When the Arizona Cardinals selected eighth overall in the 2005 draft they thought they were getting a physical corner capable of shutting down even the most productive wide receivers. Rolle had a stellar collegiate career at the University of Miami where he was a three year starter and his resume was highlighted by a game in 2003 when he held, then Pittsburgh Panther receiver, Larry Fitzgerald to just three receptions for 26 yards. We all know Rolle's career path since his rookie year in 2005 (failed starting corner to promising nickel back to developing free safety) but what exactly will the future hold for the Rolle?
Now you might be thinking, wait, wait, all Rolle has to do is continue to develop as a solid free safety. He is, afterall, under contract for the next two seasons and the defensive backfield seems primed with young talent on the upswing and quite frankly you'd be correct in that line of thought. Rolle's contract status throws a monkey wrench in the plans though because he's due almost six million this season, which is a manageable figure even though it makes him almost the top paid safety in the league, but it's the escalator in the final year of his rookie deal that will make you cringe. Rolle's salary in 2010, according to reports, will basically double meaning that he'd be due nearly $12 million dollars. That figure would easily make him the highest paid safety in the league and will likely force the Cardinals to make a decision about his future before the start of 2010. While it's highly unlikely that the Cardinals would simply cut Rolle, it's a safe assumption to think that they'll push very hard for a long term extension next off season, if not before then. With that in mind, in some ways Rolle could look at this upcoming season as a contract year, so what are some worthy expectations?
Goal #1: Continue to improve - Sure that's a simplistic goal that covers a ton of different areas but in this case, I think it's valid. Rolle started last season very slowly and during the bye week he was one of the most disappointing players on the entire team, but as he got acclimated to the position we started to see the potential that we raved about during the off season. Rolle will have to continue to grow as a safety and even though it's too early to label him a Pro Bowl candidate, you'd have to think that's the kind of production that the Cardinals are expecting.
Goal #2: Take pressure off the rest of the secondary - The Cardinals have made several moves to strengthen a struggling secondary in the past twelve months. They drafted future star, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the first round and signed potential starter Bryant McFadden to form a possibly potent trio at corner back, with Roderick Hood. That trio gives the Cardinals secondary a some ball-hawking potential and the ever dangerous Adrian Wilson is always a force around the line of scrimmage with the potential to change a game with every snap. Antrel Rolle must develop into the type of center field, stay deep and don't get beat, safety who will allow his corners to play aggressively and Wilson to be blitzing, power-packed presence at the line of scrimmage that makes him special. If Rolle can the be the safety net who takes away an opponents deep ball, the Cardinals secondary could be in line for a remarkable turn around.
Goal #3: Become even more of a play maker - Rolle has always been a force with the ball in his hands and last year Ken Whisenhunt tried to take advantage of that skill. Rolle ran a couple of plays on offense early in the season and even experimented with returning punts during the preseason. With Rolle trying to learn the 'ins and outs' of free safety, his time spent on offense and special teams was limited but he could take on a bigger role in 2009 and increase his value to the franchise. With the possibility of a big payday in his near future, he should jump at every opportunity to make an impact.
With the Cardinals success in the playoffs this season, the expectations will be amazingly high in 2009 and guys like Antrel Rolle will have a huge impact on whether or not those expectations are met, but that's not all he'll be playing for in 2009. What do you expect from Rolle next year and do you think he deserves an extension?