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Peterson’s AZ Legacy: One Foot In, One Foot Out

Miami Dolphins v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

As Cardinals fans and beat writers are now closing the book on the Patrick Peterson era in Glendale, here are some numbers and some thoughts:

10 years (2011-2020)

Team:

  • Record: 78-80-2
  • Years of winning records: 3
  • Playoff years: 2
  • Playoff record: 1-2
  • NFC West Titles: 1

Peterson’s Accolades:

  • 3 x 1st team All-Pro (2011, 2013, 2015)
  • 8 x Pro Bowler (2011-2018)
  • 2010s All Decade Team

There is no denying that for a stretch of 6-7 years, Patrick Peterson was one of the best man-to-man cover CBs in the NFL. Sticky man-to-man coverage has always been Pat P’s calling card. The fact that he overcame his scary bout with diabetes in relatively short order, makes his accomplishments as a cover CB even more impressive.

There is also no denying that Pat has a very upbeat and affable personality that often made him a joy to spent time with in the clubhouse and out on the practice field. His commitment to spreading joy around team headquarters and through the Phoenix community is extremely laudable.

The most endearing and sincere part of Pat’s letter was how he captured the spirit of his daily interactions at team headquarters:

I want to thank everybody who had a hand in making this organization what it was for the past 10 years. Funny enough, the video and equipment guys were the people that I was around the most. I feel like I grew up with them. I want to thank Mark Stein, Parker Brown and Jeff Schwimmer. I was around them every day for 10 years — through thick and thin. They were in the locker room when we lost, in the locker room when we won. They were a part of the team just as much as anyone who ran out on that field, you know what I mean? Literally a part of the locker room. So I’m going to miss those guys.

And I’m going to miss the women in the cafeteria as well. Taylor, Sarah, and Jessica. They did a great job of keeping us healthy. Jessica and Taylor were always on me because they know I love me some Popeye’s fried chicken. I had a tradition since I’ve been in the league that Fridays were my cheat day, and I had to have Popeye’s.

But I had a great time there with them. They’re the first people that I would see when I walked in the building. So I’m really going to miss them. That’s one thing I took pride in: Every morning I walked into the building, whoever was on the first floor — in the training room, weight room, treatment room, locker room, cafeteria — I made my rounds, and I said good morning to everybody. Every single morning.

No doubt that Pat will be missed by all those he bonded with on a daily basis. That is a significant part of Pat’s legacy.

In an other segment of Pat’s letter, tt was interesting to read Pat’s account of how hard he felt that BA and Darnell Dockett rode him at times. The thing is, though, the only coach who got the most all-around effort from Pat was Ken Whisenhunt. And that was during Pat’s rookie season in 2011.

As I began trying to understand the enigmatic aspects of Pat’s overall approach to the game, the thing that became readily apparent is how calculated Pat is at everything he does. He knows precisely how to do his own thing on his own terms and to feel throughly justified in doing so.

Pat also seems to have a pre-designed set of escape moves whenever he is faced with having to try to make a tackle, or when he needs to try to act like he still wants to be the team’s punt returner. As a viewer, it seemed to me that Pat’s redundancy in untimely slips, his habit for allowing his WR to tie him up and pin him to the sidelines in blocks without any real resistance on his part and his apparent refusal to chase after a WR or RB with the ball for fear of being caught on film in a trail position to where someone might blame him for getting beat, all point to the way Pat calculates everything he does on the field in games.

After 10 years of watching Patrick Peterson and all of his 4.3 speed and superior athleticism, I cannot recall a single occasion where he left his man to perform a D.K. Metcalf all-out sprint to try to chase down the runner. This was another facet of Pat’s prescribed calculations —- of sticking like glue to his man and not getting caught up in anything else.

By contrast, it took all of ten minutes into a game for Cardinals’ fans to see Tyrann Mathieu race after a receiver and get to him just in time to jar a TD saving fumble at the 1 yard line.

