Cardinals’ 10-6 season builds confidence, momentum

A 10-6 record wasn’t good enough to get the Arizona Cardinals

into the playoffs.

It did, however, generate a locker room bursting with confidence

after one season under coach Bruce Arians.

The Cardinals, a woeful 5-11 a year ago, won seven of their last

nine, impressive but not quite enough in the tough NFC West.

Arizona went 2-4 against teams in its division, with the biggest

win two weeks ago at Seattle.

That victory and Sunday’s 23-20 near miss against San Francisco

have the Cardinals believing they can go toe-to-toe with the two

NFC powers.

”The sky’s the limit,” quarterback Carson Palmer said as he

cleaned out his locker Monday.

The 61-year-old Arians, 9-3 as interim head coach at

Indianapolis last year, and his staff developed a team that

steadily got better.

Some players called Arians a father figure.

”I don’t like that,” he said. ”I’m the cool uncle that

everybody wants to have a drink with.”

Well, ”Uncle Bruce” meshed a roster that, at season’s end, had

28 players in their first year with the team, including half of the

starters, as the Cardinals compiled just their third 10-win season

since 1976. Along the way, the team made 192 roster moves.

”You have to build belief,” Arians said. ”I don’t think

there’s a guy in that room right now that doesn’t believe we can

walk out in any stadium in the NFL right now and compete, and

compete for 60 minutes and have a chance to win.”

But significant personnel challenges loom.

Sixteen players have expiring contracts. Six of them are

starters- inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, running back Rashard

Mendenhall, right tackle Eric Winston, outside linebacker Matt

Shaughnessy, safety Yeremiah Bell and tight end Jim Dray.

”We’ll do everything we can as an organization to keep the

pieces we think that are important,” Arians said.

One of those pieces is Dansby, who resurrected his career with

an outstanding season.

Dansby returned to his former team on a one-year deal and

finished among the league leaders in solo tackles with 119. He also

had 6 1/2 sacks and four interceptions – two returned for

touchdowns.

”We definitely want to keep Karlos here,” Arians said.

”(General manager) Steve (Keim) has already started talking to

him. As a coach, you don’t want to lose that guy for sure.”

To make the moves they want to make, Arizona could try to

restructure Larry Fitzgerald’s contract, which counts a whopping

$18 million against next year’s salary cap.

The Cardinals also have a March deadline to decide whether to

pay the $10 million roster bonus due inside linebacker Daryl

Washington. Washington, one of the best in the league at his

position, was suspended the first four games of the season for

violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He also faces assault

and criminal trespass charges from an incident involving his former

girlfriend.

”I think that’s all going to be taken care of,” Washington

said. ”I’m praying and hoping everything gets behind me and I

don’t miss any more games next season. I’m very confident as where

I stand in this organization, that I’m a good enough player and a

good enough person on and off the field to come back next

season.”

Keim also said he would like to talk to cornerback Patrick

Peterson about a new contract, which is bound to mean big

money.

Peterson, Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Tyrann Mathieu, John

Abraham, probably Washington and perhaps Dansby will be back on a

defense that ranked sixth in the league.

On offense, after a slow start, Palmer threw for 4,274 yards,

ranking third on the franchise list. He became the first in NFL

history to top 4,000 yards passing for three teams and his 362

completion and 572 attempts were second on the franchise list only

to Kurt Warner’s 401 completions and 572 attempts in the 2008 Super

Bowl season. Palmer played every game, throwing for 24 touchdowns

but was intercepted 22 times.

Michael Floyd had a breakout year in his second NFL season

despite lingering injuries, catching 65 passes for 1,041 yards.

Fitzgerald had 82 catches for 972 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Then there’s dynamic rookie running back Andre Ellington.

”The future is very bright,” Palmer said. ”I think we have a

lot of very key pieces.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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