RB Jason Wright, FB Dan Kreider, TE Anthony Becht, C Melvin Fowler, CB Bryant McFadden, S Keith Lewis.
RB Chris Wells, DE/OLB Cody Brown, FS Rashad Johnson, CB Greg Toler, G Herman Johnson, DE/OLB Will Davis, RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, G Trevor Canfield.
RB Edgerrin James, RB J.J. Arrington, FB Terrelle Smith, C Donovan Raiola, DE Antonio Smith, ILB Monty Beisel, CB Rod Hood, CB Eric Green.
2009 Arizona Cardinals Offense:
A year ago, we didn't know whom Arizona's starting quarterback would be. Matt Leinart was mired in beer bong controversy, while Kurt Warner was considered old and washed up.
It's amazing how much can change in such a short period of time. Eight months after I wrote up my 2008 Arizona Cardinals Season Preview (I had them going 8-8), they finished 9-7, pulled three upsets in the playoffs, and nearly defeated Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.
Instead of perceiving Warner as an old cripple, most fans now regard the old veteran as one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Warner threw for 4,583 yards, 30 touchdowns and 14 picks in the regular season. He was even better in the playoffs, going 92-of-135 for 1,147 yards (8.5 YPA), 11 scores and three picks in four games.
I've always maintained that Warner could be successful as long as he had solid pass protection (sacked 26 times in the regular season; five times in the playoffs). However, even without any downgrades on the offensive line, Warner could struggle in 2009.
Warner will be 38 on June 22. He also just signed a 2-year, $23 million contract. Even if he doesn't get hurt, I think it's a bit unrealistic to expect Warner to match his 2008 production, even with the help of Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston. All three receivers eclipsed the 1,000-yard barrier in the regular season, but Fitzgerald took his game to a whole new level in the doggone playoff, catching 30 passes for 546 yards and seven scores. Fitzgerald was simply unstoppable - he was consequently taken fifth in our 2009 Fantasy Football Experts Mock Draft - and if he carries that over to the 2009 campaign, it's hard to imagine anyone stopping Arizona's offense.
It's pretty remarkable that the Cardinals averaged 26.7 points per game last year without any sort of running attack. Edgerrin James struggled, gaining 3.9 yards per carry. He was benched in the middle of the season for the dancing Tim Hightower, who managed a pitiful 2.8 yards per pop. This prompted Arizona to spend the 31st selection in the 2009 NFL Draft on Chris Wells, a 6-1, 235-pound monstrous back with speed. Though he can't catch the ball - Hightower will be used on third downs - Wells adds a dimension Arizona's scoring attack lacked a year ago, which is scary.
Even though Warner was sacked only 26 times in 2008, the Cardinals' offensive line has its liabilities. Left tackle Mike Gandy allowed 6.25 sacks last season, and is just three years removed from giving up 12.5 sacks with the Bills. Right tackle Levi Brown was even worse, surrendering 11 sacks and getting called for eight penalties. Center Lyle Sendlein didn't give up a whole sack, but struggled in run-blocking, and often either botched a snap or stepped on Warner's feet. While Sendlein should still be a problem, I'm expecting Gandy and Brown's sack total to drop now that the opposition will have to actually respect Arizona's rushing attack.
2009 Arizona Cardinals Defense:
Arizona failed to qualify for the postseason in 2007 because its secondary allowed Matt Hasselbeck and Drew Brees to go a combined 48-of-63, 587 yards and six touchdowns in consecutive weeks down the stretch. Call me crazy, but when your defensive backs allow a YPA (9.3) that happens to be greater than an incompletion-per-game average (7.5), you're going to suck.
Things seemed to be going that way during the latter stages of the 2008 campaign. Starting with a loss against the Giants on Nov. 23, Arizona surrendered 37, 48, 10 (Rams), 35, 47 and 21 points in consecutive games. Even Tarvaris Jackson was able to throw four touchdowns against them, leading many to believe that the Cardinals had no chance in the postseason. However, in the four games, Arizona mustered 10 sacks and surrendered less than 235 passing yards in all but one contest (the exception was Donovan McNabb in a comeback effort).
Unfortunately, one of the players who stepped up in the playoffs, Antonio Smith, is gone. Unless rookie Cody Brown can step up right away, the Cardinals could have trouble getting to the quarterback consistently. Chike Okeafor, now 33, registered just 4.5 sacks in 2008, marking the first time since 2002 that he wasn't able to collect at least eight. Bert Berry, meanwhile, led the team with five sacks last season. However, he turns 34 in August, and he was already unreliable; he has missed 23 games the past four years.
