Free-agency rundown: Depleted Cards don’t expect freefall

As free agency rolls into Sunday, some thoughts to ponder, with plenty of players still on the market:

Linebacker Karlos Dansby is one of several key losses for the Cardinals.
Linebacker Karlos Dansby is one of several key losses for the Cardinals.

1. Which team has changed most dramatically since the offseason?  The Cardinals. They continued their active offseason Saturday night, acquiring safety Kerry Rhodes from the Jets, in exchange for a fourth-round pick in 2010, and a seventh-round pick in 2011.

I still view the Cardinals as the team to beat in the NFC West.  But think about the players they have lost, not only during the last few days – wide receiver Anquan Boldin (traded to Ravens), linebacker Karlos Dansby (signed by Dolphins) and safety Antrel Rolle (signed by Giants) – but since the end of the season (QB Kurt Warner, retirement).

Clearly, the Cardinals are embarking on a new era. But they will not concede that losing key players will lead to losing more games.

"We are a football team that I think is positioned correctly to withstand transition," general manager Rod Graves said at the Combine. "Whether we lose Karlos Dansby or Kurt Warner, I feel  (head coach) Ken (Whisenhunt) has done a tremendous job in instilling the right qualities and setting the proper standards. If we lose players from time to time, I think we can keep going."

Why do I still call the Cardinals the NFC West favorites? For starters, the division is weak, with the Rams and Seahawks in rebuilding mode, and only the 49ers posing a serious threat to unseat the Cardinals as division champs

Offensively, the Cardinals have enough wide receivers to compensate for losing Boldin – Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, and Early Doucet. With Matt Leinart as their new starting quarterback, look for the Cardinals to rely more on their running attack, and Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower have the talent to be effective in a two-back system.

"We certainly feel a lot more comfortable with our running game than we did three years ago,” Whisenhunt said.

Defensively, the Cardinals will look different without Dansby and Rolle, but they needed to make changes anyway, and getting Rhodes softens the blow of losing Rolle. The Cardinals surrendered 45 points in each of their two playoff games. You cannot win a championship like that.

"We all know that the safety position was a hole we needed to fill," Whisenhunt said in a statement. "To be able to do that so quickly and with a proven starter off the NFL’s No. 1 defense is a tremendous positive for our football team. Kerry has the experience and ability to step in right away. He fits a lot of the things that we do defensively and the prospect of having him alongside a perennial All-Pro like Adrian Wilson is very exciting."

The Cardinals may also sign free-agent linebacker Larry Foote, a player Whisenhunt is familiar with from their days together with the Steelers. Look for the Cardinals to focus on defense in the draft, hoping to get younger and more physical.

Leinart is still the key to how well the Cardinals fare next season. But with leaders like Whisenhunt, Fitzgerald, and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, the Cardinals’ losses in free agency should not send them into free fall.

2. Who should think hard before he makes a move?  Jets running back Thomas Jones. The Chiefs are interested in Jones, according to NFL Network, and ESPN reported Jones will visit Kansas City on Monday. But if he wants to play in a Super Bowl, Jones should pass on the Chiefs and wait for a contender to come calling. Jones is the best free-agent running back on the market, coming off five consecutive seasons of 1,000 or more rushing yards. However, he will be 32 years old in August and needs to make the most of the productive seasons he has remaining. If the Chargers or Texans come calling, Jones should start packing his bags.

3. Where would some remaining free agents fit nicely?

Leigh Bodden to the Texans. They need a corner after losing Dunta Robinson to the Falcons. Bodden, coming off a strong season with the Patriots, would fill the bill.

Ryan Clark to the Dolphins. Adding Dansby upgraded their defense, but why stop there? They need help at safety, and Clark is an underrated player.

Terrell Owens to the Bengals. I am tired of fighting this idea. Chad Ochocinco wants Owens, and if coach Marvin Lewis can handle the potential headaches, why not go for it? Owens has lost a step at age 36, but the Bengals cannot expect to repeat as AFC North champions without making more big plays.

"We need to be able to make vertical plays, and if we throw it down 40 yards and get a pass interference penalty, that counts," Lewis said. "We need to make more chunk plays offensively and be able to affect the game, so that we don’t grind it out and have 25 first downs every week."

Darren Sharper to the Saints. After testing the market, Sharper should re-sign with the team he won a Super Bowl with, unless another team blows away the Saints’ offer.

