RFA preview: Cardinals' Pope, Watson on deck

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals' commitment to 3-4 principles as part of a hybrid defense means they'll want to keep nose tackle Gabe Watson from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

Watson and tight end Leonard Pope are restricted free agents this offseason. The Cardinals can retain rights to both by making minimum qualifying offers before the Thursday deadline.

The Cardinals would like more consistency at tight end. I would expect them to offer Pope at the minimum level. That would almost certainly be enough to dissuade other teams from making an offer, for if the Cardinals declined to match, the signing team would send a third-round choice to Arizona.

Arizona will likely take a safer approach with Watson. A minimum offer would return only a fourth-round pick to Arizona if the Cardinals declined to match an offer. The Cardinals could gain insurance by making a $1.545 million offer. In that case, Arizona would receive a second-round choice for failing to match offers on Watson.

The knee problems Watson overcame last season might dissuade other teams from valuing him as a second-round choice. But if Watson makes a full recovery and helps the Cardinals, he could be worth the $1.545 million investment.