The Arizona Cardinals have their share of unrestricted free agents on both sides of the ball this off season and it's an interesting group. On the defensive side of the ball, there are six guys who combined to play in 86 regular season games and 16 playoff games during 2008 and they accounted for 33 starts, seven of which came in the playoffs. The Cardinals can't re-sign everyone, but who's and who goes?
Antonio Smith - The former fifth round pick in 2004 got off to a slow start in Arizona, but he's put up solid numbers over the past two seasons. He's become one of the more dependable defenders for the Cardinals and he's entering his prime. He's solid against the run and has enough pass rush chops to get to the quarterback several times a season. His size (6'4 285) is perfect for a 3-4 defense so he would seem to fit into the Cardinals' future but it's not that simple. The Cardinals drafted two ends last year and Calais Campbell was almost named as Smith's replacement from the day that he was drafted. Smith is a solid, dependable player but he's not anything special he's not worth a big money contract (at least not to the Cardinals). Whisenhunt has expressed an interest in bring Smith back and has asked him to give the Cardinals an opportunity to match any deal that he receives, but I really doubt he returns in 2009.
Prediction: Smith leaves and gets a contract in the neighborhood of 5 years for $27.5 million from someone like the Cowboys, Broncos or Packers.
Bertrand Berry - Berry took a pay cut to stay in Arizona this past season after missing 21 games over the past three seasons with injuries and it paid huge dividends for the Cardinals. Berry ended up becoming the starter after Travis LaBoy struggled with injuries and he ended up leading the Cardinals with five sacks. Berry is still an excellent pass rusher, when healthy but he doesn't provide much help in the running game. The biggest question with Berry is where does he play in this defense? If they keep the 'predator' role that he played last season, then he's got a home as a situational pass rusher, but if the move closer to a 3-4 defense it get's much more complicated. Can Berry stand up and play with his hand off the ground or would he even want to learn a new position at 33 years old? Is he even willing to learn a new position? What kind of contract do you give to 33 year old player with an extensive injury history while he learns a new position? The best case scenario for the Cardinals in this situation is for Berry to accept that he's not an every down player anymore, but that he still wants to stay in Arizona. If he's willing to accept a short term contract (two years or so) for mediocre dollars (2 to 2.5 million per season), then I could see him returning as a solid role player.
Clark Haggans - Haggans was another former Steeler brought in to help build a winning mentality. He was a veteran player who didn't have many other options but overall he had a decent season, even though his stats weren't great. His biggest contribution was on special teams where he was a standout until he ended up on IR shortly before the playoffs. Overall he's a solid backup who can help your team in several different ways but he's on the backside of his career and any contract offers he might receive will likely suggest that fact. There wasn't much of a market for him last off season and I can't imagine he did much to raise his market value this season. Given the depth, or lack thereof, at outside linebacker though I wouldn't be surprised to see him back on another one year deal for peanuts considering that the minimum for a player of his experience is just south of a million per season.
Prediction: Haggans re-signs with Arizona for 1 year at 1.25 million.
Monty Beisel - Beisel's a career backup who is capable of stepping in and starting a game or two if injuries strike. He performed well in the Super Bowl and he's always been good on special teams, but unfortunately that's pretty much his ceiling. He's still not terribly old (30) but he won't create a stir on the open market. Beisel had some back problems in the past couple of seasons but he was healthy for 2008. His future will likely depend on the health of Ali Highsmith and how the Cardinals chose to pick in the draft, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Cardinals try to upgrade their depth at linebacker.
Ralph Brown - Brown is a tough candidate to predict because he's a 30 year old, undersized corner who made some big plays down the stretch and in the playoffs, but plays at a position that the Cardinals will have to upgrade this off season. He had arguably the best season of his career, and certainly the best since 2003 when he started seven games for the Giants, but there won't be a big market for Brown's services. He should return if the Cardinals want him back but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Cardinals wait a while though to see how the draft and free agency plays out.
Prediction: Brown re-signs with Arizona at 3 years for 3.5 million.
Eric Green - No player fell farther or faster than Eric Green in 2009. He went from a guy going into his second season as a starter to completely inactive on game days. He's acknowledged that he's played his last day in Arizona and no one from the front office or coaching staff has said much to counter his opinion. The real question is who will try to sign Green? The former third round pick will certainly end up someone based purely on his athleticism and age (soon to be 27) but it'll be interesting to see how far down the chart he starts.
Prediction: Green leaves and signs a contract in the neighborhood of 2 years for $1 million per season.
We'll take a look at the offensive free agents before Thursday's flood gates open but what about these guys? Who would you resign and who would you let walk? Care to take a guess at the contracts?