What's Next for the Cardinals?

2008 was a historic season for the Arizona Cardinals, which included the franchise's first ever Super Bowl berth. In addition to finding their way to Tampa, the Cardinals clinched their first division title since 1975 and hosted their first home playoff game since 1947. With so many outstanding feats conquered this season, how will Arizona respond next year? Brad Wilbricht explains.

While the Arizona Cardinals near miss in Super Bowl XLIII is still a fresh memory, the dawn of a new season began following a 27-23 loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers. With free agency and the NFL draft right around the corner, Arizona must quickly regroup and resume building a perennial contender in the NFC.

There are several key issues that will be addressed in the coming weeks, both regarding the Cardinals' current roster and future additions to a solid core of young talent. Veteran QB Kurt Warner expressed his desire to take a brief step away from the game in order to assess his outlook for the 2009 season and beyond.

Todd Haley

Following an eight-year absence from the game's biggest stage, Warner's latest taste of Super Bowl action could leave him wanting more. After throwing for 8,000 yards and 57 touchdowns over the past two seasons, Cardinal fans are crossing their fingers that will be the case.

Warner's future could hinge on the status of Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Haley has emerged as a hot commodity in the coaching ranks and has been mentioned as a front runner for the Kansas City Chiefs head coaching vacancy. If Haley leaves for Kansas City, it could sway Warner towards retirement after 11 years in the NFL.

The ongoing saga of WR Anquan Boldin continues and his future in Arizona is still relatively unknown. Although Boldin is under contract through 2010, he's a prime candidate to holdout if his demands for a new deal are not satisfied. Boldin went on the record earlier this year stating that he will not be back with the Cardinals following this season. However, given Arizona's improbable playoff run, Boldin could rescind those comments.

Boldin's current contract pays him roughly $4.5 million per season but he'll be looking for a deal similar to what WR Larry Fitzgerald received prior to the 2008 season. Fitzgerald signed a four-year $40 million contract, making him one of the highest paid receivers in the game.

The Cardinals have multiple unrestricted free agents, but arguably the most important player on that list is LB Karlos Dansby. Not only has Dansby established himself as one of the top linebackers in the league, Arizona has little depth behind him at the position. If Dansby is not locked up to a long-term deal, the team will be left scrambling to find his replacement via free agency or the draft.

Antonio Smith

DE Antonio Smith and CB Eric Green are also unrestricted free agents and both could be deemed replaceable at this point. Given the emergence of CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Green will almost certainly not return to the Cardinals. He was replaced in the starting lineup midseason and did not see much playing time following the move.

Meanwhile, Smith gained steam all season long and may have played his way into a lucrative contract thanks to his postseason performance. Due to his recent success, Smith's contract demands may come at too steep of a price for Arizona. In addition, defensive ends Calais Campbell and Kenny Iwebema are both waiting in the wings at the position.

Looking forward to the draft, the Cardinals have the luxury of going several different directions with their first-round selection. With veteran RB Edgerrin James likely headed out of town, GM Rod Graves will need to acquire a running back to compliment RB Tim Hightower. LeSean McCoy of Pittsburgh and Iowa's Shonn Greene are two preliminary names that have shown up on Arizona's radar.

Given the uncertain status of Dansby, the Cardinals could find themselves in desperate need of a linebacker. A pair of teammates from USC, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews, could draw heavy interest from the Arizona front office if Dansby does in fact leave the desert.

While this season came to an anti-climatic end, next year's success will hinge greatly on what happens during the offseason. The Cardinals have taken the necessary strides in becoming a constant fixture in the NFC and will need to continue that trend in order to follow-up a stellar 2008 campaign.

Questions or comments? Contact Brad Wilbricht at brad.wilbricht@gmail.com

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