich Bartel.

Skelton and Hall started games in their rookie seasons last year and Bartel was acquired late in the year. If free agency had started as usual, the Cardinals likely would have pursued Marc Bulger, the backup in Baltimore.

If Bulger, or another veteran, could be signed before the draft, it would be a huge boost for the club.

With a veteran quarterback, the club could go a lot of different directions with the fifth overall pick. Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller would make a lot of sense, as would cornerback/safety Patrick Peterson of LSU. Either could help an anemic defense quickly.

Without free agency, the Cardinals will approach the draft needing to fill numerous weaknesses. The offensive line would be a huge question. In addition to Sendlein and Lutui not being under contract, left tackle Alan Faneca is considering retirement.

Sendlein is the most likely of the three to return. He's from Scottsdale and as long as the Cardinals treat him fairly, he will be back.

Lutui is also from the Phoenix area (Mesa), but his relationship with the team has been strained. He didn't sign his restricted tender until June last season, and coaches were unhappy when he reported to camp overweight.

Lutui, however, played well for most of the season, and the Cardinals can't afford to lose him.

Faneca is undecided about retirement, but a protracted labor situation isn't going to make him more likely to return.

Cardinals management, however, seems confident everything will work out. And it's true the organization has been preparing for a lockout for some time.

A year ago, many of the coaches signed contract extensions that included a 30-percent pay cut in the event of a lockout.

Some of those deals, however, included hefty pay raises, so the cuts take the assistants back to their 2009 pay level, at least during the lockout.

Those reductions likely will take place soon, and other employees must take a week-long furlough in late May, before Memorial Day.

The mantra in the Cardinals' front office is that it will be "business as usual" during the lockout. But everyone knows this is an unusual time.

In March, coaches are usually busy wooing free agents and preparing for the draft. Now, they have only the draft to concentrate on.

Whisenhunt has sent members of his staff throughout the country to watch college players at their Pro Days. Whisenhunt has attended a few himself, including Cam Newton's at Auburn.

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