BIG RED FRIDAY
Peterson deal is different than past moves for aging star runners
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
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.”
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