Tonight the Cardinals begin building toward the 2005 season.
At 10 p.m., the NFL’s unrestricted free agent period starts. The Cards, who have about $15 million in cap space for that purpose, want to be aggressive in free agency.
"It’s a crazy time of year for all of us who are involved with personnel, with evaluations of pro players for unrestricted free agency, for the college draft," said vice president of football operations Rod Graves, who returns today from the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. "But it’s also a time where we get excited."
Graves and coach Dennis Green are expected to be making phone calls tonight to set up the first free agent visits — at least, those that already haven’t been worked on while teams and agents congregated in Indianapolis.
But the Cardinals are being tight-lipped on exactly what positions will be targeted.
"(Saying) would make it too hard on us," Green said. "Let’s just say, first off, we wouldn’t rule anything out. Last year, we had a lot of changes in our defense. I think we had seven new starters. We’d like to address some of those changes in our offense. Now, that doesn’t mean we won’t add to our defense, because we will."
Green is fond of saying the draft is the time to take the best player available, while free agency is a time to chase needs.
That should mean the Cardinals will go after a tight end, offensive linemen for the right side, possibly a running back, a defensive tackle and a cornerback. A quarterback to battle Josh McCown for the starting job is practically a given.
Graves said there are priorities in free agency on both sides of the ball, and the pecking order will be determined by the type of players who agree to visit
"If there is a top corner that we think fits that profile, then that becomes the top priority," Graves said. "If that top profile is an offensive lineman or a linebacker or a defensive end, then that becomes the top priority. It just depends."
The Cardinals also have a few of their own unrestricted free agents they would like to have back. Running back Troy Hambrick and defensive end Peppi Zellner already signed extensions during the season, only to have the deals voided because of a rules technicality. Both should be offered the same deals again.
The Cards also would like to bring back cornerback Renaldo Hill, who will test the open market.
EXTRA POINT: Word out of Baltimore is the Ravens have interest in Cardinals tackle L.J. Shelton, cornerback Duane Starks and linebacker Raynoch Thompson, all of whom are believed to be on the trading block.
Here are some of the players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents tonight that the Cardinals might target. Players’ former teams are in parenthesis:
Jeff Garcia (Cleveland) Kurt Warner (N.Y. Giants) Brad Johnson (Tampa Bay) Gus Frerotte (Minnesota)
Derrick Blaylock (Kansas City) LaMont Jordan (N.Y. Jets)
Cam Cleeland (St. Louis) Itula Mili (Seattle) Jermaine Wiggins (Minnesota)
Cosey Coleman (Tampa Bay) Rick DeMulling (Indianapolis) Roberto Garza (Atlanta) Ben Hamilton (Denver) Jermane Mayberry (Philadelphia) Marco Rivera (Green Bay)
Stockar McDougle (Detroit) Kareem McKenzie (N.Y. Jets) Floyd Womack (Seattle)
Reggie Hayward (Denver) Chike Okefor (Seattle) Bryce Fisher (St. Louis)
Chris Hovan (Minnesota) Jason Ferguson (N.Y. Jets) Pat Williams (Buffalo) Tony Williams (Cincinnati)
Gary Baxter (Baltimore) Andre Dyson (Tennessee) Ken Lucas (Seattle) Fred Smoot (Washington) Anthony Henry (Cleveland)