Anquan Boldin, free agency, and the coaching shortage in AZ

Cardinals’ linebackers coach Bill Davis has been promoted to defensive coordinator after the firing of former coordinator Clancy Pendergast earlier this month.

Seth Wickersham of ESPN the Magazine wrote a great article last week about the goings-on in Arizona. You can read the entire article at http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/columns/story?id=3894167. Among his insights:

Warner, the prince of Greater Phoenix, has said he might re-sign, might retire, or — gulp — might play elsewhere.

Arizona’s cap room appeared as big as a rhino’s yawn: $41 million, most in the league. With free agent studs Albert Haynesworth, Terrell Suggs and Julius Peppers ready to be wooed, the Cardinals seemed to have plenty of room to operate. Turns out, Arizona has only 41 players under contract, and when you re-punch the calculators, the functional cap space is $20-$25 million, less than the San Francisco 49ers. And, oh yeah, Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett want raises, too.

In a week, the Cardinals went from near-champions to the increasing likelihood that a year from now the newspapers’ stories will say, “The seeds for Arizona’s disappointing 5-11 season were planted in the offseason . . . ”

Fortunately, there’s plenty of time to fix things. The commitment for a repeat playoff run has to start at the top, with renowned cheapskate team owners Bill and Michael Bidwill. Arizona’s biggest problem is that it has more cap than cash. Rod Graves might be the only GM in the NFL who doesn’t have to make major cap-related decisions. His toughest negotiation won’t be with agents but rather his bosses.

Remember, these are the owners who reportedly charged players for extra socks, jock straps and T-shirts. These are the owners of one of the lowest-valued franchises. These are the owners who a year ago wouldn’t budge on an incentive clause in Warner’s contract that paid him $500,000 bonus for finishing the season with a 90.0 passer rating. (He finished at 89.8 after playing with an injured elbow and voluntarily removing himself for goal line situations.)

If the Bidwills loosen up — which is like asking the sun to rise from the west and Springsteen to no longer sing about the Jersey Shore and “the long road” — the Cardinals can avert a messy offseason. Then, they should follow these steps:

First, cut Edgerrin James. Not only would it save $5 million, but it also would rid the locker room of a whiner who hasn’t averaged four yards a carry in three seasons. That would leave Tim Hightower as the go-to back. Many don’t think of Hightower as a franchise back. But he doesn’t have to be one. It’s a passing league, and Arizona should know from signing James to a four-year, $30 million deal years ago that it’s not wise to overpay for that position. You can always draft a good running back — for instance, Brandon Jacobs was a fourth-rounder. In this year’s draft, Alabama’s Glenn Coffee or Michigan State’s Javon Ringer could be a mid-round steal.

Next, offer Dansby and Warner contracts immediately. It would send a message to the locker room that the Cardinals are serious about rewarding their leaders and making another Super Bowl run. Oh, and give Warner the dang $500,000.

Then, offer Boldin a fair contract extension. Boldin might be unhappy, but his current deal doesn’t expire until 2010, so he has little leverage. If he chooses to be a distraction, it’ll only lessen his value as a free agent and hurt his ability to garner a trade — nobody wants the next Terrell Owens. Considering that Warner’s retirement decision will be affected by whether Boldin is on the team, it’s important for the Cardinals’ brass to attempt to make the receiver happy. If the Cardinals at least try to make Boldin a happier Cardinal, that puts the onus on him.

Finally, make a run at Baltimore Ravens pass-rushing specialist Suggs. Aside from Tennessee Titans run-stopper Haynesworth, Suggs is free agency’s most attractive defensive player. He’s claimed he’ll give the Ravens a “hometown discount.” To which I say, yeah, sure, and Gisele just left Tom Brady for me. A few extra zeroes on a contract, and Suggs would call Phoenix his new hometown.