The Arizona Cardinals had some important decisions to make this off season with a handful of key veteran players coming up for free agency, but that doesn't mean that next off season will be a walk in the park. If anything they are likely to face similar, or even more difficult, decisions next summer as the next round of established talent hits the free agent market. We took a similar look forward last off season, and several of the names will make the list for a second consecutive summer.
We should also mention that some of the younger guys will be effected by the status of the CBA next summer. One of the stipulations of the uncapped year will be a change in unrestricted status: currently players can be unrestricted free agents after their fouth season; next year players cannot achieve that unless they've accrued six years. For guys like Gabe Watson, Leonard Pope and Duece Lutui, that could be the difference between a free agent freedom or another year under the control of the Cardinals. With that being said, lets take a look at the possible free agents on the defensive side of the ball for next summer......
- Adrian Wilson: As we all know, Wilson should get an extension before the season starts so hopefully we can drop his name off this list very quickly. A-dub is the leader of the defense and one of the longest tenured Cardinals. It's very possible that Wilson will enter the exclusive 20/20 club (he's 1.5 sacks and 2 picks short) this season and with another stellar season, he'll earn his third Pro Bowl. If for some reason he does hit free agency though, you'd have to think that he'll command quite a bit of interest.
Karlos Dansby: As with Wilson, we're all aware of Dansby's contract situation but, unlike Wilson, the Cardinals are not expected to reach an extension before the next off season. Dansby has developed into quite a play making linebacker and it's his versatility that sets him apart from his counterparts. He's got the talent and athleticism to excel at rushing the passer or dropping into coverage and the strength and short area quickness to hold his own against the run. When Dansby hits the market next year, he should be the premier defensive player on the board and in line for quite a pay day.
- Chike Okeafor: The veteran pass rusher overcame a serious injury and had a decent season in 2008 and is looking for bigger and better things this season. With the changes in defensive scheme, most expect Okeafor to have a big season considering that his new role should better suit his skills. His biggest problem next summer though will be his age. He'll turn 34 next March and his contract expectations will go a long way to determining where he plays in 2010.
Bryan Robinson: Robinson ended up being the best free agent signing of last summer, which was surprising considering many of us thought very little of him at the time. He ended up starting 15 games out of position at nose tackle last year and was nearly a savior for the defense that would have been lost without his presence in the middle. Robinson will turn 35 this June though and with some much improved depth across the defensive line, you'd have to think his days might be numbered.
Bertrand Berry: Berry is pretty much in the same boat as Okeafor, with one major difference. Berry isn't an 'every-down' player in this defense and his role will likely be limited to a situational pass rusher. That role might actually be the best way to keep him healthy but it won't help him much on the free agent market. He'll turn 34 this August and any contract he receives next summer will likely be as short as the one year deal that he signed this off season.
- Ralph Brown: Brown came out of nowhere last season and finished with one of the best seasons of his ten year career. He started three of the final five games and intercepted passes in three straight games (season finale and first two playoff games). He enters camp as the third corner on the depth chart but his age (turns 31 in September) and the presence of Greg Toler will likely ensure that he's not retained next year.
Matt Ware: Ware is most likely in for a significant fight to make the squad this season considering all of the corners and safeties that have been added this off season. He's played primarily on special teams during his time with the Cardinals but the 26 year old will probably have to take the next step if he wants a spot on this year's 53 man roster. If he does make it and the Cardinals want him back in 2010, they probably won't have a hard
time retaining him.
Victor Hobson: Hobson was added late last season and will probably play a key backup role this season. He's got experience at every linebacker spot in the 3-4 and is looking to resurrect a career that included a 100 tackle, six sack season in 2006. With a productive season, Hobson's future is wide open but he'll have to prove himself to a league that almost forgot about him last season.
- Gabe Watson: As we mentioned earlier, unless a new CBA is reached very soon (highly unlikely at this point) Watson will be a restricted free agent instead of an unrestricted free agent. If by some miracle the NFL reaches an agreement though, Watson could be a very highly sought after free agent. Several teams have switched to the 3-4 defense in recent years and a man of Watson's size is hard to find.
There are some other lesser known guys who will restricted free agents but the Cardinals shouldn't have any problem retaining them, if they so choose. That list includes Rodney Leslie, Pago Togafu, Michael Adams, Ali Highsmith, Keilen Dykes and Jason Banks. Needless to say with at least three starters and a couple of productive role players, the Cardinals defense could undergo a facelift next off season if some money isn't spent. Who are the most important to retain? Predictions?