<
>

Top 5 storylines heading into Cardinals' offseason

TEMPE, Ariz. – The Cardinals’ offseason is less than three days old but there are enough topics to discuss for the next few months.

Here are the top 5 storylines heading into the Arizona Cardinals offseason:

Larry Fitzgerald's future: It doesn’t matter what else happens to the Cardinals this offseason, what they decide to do with Fitzgerald will trump it. As has been discussed all year, Fitzgerald is due $16 million next season with $8 million of that coming as a roster bonus in March. With that salary, however, comes a $23.6 million cap hit, which is the point of contention for the team and Fitzgerald. During the next two months, one of the following will likely happen: Fitzgerald will either restructure his contract, renegotiate a new one, get released or get traded.

Carson Palmer's progress: All hopes of a deep run in the playoffs went out the door when Palmer went down with the second ACL injury of his career. Palmer will return, that's as close to a certainty as the Cardinals can get this offseason, but when and at what level are the main questions. Having gone through the rehab process once before, Palmer understands what to expect and is prepared to go through it again. But if he returns either just before or into training camp, how will that impact the Cardinals’ offense?

Getting healthy: With 21 players – including eight on injured reserve – missing a combined 109 games during the regular season, the Cardinals spent the entire season trying to overcome injuries. Arizona’s locker room looked more like a MASH unit than anything else. With a few months before offseason workouts begin, the Cardinals have time to get the likes of quarterback Drew Stanton, running back Andre Ellington, punter Dave Zastudil, defensive tackle Ed Stinson and tight end Troy Niklas healthy before preparation for next season begins.

Todd Bowles’ future: Of the five storylines, this one will be resolved quickest. Bowles will make a decision whether to take a head coaching job one way or the other in the next couple weeks. He has four interviews this week and potentially two more down the road. If he leaves, the Cardinals will be on their third defensive coordinator in four years, but the basic tenets of the 3-4 scheme likely won’t change. Whoever Bruce Arians chooses to replace Bowles will be someone he trusts more than the average coach. Arians doesn’t tinker with the defense, leaving Bowles to do his thing the past two years and with the exception of the last six games of this season, what Bowles did worked as Arizona was a top 10 defense both seasons.

In-house free agent priorities: Two months from Wednesday, teams can start legally pursuing free agents but can’t sign them until March 10. The Cardinals have 10 unrestricted free agents, but how many will they re-sign? Six of the 10 are part of Arizona’s front seven – linebackers John Abraham, Larry Foote, Sam Acho and Marcus Benard, and nose tackle Dan Williams and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. The others are tight end Rob Housler, right guard Paul Fanaika, cornerback Antonio Cromartie and long snapper Mike Leach. Ranking them in priority from No. 1 to 10: 1. Foote, 2. Cromartie, 3. Kelly, 4. Williams, 5. Abraham (a healthy and wanting to play Abraham), 6. Leach, 7. Fanaika, 8. Acho, 9. Benard, 10. Housler.