CARDINALS CORNER

Cardinals free agent Justin Pugh eyeing right fit for potential 11th season

Feb 8, 2023, 8:27 AM | Updated: 8:28 am

Justin Pugh, former Cardinals offensive lineman...

Arizona Cardinals free agent Justin Pugh during Charles Fazzino's art unveiling at the Phoenix Art Museum on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Phoenix. (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

PHOENIX — Offensive lineman and enforcer Justin Pugh was really close to calling it a career.

With a wedding and his health to focus on, all signs pointed to the Arizona Cardinals’ starting guard announcing his retirement ahead of last season.

He thought so, his teammates thought so and reporters thought so. All you needed to do was look at his slimmed-down frame to understand where his head was at.

But with the help of some contract maneuvering paired with Pugh’s love of the area and where he believed the team was headed going into 2022, the lineman signed on for another season.

While it could very well be his last in Arizona, Pugh’s thinking this offseason is far different than the previous one despite coming off a season-ending knee injury.

“I’m a free agent this year,” Pugh said during the unveiling of Charles Fazzino’s commemorative artwork for Super Bowl LVII on Tuesday. “Really waiting to see who the head coach is, sitting down with the team and figuring out what my future holds.

“Obviously, I have the knee injury that I’m coming back from. That’s really going to dictate when I’m going to get back on the field. And in terms of retirement … you never know when you’re done. … I’m looking for the right situation. I want to be a part of a winning team, I’m not looking to be a part of a rebuild.”

As far as the knee is concerned, Pugh feels like he dodged a major bullet.

Unlike the knee injuries to tight end Zach Ertz and quarterback Kyler Murray, the lineman only tore his ACL. The meniscus and other ligaments were still intact.

Keeping that upside squarely on his brain helped Pugh attack his rehab this offseason. There’s still a way to go in his recovery, but he’s made sure to do everything he physically can to impact a team next season.

“I had the best version of the worst-case scenario,” Pugh said of his injury. “I’ve had no setbacks, I’ve hardly had any swelling. When you think athletes in general, we’re really pre-habbing the whole time. We’re building up all those little muscles around it.

“In terms of ACL, I’m as far ahead as I think I could be, but I’m going to make sure I take the time, do it right. Because at 32 (years old), you want to make sure you’re not coming back and having any other things be off. You want to make sure everything is strong. And when I go back out there, I don’t plan on getting hurt again. … I’ve never had knee issues at all. It was really just an unfortunate accident that happened. That’s part of the game.”

And although the jury is still out as to whether or not Pugh will return for his sixth season in the desert, where Arizona is currently hasn’t been lost on the guard.

“My philosophy is build through the D-line,” Pugh said. “I think we either trade back and get more picks or take (Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr.) or (Georgia’s Jalen Carter). I love Jalen Carter from Georgia. Getting a disruptive guy from the inside position is unbelievably important. You look at Aaron Donald and the disruption he’s created.

“We have to have a complement in the trenches that goes out there against other NFC West teams. You look at San Francisco, you look at L.A., you look at Seattle, they’ve won through building their defensive line and offensive line, so that’s where we got to start.”

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