The Arizona Cardinals signed a host of veteran players to one-year contracts last offseason which have given them a short-term boost and have them in the thick of the NFC playoff race in 2013. At the conclusion of the season, however, they'll be forced to face the downside of that strategy: a large number of expired contracts.
The list of players scheduled to become unrestricted agents this offseason includes Karlos Dansby, Matt Shaughnessy, Eric Winston, Yeremiah Bell, Frostee Rucker, Javier Arenas, Antoine Cason and Rashard Mendenhall.
The Cardinals will certainly be interested in bringing some of those names back into the fold for 2014. On his weekly radio appearance on Arizona Sports 620 earlier this week, General Manager Steve Keim said the team will be proactive in their pursuit of contract extensions.
We are going to aggressively approach several of these guys. I have already to some degree. We are going to try and put something in place to try to keep some continuity here, particularly for the guys who are playing well. But in some regard, the fans and media are going to have to understand, sometimes the market dictates what happens. The agents and the players sometimes want to see what’s out there.
The question is, which players do the Cardinals have the interest and ability to re-sign? While Keim declined to mention specific names, we've determined which of the more notable players on the list Arizona is likely to pursue this offseason.
LB Karlos Dansby
Dansby was not only the Cardinals' best signing, but one of the best pickups in the entire league last summer. After garnering little attention in free agency, the veteran linebacker signed a one-year, $2.25 deal to return to Arizona, where he spent his first six NFL seasons before making a three-year trip to Miami. The 32-year-old has set back the clock in 2013, leading the team with 105 tackles and is on pace to set career highs in sacks and interceptions. Despite his advancing age, it seems a foregone conclusion that Arizona would like to keep him around -- the only question is whether they will be willing to pay the money to do it. Team management is surely kicking themselves for not locking up Dansby for longer. With a Pro Bowl-caliber year under his belt, he now has plenty of leverage to hit the lottery on the open market.
OT Eric Winston
The 2013 season hasn't been as strong for Winston, who landed in Arizona after being cut by the Chiefs in March. Pro Football Focus grades him out in the bottom ten percent of all NFL tackles and attributes seven sacks and six quarterback hits to him. That being said, he's a model of consistency -- he hasn't missed a start since his rookie year in 2006 -- and proved his ability over five years anchoring the Texans' line. If he couldn't get the $3-4 million he wanted last offseason, he certainly won't be able to this time around, so he could be a bargain if the Cardinals opted to re-sign him.
S Yeremiah Bell
Bell will be 36 in March and has shown a decline in play. His tackle numbers have decreased in every year since 2009 and he's on pace for his lowest number since an injury-shortened 2007. His coverage abilities are still there, though -- odd considering speed is usually the first thing to go -- and his two picks and eight passes defensed are his highest totals in five seasons. Still, with Tyrann Mathieu emerging as an elite safety, it's unlikely we'll see Bell back in the desert.
RB Rashard Mendenhall
Mendenhall has largely been a disappointment in 2013. Expected to provide a spark to the running game, he's rushed for just 508 yards and six touchdowns. Meanwhile, rookie Andre Ellington continues to develop behind him. While Mendenhall has retained the starting job and the majority of the carries, Ellington has out-gained him 5.8 to 3.1 yards per carry and will count only $521,000 towards the cap in 2014 (compared to the $2.25 million Mendenhall cost this season). Mendenhall is only 26, but whether the Cards offer him a contract will likely depend on the team's projection of his backup.