Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 3/2/12
How did you spend your NFL offseason? Oh, you didnt know it was over? Our bad. It began last Tuesday when the Scouting Combine ended in Indianapolis. It ended Friday when a host of teams, including the Cardinals, beat the weekend rush by slapping the franchise tag on key players before the Monday deadline. As expected, the Cards used that tag on defensive end Calais Campbell because they havent yet reached a long-term deal with their emerging star. The designation will earn Campbell about 10 million next season -- a bargain by recent franchise-tag standards. He had 72 tackles, eight sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, an interception and three blocked field goals last season, arguably outplaying fellow lineman Darnell Dockett, who signed a four-year extension in 2010 worth 48 million in new money, including 30 million guaranteed. The Cards cant afford to lose Campbell because they do not have another young end waiting in the wings, as they did with Campbell when Antonio Smith signed with the Texans in 2009. "Weve made no secret of the high regard in which we hold Calais," Cards general manager Rod Graves said in a statement. "To be clear, reaching a long-term deal that will keep Calais with the Cardinals for years to come remains our primary objective. This move today allows us the opportunity to continue working with Calais and his agent toward that goal and thats exactly what we will do." Campbell said multiple times after the season that he was OK with the Cards using the tag on him, but he does hope to get a long-term deal. Messages left for agent Tom Condon were not immediately returned. Campbells status clears up one question concerning the Cardinals' offseason. But there are a host of others still to answer, and the key dates for answering those will come in staccato fashion now that March has arrived. Heres a look at those remaining dates. March 8: Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is due a 28 million option bonus, which will trigger the final four years of a five-year, 90 million contract he signed before the 2011 season. Indianapolis is expected to release him rather than pay it. Will the Cards pursue him if hes available? All signs point to them keeping Kevin Kolb, but general manager Rod Graves has left the door open in past comments, and that makes sense. Until the Cards have had a chance to evaluate Mannings health following multiple neck surgeries, why wouldnt they keep the door open for a player who is arguably the best quarterback of our era (even at age 35, which is what he'll be on March 24)? March 13: Free agency begins. The Cards have 16 unrestricted free agents. The biggest names on that list are outside linebacker Clark Haggans, defensive back Richard Marshall, receiver Early Doucet, right tackle Brandon Keith and kicker Jay Feely. Whatever decisions the Cards make with these and the rest of their free agents will set the table for their free-agent pursuits and the draft in April. March 13: Sorry, were repeating this date because its also the deadline for clubs to submit qualifying offers to retain exclusive negotiating rights with their restricted free agents. The Cards have four of them: cornerbacks Greg Toler and A.J. Jefferson, running back LaRod Stephens-Howling and linebacker Reggie Walker. Toler and Stephens-Howling are likely to return. The other two are murky. March 17: Kolbs 7 million offseason roster bonus is due. The Cards are expected to pay it, but they wont have to if they release him before then. If Manning is available and the Cards are interested, theyll have eight days to determine if hes fit to play before they release Kolb. That may be too short a window to truly evaluate Manning, particularly if his nerves have not regenerated to the point where he can complete entire workouts. The best bet is that Kolb returns. April 26-28: The dates of the NFL draft, which probably isnt far away from dedicating separate days to each round. Imagine the breathless anticipation when the Rams open the day by make their seventh-round pick. Were only half-joking. This event is that big of a deal to fans. The Cardinals own the 13th pick in the first round. They haven't drafted an offensive lineman above the fifth round since 2007, and they didn't take any the past two years. When coach Ken Whisenhunt was asked to assess the odds of going three straight years, he responded: "Probably about as good as you killing us for not doing that." With right tackle Brandon Keith a free agent, left tackle Levi Brown entering the final year of his contract with a 16.9 million cap hit and guard Deuce Lutui likely departing via free agency, it makes sense for the Cards to address the line through free agency and the draft. Some possible names include USC tackle Matt Kalil, Iowa tackle Riley Reiff, Stanford tackle Jonathan Martin, Ohio State tackle Mike Adams and Stanford guard David DeCastro. May-early June: OTAs and mini-camps typically run through the second week of June, allowing the Cards coaching staff a good, long look at their personnel. Exhausted? Dont worry. Youll get some extended time off in June and July, but dont expect all of July. The Cards are slated to play the New Orleans Saints in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 5. That means training camp in Flagstaff will start a few days earlier than usual.
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