Several Key Cardinals Prep for Contract Years

The Cardinals appear poised for a breakout season and many individual players hope to follow suit. Several Cardinals players are entering the final year of their contract and have plenty to prove to GM Rod Graves.'s Brad Wilbricht previews which players have added motivation this year and how it could affect the upcoming season.

While the most notable player whose contract is up after this season is Karlos Dansby, many other significant contributors are in similar positions. The Cardinals tabbed Dansby with the franchise tag and have until July 15 to workout a long-term deal. If a new deal isn't in place by July 15, Dansby will be under a one-year contract for the upcoming season.

Dansby has been a key fixture in the Cardinals defense since joining the team in 2004. He's racked up 325 tackles, 20.5 sacks and seven interceptions during his four years in Arizona.

Of the remaining Cardinals players in the final year of their contracts, DT Gabe Watson, OG Elton Brown and TE Leonard Pope are the headliners. Watson and Pope will be restricted free agents after the season, while Brown will be unrestricted.

A player experiencing a breakout season in his contract year is generally a double-edged sword. Last season, former Cardinals LB Calvin Pace ended four disappointing years in the desert with a spectacular 2007 season. Pace was rewarded with a lucrative contract from the New York Jets, a contract the Cardinals couldn't afford to match.

DT Gabe Watson
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty

Although Watson is recovering from a knee injury, he should be ready for training camp. Watson will be a major contributor along the defensive line, providing he completely recovers from a broken kneecap.

During his first two seasons in Arizona, Watson has been a solid performer. He's an ideal fit for the Cardinals 3-4 defense and should continue to develop his skill-set. Last year, Watson finished with 34 tackles and two pass deflections.

Easing the possibility of Watson leaving after the 2008 season is the emergence of DT Alan Branch. Branch played in 11 games during his rookie year but will play an expanded role this season. Branch, a former second-round pick, is under contract through 2010.

Brown, a restricted free agent this offseason, was re-signed to a one-year contract. The Cardinals couldn't afford to part ways with Brown due to a lack of depth along the offensive line, in particularly at the guard position.

The upcoming season will likely be a make-or-break year for Brown. He's played in only 18 games over his three-year career and will need to stay healthy the entire season to earn a multi-year contract.

Pope showed flashes of brilliance last year but is coming off an ankle injury that ended his 2007 season nearly a month prematurely. Pope was a major part of the Cardinals red-zone offense last year, catching five touchdown passes.

If Pope and second-year TE Ben Patrick continue to emerge, the Cardinals may be unable to re-sign both players. Patrick will be an exclusive-rights free agent after the season.

Other key reserves whose contracts are up after the 2008 season include LB Monty Beisel and RB J.J. Arrington.

Beisel has been reliable in relief of starting inside linebackers Dansby and Gerald Hayes. Beisel, entering his third season in Arizona, finished with 42 tackles last year. He provides great depth and will be more heavily depended on due to the Cardinals transition to the 3-4 defense.

Arrington has been a disappointment since being selected in the second round of the 2005 draft. During his three-year career, Arrington has compiled only 467 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Arrington may struggle to make the roster this season due to the presence of rookie Tim Hightower.

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