The Cardinals most immediate priority this offseason is to sign free safety Antrel Rolle.
Rolle is due a $4 million roster bonus in March and without a new deal, his salary will escalate to $12 million in 2010.
Even in a year without a salary cap, that's too steep a price for the Cardinals to pay.
The roster bonus and escalator clause were put into the contract to prompt the team to renegotiate before the last year of Rolle's contract.
That's exactly what the Cardinals intend to do. Rolle, however, might see things a bit differently.
He said several times this season that he doesn't intend to take a pay cut. It's hard to say what that means since the club never intended to pay him $12 million. The Cardinals viewed that level of compensation as a device to get both sides back to the bargaining table.
Rolle is an important part of the team's future, but it's not as if the 2010 season will be lost if the team can't re-sign him.
Drafted as a cornerback, Rolle was below-average at the position and moved to free safety two years ago.
He played well there, especially in the 2009 season. Rolle showed great improvement and with Adrian Wilson, gives the team a solid safety duo.
The Cardinals have some options, however, if Rolle's salary demands are viewed as too high. They want to re-sign Matt Ware, who played in dime situations for the past two years.
Ware played well and while an unrestricted free agent, he would cost far less than Rolle. The Cardinals also drafted Rashad Johnson in the third round last year, although he had a disappointing rookie season.
--The Cardinals have approached the agent for coach Ken Whisenhunt about a long-term deal. Neither side will comment about negotiations. Whisenhunt has two years remaining on his contract, including a team option for a fifth and final season. Whisenhunt is believed to make $2.5 million to $3 million in salary, not including incentives.
--Secondary coach Teryl Austin signed a two-year contract shortly after the season, but the Cardinals allowed him to interview for the Florida defensive coordinator's job. Austin was hired and now the Cardinals are searching for a replacement. Rick Courtright is an assistant secondary coach, working mostly with the safeties. He could be promoted or the team could look for someone to work with the cornerbacks.
--QB Matt Leinart has been spending some downtime at home in Southern California but is expected to return to the Phoenix area soon to begin offseason preparations.
--WR Anquan Boldin has a year left on his contract and look for trade talks to heat up as the draft approaches. Steve Breaston has proven himself as a capable replacement, and Early Doucet looks like he can play the No. 3 slot. The Cardinals have several other holes to fill so it makes sense to look into trading Boldin more seriously than in the past.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Fair in football? That doesn't go together at all. This is the Not Fair League. Nothing every goes the way you want it to. I think Matt has set back, he's watch and he's chomping at the bit for his opportunity." -- WR Larry Fitzgerald when asked if what's happened to QB Matt Leinart in the NFL has been fair.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby has been the team's franchise player the past two seasons, but the club won't place the tag on him again.
It would mean guaranteeing Dansby about $14 million in 2010. The team already has paid Dansby $18 million over the past two years. It would have been cheaper signing him to a long-term deal.
Free safety Antrel Rolle is due a $4 million roster bonus in March and his salary escalates to about $8 million. The team needs to rework his contract before the end of the month, or it might face releasing him.
1. Pass rusher: The Cardinals did a decent job with pressuring QBs this year, but they lack an elite rusher that could help close out games.
2. Inside linebacker: Karlos Dansby is likely to leave via free agency, and the team needs a playmaker at that position.
3. Quarterback: Matt Leinart is the only QB under contract. The club needs to draft a quarterback to prepare for the future.
Cardinals Make Antrel Rolle First Priority
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