General manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians turned the franchise around, but missed the postseason thanks to toiling in football's toughest division. If things break perfectly this offseason, the Cardinals will bring back the same talent on defense while upgrading the offensive line and rushing attack. Eyeing a long-awaited return to the playoffs, Larry Fitzgerald has already restructured his contract to help the front office build a stronger roster.
» LB Karlos Dansby: A bargain signing late in free agency, Dansby was a big-play machine, leading the team in tackles, passes defensed and interceptions while producing 6.5 sacks from the inside linebacker spot. Cardinals fans believed he was a legitimate candidate for Defensive Player of the Year honors. Does this franchise want to splurge on a 32-year-old linebacker coming off a career year?
What they need
The Cardinals' offensive line has finished dead last in Pro Football Focus' pass-blocking rankings for two consecutive seasons. Even with 2013 first-round draft pick Jonathan Cooper returning to solidify right guard, this team desperately needs an upgrade at both tackle spots. Although Ellington is a dangerous passing-down back, there's a need for an early-down hammer between the tackles. Re-signing Dansby and getting Tyrann Mathieuback to full health are also key to the Cardinals' playoff hopes.
On the way out?
Offseason crystal ball
Fitzgerald highlighted the offseason priorities when he restructured his contract: A lucrative extension for All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson and new deals for Dansby and Rucker. The Cardinals might have to weather Peterson's absence from offseason practices, but he's the ideal candidate for a long-term commitment as a uniquely talented ascendant nucleus player.
Arizona already has been bandied about as a potential landing spot for free-agent left tackle Branden Albert. Right tackle can be filled via the NFL Draft. Maurice Jones-Drew would make for an interesting flier as Mendenhall's replacement on early downs. With just a few tweaks, Arians' squad could push for a third playoff spot out of the NFC West next season.