Maybe it was a little foolish, Lorenzo Alexander can admit, or naïve, but when things are going well and you’re doing your job the right way and you are making the Pro Bowl, the last consideration you are making is playing for another team.
So that’s why his situation with the Redskins earlier this offseason felt like a shot to the gut, a sucker punch that pounded the emotions. The franchise the outside linebacker called home would bring him back, but for nothing near the money or the opportunity the Cardinals were going to provide.
Logic dictated a move west. And the heart handled the abuse.
“When you are in a place for seven years, the place where I started to play so it felt like my first team, it’s home,” Alexander said. “Your kids
Alexander was named a Pro Bowl special teamer for Washington last season. But his contract was expiring, and the Redskins – partially hamstrung by an NFL-mandated salary cap penalty – weren’t going to be able to offer him what the open market did.
That began with the Cardinals, who eventually gave Alexander a three-year, $9.5 million contract with a $2.8 million signing bonus. They saw a veteran who could lead, and one who could be a potential starting outside linebacker after those days – at least in Washington – had passed.
“He’s what I call a baller,” coach Bruce Arians said. “When he’s on the field he goes 100 miles an hour. Football means a lot to him, he’s a class person off the field, he’s great in the locker room and he’s been a productive player when he’s had his opportunities.
“I felt like he’d be great in our locker room as a leader and what he brings as a relentless football player.”
The business was the business, Alexander understood. He just turned 30. With the Redskins’ cap problems, it was a bad combination, especially for the guy hoping to stay put.
“You’re not promised next year in this game,” Alexander said. “I couldn’t make the wrong decision trying to be the good guy when in this business. It’s cutthroat.”
Starting – or as Alexander emphasizes, the opportunity to earn such a spot – intrigued. He had started before, when the Redskins were switching to the 3-4 scheme and he was battling Andre Carter on the depth chart. But he admittedly underperformed, trying to play through a hamstring injury and more importantly, trying to play three and sometimes four special teams units in a game.
Exhausted much of the time, Alexander’s production waned. In Arizona, the plan is for Alexander, despite his Pro Bowl status, to dial back on his special teams play assuming he is a bigger part of the defense.
But Alexander, the man who carries with him perspective not all NFL players do, isn’t trying to leave his special teams niche behind. That too carries a special place in his heart, because it helped him carve out a nice pro career.
“As a player you have to be true to yourself and understand where you fit in this league,” Alexander said. “Everybody can’t be a starter. Everybody can’t be a (Larry) Fitzgerald or a big name. You have to find another way to make a name for yourself in this league. If it is special teams play, you’re still getting paid and making good money and living the dream still.”
Alexander smiled. Not every player understands like he does, even as he acknowledged that as a one-time undrafted practice-squad defensive tackle “I was kind of forced to get to that perspective.”
“At that point,” he said, “your ego has already been knocked down and you just want to say, ‘How do I get in?’ ”
“You have to be willing to adapt,” Alexander added, “if the league tells you your initial plan isn’t going to work out.”
Or, if years later, the league tells you your first team won’t be your last.