Warner, Boldin and Wilson Contract Concerns

General manager Rod Graves is likely to spend the next few months acting like a father whose teenage sons are constantly asking for money. Somehow, Graves is going to have to tell people that he doesn't have any and hope the answer doesn't affect their behavior. The Cardinals have a handful of key veterans who want new contracts.

The club couldn't come to agreement on a long-term deal for inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, their franchise player. Now, the two sides must wait until the end of the year to sign a multi-year deal.

Receiver Anquan Boldin and defensive end Darnell Dockett skipped voluntary workouts because they want new contracts, even though Boldin has three years left on his deal and Dockett has four. Strong safety Adrian Wilson is in line for an extension, and Graves is negotiating an extension with quarterback Kurt Warner's agent.

There won't be money, or the required cap space, to make everyone happy. Warner's deal most likely is to happen first, and Graves will be lucky to re-sign another of his veterans before the end of the season.

The Cardinals plan to enter this season around $3 million to $5 million under the cap, and Graves wants to keep a good cushion in order to deal with possible injuries. So it's hard to envision the team resigning Warner, Boldin and Wilson all in 2008.

While pleading financial prudence, Graves needs to keep an eye out on the future. Salaries are not going to decrease. Last year, the Cardinals could have signed Dansby for far less than he asking for now -- around $9 million a year average.

But the cost of linebackers skyrocketed when the Jets signed Calvin Pace to a deal that pays him about $26 million in the first three years.

CAMP CALENDAR: Players report July 23 and undergo a conditioning test July 24. The first practices are July 25 and camp ends Aug. 21.


Levi Brown
Stephen Dunn/Getty

NOTES, QUOTES

--OT Levi Brown was one of the team's most committed players this offseason. He stayed in Arizona after workouts concluded and was seen at the team facility in the days before training camp started.

--The team's front office has been upgraded in both numbers and experience. Adding Jason Licht, formerly of the Eagles, will be a big boost to GM Rod Graves, who had little help last season. With Licht handling many duties, including pro scouting, and assistant Justin Casey negotiating many rookie deals, Graves isn't spread so thin.

--Club officials are holding their breath that WR Anquan Boldin reports to camp on time. Boldin, with three years left on his contract, wants a new deal. He reportedly hasn't decided if he's going to show. It would be out of character, however, for Boldin not to report with his teammates.

--Season ticket sales are lagging slightly behind the pace of the past two seasons. The Cardinals have sold out every game in their two years at University of Phoenix Stadium and have sold about 58,000 season tickets. They would like to get that number up to about 60,000. Team officials say the poor economy is mostly to blame.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we have some solid people in place. Where we're young, I know they're aggressive guys. I've got a lot of faith in that these guys will be good scouts." -- GM Rod Graves on the front-office additions and the restructuring of the scouting department.

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 club and the agent for inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, the team's franchise player, remained far apart in negotiations. A multi-year agreement wasn't reached by the July 15 deadline, so Dansby won't be able to re-sign until the end of the year. He has, however, signed the franchise tender of $8.065 million and will be at training camp.

The priorities will be re-signing QB Kurt Warner, receiver Anquan Boldin and safety Adrian Wilson.

DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED

--WR Early Doucet (3/81): 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--DE Kenny Iwebema (4/116): 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--RB Tim Hightower (5/149): 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Chris Harrington (6/185): Terms unknown.
--OG Brandon Keith (7/225): 3 yrs, terms unknown.
DRAFT CHOICES UNSIGNED

--CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie 1/16).
--DE Calais Campbell (2/50)

Matt Leinart
Stephen Dunn/Getty

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.

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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