The Cardinals appear almost certain to put the franchise tag on linebacker Karlos Dansby in the next two weeks, then try to work out a long-term deal with him by July 15.
Both Cardinals general manager Rod Graves and Dansby's agent, Kirk Wood, indicated Thursday this is the path likely to be traveled.
The Cardinals have until Feb. 21 to name a franchise player. If no deal can be worked out by July, then the Cardinals would keep the franchise tag on Dansby, who would play for about $8 million in 2008.
Graves said conversations with Wood "have been light. ... At some point, when the timing is right I expect we're probably going to use the tag on him and then continue to negotiate with him on a long-term deal."
Wood agreed. As for the prospects of a long-term deal, he said, "Karlos is eager to work with them. He's in a tough position. We know where the market is going to go."
It figures to go up, no less so than for star receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Talks are ongoing with Fitzgerald in hopes of signing him to a long-term deal by the end of the month.
He is due about $16.5 million thanks to incentives he reached this past season. The Cardinals would like to lower this figure in the short run.
While they talk, the future of such Cardinal mainstays as running back Edgerrin James and linebacker Calvin Pace may hang in the balance. James' salary-cap number is $6.75 million next season. The Cardinals could save his actual salary of $5 million by releasing him.
Graves, asked if James could be traded or released, said, "We haven't considered that. As of right now, we're factoring him in as being here."
He also seemed to choose his words carefully on the subject:
"We'll have to see how the landscape develops as we try and get these contracts signed. ... I think a lot will depend on Larry Fitzgerald's deal, whether or not we can get something in place that will allow us some flexibility. If not, we could very well be faced with some very tough decisions down the road.
"We haven't talked candidly about where those tough decisions might be. We know if this deal is not restructured, it will entail us having to make some tough moves."
James' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, could not be reached for comment.
The Cardinals also are trying to re-sign Pace, who is coming off his best year in stepping in for the injured Chike Okeafor.
Graves said most of his focus lately has been on Fitzgerald, but he expects talks with Pace to start picking up.
Receiver Bryant Johnson could well be the odd man out in all of this.
The Cardinals have plenty of firepower at receiver. If they use up all their available salary-cap space on the other irons in the fire, they may not be able to keep Johnson.
"I think that's the right characterization," Graves said. "That's going to come down to really what kind of position we're in with the others."
Pace and Johnson will become free agents if deals aren't reached by Feb. 29.
The Cardinals also will make standard tender offers to restricted free agents such as cornerback Eric Green and defensive lineman Antonio Smith.