The pass rush isn't the only problem Arizona's defense has. Darnell Dockett, a talented lineman who fits both the 4-3 and 3-4, is disgruntled and has requested a trade. Dockett compiled three sacks during the Cardinals' postseason run. Meanwhile, reserve nose tackle Alan Branch reported to minicamp really overweight and out of shape. This wouldn't be such a big deal if starting nose tackle Gabe Watson wasn't coming off his second knee surgery in as many years.
With all of that said, not everything regarding the Cardinals' stop unit is bleak. Assuming Dockett doesn't go anywhere, Arizona figures to have a potent 3-4 end tandem with Dockett and second-year Calais Campbell. The team also has one of the top inside linebackers in the league in Karlos Dansby.
Meanwhile, the secondary is packed with talent; Adrian Wilson is easily one of the top strong safeties in the game right now. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had an incredible rookie campaign, as the coaches asked him to trail each team's top wideout during Arizona's playoff run. DRC held Steve Smith to just two catches for 43 yards in the second round. Across from DRC will be the newly signed Bryant McFadden, who thrived in Pittsburgh last year. Rounding out the secondary, Antrel Rolle played well in his first full season as a free safety, though he'll get some competition from rookie Rashad Johnson.
2009 Arizona Cardinals Schedule and Intangibles:
The Super Bowl Loser Curse. You can't avoid it. Only Seattle has qualified for the postseason the year after losing the Big Game this decade, and that was only because the NFC West really sucked that season. Everyone called me crazy when I suggested last summer that the Patriots weren't a lock to make the playoffs. It took a Bernard Pollard hit to Tom Brady's knee, but the improbable happened. You can't tell me that at age 38, Warner is immune to getting hurt. There's a reason I have him lower than the norm in my 2009 Fantasy Football Rankings.
One other thing that could deter Arizona's playoff hopes is the coaching turnover. Both coordinators, Todd Haley and Clancy Pendergast, are now with the Chiefs.
Something that was apparent during Arizona's postseason run was the homefield advantage the team unceremoniously established. Including the playoffs, the Cardinals were 8-2 as hosts in 2008. They were 6-2 at home in 2007.
Since 1999, Arizona has surrendered 11 punt or kickoffs for touchdowns, while scoring only four of its own. Opponents were also able to block five of the team's punts or kicks since 2006. That's ridiculous. How does all that happen? Even worse, J.J. Arrington, who scored on a kickoff last year, is gone.
Neil Rackers is coming off the second-best season of his career; though he was just 1-of-2 from beyond 50 yards, he was 25-of-28 overall, including 6-of-6 from 40-49.
Taking over for the ineffective Dirk Johnson, Ben Graham wasn't much better; he maintained a 42-yard punting average.
Playing in the NFC West, the Cardinals have their share of easy opponents. In fact, check out their final four games: at 49ers, at Lions, vs. Rams, vs. Packers. It really doesn't get much easier than that. Arizona does, however, have to battle Chicago, Carolina, Indianapolis, Tennessee and the Giants.
2009 Arizona Cardinals Analysis: The Cardinals finally stopped being the Cardinals last year. It took them numerous decades, but they got over the hump and nearly pulled a shocker in the Super Bowl.
Repeating will be twice as hard. Warner is 38... the pass rush is questionable... there are two new coordinators in place... the Seahawks will be better with a healthy Matt Hasselbeck... and who could forget the venerable Super Bowl Loser Curse, which ripped apart Tom Brady's knee a year ago?
Arizona's transformation from laughable futility to complete competence has been amazing. Ken Whisenhunt really knows what he's doing, and if the Cardinals can find a successor for Kurt Warner, they'll be competitive for a long time.
There's absolutely no reason Arizona should have been allowed to land Chris Wells at No. 31. He was way too talented to fall that far. Then again, it seems like some of the NFL general managers get more inept every year.
The Cardinals made great value picks throughout Draft Weekend. Cody Brown should be a solid pass-rusher. Rashad Johnson, taken at No. 95, was a second-round prospect. Herman Johnson, obtained at No. 167, was one of the top-rated guards going into the 2009 NFL Draft. Trevor Canfield was a Round 7 steal.
