BIG RED FRI­DAY

Peter­son deal is dif­fer­ent than past moves for ag­ing star run­ners

The Arizona Republic - - Azcentral Sports - CH­ERYL EVANS/AZCENTRAL SPORTS / USA TO­DAY SPORTS FILE ART

On the sur­face, it ap­pears the Car­di­nals re­peated his­tory this week by trad­ing for Adrian Peter­son, a 32-year-old run­ning back past his prime.

In 2003, the Car­di­nals signed 34-year-old Em­mitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time lead­ing rusher.

In 2006, they signed 28-year-old Edger­rin James, who the Colts had de­cided wasn’t worth another big con­tract.

Like the trade for Peter­son, those ac­qui­si­tions were viewed as des­per­ate moves by a des­per­ate team. But un­like the sign­ings of Smith and James, the Car­di­nals had a sin­gu­lar mo­tive in trad­ing for Peter­son: play­ing bet­ter football.

Back in the day, they had the same hopes for Smith and James, but there were ul­te­rior mo­tives.

One rea­son they signed Smith to a two-year, $7.5 million con­tract was to sell tick­ets and con­vince peo­ple to ap­prove fund­ing for a new sta­dium.

The Car­di­nals were in a bid­ding war with no one for James but still signed him to a deal that paid him $25 million in his three sea­sons with the team.

They wanted to fix an aw­ful run­ning game, but sign­ing James also ful­filled a prom­ise by Michael Bid­will, now the team pres­i­dent, to be com­pet­i­tive in free agency if a new sta­dium was ap­proved. It also didn't hurt ticket sales.

Peter­son isn’t be­ing asked to teach a locker room full of young­sters how a pro­fes­sional con­ducts him-

self. The Car­di­nals aren’t try­ing to make a splash to sell tick­ets or change pub­lic per­cep­tion, as was part of their mo­ti­va­tion in sign­ing Smith and Peter­son. They are giv­ing up no more than a sixth-round pick in 2018 for Peter­son. They are com­mit­ted to pay­ing him just $705,000.

By trad­ing for Peter­son, the Car­di­nals are try­ing to im­prove the league’s worst rush­ing of­fense. Noth­ing more.

Is it a des­per­ate move? Yes, but these are des­per­ate times. The Car­di­nals are av­er­ag­ing 2.6 yards per at­tempt, and about one-fifth of car­ries by run­ning backs this sea­son have not gained a yard.

“The en­ergy he’s go­ing to bring to the ta­ble, I hope wakes every­body up a lit­tle bit,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor/line coach Harold Good­win said. “I’m ex­cited about the pos­si­bil­i­ties. I know one thing, if I’m not block­ing my guy, he’s run­ning full steam ahead and might run up my back. So I’m go­ing to block my guy and get out of his way.”

Over the years, the Car­di­nals have been crit­i­cized for sign­ing Smith and James, and they did over­pay to ac­quire run­ning backs past their prime. But if Peter­son pro­duces at the lev­els Smith and James did in Ari­zona, the Car­di­nals will be thrilled.

James rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2006 and ’07, the first Car­di­nals back to do that in con­sec­u­tive years since Ot­tis An­der­son in 1984-85. He was an im­por­tant part of the team’s run to the Su­per Bowl in the 2008 sea­son.

In 2004, Smith’s last sea­son, he gained 937 yards and scored nine touch­downs. The year be­fore, he de­clined an of­fer to be placed on in­jured re­serve af­ter suf­fer­ing a frac­tured scapula against Dal­las in Week 5. He couldn't lead from the in­jured re­serve list, he told coach Dave McGin­nis.

Trad­ing for Peter­son shouldn’t be com­pared to the Smith sign­ing, ac­cord­ing to McGin­nis, the Car­di­nals' head coach from 2000-03.

“The rea­son I wanted Em­mitt, we were the youngest team in the league three years in a row,” he said. “He was a veteran pres­ence who had im­me­di­ate cred­i­bil­ity when he walked in the room, to show the team what it took to be a pro­fes­sional football player.

“The first thing he wanted was a key to the weight room be­cause he was the first one in there. He was the ul­ti­mate

"We all have a lot of faith in him and hope­fully he’ll be just the boost we need." LARRY FITZGER­ALD ON ADRIAN PETER­SON

pro­fes­sional.”

The 2017 Car­di­nals, in con­trast, opened the sea­son with the NFL’s old­est ros­ter.

They have sev­eral es­tab­lished lead­ers, in­clud­ing re­ceiver Larry Fitzger­ald, quar­ter­back Car­son Palmer, de­fen­sive tackle Fros­tee Rucker and corner­back Pa­trick Peter­son.

Adrian Peter­son doesn’t have to as­sume any lead­er­ship du­ties.

“We all have a lot of faith in him and hope­fully he’ll be just the boost we need,” Fitzger­ald said. “We’re a few plays away from be­ing able to get some things done.”

Smith wasn’t in Ari­zona long, but his in­flu­ence is still felt. Fitzger­ald, a rookie in Smith’s last sea­son, cred­its the Hall of Fame run­ning back for show­ing him how to do ev­ery­thing from pre­par­ing for games to dress­ing on road trips.

Fitzger­ald has passed the lessons on to young play­ers such as run­ning back David John­son.

With James and Smith, the Car­di­nals risked mil­lions. With Peter­son, there is no fi­nan­cial risk, and if he doesn’t pro­duce, the Car­di­nals are no worse off as a football team.

“He looks fresh, he looks in shape,” Good­win said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think the guy would be on my team, but he is. I’m ex­cited.”

MATT KARTOZIAN/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Detroit’s Justin Ab­delka­der checks Luke Schenn dur­ing Thurs­day’s game. The Red Wings pulled away for a 4-2 win. Re­cap, 9C DOUG HALLER

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