Adrian Wilson never wavered in his desire to build a legacy with the Arizona Cardinals.
The veteran safety did that over 12 seasons, compiling a résumé that will one day land him in the team’s Ring of Honor. But Friday Wilson’s tenure came to an end in Arizona, with the team releasing the five-time Pro Bowler.
“All of us thank Adrian for what he has meant not only to our organization but also to this community,” Cardinals 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 move did not come as a total surprise. Wilson’s playing time dropped significantly in the second half of the 2012 season and with the new coaching staff, a shift to a younger roster was expected.
For a player who had said multiple times he wanted to retire a Cardinal, however, it is a difficult separation and a reminder of the reality of NFL business.
"With the turnover, with the new head coach, the new GM, the things they want to do, I wasn't obviously in those plans," Wilson said on an interview with XTRA 910. "I'm going to move forward and try and finish my career somewhere else, but I will always be a Cardinal.
"There are definitely zero hard feelings."
Wilson is one of only six players all-time to compile 25 interceptions and 25 sacks. Wilson had one interception last season, bringing
Drafted in the third round in 2001, Wilson became a feared hitter in the secondary and a player opposing offensive coordinators needed to account for in their gameplans. He evolved into a key defensive leader.
Wilson had 987 tackles (716 solos), 106 passes defensed, 13 forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries and four touchdowns in 181 regular season games, starting 162 if them.
The 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.
Wilson long wanted to be a part of the Ring of Honor. Asked what Bidwill's statement that Wilson will indeed get that honor someday meant, Wilson said "it means I did my job."
Wilson, 33, was due to make $2.5 million in salary this season and he had been scheduled to get a $1 million roster bonus. The move saves the team $3 million in salary cap space.
“Decisions like this are never easy but it’s especially tough with someone like Adrian because he’s been such a special player and important part of this organization for the last 12 years,” general manager Steve Keim said. “He and I have a long history, as many know. I had the privilege of meeting Adrian at North Carolina State when he was a 17-year old freshman. It was obvious even then that his infectious smile and imposing stature could make him a star.
“His disruptive style meant opponents always had to know where number 24 lined up and the statistics illustrate all that he
"(Steve) is my family," Wilson said. "It's a business decision. It's not a personal decision."
Wilson’s next move will be determined on the open market. He said he will use the release as fuel to motivate him whereever he plays next. He said he thinks he can play three more seasons. He gets out in free agency a few days prior to the official opening March 12, although he won’t be the only veteran safety looking for a job, with Baltimore’s Ed Reed and the Jets’ LaRon Landry among the available older veterans.
He said he'd prefer to stay in the West because of his family and prefer to go to a contender so he'd have a shot at a Super Bowl title, but he admits both would be the "best-case scenario." For his kids' sake, he said he'd still live in Arizona.
While talking about his restructured contract last season, Wilson said he did “envision myself with a role with the organization at some point.” He didn’t want to imply it would be soon, hoping to play deep into his new deal, but he also said he couldn’t see himself playing for another team. Wilson is expected to try and find a spot on another team.
Late last season, Wilson seemed to understand what he wanted and what the team wanted might not mesh.
"My whole goal when I first got here was to retire a Cardinal and try and put them in a better position than when I got here, and I feel I've done that," Wilson said. "I feel I've left my mark here.
"I'm not mad about anything. I'm happy because I put in 12 great years."