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Cardinals' needs, options as free agency begins

As free agency begins, a look at Cardinals' pressing needs and how they can -- or can't -- address them.

By the time you read this, the complexion of the Cardinals’ free-agency plan may have changed. Kevin Kolb’s contract impasse may have been solved, for better or for worse. A new running back may have been signed to replace the released Beanie Wells. Safety Rashad Johnson will be the heir apparent to Adrian Wilson, and who knows, maybe the Cards will be touting yet another new quarterback in this endless (perhaps futile?) search for Kurt Warner’s replacement.


With all the recent cuts – Wilson, Wells, receiver Early Doucet, linebacker Stewart Bradley and cornerback William Gay among them – the Cards are believed to be about $8 million to $9 million under the NFL’s new salary cap of $123 million. That modest amount will likely prevent them from being major players in the free-agent market, especially if they concentrate on signing some of their own free agents, as expected, with Johnson’s signing being the first domino to fall (he tweeted the news Monday night).


There are some obvious needs to be addressed, but what the Cards want and what they are able to do in free agency are two different animals, dependent upon their available cash, the attractiveness of this club versus others to free agents and the elephant in the room, Kolb’s $9 million 2013 salary that carries a cap hit of $13.5 million.


It is also impossible to know which needs the Cardinals will address in next month’s draft rather than free agency. But here’s a quick glance at some areas the Cards could look to address and why.


QUARTERBACK


The Cardinals already tendered a second-round offer to Brian Hoyer and have both Kolb and John Skelton under contract. If they can convince Kolb to take a pay cut, there may be no more work to do. But recent reports have linked the Cardinals to a number of other QBs, including Carson Palmer (if the Raiders release him), Colts backup Drew Stanton, who played in coach Bruce Arians' system last season in Indianapolis, and Ryan Mallett, if the Patriots are willing to trade him and the Cards are willing to give up more draft picks for a QB they already passed on once.


RUNNING BACK


The decision to release Wells left the Cards with far too few bodies at this position, fueling the already-rampant speculation that they will pursue free agent Reggie Bush. But Arians has also made it clear he wants his running backs to be every-down guys and doesn’t think of running backs as significant receiving options, a strength of Bush’s. Regardless, the Cards must add a player at this position to pair with injury-plagued Ryan Williams. LaRod Stephens-Howling is a free agent about whom there has been no talk of re-signing. The only other options on the roster are William Powell and Alfonso Smith. Neither is a potential No. 2 back.


OFFENSIVE LINE


There is clearly a need here, but the Cards don’t figure to go after some of the bigger names on the market such as Jake Long and Sebastian Vollmer. The strength of this year’s NFL draft is offensive linemen, and the Cards will also have Levi Brown returning next season along with young tackles Bobby Massie and Nate Potter. Brown missed all of 2012 with a torn triceps. The Cardinals had representatives at the pro day for highly touted Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher on Monday. One of those reps was offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, whose area of expertise is the offensive line.


INSIDE LINEBACKER


Bradley is gone and 35-year-old Paris Lenon is a free agent, although he said last weekend that his agent has been in contact with the Cardinals and he would like to return. The Cards need a young player to pair alongside emerging star Daryl Washington, with only last year’s backup, Reggie Walker, a strong possibility right now.


CORNERBACK


With Gay gone and both Greg Toler and Michael Adams free agents, cornerback seems one of the safest bets for a free-agency move. The Cards would like the physical Toler back, but it is believed that he wants to test the free-agent market. That leaves only 2012 third-round pick Jamell Fleming as a possibility opposite Patrick Peterson. The Cards clearly need more than that.


Teams have been allowed to speak with agents about their free-agent-to-be clients since Saturday, so the deals could come fast and furious when free agency officially begins at 1 p.m. Arizona time on Tuesday.


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