Arizona Cardinals excited for what a full offseason may mean for TE Jermaine Gresham, RB Chris Johnson

May 25, 2016, 6:33 AM | Updated: 4:37 pm
Tight end Jermaine Gresham loosens up during OTAs May 24, 2016. (Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports...
Tight end Jermaine Gresham loosens up during OTAs May 24, 2016. (Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)
(Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)

TEMPE, Ariz. — More money was left on the table; perhaps, more playing time as well.

But for veteran tight end Jermaine Gresham and running back Chris Johnson, what they want more of in 2016 is wins, and no team — in their minds — provides that option more than the team they spent last season with, the Arizona Cardinals.

In other words, why leave? Neither did.

“Very pleasantly surprised that they wanted to stay, and we definitely wanted them,” head coach Bruce Arians said.

Surprised because Gresham was attracting heavy interest from Chicago and the New York Jets during free agency, while Johnson visited Miami, where a starting job likely waited.

Both, instead, opted for one-year deals to re-sign with the Cardinals, at less money.

Gresham reportedly turned down $23 million, with $12 million fully guaranteed, from other teams.

“Hopefully everything works out,” he said, laughing. “I can’t really elaborate on it. I like it here. I like it here a lot. I love the atmosphere.

“Me and my family got a plan and hopefully everything works out well and I’ll be happy in the long run.”

Said Johnson about his decision to return, “It was a situation, going through the whole process, where I didn’t want to keep jumping from team to team and wanted to stay somewhere familiar. I can say the money wasn’t worth leaving. Whatever all the other teams were offering me, it wasn’t really worth leaving.

“I just felt like this was the best place for me, especially somebody who was the first team to give me an opportunity last year when I was looking for work.”

Johnson’s story has been well-chronicled.

Signed three weeks into training camp last year, Johnson rushed for a team-best 814 yards before a fractured tibia ended his season in Week 12.

With the injury now behind him — “For the most part it feels good, and it’s getting stronger and stronger,” he said –Johnson can concentrate solely on football.

“It means a lot to be able to go into the season in shape, knowing the playbook. Different than last year coming at the end of the camp and then just kind of being thrown in there. Once you learn the playbook and know it, you can move faster and play faster without having to think and all those types of things; and then just be able to go into the season in shape instead of out of shape,” he said.

“I feel like I’ll be better than I was last year.”

Gresham, too, joined the Cardinals late in 2015.

Though he signed a few days before training camp, Gresham spent much of his initial time with the team working his way into shape following offseason back surgery.

Statistically, he had his worst year as a pro with 18 catches for 223 yards and a touchdown in 15 games.

Again though, Gresham was a late arrival, forcing him to play catch-up for most, if not all, of the season.

That’s no longer the case.

“It feels good to come in and actually have an offseason and train and prepare for football instead of rehabbing an injury,” he said. “I’m already ahead of the curve; feel a lot better than I did last year and hopefully do a lot better this year.”

Familiarity with the playbook is key, according to Gresham; so, too, are the reps he and Johnson are receiving here in organized team activities and later the three-day mini-camp.

All of that was missed last season.

“That’s so big in this offense, and it’s so important to have that continuity going into training camp, especially that minicamp as you break as a team and go in your separate ways and (then) get back together,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “We already know those guys, where they are, where they are mentally, where they need to get to… We’re in such a better place having those guys in place and not hoping to sign a vet in mini-camp or training camp.”

Added Arians, “It’s nice to get them in shape, learn the whole system; all the nuisances. I think both of those guys can just continue to accelerate.”

Neither Gresham, 27, nor Johnson, 30, needs to have a career-year in 2016 for the Cardinals to be successful.

They are two key pieces, however, both of whom have put personal accomplishment aside in favor of a greater team goal, reaching and ultimately winning the Super Bowl.

“Hopefully,” Gresham said.

“I wanted to finish something I started,” Johnson said. “I think this is the best chance to get to a ring.”

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