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Big-Name Offseason Additions Adamant They Still Have Game

Cardinals looking for vintage seasons from J.J. Watt, A.J. Green, Malcolm Butler

Former Bengals WR A.J. Green (left) and former Titans CB Malcolm Butler are aiming for successful campaigns with the Cardinals.
Former Bengals WR A.J. Green (left) and former Titans CB Malcolm Butler are aiming for successful campaigns with the Cardinals.

Cornerback Malcolm Butler shook his head, and a wry smile spread across his face.

Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim led the league in high-profile additions at the start of the league year, bringing in five players with Pro Bowls on their résumés.

They are all over 30 years old now, and one by one over the past month, Butler, defensive end J.J. Watt, wide receiver A.J. Green, center Rodney Hudson and kicker Matt Prater were asked in some form or fashion if they could duplicate those past accomplishments.

As Butler answered his query, the motivation was perceptible.

"I'll ball harder this year," the 31-year-old former Super Bowl hero said. "I had my best year at the age of 30. My best year. Age ain't nothing but a number over here."

If the Cardinals can get vintage performances from players like Butler, Watt and Green, their ceiling will rise to Sistine Chapel-like heights, but it's no guarantee with their prime years behind them.

Watt, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is 32 years old and has dealt with serious injuries three of the past five seasons. Green, 33, missed all of 2019 and had only 47 catches for 523 yards in 16 games last year.

Butler had a solid statistical season in 2020, but ended up with a soft free agent market, signing with the Cardinals for one year at a reported $3.25 million.

Keim didn't head into free agency with a plan to target 30-somethings, but liked the value each player presented. While the former scout didn't deny that athleticism tends to erode over time, Keim said the aging curve does not affect every player the same.

"You have guys that decline in their late-20s, early 30s, and then you have guys that continue to play at a high level, like Larry Fitzgerald has," Keim said. "The way they take care of their bodies, the way they train in the offseason, the way they eat, all of those things give guys an opportunity to play later in their career."

For Green and Watt, in particular, it is obvious they are reinvigorated by this next chapter in their careers. Both were icons for the Bengals and Texans, respectively, and have arrived on a new team with new surroundings for the first time in a decade.

"I think it definitely creates a level of excitement, not only for our fanbase, but for those players, in particular," Keim said. "Guys become a creature of habit, and they're so used to being in one place for so long, that it almost creates a little bit of enthusiasm that maybe they wouldn't have had at another team. I know both A.J. and J.J. are both really excited about this opportunity."

Green said his first day in Tempe felt like a college recruiting visit.

"I felt wanted," Green said. "I'd never been through this process. I didn't know what to expect. Coming here, being greeted, looking at the facilities, it felt unbelievable."

The vibe is optimistic right now, as it always tends to be in the offseason. The proof will come on the field this fall, and the veteran quintet is anxious to back up the talk with action.

"I'm here to dominate," Watt said.

The Cardinals have a talented nucleus returning from a season ago, and the performances of quarterback Kyler Murray, wideout DeAndre Hopkins, outside linebacker Chandler Jones, safety Budda Baker and others will play a vital role in the team's 2021 fortunes.

But if this team can make the leap to true contender status, the high-profile veteran newcomers seem integral to the cause.

"I most definitely think we can make a push," Butler said. "Guys get older and things like that, but if you're doing the right things with your body, you're staying focused, you're committed to the game, you're committed to one goal and that's winning – if everybody as that same mindset, that's what we're going to do."

CB Malcolm Butler officially join the Cardinals on a one-year contract.

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