Rod Graves Talks Cardinals' Contract Issues

Once voluntary practices and minicamp ended, the focus this offseason turned to GM Rod Graves, who faces several challenges.In addition to the usual tasks, such as signing draft picks, Graves must try to negotiate contracts with a handful of disgruntled veterans. Or, more likely, get them to understand that the team doesn't have the cap space to address all of their contracts this offseason.

After signing all of their rookies, the Cardinals figured to enter the season around $3 million under the cap. They don't want to consume all that room by signing a veteran early in the season.

The club would like to re-sign receiver Anquan Boldin, who has three years left on his contract. But Graves has acknowledged that

the next "window" for doing that likely won't come before midseason. Graves expects Boldin to report to training camp on time rather than hold out for a new deal.

"I'm certainly hopeful that all of our guys would be here. He's under contract and we expect him to honor that agreement."


Karlos Dansby
Stephen Dunn/Getty

The club isn't going to negotiate with defensive end Darnell Dockett, who has four years left. Graves is talking with the agent for inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, the club's franchise player, but it doesn't look like a deal is going to be done before a mid-July deadline.

After that, Dansby is prevented from signing a long-term deal until after the season.

Dansby is looking for a deal that will pay him an average of $9 million a year over the first years of the contract, including $18 million to $20 million of guarantees.

The Cardinals aren't ready to climb to that level, so the two sides are likely to agree to disagree.

CAMP CALENDAR: Players report on July 23 and have a conditioning test the next day. Camp ends Aug. 21. All training camp practices will be held at Northern Arizona University and are open and free to the public.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Receiver Larry Fitzgerald spends part of his offseason traveling the world. In the past, he's ventured to Europe. This year, he hit South America. Fitzgerald usually goes alone and hires local guides to show him the area.

--John Omohundro stepped down as trainer after 41 years with the club. He'll remain with the team for at least a year, but personal reasons forced him to give up his head trainer's role. He's spent the last couple of weeks taking phone calls from friends around the league. "I was telling somebody this is like an above-ground eulogy," he said. "I've been getting more compliments and calls than I have in a long time."

--Bob Ackles, who worked with the team from 1992-94 as director of college scouting and assistant general manager, died of an apparent heart attack on Sunday. With the Cardinals, Ackles helped streamline the team's draft process. He worked for one year under Buddy Ryan and that was plenty. "I enjoyed my time in Arizona, other than one year I spent with Buddy," Ackles said. "The other two years were great with Larry (Wilson). I enjoyed Bill Bidwill but as you know, he's different."

--GM Rod Graves has shored up the front office this offseason, promoting Steve Keim to scouting director and hiring Jason Licht as a personnel assistant. "I'm extremely excited about he leadership we have with Steve Keim and Jason Licht. I'm going to lean on him, as I do Steve Keim, quite a bit as far as personnel decisions."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we have the time to do it and if it's not going to happen, we'll find excuses and reasons why it won't." -- GM Rod Graves on the possibility of signing franchise linebacker Karlos Dansby to a multi-year deal before the July 15 deadline.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Larry Fitzgerald's new deal solved only one of the team's problems. Now they have several other veterans who want new deals. Not all of them will be addressed this offseason.

The priorities will be signing inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, the franchise player, to a long-term deal, and re-signing receiver Anquan Boldin and safety Adrian Wilson.

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Matt Leinart. Backups -- Kurt Warner, Brian St. Pierre.

The pressure is on Leinart to prove he was worthy of the 10th overall pick in the 2006 draft. He'll be given every chance to succeed, but Warner will push him throughout the season and perhaps into the season.

The question about which player should start will linger until Leinart proves himself. Warner played well last year after taking over for the injured Leinart in game five. Warner, however, tends to get in trouble with some bad decisions and ball security. Coaches have been on Leinart to mature and improve his work ethic, and they have been pleased with his progress this offseason.


Edgerrin James
Stephen Dunn/Getty

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- RB Edgerrin James, FB Tim Castille. Backups -- Marcel Shipp, J.J. Arrington, Tim Hightower, FB Terrelle Smith.

Coaches talked in the offseason about adding speed at this spot. James is hardly a burner with only four carries for 20 yards or more last year. James has excellent vision and agility, but he doesn't break many tackles or make people miss in the secondary. But he is productive and there is no one to push him for playing time.

Shipp and Arrington were only role players last year and probably won't be much more this year. Hightower, a rookie, has some decent all-around skills, but he runs a 4.6, hardly the speed guy the team was looking for. Castille, who spent last year on the practice squad, could replace Smith as the starters. Running backs coach Maurice Carthon likes Castille, but it will be hard to bench Smith, who is a devastating blocker.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Leonard Pope. Backups -- Ben Patrick, Troy Bienemann, Jerame Tuman.

