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Monday, February 2, 2009
Revisiting the Cardinals' 2008 evaluation

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Cardinals' unexpected push to Super Bowl XLIII will force us to reevaluate the team heading into the offseason.

We must decide how to interpret a 7-3 start followed by a 2-4 finish followed by a 3-1 record in the playoffs and near Super Bowl victory.

This is probably a good time to update the evaluation we provided at the end of the regular season.

Arizona Cardinals (9-7, 3-1 playoffs)

The Cardinals' playoff success affords Ken Whisenhunt the added credibility and staying power he'll need to continue shaping the roster to suit his purposes. The coaching staff and front office have had an extra month to see how players handled high-pressure situations. That should help the Cardinals make better decisions this offseason. Grade: A

Biggest surprise: Larry Fitzgerald went from occasionally spectacular Pro Bowl threat to the most prolific receiver in NFL playoff history. We knew he was good on his way to becoming great, but not even the Cardinals could have expected this level of dominance. Fitzgerald was the best player on the field during the playoffs.

Biggest disappointment: These should be happy times for all members of the organization, but running back Edgerrin James and receiver Anquan Boldin appear likely to renew their efforts to find new employers. Both players are tough, hard working and effective. Both have represented the organization well on and off the field. It's unfortunate for Arizona that neither appears eager to stick around.

Biggest needs: The offensive line improved enough for the Cardinals to feel better about the position, but reinforcements are needed, particularly if Warner and his quick release retire. The team would also benefit from upgrades at running back, tight end and cornerback. Linebacker could become a priority if Karlos Dansby leaves in free agency, and possibly even if he stays. The Cardinals might also need to continue infusing younger talent into their defensive front seven. Bertrand Berry, Chike Okeafor, Travis LaBoy and Clark Haggans are either older players or coming off injuries.

Top priority: The Cardinals need to find out Warner's intentions as soon as possible. The scouting combine begins in less than three weeks. Free agency begins Feb. 27. If Warner isn't coming back, the Cardinals need to reassess how they play offense. That might happen anyway if the Kansas City Chiefs hire offensive coordinator Todd Haley to be their head coach.