The NFC West knows how to find inside linebackers.
Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Lofa Tatupu have earned Pro Bowl and/or All-Pro honors for division teams over the past several seasons. James Laurinaitis and Daryl Washington are challenging for broader recognition, too.
Washington, who turns 26 next month, has a new contract extension through 2017, the Arizona Cardinals announced Thursday.
The deal changes nothing for the upcoming season, but it does affirm Washington's status as a player the Cardinals plan to build around. It prevents Washington from becoming an unrestricted free agent following the 2013 season, when his rookie contract was going to expire. The deal also could affect negotiations between the San Francisco 49ers and Bowman, an All-Pro last season and, like Washington, a 2010 draft choice with a deal running through 2013. Laurinaitis, a second-rounder in 2009, could also be affected. His rookie deal runs through this season. The team and his agent have been negotiating for weeks and appeared optimistic when training camp opened.
The deal seems appropriate for all involved.
The Cardinals were surely able to sign Washington at some sort of discount relative to what Washington would have commanded in free agency. Washington, though talented and ascending, might have had a hard time beating out Willis and Bowman for the Pro Bowl acclaim that helps increase bargaining power. By doing a deal now, after only his second season, Washington can cash in on Pro Bowl potential.
Signing players with more than one year remaining on their contracts can complicate negotiations with other players. Some teams prefer to wait until only one year remains. In this case, however, Washington has outplayed his second-round draft status. The team's other picks from 2010 -- Dan Williams, Andre Roberts, O'Brien Schofield and John Skelton are starting -- haven't played as well or as consistently.
It's generally good when teams extend contracts for rising young players. That would appear to be the case here.