Grade given on 4/27/09: A+
2009 NFL Draft Picks:
31. Chris Wells, RB, Ohio State
The Cardinals land a top talent at No. 31. This shouldn't be possible, but some of these general managers shouldn't have jobs either. (Pick Grade: A)
63. Cody Brown, DE/OLB, Connecticut
Cody Brown fills a need and could have been drafted a bit earlier than this. You can never have enough guys to rush the passer. Another excellent choice by the Cardinals. (Pick Grade: A)
95. Rashad Johnson, FS, Alabama
It's pretty apparent that the Cardinals are no longer the same old Cardinals. Rashad Johnson is incredible value; he was a projected high second-round pick. (Pick Grade: A)
131. Greg Toler, CB, St. Pauls
The Cardinals needed another corner, and this happens to be Greg Toler's draft range. Solid pick. (Pick Grade: B)
167. Herman Johnson, G, LSU
Like Duke Robinson, Herman Johnson took a huge drop on Draft Weekend. And like Carolina, Arizona is getting outstanding value here. Herman Johnson could be a starter and open up huge holes for Chris Wells. (Pick Grade: A)
204. Will Davis, DE/OLB, Illinois
Defensively, it all starts with getting to the quarterback. You can never have enough pass-rushers. (Pick Grade: B)
240. LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB, Pittsburgh
With J.J. Arrington and (presumably) Edgerrin James gone, the Cardinals had to find some running back depth. (Pick Grade: B)
254. Trevor Canfield, G, Cincinnati
Yet another Arizona pick with amazing draft and positional value. The Cardinals needed a guard, so either Herman Johnson or Trevor Canfield should pan out. (Pick Grade: A)
Let's just use something Chris Berman said on ESPN's best show (even though it was only on twice this entire NFL season), NFL Primetime: "The Arizona Cardinals are going to the Super Bowl!? The Arizona... Tom! The Arizona Cardinals! The Arizona Cardinals are going to the Super Bowl!? I-I-I-I-I-I, I don't know what else to say. The Cardinals? The Arizona Cardinals!?"
Seahawks sign RB Edgerrin James
Bears sign C Donovan Raiola
Cardinals sign C Melvin Fowler
Cardinals cut C Donovan Raiola
Browns sign CB Rod Hood
Cardinals cut RB Edgerrin James
Cardinals cut DE/OLB Travis LaBoy
Cardinals cut CB Rod Hood
Lions sign FB Terrelle Smith
Cardinals sign FB Dan Kreider
Cardinals re-sign TE Leonard Pope
Cardinals re-sign NT Gabe Watson
Cardinals re-sign CB Ralph Brown
Cardinals sign TE Anthony Becht
Cardinals re-sign G Elton Brown
Cardinals re-sign DE/OLB Bert Berry
Chiefs sign ILB Monty Beisel
Cardinals re-sign DE/OLB Clark Haggans
Cardinals sign RB Jason Wright
Dolphins sign CB Eric Green
Cardinals sign CB Bryant McFadden
Broncos sign RB J.J. Arrington
Cardinals re-sign QB Kurt Warner
Cardinals re-sign P Ben Graham
Texans sign DE Antonio Smith
Cardinals re-sign QB Brian St. Pierre
Cardinals sign S Keith Lewis
Cardinals franchise ILB Karlos Dansby
Rush Linebacker: No one on the Cardinals had more than five sacks during the regular season. Darnell Dockett stepped up with three sacks in the playoffs, but he's a defensive tackle. Arizona needs help with its exterior pass rush. Drafted Cody Brown and Will Davis; re-signed Bert Berry
Running Back: Edgerrin James is already gone, and Tim Hightower does way too much dancing around to be anything more than a goal-line back. Chances are, Arizona will be looking for a new ball-carrier when pick No. 31 rolls around. Drafted Chris Wells and LaRod Stephens-Howling; signed Jason Wright
Center: There's no reason why Lyle Sendlein should be starting again in 2009. He's a capable backup, but it seems like he's good for botching a few snaps or stepping on Kurt Warner's foot every Sunday. Signed Melvin Fowler
Guard: The Cardinals could use a powerful guard to help open up running lanes for next year's new running back. Drafted Herman Johnson and Trevor Canfield; re-signed Elton Brown
Cornerback: While Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was emerging as a potential Pro Bowl corner as a mere rookie, Rod Hood was busy getting torched by the likes of Tarvaris Jackson. Hood's not a terrible corner by any means, but there is room for an upgrade here. Signed Bryant McFadden; re-signed Ralph Brown
Tight End: Leonard Pope, Ben Patrick and the guy from Star Trek aren't cutting it. The Cardinals really could benefit from a top-notch tight end, especially if Anquan Boldin leaves. Signed Anthony Becht
Special Teamers: The Cardinals were often guilty of surrendering touchdowns, and chunks of yardage on punt and kick returns. More talent is needed on special teams.
