No. 21 is a sight to behold in Las Vegas. The same is true at Cardinals headquarters in Tempe.
Patrick Peterson has that effect on people.
His appearance at Monday’s voluntary practice was surprising to some, expected by others and couldn’t have gone much better. His smile infected the locker room while players gathered for the morning workout. His presence unplugged an unpleasant narrative, defusing all speculation about an ugly holdout ahead.
He even intercepted a Kyler Murray pass, and nothing could’ve announced his return any better. Or better soothed his bruised ego and reputation.
“That was a welcome back gift,” Peterson told reporters. “Yeah, he gift-wrapped it for me.”
It would take a certified genius to stage an interception for Peterson on his first day back, making him feel instantly relevant and important. It’s the kind of thing that Larry Fitzgerald might do for one of his closest friends, fueling team camaraderie along the way. For now, it’s enough that Peterson is back at work, sounding like he really cares.
“He was happy, into it,” new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. “And when Pat’s here, you just feel more complete,”
Peterson’s arrival wasn’t full of transparency and contrition. He wouldn’t provide further details about his six-game PED suspension, which includes two games for a masking agent or the intent to deceive. That’s troublesome.
But only for a moment, when you realize the kind of trash that flourishes on other NFL rosters, and how Peterson is nothing like them.
Or maybe not all.
Peterson also explained his shoddy attendance on fatherhood, and how his “baby girl (is) in summer school now.” The alibi had many average fans rolling their eyes.
Truth is, Peterson doesn’t need an excuse or a daughter shield. All organized team activities (OTAs) are voluntary. High-profile veterans have been encouraged by the NFLPA to take a stand in 2019 against unfair labor practices and the implicit pressure to attend. A new age of personal empowerment is underway in the NFL, following the lead of LeBron James’ NBA, where no self-respecting athlete will be used or abused ever again.
But as Joseph astutely pointed out:
Attendance might not be mandatory. But winning is. And first-year head coaches deserve all the compliance and extra effort their players can summon, especially players like Peterson who are designated and deified as team leaders.
Peterson has forged a great career interrupted by recent flare-ups of petulance in Arizona. He was at the center of the Steve Wilks rebellion in 2018, when his trade demands undermined an already overmatched head coach. But in the end, we should thank for Peterson for that, for being honest enough to illuminate a dumpster fire in progress.
And here we are.
When the regular season approaches in three months, it will be tradition for NFL teams to vote on their captains, allowing players to cast ballots in democratic fashion. Barring any further incidents, Peterson’s re-emergence at Monday’s practice will make it safe for his teammates to preserve his captaincy out of respect, even with a six-game suspension looming in the distance.
That’s because Peterson has made highlight reels and huge credibility deposits in our mental banks. Emotionally, he rarely has a bad day. He makes any sports town a bigger, brighter, more quotable place.
This much is certain:
The 2019 Cardinals will be best-served by a fully-vested shut-down cornerback who is healthy, hungry and eager to repay his teammates when he gets back on the field in Week 7. A player whose legacy has been unquestionably tarnished in the prime of his career, forced into an awkward corner of deflection, where one honest answer brings an even harder question.
A player with too much pride to tell you how bad he really feels.
Reach Bickley at email@example.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.