Last week the news broke that the NFL salary cap was going to increase. Initial reports were $130 million, then it was raised to $133 million from the original cap projection of $126 million. Every team in the league will be thrilled to have an additional $7 million of cap room to maneuver this offseason, well except maybe the Raiders, who already have a ridiculous amount of cap space to overspend on the wrong players.
For the Cardinals it could mean a potential change to their offseason plan. I, along with most people, believed that the Cardinals wouldn’t be in a position to match the contract that would most likely be offered to linebacker Karlos Dansby. Now? Now the Cardinals are in a much better position to pay Dansby. Maybe even pay him a little higher per year to keep down the number of years. Dansby, like the Cardinals themselves, were a bit of surprise last year. It has been reported that the team offered him a contract on the first day of the offseason, no doubt to show their appreciation for the leadership he brought last season. Now they have some extra room to make sure he stays.
Before the new cap number was announced, the Cardinals had already restructured the contract of their most expensive player, Larry Fitzgerald. That move, plus the releasing of linebacker Jasper Brinkley, has given the Cardinals some major wiggle room in free agency. That is a good thing for a team that was thought to be heading for another rebuilding, but is instead looking to win now. So how can they use the extra space to contend for a title now?
They can start by signing one of the top free agent left tackles, whether it’s Branden Albert, Eugene Monroe, or Anthony Collins. They can also re-sign right tackle Eric Winston to bring continued stability to their offensive line. Then they need to show some patience. This year, like most years, there are bound to be some top end veterans who are released due to salary cap ramifications. Players such as Demarcus Ware, Julius Peppers, and Champ Bailey are just a few of the guys who could possibly be let go and will be looking for a playoff contender to play for. They could also very well jump into the mix with one of the top free agent safeties such as Jairus Byrd or TJ Ward. The team could also add another weapon on the offensive end. A wide receiver like Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin or Julian Edelman? Maybe add a running back to the stable to compliment Andre Ellington?
The point is that it is now possible for the Cardinals to upgrade several spots this offseason through free agency due to the extra cap room and some good cap management. No matter if their biggest gains come through the draft or through free agency, the Cardinals are looking to improve and take this team into the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
There is a feeling that if the Cardinals had made the playoffs last season that they would have made some noise. In the toughest division in football, the NFC West, the playoffs begin in week one. The NFC playoff picture starts with the San Francisco 49ers, who have gone to three straight NFC championship games and the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. The Cardinals were the only team to beat Seattle at home, they are out to prove that the gap between them and the class of the NFC is very small.
For the Cardinals, the time to go all in is right now.