For a guy who went missing at the start of last season and then didn’t really show up until the final four or five weeks, Patrick Peterson probably couldn’t have picked a better nickname for himself than “The Witness Protection Officer.”
The Cardinals’ cornerback, after all, wasn’t seen for months.
Peterson, though, was referring to the moniker he hung on himself during his heyday as one of the NFL’s premier shutdown corners when he was named a Pro Bowl defender for seven straight years from 2012-18. After a disappointing disappearing act a year ago, Peterson vows he will return with a vengeance in 2020.
During a wide-ranging interview with reporters on Thursday that lasted nearly a full hour, the 10-year veteran promised he’s going to be every bit as dominating as the Cardinals, whom he described multiple times as a “championship-caliber football team.”
“I’m not really into watch-this, prove-this, but I can promise you this: This is definitely going to be a big year. Just wait and see,” Peterson said. “To whoever is doubting me or to whoever don’t think I can still play at a high level, just wait and see.
“I’m pretty good. I used to call myself, ‘The Witness Protection Officer.’ I’m pretty good at putting people in witness protection and (defensive coordinator) Vance (Joseph) knows that and I know Vance is going to put me in the best position possible to put my hands on receivers, to be able to disrupt that timing between the receiver and the quarterback.”
Well, timing, as they say, is everything.
But for all the years that Peterson made life difficult for opposing receivers and offenses overall and was rewarded with regular invitations to the Pro Bowl, his timing couldn’t have been worse last offseason when he was popped with a positive test for using performance-enhancing drugs.
Peterson never denied it once the story broke, but because he apparently tried to cover it up earlier by using some type of masking agent, the league extended what would have been a four-game suspension to six to start the season. His absence, and the lack of his previous elite-level production, became one of the biggest factors in the Cardinals finishing 5-10-1.
By the time he got his legs fully back underneath him, the season was lost – just like he was.
“For me to jump back in the thick of things, maybe Superman can do that. But I’m not Clark Kent,” Peterson said. “I may have some Superman moments and some Superman ways, but it just wasn’t happening for me. Once I got back into groove, I felt unbelievable and that is what’s going to carry over to this year.”
To that end, Peterson is as optimistic as he’s ever been. During a recent appearance on The Hyperice Lab podcast, he said “this is probably the best football team I’ve ever been a part of on paper.” And Peterson wasn’t backtracking from that lofty praise on Thursday, either, suggesting that after all the promising offseason moves made by management and with all the other key returning pieces in place, “The sky is the limit for this football team.”
From the second-year leap in growth expected out of quarterback Kyler Murray, whom Peterson says “hasn’t even scratched the surface yet” to the unexpected trade acquisition of All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins – “That doesn’t just happen. That just doesn’t fall in your lap,” Peterson said – everything is trending in the right direction for the Cardinals.
Peterson said he felt the same vibe back in 2013 upon the arrival of then-head coach Bruce Arians and the ascension of Steve Keim from vice president of player personnel to general manager. And just like then, he senses a forthcoming run of double digit-win seasons afoot, suggesting the Cardinals are even in a better position now because they are younger and faster.
“I believe this is definitely a championship-caliber football team from top to bottom,” Peterson said, adding Keim and team Chairman and President Michael Bidwill are completely prepared to win now. “Definitely. They’re in the mindset to definitely win now. In the NFL, you only have so many windows and you have to take advantage of those windows.
“I was a part of one of those windows … and I definitely feel that window for us right now is wide open.”
Therein lies a potential dilemma for Peterson, who turns 30 in July. He’s entering the final year of his contract and thus far, no progress seems to have been made regarding a possible extension. Keim told reporters back in the spring that preliminary discussions had already started, but on Thursday, Peterson implied there has been no movement whatsoever.
Because of Peterson’s importance and salary-cap implications as well, nothing short of a three-year extension would be a viable starting point. But contract negotiations can get tricky and Peterson has shown his frustration with the team in the past, like two years ago when he demanded a trade.
If the two sides can’t agree to terms on a new deal, what’s to stop the Cardinals from being forced to move Peterson prior to the trading deadline? They’d be foolish to let him walk as an unrestricted free agent in 2021. If contract talks happen to go south, Keim would be derelict in his duties if he didn’t try to get as much as he could in return for the future Hall of Famer.
Imagine if the Cardinals are, indeed, a championship-caliber team and Peterson isn’t around to be a part of it. He was asked that very question on Thursday.
“If we don’t get a deal done by the trading deadline, I don’t want that to be a distraction for me during the season,” he said. “There’s a time and a place for everything. Once the season starts, I believe it won’t be the time for that.
“I’m very optimistic something will get done. I love it here. The front office would love for me to be here, because they know what I bring to the team. Not only my leadership, but on the football field, the classroom, the locker room. They understand what I mean to this organization, so obviously, if they want to make it right and want to keep me here, they’ll do that.”
Peterson said he’s committed to the Cardinals and wants to finish his career in Arizona. But the only thing he can control, he said, “is going out there and busting whoever’s ass that’s in front of me.” If a contract extension happens, he said, so be it. Peterson is “only worried about going out there every Sunday and whoever my assignment is, not letting them breath.”
“The Witness Protection Officer” sounds like he means business.
“I didn’t make All-Decade for no reason,” Peterson said. “They just don’t hand those out.”
Peterson was one of three current members of the Cardinals named last month to the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 2010’s, joining wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and outside linebacker Chandler Jones, and the recognition was humbling.
“I cried when I got that because going through that season last year and obviously having the suspension and having to deal with that … I literally thought it was like a joke,” Peterson said. “I shed a year because that’s something I always envisioned myself being – one of the greatest to ever play the game.
“I think this year is going to be big for me. I’m excited. I’ve got a chip on my shoulder. It’s bigger than it’s ever been. And with this being my 10th year, I’m very optimistic. I can feel something special.
Have an opinion on the Arizona Cardinals? Reach McManaman at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac. Listen to him live on Fox Sports 910-AM every Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 on Calling All Sports with Roc and Manuch and every Wednesday night from 7-9 on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash.
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