As you know, the lockout is still in effect, but it presumed to be lifted sometime in the next week. Once the players sign the new collective bargaining agreement and reinstate themselves as a union, we will get back to football in a big way.
According to multiple sources there will be a 72-hour window in which a team is able to try and negotiate with their own players and get them a new contract. After that, all hell will break loose and players will be finding themselves in different home stadiums than they were last year.
The Arizona Cardinals will have to be swift in their actions, signing players that can help them towards another NFC West crown during the 2011-12 season. After the jump, I am going to give you a breakdown (in no particular order) of the things the Arizona Cardinals need to do in order to regain some success.
1. Sign the drafted rookies -- Players like Patrick Peterson, Ryan Williams, Robert Housler and Sam Acho all have the potential to make an impact for our team during their rookie season. However, this will be impossible for them to do if they don't have a contract. Hopefully there is not a lot of haggling between the front office and our new draftees because the offseason has already been drastically shortened as it is and it is imperative that these guys can get on the field as soon as possible.
2. Sign some undrafted free agents -- One way to plug up some holes in your roster is to sign some of the college players that went undrafted. Many times these players can somehow be overlooked, but when they come to the NFL, they thrive. Players such as our very own Lyle Sendlein went undrafted and now he is the anchor of our offensive line.
3. Re-sign key free agents -- The Cardinals have a few players that have made a niche for themselves over the past few years, but they could be on their way out if they don't get the deal they want. Players like Lyle Sendlein and Steve Breaston come to mind and it is necessary that Rod Graves and Ken Whisenhunt do everything in their power to keep these guys around.
4. Make a hasty decision on Deuce Lutui -- I decided to put Big Deuce in his own category because he has shown some questionable characteristics during his time as a Cardinal. He is constantly battling weight problems and is seemingly always unhappy with his contract status. If the plan is to give him the money he wants, I am fine with that, but if the front office is projected to let him walk, then please let him do so quickly. A player of his caliber will not be able to be replaced internally and Arizona will need to bring in a veteran free agent that can take his place.
5. Get some offensive line help -- Regardless if Lutui and Sendlein stay, the Cardinals should go sign some more help for the O-Line. Rex Hadnot is the assumed starting left guard for 2011, but if that happens then they will need some more players for depth. Guys like Tom Pestock have been mentioned, but is he truly ready to play significant minutes if needed? I am not so sure. Bringing in either a starting lineman or a solid backup will help this team tremendously and put Russ Grimm's mind at ease.
6. Trim the fat -- Players such as Gerald Hayes, Clark Haggans, Derek Anderson and possibly even Joey Porter have contracts that the Cardinals cannot afford to keep paying. With the lack of production from these aging veterans, Arizona found themselves at a 5-11 juncture last January. Youth and athleticism are the building blocks, so if these veterans can't step up, it is time for them to be shown the door. Hayes is as good as gone, but if Haggans and Porter can show that they have "it" still in training camp, then they might be a veteran presence the Cardinals should keep.
7. Go get their quarterback -- The speculation will finally be over soon. We will know beyond the shadow of doubt who the signal caller will be for the Cardinals in due time. The key now is to go out and negotiate a deal to get him. By all indications, the guy the Cardinals have their sights set on is Kevin Kolb, so making sure that you don't trade any key pieces (or too many pieces) away is of the utmost importance. If the Eagles want too much for Kolb, maybe Kyle Orton would be the better option. If his services are unavailable, maybe Arizona should think about signing a veteran bridge quarterback like Matt Hasselbeck. If they're feeling really bold, pick up Vince Young off the market once he is released. At this point, it doesn't really matter because I can almost guarantee that whatever situation we are in in regards to that position will not be the same fiasco it was last season.
8. Re-sign Fitz -- This is undoubtedly the most important step of them all. Larry Fitzgerald is the face of this franchise and is unarguably the best player to ever don a Cardinals uniform. If they choose to skip steps 1-6, fine, but at least make sure that Larry Fitzgerald is wrapped up for the rest of his career.
The main key for the Cardinals when dealing with free agents is that they do not overpay anyone. If they plan on bringing back Steve Breaston, that is great, but for as much as I love the guy, do not give him a contract that he can't live up to. Also, the front office should be wary of guys like Alan Branch who finally started to live up to his draft status in the final year of his contract. Overpaying role players is never a good thing and if done in excess, it can be detrimental to a team. Rod Graves, Ken Whisenhunt and the Bidwills must make prudent business decisions. If all of this is done correctly, the Cardinals should have a great season and a bright future ahead of them.
That's my checklist, but if I missed anything at all, please feel free to mention what else the Arizona Cardinals should do this offseason in the comments section below.