DAN BICKLEY

The Patrick Peterson saga in Arizona isn’t over

Nov 30, 2018, 9:23 AM | Updated: 9:41 pm
Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) heads onto the field before the start of an NFL ...
Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) heads onto the field before the start of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday November 25, 2018 in Carson, Calif. (John Cordes/AP Images for Panini)
(John Cordes/AP Images for Panini)

The Cardinals started the season with six captains, the maximum under NFL guidelines.

Two of them will never play for Arizona again (Sam Bradford, Phil Dawson). Another might retire after the season, awaiting Hall of Fame enshrinement (Larry Fitzgerald). And then there’s the curious case of Patrick Peterson.

Is he is still searching for a lifeboat? Or is he regaining faith in Arizona?

The star cornerback seemed to change his tune after Thursday’s practice, when forced to respond to Deion Sanders’ comments earlier in the day.

“He’s trying to escape,” Sanders said on ESPN’s First Take. “Trust me, I know.”

He better know something. He’s been speaking on Peterson’s behalf for over a year now.

Yet Peterson chose to unplug the latest distraction. He didn’t explicitly refute Sanders, but he suddenly expressed a desire to follow in Fitzgerald’s footsteps, as the next cornerstone of the franchise, committed to bringing a championship to the desert.

“I feel like I’m next in line,” he told reporters after practice. “So we’ll see what happens.”

Huh?

Peterson released a statement in October, pledging his temporary commitment to the Cardinals. He did not refute his alleged trade request before the deadline, a saga that condemned the leadership of rookie head coach Steve Wilks. At the time, Peterson said he was “incredibly frustrated” with how the season was going.

Well, the season hasn’t gotten any better. And now he wants to stay?

Peterson is still wearing a ‘C’ on his jersey, a letter that demands leadership. He’s smart enough not to embarrass himself or the organization again. He knows his legacy in Arizona is on the line, either way. He’s one of the greatest individual talents in team history, and he can attempt to go out smiling and grateful, like Aeneas Williams. Remembered fondly, to a point.

Or he can leave with a blowtorch in his hands, smoldering like Anquan Boldin.

With only five games left in the season and a lot of water under the bridge, it’s smart for Peterson to sound like a leader, distancing himself from Sanders’ comments. Even if he’s stretching the truth.

The Cardinals chose not to embarrass Peterson by removing his captaincy following his reported trade demands, thereby avoiding full-blown turmoil in the locker room. After all, captaincies are awarded by team voting, not to be revoked lightly. And veterans in the room wouldn’t take kindly to a rookie head coach emasculating one of the NFL’s premier cornerbacks.

But there’s no doubt that Peterson’s unhappiness has undermined the culture, the chemistry and a head coach still seeking traction entering the final month of the season.

In the end, Sanders was right when he said Peterson was the kind of player who makes an impact everywhere he plays, and that’s no different here. Except Peterson impacted the 2018 Cardinals with behavior unbecoming of a team captain, undermining the new regime inside the locker room and out.

If Peterson has truly changed his mind, you’ll see it over the final five games. He’ll lead. Defensive players will follow. The Cardinals will play with heart and passion, maybe even pull off an upset.

Or maybe the more accurate truth can be found in Peterson’s testament to Fitzgerald:

“I want to follow in that man’s shoes,” he said.

Right out the door. The moment the 2018 season comes to a close.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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The Patrick Peterson saga in Arizona isn’t over