Pope is returning from a dislocated ankle and fractured leg, but he faces bigger obstacles. First, he needs to develop his understanding of the offense and he must become a better blocker. Don't be surprised if Patrick, a seventh-round pick last year, takes over. He had a great offseason and is the most athletic guy at that spot.

Bienemann is a solid player with some upside and Tuman is a tough veteran who could block. This might be one of the most improved spots on the team in 2008.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald. Backups -- Steve Breaston, Early Doucet, Jerheme Urban, Jamaica Rector, Ahmad Merritt.

There is not a better starting duo than Boldin and Fitzgerald. What they lack in speed they make up for in size, strength and an uncanny ability to snatch the ball out of the air. Boldin is one of the toughest players in the NFL, and he turns into a running back once he catches the ball. Fitzgerald's size and strength make him tough to deal with outside and in jump-ball situations. He needs to gain more yards after the catch, but that's nit-picky stuff for someone who has made two Pro Bowls before his 25th birthday.

The No. 3 job is open. Breaston had a great offseason, adding some weight and strength and he looked more comfortable catching the ball. But he was a disappointment as a receiver in college, so it's hard to envision him improving greatly in one year. Doucet is a solid route runner, but he lacks speed, and that's one thing the Cardinals could use. Urban can run but he dropped some key balls last year. Rector and Merritt are quick but they need to make an impression in camp.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Mike Gandy, LG Reggie Wells, C Al Johnson, RG Deuce Lutui, RT Levi Brown. Backups -- C/G Lyle Sendlein, G/T Elton Brown, T Elliott Vallejo.

The starting unit returns intact in the same spots. That's happened only twice before since the franchise moved to Arizona in 1988. The unit is set from center moving left. Johnson is smart and strong. Wells is the most consistent player on the line, and Gandy was a pleasant surprise last year. The key this year will be the development of the right side. Lutui must become more consistent, and Brown needs to prove he was worth of being the fifth overall pick in last year's draft.

There is little depth. Sendlein is a reliable center, and Brown made great strides last year. After that, it gets scary.


Darnell Dockett
Getty

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Darnell Dockett, NT Gabe Watson, RE Antonio Smith. Backups -- E/T Bryan Robinson, NT Alan Branch, DE Calais Campbell, DE Kenny Iwebema.

Dockett enjoyed a Pro Bowl year, collecting nine sacks. But he and Smith were forced to play too many snaps. Dockett had just one sack in the final eight games and Smith wore down, too. Watson improved his conditioning last year and his stamina was much better. He was reliable but not a difference-maker.

Coaches hope Branch can develop into that kind of player. He's huge but needs technique work. Campbell and Iwebema, the second- and fourth-round picks, have some pass-rush skills and could become solid rotation players. Robinson, a 12-year veteran, is valuable because he can play two spots.

LINEBACKERS: Starters: SOLB Chike Okeafor, ILB Karlos Dansby, ILB Gerald Hayes, WOLB Travis LaBoy. Backups -- OLB Clark Haggans, OLB Bertrand Berry, ILB Monty Beisel, Matt Stewart.

This is one of the deepest spots on the team. Okeafor and LaBoy will face strong challenges from Haggans and Berry. All four are good pass rushers, which will give coordinator Clancy Pendergast options in nickel packages.

Dansby and Hayes are excellent inside. Hayes is a physical thumper who can make big hits. Dansby is fast and long, and can flip a game by forcing turnovers. The depth should pay huge dividends. These positions were devastated by injuries last year, and the front office made improving depth a priority in the offseason.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Rod Hood, RCB Eric Green, SS Adrian Wilson, FS Antrel Rolle. Backups -- CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB Ralph Brown, CB Michael Adams, S Aaron Francisco, S Matt Ware, S Oliver Celestin.

Hood and Green are solid starting corners. Green made great strides last year, and Hood is underrated. Rodgers-Cromartie will push both of them but could remain as a nickel back. Rolle moves from corner and free safety should suit him. He is smart, instinctive and can run. He should be able to make some big plays. Wilson is one of the best in the game. At 230 pounds, he can run fast enough to cover receivers. He's big enough to play against the run and he is an effective blitzer. Francisco is a capable backup, as is Ware.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Neil Rackers, P Dirk Johnson, LS Nathan Hodel, KR Steve Breaston, PR Steve Breaston.

Rackers has one of the strongest legs in the NFL, but he has missed too many critical kicks the past two years. He has to become better in the clutch.

Johnson is in his first year with the club. Hodel is an excellent long snapper and Breaston proved to be a threat at both return spots last year. The coverage teams, however, need to show some great improvement.


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