GLENDALE, Ariz. — Monday afternoon, as the third week of training camp began, the Arizona Cardinals went out and signed running back Chris Johnson.
Now, did the team need Johnson? Maybe not, as Andre Ellington looked healthy in Saturday’s preseason opener and David Johnson, the third-round pick who was expected to back him up, returned to the practice field for the first time since hurting his hamstring early in camp.
Yet, that did not stop the organization from adding the three-time Pro Bowler with more than 8,000 career rushing yards to the roster.
“I love it, I love it,” cornerback Jerraud Powers said. “Whenever you can bring a guy like that in, a dynamic player such as Chris to add with Andre, to add with the guys that we’ve already got, and the speed that we have on offense now, it makes defenses have to prepare a little bit more. You can’t just focus on this, you can’t just focus on that.”
That was the vibe given off by Ellington and David Johnson Monday, as they were each excited to bring the veteran runner into the fold. In fact, Ellington referred to Chris Johnson as “a legend” and talked about how exciting it is to have a player of that caliber on the roster.
Johnson, who will be 30 in late September, chose the Cardinals over other potential suitors because he sees Arizona as a team that could be in store for a big season. That he will have to compete for carries and earn a role is of little consequence to him.
“I didn’t want to go anywhere that wasn’t a winning team or somebody that was on the verge of winning,” Johnson said. “I’m going on year eight of my career, and I’m ready to win now.”
The Cardinals won 11 games last season, and if not for some devastating injuries seemed poised to make a deep postseason run. The year before that they won 10 games, and though they missed the postseason, were one of the hottest teams in the league when the campaign came to a close.
If nothing else, adding a luxury such as Johnson is a sign that the Cardinals believe they are close to achieving their goal. There had previously been talk about the team’s window being open for only a little while longer, meaning there is a sense of urgency to be championship-level good as soon as possible.
“I don’t think we’re waiting around,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “We would like to be as best we can be this year. We would like to put ourselves in position to make a run for it.”
“We’re trying to make moves that put us in position to be in San Francisco at the end of the year, that’s what it’s all about,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We want to hang banners and put on rings. That’s the whole goal and the model here in the Arizona Cardinals organization.
“Mr. Bidwill, Steve Keim and Coach Arians are definitely putting the pieces together, now — as the product, as the players — we have to go out there and perform at a high level.”
That’s just it.
The Cardinals’ roster is not perfect by any means, but at the same time it is arguably the most talented and deepest it has been since the team moved to the Valley in 1988. The last few offseasons have seen the franchise undergo an impressive transformation, both on the field and off it.
No longer are the Cardinals a team that would like to win; instead they are a team that is desperately trying to. It is a mentality that permeates through the entire organization, and it has led to them being a destination for players like Johnson and tight end Jermaine Gresham, who a few weeks ago also signed on a one-year contract.
Sure, the players see the Cardinals as a team that can help rebuild their value, but at the same time — as Johnson said — they’d like to win games, too. In Arizona, they believe they can do just that.
“Steve has done a great job of having a list ready at all times, talking to the agents on what it’s going to take, what it’s going to cost, where they fit in, are they the right type of person — we do our homework for our locker room,” Arians said about the team’s ability to add players like that. “So yeah, I give all the credit to Steve for that.”
No one is saying Johnson or Gresham, really, will be the difference between the Cardinals winning a Super Bowl and not. What their additions signify, though, is the team’s readiness and willingness to add talent wherever it can. It’s about building as good a team as possible, and that management is willing to do that resonates inside the locker room.
“We respect what they’re doing, they’re doing a great job up there,” Campbell said. “They’re definitely sending a message that the time is now.”