With the 64th overall pick in the 3rd round of the 2001 NFL Draft the Arizona Cardinals selected a Safety from North Carolina State University named Adrian Wilson. In Arizona, he would be known in the beginning as the man who replaced Pat Tillman in the defensive backfield. Underappreciated for the early part of his career, Adrian Wilson would become a legend to the fans of the Arizona Cardinals, known as the birdgang. He had at least one interception in 11 of his 12 years for the Cardinals. He would have at least a half sack in all but three seasons, and in a game against the Detroit Lions in December of 2012 his sack made him just the 6th player in the history of the NFL to record 25 sacks and 25 interceptions in his career, joining an exclusive club.
Friday afternoon, the Arizona Cardinals cut Adrian Wilson, parting ways with their defensive captain and physical leader. A five-time Pro Bowler, one-time All Pro, and one of the most popular players in the “Arizona” era of the Cardinals franchise, his release is difficult to swallow for long time birdgang fans such as myself. We understand the business side of the NFL. We understand that his play had declined last year. We understand that there is a new front office and coaching staff that are rebuilding. But you don’t understand what “A-Dub” stood for. This is a player who WANTED to be a Cardinal. He made it cool for other players to want to stay and play here. He wanted to be the guy who helped turn this franchise into a winner. He stressed loyalty to the younger players then proved it by taking less money to stay here when he became an unrestricted free agent for the first time. He proved it during the 2010 season when his play severely declined and the fans in the stands started to boo his play. He was named to the Pro Bowl again that year, and the fans thought it was a gimmee choice. We found out in the offseason he played 2/3rds of that year with a torn abductor muscle, from his stomach to his groin. I swore then I would never doubt him or his play again. He proved his loyalty again the following season when he tore his biceps in training camp and played the entire 2011 season, not missing a game because of injury and making his last Pro Bowl. Finally, he proved his loyalty one last time last offseason when he agreed to take a pay cut to help the team’s cap situation, asking nothing in return and fully knowing he could be cut the next offseason…
The NFL is an “owe you nothing” business. Players are paid handsomely for their play and do not have fully guaranteed contracts. We fans understand that, but do not always agree with or accept that. Teams want us to fork over hundreds of dollars for player’s jerseys, only to cut them the following season. We get that and still we buy the merchandise. This is the hard part of the business when a player who has stuck around and been a fan favorite for years gets released. This is the toughest part for a fan. You feel like a member of your own family is leaving, or has been banished and you cannot stop it from happening. I only own two NFL jerseys. One is Pat Tillman’s, one is the man who replaced him. Am I upset that Adrian Wilson was released? Yep. Do I understand the reasoning? Yep. Am I still upset? Yep. Will I get over it? We will see. As a fan, especially of a team like the Cardinals, who once were referred to as the “armpit of the NFL” by an ex-player upon leaving in free agency, Adrian Wilson is a player to look up to. Great in the community, he gives his time to numerous charities, especially those involving children and the one closest to my heart, Phoenix Children’s Hospital. He has never been in trouble with the law. A model citizen and model player for a franchise desperate for one.
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I hope that Adrian Wilson signs with a contender and gets another chance to play for the Lombardi Trophy. Players like him deserve to have the chance to hoist it over their heads. Of course I would rather see that happen with the Cardinals but that is unrealistic now, the wishful thinking of a spurned fan. If it so happens that he signs with a rival so be it. I will still cheer for him in another jersey, even if it a 49ers jersey. Yeah I said it. He deserves a ring for everything he did for this organization when no other player would. He played through the dark times and got so close… I would hope no birdgang fan would blame him if he signed with a rival to chase a ring, that none of you would boo him. I won’t. Go sign with a contender Adrian, I will cheer from Arizona. And when you return to take your place in the Ring of Honor you can bet your ass I will be at that game.