Cardinals general manager Rod Graves said Wednesday the club would like to extend the contracts of inside linebacker Daryl Washington and reserve running back LaRod Stephens-Howling

Stephens-Howling is a valuable change-of-pace back who also makes major contributions on special teams, particularly as a kick returner (36 returns, 857 yards). He will be a free agent at the end of the season.

Washington is blossoming into an elite linebacker as he enters his third NFL season. 

“He’s a core player,” Graves said of Washington. “We haven’t sat down to talk contact, but we anticipate doing that soon. He’s under consideration like several others. The main point is to keep the group together.”

It’s not common to extend a player just two years into his rookie contract, Graves acknowledged.

“Most of the time, no. Certainly not recently. It shows you how much value we put on Daryl Washington,” Graves said.

Washington greeted the talks with a smile.

“For them to come to me and want me to be here, it’s important,” he said, adding the talks show “respect and understanding [of] my abilities and the way I am on the field and off the field. What kind of person I am.”

Washington led the team in tackles last season with 107 and also had five sacks. His versatility, athleticism and speed were on display as the defense emerged as one of the league’s better units over the second half of last season.

“[Defensive coordinator] Ray Horton has me in a lot of different spots. He gives me the opportunity to make a lot of plays in many areas,” Washington said. “This year I think is really the year to go over the top and make a huge impact for this team -- be in Hawaii and be a Pro Bowl guy.”

For more news and analysis from Cardinals blogger Craig Morgan, follow @CBSSportsNFLARI on Twitter.