Clifton Brown is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

As free agency rolls into Sunday, some thoughts to ponder, with plenty of players still on the market:

Linebacker Karlos Dansby is one of several key losses for the Cardinals.
Linebacker Karlos Dansby is one of several key losses for the Cardinals.

1. Which team has changed most dramatically since the offseason?  The Cardinals. They continued their active offseason Saturday night, acquiring safety Kerry Rhodes from the Jets, in exchange for a fourth-round pick in 2010, and a seventh-round pick in 2011.

I still view the Cardinals as the team to beat in the NFC West.  But think about the players they have lost, not only during the last few days – wide receiver Anquan Boldin (traded to Ravens), linebacker Karlos Dansby (signed by Dolphins) and safety Antrel Rolle (signed by Giants) – but since the end of the season (QB Kurt Warner, retirement).

Clearly, the Cardinals are embarking on a new era. But they will not concede that losing key players will lead to losing more games.

"We are a football team that I think is positioned correctly to withstand transition," general manager Rod Graves said at the Combine. "Whether we lose Karlos Dansby or Kurt Warner, I feel  (head coach) Ken (Whisenhunt) has done a tremendous job in instilling the right qualities and setting the proper standards. If we lose players from time to time, I think we can keep going."

Why do I still call the Cardinals the NFC West favorites? For starters, the division is weak, with the Rams and Seahawks in rebuilding mode, and only the 49ers posing a serious threat to unseat the Cardinals as division champs

Offensively, the Cardinals have enough wide receivers to compensate for losing Boldin – Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, and Early Doucet. With Matt Leinart as their new starting quarterback, look for the Cardinals to rely more on their running attack, and Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower have the talent to be effective in a two-back system.

"We certainly feel a lot more comfortable with our running game than we did three years ago,” Whisenhunt said.

Defensively, the Cardinals will look different without Dansby and Rolle, but they needed to make changes anyway, and getting Rhodes softens the blow of losing Rolle. The Cardinals surrendered 45 points in each of their two playoff games. You cannot win a championship like that.

"We all know that the safety position was a hole we needed to fill," Whisenhunt said in a statement. "To be able to do that so quickly and with a proven starter off the NFL’s No. 1 defense is a tremendous positive for our football team. Kerry has the experience and ability to step in right away. He fits a lot of the things that we do defensively and the prospect of having him alongside a perennial All-Pro like Adrian Wilson is very exciting."

The Cardinals may also sign free-agent linebacker Larry Foote, a player Whisenhunt is familiar with from their days together with the Steelers. Look for the Cardinals to focus on defense in the draft, hoping to get younger and more physical.

Leinart is still the key to how well the Cardinals fare next season. But with leaders like Whisenhunt, Fitzgerald, and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, the Cardinals’ losses in free agency should not send them into free fall.

2. Who should think hard before he makes a move?  Jets running back Thomas Jones. The Chiefs are interested in Jones, according to NFL Network, and ESPN reported Jones will visit Kansas City on Monday. But if he wants to play in a Super Bowl, Jones should pass on the Chiefs and wait for a contender to come calling. Jones is the best free-agent running back on the market, coming off five consecutive seasons of 1,000 or more rushing yards. However, he will be 32 years old in August and needs to make the most of the productive seasons he has remaining. If the Chargers or Texans come calling, Jones should start packing his bags.

3. Where would some remaining free agents fit nicely?

Leigh Bodden to the Texans. They need a corner after losing Dunta Robinson to the Falcons. Bodden, coming off a strong season with the Patriots, would fill the bill.

Ryan Clark to the Dolphins. Adding Dansby upgraded their defense, but why stop there? They need help at safety, and Clark is an underrated player.

Terrell Owens to the Bengals. I am tired of fighting this idea. Chad Ochocinco wants Owens, and if coach Marvin Lewis can handle the potential headaches, why not go for it? Owens has lost a step at age 36, but the Bengals cannot expect to repeat as AFC North champions without making more big plays.

"We need to be able to make vertical plays, and if we throw it down 40 yards and get a pass interference penalty, that counts," Lewis said. "We need to make more chunk plays offensively and be able to affect the game, so that we don’t grind it out and have 25 first downs every week."

Darren Sharper to the Saints. After testing the market, Sharper should re-sign with the team he won a Super Bowl with, unless another team blows away the Saints’ offer.

Clifton Brown is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

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