2009 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Bryant McFadden, CB, Steelers. Age: 27. Signed with Cardinals (2 years, $10 million; $5 million guaranteed)
Bryant McFadden broke his arm in the middle of the season, but when he played, he was outstanding in coverage.
Melvin Fowler, C, Bills. Age: 30. Signed with Cardinals
A poor center coming off shoulder surgery. The only positive Melvin Fowler brings to the table is starting experience (37 starts last three seasons). He'll be an OK backup somewhere.
Jason Wright, RB, Browns. Age: 27. - Signed with Cardinals (2 years, $2 million)
Keith Lewis, S, 49ers. Age: 27. - Signed with Cardinals (2 years)
Anthony Becht, TE, Rams. Age: 32. - Signed with Cardinals
Dan Kreider, FB, Rams. Age: 32. - Signed with Cardinals
Arizona Cardinals Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 12): $41 million
Kurt Warner, QB. Age: 38. Re-signed with Cardinals (2 years, $23 million)
An MVP candidate in the middle of the 2008 season, Kurt Warner has proven that he can lead a team deep into the playoffs if he has very good protection. Arizona needs to re-sign him as soon as possible.
Karlos Dansby, ILB. Age: 27. Franchised by Cardinals
A dynamic playmaker who had 119 tackles, four sacks, two picks and three fumble recoveries. Easily one of the main keys to Arizona's surprising success.
Gabe Watson (RFA), NT. Age: 25. Re-signed with Cardinals (1 year, $1.545 million)
One of the many reasons Arizona was able to improve so much on defense throughout the year. The Cardinals can't afford to let Giant Gabe go anywhere.
Antonio Smith, DE. Age: 27. Signed with Texans (5 years, $35 million; $12.5 million guaranteed)
After looking pretty average at the beginning of the year, Antonio Smith has been lights out in the postseason. He's made himself a good amount of money during Arizona's improbable run.
Edgerrin James, RB. Age: 31. Signed with Seahawks (1 year, $2 million)
An interesting free agent. Is Edgerrin James done, or was his lacking production in Arizona the result of poor blocking? We'll soon find out. James hasn't averaged more than 3.9 yards per carry since leaving the Colts after the 2005 season.
Rod Hood, CB. Age: 27. Signed with Browns (1 year)
Rod Hood's production has fallen off a bit recently, but he's still a decent nickel option.
Travis LaBoy, DE/OLB. Age: 28.
Travis LaBoy played in 13 games last year and failed to register a sack in 11 of them. He's always banged up.
Bert Berry, DE/OLB. Age: 34. Re-signed with Cardinals
Bert Berry, who had five sacks in the regular season, managed two sacks in the first two playoff games. But at 34, his best days are behind him.
J.J. Arrington, RB. Age: 26. Signed with Broncos (4 years, $10 million)
J.J. Arrington averaged 6.3 yards per carry in 2008, though most of that came off of draws. He's a solid change-of-pace back; nothing more.
Ralph Brown, CB. Age: 30. Re-signed with Cardinals (1 year)
A depth guy who has come up big in December and January. Ralph Brown has three picks in the four games leading up to the Super Bowl.
Terrelle Smith, FB, Cardinals. Age: 31. - Signed with Lions
Ben Graham, P. Age: 35. - Re-signed with Cardinals (2 years)
Elton Brown, OL. Age: 27. - Re-signed with Cardinals
Eric Green, CB. Age: 27. - Signed with Dolphins
Leonard Pope (RFA), TE. Age: 25. - Re-signed with Cardinals (1 year, $1.01 million)
Clark Haggans, DE/OLB. Age: 32. - Re-signed with Cardinals (3 years)
Brian St. Pierre, QB. Age: 29. - Re-signed with Cardinals (1 year, $1 million)
Divisional Rival History: San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers swept the Cardinals in 2007, but it looks like that was a fluke; Arizona has won six of the previous eight tilts. Seattle Seahawks: The host has claimed five of the previous six. No surprise here - both teams stink on the road. St. Louis Rams: Arizona has won the past five matchups in this series. Its last three victories have been by a combined score of 116-42.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2009 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)