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Loyalty need not apply for Arizona Cardinals, Darnell Dockett
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Loyalty need not apply for Arizona Cardinals, Darnell Dockett

Someday, and it’s really not too far away, Larry Fitzgerald will no longer be an Arizona Cardinal.

And who knows, maybe he will be a Seattle Seahawk or a New England Patriot or a Minnesota Viking or retired.

The point is, sooner or later every player moves on. There are no exceptions.

Sports can be a tough business, but it is a business.

Thursday’s news that Darnell Dockett had left the Cardinals for the San Francisco 49ers came as a bit of a surprise to some.

Though the Cardinals released Dockett less than a week ago because they did not want to pay him a $6.8 million salary, it was believed — in part because of Dockett’s own comments last year when Karlos Dansby left for the Cleveland Browns — that the defensive lineman would not jump ship to the highest bidder.

But while it has been reported he gave the Cardinals an opportunity to match the offer made by the 49ers, he clearly chose the team that offered the best financial package. Oh, and a chance to play the Cardinals twice a season.

Can you blame him? Should you blame him? Not really. Dockett, who will be 34 when the 2015 season begins, still thinks he has something left in the tank. The 49ers must agree, otherwise they would not have offered him the kind of contract that they did.

But at the same time, the Cardinals are not in the wrong for allowing this to happen.

Remember, there is a difference between losing a player and letting one go.

Back in the day, the Cardinals used to lose players — Tim McDonald, Ken Harvey, Jamir Miller, Simeon Rice — nowadays they’re the ones making the call.

It happened with Adrian Wilson in 2013, Dockett in 2015 and Fitzgerald in the future. For the longest time, the Cardinals did not really have anyone worth keeping around for a decade or longer, players whom the fan base was proud to call their own.

Things have improved, though, and now the team has had some of those guys. Which, of course, means they have to move on from them at some point.

Hey, it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all, right?

If you’re a Cardinals fan, while it will sometimes be painful to watch, them ending on the team’s terms should be as comforting as anything as the organization moves forward.

It is often said that it is better to let a player go one year too early than one year too late, and the NFL’s best teams seem to have a knack for doing just that. You rarely see the Pittsburgh Steelers hand out a third contract, and hell, the New England Patriots just cut Vince Wilfork, a franchise stalwart since 2004.

It’s how things work.

In the coming days and weeks, and then again when Dockett returns to Arizona to play against the Cardinals, you will likely hear plenty of discussion about loyalty — or a lack of — in sports. But the truth is a player need only be loyal to himself, just as a team need only be loyal to its cause.

Often times their goals align and what you get is a partnership that can be very fruitful, just as the one between Dockett and the Cardinals has been since he was selected in the third round of the 2004 NFL Draft out of Florida State.

But their paths diverged, and this is the result. In fact, it was inevitable.