Such is the enigma of Pat Peterson: work like mad in man coverage and find calculated ways to avoid having to do much of anything else.

It feels symbolic in a sense that in the one game Pat played as a Cardinal that mattered the most on the brightest of stages, the 2015 NFC Championship game at Carolina, he brilliantly picked off Cam Newton on just about the only good play the Cardinals’ woeful defense made on that day, but he muffed a punt just when the Cardinals’ offense had scored on the previous drive and when the defense had gotten its first big stop —- in other words —- just when the Cardinals’ momentum was now on their side and their chances for getting back in the game were at their highest, Pat turned the ball over in a role that, after year one, he rejected.

In essence, after his rookie season, it felt like Pat always kept one foot in the game and one foot out.

In his farewell letter to the Cardinals, which he titled “Legacy,” while much of what Pat wrote was tinged with bitter-sweet nostalgia and heartfelt thanks, alas, he once again made it clear how much he is still in denial about the ripple effects of his trade request in 2018 and his PED violation in 2019 and how those developments have altered his legacy with a number of Cardinals’ fans (and very likely with a number of his coaches and teammates).

Pat’s claim that he was using a substance for two years that he thought was perfectly legal is just another manifestation of sheer denial and his utter lack of accountability. The fact is, which he never mentions in the letter, he used a masking agent. Who uses a masking agent if he thinks the supplements he’s taking are legal?

Then to go on to claim “it was nothing but love from the fans” when he returned from his six week suspension is once again a flat-out denial of the truth. Let’s remember that these were the same fans who cheered Pat on months earlier at the PGA Waste Management tourney when Pat decided it would be a great time to pledge his fidelity to Cardinals’ fans —- only for fans to find out days later that he was being suspended for six games by the NFL.

Fans are smart enough to know when they are being played and getting duped. I didn’t hear one Cardinals’ fan cheer Pat on weeks later when he went on his social media rant about the Cardinals front office being “snakes in the grass” because they wouldn’t compensate him during his suspension.

Not one Cardinals fan I spoke to was in approval of Pat missing Kliff Kingsbury’s and Vance Jospeh’s first OTAs —- especially in light of how Pat’s trade request as a team captain who was working closely on a daily basis with Steve Wilks, basically helped dry the ink on Wilks’ pink slip a mere 8 weeks into the season.

The truth is —- Patrick Peterson went through 4 head coaches and 5 defensive coordinators in 10 years —- and other than the effort and commitment that Ken Whisenhunt got from Pat in year one, none of these coaches were able to get the most out of him. As a result, it’s difficult to ignore Pat’s part in seeing three head coaches fall out of favor during his tenure.

The trade request was an even more illuminating manifestation of Pat’s “one foot in, one foot out” commitment to the Cardinals. From that point forward, the one foot in started to slip more than usual and the one foot out started to show up repeatedly on instant replay.

One can imagine that Pat had become envious of Tony Jefferson’s and Tyrann Mathieu’s success with the Ravens and Chiefs and how they were playing in meaningful games, while the Cardinals were plummeting into the cellar of the NFL. What Pat, TJ and the Honey Badger all grew in common was a general disdain for the Cardinals’ organization and its front office, in particular.

The irony of Pat’s relationships with TJ and Honey Badger is that for them playing in the same secondary with Pat meant they had to make the tackles that Pat didn't feel he should have to make. They wore the overalls and hard hats, while Pat wore the tuxedos and top hats.

Curiously, Pat, in his letter, never made a mention of Jefferson or Mathieu as one of his guys.

The most glaring omission in the thank you letter was that Pat never mentioned or thanked GM Steve Keim. This omission is the most ironic because Steve Keim maintained a trust and belief in Pat well beyond what Pat ever deserved. Keim refused to trade Peterson to the Eagles for a 1st round pick and WR Nelson Agholor, even after Pat had been suspended and the team clearly was not in a playoff hunt.

