With an eye toward the future, the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday signed second-year safety Aaron Francisco, a young player with outstanding promise, to a four-year contract extension through the 2010 season.
The financial details of the extension were not immediately available.
Francisco, 23, would only have been an "exclusive rights" free agent in the spring and, as such, could not have solicited contract offers from other franchises. The Cardinals could have retained his rights simply by making him a qualifying offer of $425,000. But Arizona officials feel that Francisco is a solid, young player who will soon be a starter, and opted for the longer deal.
Saturday was the deadline for NFL teams to sign players to extensions and be able to allocate remaining 2006 salary cap room to the new contracts.
A former Brigham Young standout, Francisco signed with the Cardinals as an undrafted college free agent in 2005. He was released late in training camp, re-signed to the practice squad, then elevated to the active roster in mid-October last year.
As a rookie, he appeared in 11 games. This season, Francisco has played in all 15 games, and started two contests as a nickel defender. Francisco has 29 tackles, two interceptions and a pass defensed in his nickel role. His career totals include 55 tackles in 26 games.
Francisco leads Arizona in special teams tackles, with 22, and was chosen as a Pro Bowl alternate for his play on the kick coverage units The Cardinals feel, though, that with his size (6-feet-2, 212 pounds), speed, aggressiveness and awareness, Francisco could soon emerge as a starting safety.
The Cardinals have a very good interior secondary tandem in free safety Robert Griffith and Pro Bowl strong safety Adrian Wilson. But Griffith will conclude his 13th NFL season on Sunday, and is 36 years old, and likely will not play much more than another season or two.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.