The Arizona Cardinals filled their most immediate needs in free agency, giving themselves flexibility in the draft.
The priority was finding a left tackle and the Cardinals think they have a long-term answer in Jared Veldheer, an unrestricted free agent from the Raiders. Cornerback wasn't a great need, but the Cardinals pounced on the opportunity when Antonio Cromartie became available. It's only a one-year deal, which gives them the economic freedom, long-term, to reach a multi-year deal with Patrick Peterson. That might come as soon as this offseason.
Jonathan Dwyer, who played for Bruce Arians in Pittsburgh, gives them depth at running back. And he knows the offense. John Carlson provides not only depth but perhaps also a contender for a starting tight end job. Ted Larsen is in the mix to start at right guard. If he doesn't earn that job, he can be a key swing person on the line, playing either guard or center.
The Cardinals could go a number of ways in the draft, especially in the first round, and many of them would make sense.
The right offensive tackle's job is open but there are candidates on the roster, so it's not as if the team needs to take an offensive lineman. The Cardinals more likely will take a defensive player with the 20th overall pick.
General manager Steve Keim has spoken often this offseason of the team's need to bring in taller "longer" players at defensive end and outside linebacker.
The club's best pass rusher, John Abraham, will be 36 when the season starts. Right end Darnell Dockett will be 33. The club doesn't have an heir apparent to Dockett at end, so addressing that position makes sense.
The team also has a need at safety. Yeremiah Bell, one of last year's starters, might retire. Tyrann Mathieu, another starter, is questionable for the start of the season because of torn knee ligaments suffered last December.
For Keim, a key to this draft will be adding picks through trades. The Cardinals have only six, one in each of the first rounds. A year ago, Keim was able to add two picks during draft weekend and he made them count: taking running back Andre Ellington in the sixth round and guard Earl Watford in the fourth.
Look for Keim to be willing to move down and around in this draft, too.
--Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington was sentenced on Wednesday to one year of supervised probation in his aggravated assault case.
Washington, 27, pleaded guilty last month in Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix to aggravated assault arising out of a May 1, 2013 argument with a former girlfriend, who is the mother of his daughter. Authorities said Washington choked the woman and caused a fall that broke her right collarbone.
Washington will likely face punishment from the NFL under its personal conduct policy.
"We've known this was coming for a long time," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "Daryl's known it. So, whatever the judge decides is right in this case and we'll live with it. We'll wait and see how that goes."
Washington was suspended the first four games of last season for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Washington has started 53 games over four seasons for Arizona. He had nine sacks last season and led the team in tackles in 2012 with 140.
--The Cardinals and the operators of University of Phoenix Stadium are spending millions to upgrade the stadium this offseason. Two new video boards will cost about $11 million. A new wireless system is costing another $8 million. The stadium, which opened in 2006, needed to be spruced up if it's going to compete for Super Bowls, Final Fours and college football championships.
"There are a lot of aspects of the stadium that will need some attention," said Tom Sadler, the president/CEO of the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, which runs the stadium. "We need to continue to be on the leading edge of creating a world-class experience for our fans. You look around the country there is an expectation of having a certain level of technology in your stadium that creates that experience."
--The only change coach Bruce Arians made to his staff this offseason was firing strength and conditioning coach John Lott and hiring Buddy Morris and Roger Kingdom, who won two gold medals as an Olympic hurdler.
Kingdom thinks he can help the Cardinals become a faster team.
"These guys, we have to take them back to the basics and teach them everything," he said. That includes receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
"I think Larry can add at least another two years to his career by learning how to run properly, more efficiently and to stay healthier," Kingdom said. "If you thought that he ran away from people before, just let me have some free time with him."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--The Cardinals picked up the fifth-year option for cornerback Patrick Peterson. Peterson will earn $10.081 million in 2015.
Peterson signed a four-year contract with the option when he was drafted fifth overall in 2011. Keeping Peterson for another season gives the Cardinals time to work out a long-term deal with the Pro Bowler. He is scheduled to earn $2.88 million in 2014.
Peterson, who turns 24 in July, recorded 40 tackles, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries last season.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: The Cardinals have operated a 3-4 defense since 2007 but have yet to develop an elite player at this position. Their best ones have come via free agency, including current players John Abraham, Matt Shaughnessy and Lorenzo Alexander. One area in which the Cardinals are behind the Seahawks is just in sheer numbers of players who can rush the passer. You can't have enough of them.
DEFENSIVE END: Starting left end Darnell Dockett turns 33 next month and there is no assurance he will be on the roster in 2015, the last year of his contract. It's time to start grooming a replacement. The rookie could bolster the team's questionable depth here.
SAFETY: Tight ends killed the Cardinals in 2013, and while it wasn't only because of their safeties, a lack of coverage ability by some of them contributed. The Cardinals could use a youngster with instincts, vision and size, to go along with Tyrann Mathieu, a third-round pick last year.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--RB Alfonso Smith (not tendered as RFA) is a decent back, a good special teams player and a hard worker. The team appears ready to move on, however, to find a running back to fill the fourth of fifth slot.
--DE Ronald Talley (not tendered as RFA)) is a decent backup but was hindered most of last season with a wrist injury. If he's healthy, he could help a team, maybe even the Cardinals.
--DE Everette Thompson (not tendered as ERFA).
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--SS Yeremiah Bell started all 16 games last year after signing a one-year deal. But he's 36 and the team will look to get younger at the position. Bell is in tremendous shape and there's a chance he could return, but it likely will be only if the Cardinals can't find a replacement.
--C/G Mike Gibson played in every game a year ago, but only on special teams. He will look for opportunities but could end up back in Arizona.
--TE Jeff King missed all of last year with a knee injury. He should be able to work out for teams by the end of the month. The Cardinals haven't shown much interest in re-signing him.
--TE Kory Sperry hasn't seen much interest in being re-signed.
--RT Eric Winston started 16 games and was up and down. Still, he's better than anyone else the team has. But the Cardinals want him at the right price, so they will wait to see if any other team pursues him.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--TE Jake Ballard: Not tendered as RFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB Marcus Benard: Not tendered as RFA/1 yr, terms unknown.
--K Jay Feely: Potential UFA; $1.02M/1 yr.
--CB Bryan McCann: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DE Frostee Rucker: $2.145M/2 yrs, $590,000 guaranteed.
--LB Matt Shaughnessy: UFA; terms unknown.
--NT Alameda Ta'amu: Potential ERFA; $570,000/1 yr.
--P Dave Zastudil: Potential UFA; $2.95M/2 yrs, $545,000 SB.
--TE John Carlson: FA Vikings; $4.65M/2 yrs.
--CB Antonio Cromartie: FA Jets; $3.5M/1 yr, $1M SB/$250,000 RB.
--RB Jonathan Dwyer: UFA Steelers; $795,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--WR Ted Ginn: UFA Panthers; $9.75M/3 yrs.
--C Ted Larsen: UFA Buccaneers; $2.6M/2 yrs, $470,000 SB.
--T Jared Veldheer: UFA Raiders; $35M/5 yrs, $6.25M SB/$17M guaranteed.
--CB Javier Arenas: UFA Falcons; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB Jasper Brinkley (released).
--CB Antoine Cason: UFA Panthers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--G Daryn Colledge (released/post-June 1 designation).
--LB Karlos Dansby: UFA Browns; $24M/4 yrs, $14M guaranteed.
--TE Jim Dray: UFA Browns; $5.625M/3 yrs, $2.25M guaranteed.
--LB Dontay Moch (released).
--WR Andre Roberts: UFA Redskins; $16M/4 yrs.
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- Bruce Arians