Moreover, while Pat was serving his suspension, Steve Keim was assuring Doug and Wolf and Cardinals’ fans that Pat was still “an elite shutdown corner”, that the team would like to see to it that Pat remain a Cardinal for life and that the GM was so excited to see Pat return from suspension that he hyperbolized, “I am going to pick Pat up at midnight when his suspension expires.”

For all of Steve Keim’s enthusiasm, belief and trust, Peterson retuned to the Cardinals from his suspension still wearing his tuxedo, but this time, wearing a golf hat.

Pat Peterson has played a lot people in his time in Arizona, but one could argue that the person he played the most was Steve Keim.

The ultimate and resoundingly ironic outcome of all of Keim’s affinity and belief in Pat is that it looks pretty clear at this point that, as was the case with the Honey Badger (who Steve Keim made the highest paid safety in the NFL coming off a second ACL injury), that to them the real “snake in the grass”—- is Steve Keim.

The most egregious problem with all of this, at least as I perceive it, is how the Cardinals’ enabling of Pat Peterson to basically call his own shots in Arizona has been such a detriment to the team’s culture and most especially to the Cardinals coaches who found themselves having to deal with the double standards on game days that Peterson created.

This is why I made the statement after Pat’s second year with the Cardinals that if he didn’t change from his tuxedo back into a football uniform and if he didn’t change his diva-like attitude into a more team-oriented one, then the Cardinals would never win a championship with him on the roster. Double standards create unplug-able holes in the dam and they create rifts and wedges between players and coaches —- which always amounts to a whole lot of drowning in organizational dysfunction.

It’s hard to face it, but there is ample evidence to suggest that the Cardinals’ players quit showing up every week for Ken Whisenhunt, Bruce Arians, Steve Wilks and even Kliff Kingsbury (down the stretch last year) —- and let’s remind ourselves that Whiz and BA were initially during their tenures the two most successful coaches in Arizona history.

Of course, not all of the coaches’ and the teams’ demises can or should be blamed on Pat Peterson, but, the super encouraging thing is, this off-season the Cardinals’ have made a concerted effort to upgrade the veteran leadership on the team.

Pat lavished praise on owner Michael Bidwill, but one might wonder if that was another calculation. After all, a short time later in the letter, Pat expressed how much it would mean to him to be inducted into the Cardinals’ Ring of Honor.:

Pat wrote, ”I hope Arizona puts my number up with all their greats — guys like Pat and Larry Wilson and J.V. Cain.”

It was great to hear Pat elaborate on what the Cardinals’ history has always meant to him and how they have shaped his perceptions of the organization.

It was also interesting to hear Pat talk about his hope for raising the Lombardi Trophy in this new chapter of his career with the Vikings. Imagine what a Super Bowl championship would mean to the state of Minnesota right now.

Mike Zimmer anted up $8M in chips with the hope of being the coach to get the most out of Patrick Peterson. I think this could be the right kind of coaching fit for Pat, with Pat being a main cog in Zimmer’s aggressive and disciplined style of defense.

Moving to Minnesota at this critical time in American history could be a godsend for Pat, the Vikings and the city of Minneapolis. Pat has the star power and the humanity to do such good work there.

As frustrated as I have felt about aspects of Pat’s performance for the Cardinals, I still feel the gravitas of his enormous potential. As Mama said to Beneatha when Beneatha is questioning her feelings for her struggling brother, Walter, (from the final act of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun):

Mama Younger says:

“There’s always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing. Have you cried for that boy today? I don’t mean for yourself and the family ’cause we lost the money. I mean for him; what he been through and what it done to him.

Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most; when they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain’t through learning-because that ain’t the time at all. It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ’cause the world done whipped him so. When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is (626). ”

Walter Younger came through in the end.

I think there’s a good chance that Patrick Peterson will do the same.

As long as he gets both feet in.

This time.