After the Seattle Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII, all 32 teams officially entered the offseason and started plotting how they could position themselves for a shot at Super Bowl XLIX. Shutdown Corner will look at the offseason blueprint for each of the 32 NFL teams, presenting one team a day (using the 2014 draft order, starting with the Houston Texans and finishing with the Seahawks), leading you right up to the start of free agency on March 11.
2013 record: 10-6
Projected current salary-cap space (according to OverTheCap.com): $13.3 million under the cap
Possible salary-cap casualties: LB Jasper Brinkley, RB Ryan Williams.
Draft situation: The Cardinals will draft 20th in the first round and own all their original picks, except for their seventh-round pick, which they traded to the Oakland Raiders for Carson Palmer.
Revisiting 2013: The Cardinals were treading water in the NFC West, buoyed by a solid defense, through the first part of new head coach Bruce Arians' first season before they were undressed at home in Week 7 by the San Francisco 49ers on national TV. It felt as if things could head south at that point, but it turns out that the Cardinals flipped their season on its head from there. They rallied to win seven of their final nine games as the defense took another step up and Palmer and the offense got going, making it a three-horse race for the postseason in the NFL's toughest division. The Cardinals fell just short, winning 10 games but unable to get into the playoffs, with losses down the stretch to the Philadelphia Eagles and 49ers. But Arians drew Coach of the Year attention, and the arrow was left pointing way up heading into an interesting offseason.
Reasons for optimism: The defense has a great foundation, with top-level players on every level — defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett up front, Daryl Washington at linebacker and Patrick Peterson in the secondary, plus a good supporting cast around them. Offensively, the 1-2 punch of Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd at receiver is better than most teams' duos, and Palmer played some better ball down the stretch, appearing capable of making a run with better protection in front of him and a few more receiving and running options. With some young, ascending talent on the roster (including Tyrann Mathieu, who is rehabbing an ACL), there is a great chance to see improvement from within.
Glaring hole to fill: The offensive line, even with some steady improvement, long has needed fortification. Although he improved down the stretch, Bradley Sowell grades out as a below-average starter at left tackle, and Winston might not return at right tackle. The return of injured left guard Jonathan Cooper, the 2013 first-rounder whom GM Steve Keim said last week was "tremendous athlete and a great player," will help immensely. Bobbie Massie could be the right tackle (or a guard, as some see him), but left tackle needs to be upgraded, perhaps by a free-agent option such as the Chiefs' Branden Albert or with the team's first-round pick.
Toughest decision: Keim and the Cardinals will have to take care of some in-house decisions on contracts before they can go headlong into the open market on free agents. A long-term deal seems to be in the offing for Peterson, but he's sure to command major money — how deep would the Cardinals go on him? Dansby also proved to be a key contributor for the team last season and still appears to have something left in the tank. Dockett also has a higher cap figure for 2014 and could be extended a year or two to help ease that a bit. The Cardinals are not flush with cap space and likely can't go more than $8 million per year for a player such as Albert, so that could price them out there.
Best-case offseason scenario: Setting a top line on Albert (or any potential free-agent left tackle) will be key, and Keim's early moves have shown him to be smart and measured with such things. Assuming they can get extensions for their key players and keep the infrastructure intact — without kicking the can down the road too much, as it relates to the cap situation — the Cardinals should be in good shape, talent-wise, for the next few seasons. After upgrading the O-line talent, their draft priorities should be to add depth at linebacker, receiver, tight end (Arians said last week he prefers blockers here) and in the secondary (especially at safety). The new two-headed running back tandem could be Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor, which would save them from having to re-sign Mendenhall beyond a one-year deal, if they even want to.
Previous Blueprints: 32. Houston Texans; 31. Washington Redskins; 30. Jacksonville Jaguars; 29. Cleveland Browns; 28. Oakland Raiders; 27. Atlanta Falcons; 26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers; 25. Minnesota Vikings; 24. Buffalo Bills; 23. Detroit Lions; 22. Tennessee Titans; 21. New York Giants; 20. St. Louis Rams; 19. Chicago Bears; 18. Pittsburgh Steelers; 17. Dallas Cowboys; 16. Baltimore Ravens; 15. New York Jets; 14. Miami Dolphins
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