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WP: Warner's Experience Brings Optimism to Cards


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Warner's Experience Brings Optimism to Cards

By Mark Maske

Washington Post Staff Writer


The Arizona Cardinals were well-positioned last November, at least by NFC standards, to make some noise down the stretch. They had won three of last four games to improve their record to 4-5, and they were readying for a road game at against 2-7 Carolina. Things were looking up for the Cardinals under first-year coach Dennis Green, and a .500 season and even a playoff push in such a laughably poor conference seemed within reach.

But then Green abruptly benched quarterback Josh McCown in favor of Shaun King, and the downward spiral began. The Cardinals lost to the Panthers, 35-10. Green juggled quarterbacks the rest of the season, even turning to rookie seventh-round draft pick John Navarre as his starter, and the Cardinals lost five of their final seven games to finish 6-10. Green was unapologetic about his quarterback moves, saying he was trying to jump-start the offense, but his handling of the situation undoubtedly was one of the coaching gaffes of the season. It came as part of a year in which Green reshuffled his offensive line regularly and tinkered with his coaching staff even during the season.

Still, the man knows how to build a winner. He led the Vikings to eight playoff appearances and two NFC title games in 10 seasons in Minnesota, and the outlook again is promising for the Cardinals because of what appear to be solid offseason moves capped by a superb performance in last weekend's NFL draft.

The Cardinals released King and signed quarterback Kurt Warner as a free agent, and the former two-time league most valuable player likely will open next season as Arizona's starter, ahead of McCown. Warner can relate to McCown's experience last season. He led the New York Giants to a 5-4 record before he was benched by Coach Tom Coughlin, who went with prized rookie Eli Manning and then watched his club go 1-6 the rest of the way.

The version of Warner that was on display last season with the Giants was not the same as the one who became one of the league's great success stories during his time with the St. Louis Rams. But even this diminished version was good enough to make the flawed Giants a winning team, and a duplicate performance would qualify as a significant quarterbacking upgrade for the Cardinals.

Warner will have good players around him on offense, particularly wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals worked for weeks on a trade that would have sent offensive tackle L.J. Shelton to Buffalo for Travis Henry, a two-time 1,300-yard rusher for the Bills who asked to be traded after losing the club's starting tailback job to Willis McGahee last season. Nothing has happened yet, but the Bills probably still will look to deal Henry before next season. The Cardinals protected themselves by selecting Cal tailback J.J. Arrington, the only 2,000-yard rusher in college football last season, in the second round of the draft Saturday.

Arrington is part of a draft class that's perhaps as good as any in the league. The Cardinals got Antrel Rolle, regarded by many draft observers as the top cornerback available, in the first round, and got great values with Arrington in the second round, linebacker Darryl Blackstock in the third round and guard Elton Brown in the fourth round. Brown could help solidify an offensive line that was a major problem last season. The Cardinals added free agent tackle Oliver Ross to help in that regard.

Blackstock, who had 11 sacks last season, further bolsters an Arizona pass rush that also will benefit from the free-agent acquisition of defensive end Chike Okeafor, who had 8 1/2 sacks for the Seattle Seahawks last season. With defensive end Bertrand Berry coming off a 14 1/2 -sack season, the Cardinals could have one of the league's better pass rushes. Two other free-agent additions, linebacker Orlando Huff and safety Robert Griffith, could be stabilizers on defense.

Warner faces his two former teams, the Giants and Rams, to open the 2005 season. There is reason for optimism for one of the league's sad-sack franchises, and the Cardinals could be an NFC playoff contender next season if things fall into place -- and, of course, if Green doesn't do anything crazy.

Around the League

The Dallas Cowboys, as expected, signed three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Aaron Glenn on Wednesday, the day after he was released by the Houston Texans. The moves reunites Glenn with Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells, formerly his coach with the New York Jets. Glenn signed a two-year contract worth $2.8 million. Houston released Glenn after trading for Oakland's Phillip Buchanon to start at the cornerback spot opposite 2004 first-round draft choice Dunta Robinson.

The Cowboys reportedly are discussing a swap of cornerbacks with the Jets that would send Ray Mickens to Dallas and Pete Hunter to New York. . . .

Linebacker Chad Brown, who was released by Seattle last week, visited Pittsburgh on Wednesday on the heels of a visit to New England. He's scheduled to visit New Orleans next, and the Denver Broncos also have expressed interest. . . .

Indianapolis released guard Tupe Peko and safety Anthony Floyd. . . .

Jets defensive tackle Josh Evans decided to retire after missing all but one game of last season because of back problems.

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