Cards release 12-year mainstay Adrian Wilson
MAR 08, 2013 10:14a ET
The Cards had just snapped a nine-game, soul-sucking losing streak, and Wilson became just the sixth NFL player ever to post 25 sacks and 25 interceptions in a career when he notched a fourth-quarter sack.
"I'm a very emotional person, and I put a lot of stock into what I do," Wilson said as his composure slowly deteriorated into tears. "A lot of the emotions that are coming out now are just thinking through the hard times and being where we're at now.”
Wilson wouldn’t admit it, but those emotions were a hint that he knew his time in Arizona might be drawing to a close. That became official on Friday when the Cards released him, ending one of the more memorable careers in this franchise’s history.
“All of us thank Adrian for what he has meant not only to our organization but also to this community,” team president Michael Bidwill said in a statement. “In every franchise, there is a select group of players whose contributions earn them iconic status and for us, Adrian Wilson will always be one of those players.
“He joined us at a key time in our organization’s evolution and helped lead us into a new era. We will always be grateful for that and look forward to the day when he’s placed in the Ring of Honor at University of Phoenix Stadium alongside the other all-time great Cardinals.”
The Cards are not expected to re-sign Wilson at a reduced price, but even though he said at training camp last year that he could not imagine giving his “heart to another team,” that is the likely next step. Wilson said this in December about the possibility of retirement: “I can still play, and I know I can still play at a high level, so that’s not even under consideration.”
A third-round pick in 2001, Wilson learned under former Cardinal and ASU icon Pat Tillman and became one of the biggest hitters in the secondary while developing into a menace at the line of scrimmage with his ability to stuff plays and rush the quarterback.
Wilson posted 987 tackles (716 solos), 106 passes defensed, 13 forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries and four touchdowns in 181 regular season games for the Cardinals. His 181 games played rank as the fifth-highest total in team history and are the second-most among defensive players behind only Hall of Fame defensive back Roger Wehrli (193).
Wilson’s 27 interceptions are sixth in team history, and his 25½ sacks are tied for 11th on the Cardinals all-time list. He was selected for five Pro Bowls, most recently in 2011.
Despite all that, and despite how much he meant as the heart-and-soul leader of this defense, Wilson’s release did not come as a surprise. He was due to make $2.5 million in salary this season and was scheduled to get a $1 million roster bonus. The move saves the team $3 million in salary cap space.
Last season, he saw many of his duties in the Cardinals nickel and dime packages reduced as former defensive coordinator Ray Horton went with Rashad Johnson and James Sanders.
“It’s gut-wrenching,” Wilson said in December. “Obviously, I want to play. Whatever role I do have, ultimately, I have to play that role and do the best I can. Those are the cards I’m dealt, unfortunately.”
The Cardinals extended Wilson’s contract by two years last season, but the deal included a significant pay cut. Wilson was supposed to make $6.5 million last season. Instead, he earned $1.5 million plus a $1.5 million signing bonus. Not even that sacrifice could save him in the cold, hard world of the NFL salary cap.
The Cardinals had a coaching staff change, and the team is taking a new direction with younger players. With Wilson, 33, out of the fold, the team has some decisions to make in the secondary. Both Johnson and Sanders are set to become free agents, although Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic reported the team has had discussions with Johnson’s agent. There is also a glut of safeties available in the free agent market.
The Cards also may look to restructure the deal for free safety Kerry Rhodes, but the organization wants him back. He just won’t have his normal running mate.
“Decisions like this are never easy,” general manager Steve Keim said in a statement, “but it’s especially rough with someone like Adrian because he’s been such a special player and important part of this organization for the last 12 years.”
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