Corey Peters didn't envision this season ending the way it did, with a knee injury halfway through as he approaches free agency come March.
But then Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill called him to let Peters know he was the Arizona Cardinals/Walter Payton Man of the Year.
"With the ups and downs of the season, being injured, COVID, everything like that," Peters said, "this makes me feel good, something to smile about, to be happy about in a time when I'm a little bit down."
Saying he was "shocked" when Bidwill gave him the news – "I'm honored to be chosen in an organization that had lots of options to pick from," Peters said – the defensive lineman picked up his second such reward. He was also picked as the Falcons' Man of the Year in 2011.
Each team's Walter Payton Man of the Year is chosen for a combination of outstanding work in the community as well as outstanding play on the field. The NFL Man of the Year award is chosen among the 32 team honorees and announced the week of the Super Bowl. Peters gets a $40,000 donation to a charity of his choosing.
Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was named NFL Man of the Year in 2016, and quarterback Kurt Warner earned the award in 2008. The winner gets $250,000 for the charity of his choice.
Peters, who was injured against the Dolphins Nov. 8, has now gone through three season-ending injuries in his career. He tore his Achilles early in his career with Atlanta – "I didn't handle it well at all," he said – and then tore it again in training camp of 2015, his first season with the Cardinals. Now, the knee took him down, but he said being older, having been through it, and having more financial and familial stability has helped.
"I'm trying to keep my head in a positive space, which I have done a great job of," Peters said.
Peters, 32, said his six years with the Cardinals have been "amazing" but he isn't sure what will happen next year. He made it clear talking about his current rehab he plans to continue playing.
"We've put some roots down here and done a lot of work in the community," Peters said. "Regardless of my situation with the Cardinals, that work is going to continue. It is what it is. I'm not under contract for next year. I'd love to be a Cardinal for the rest of my career, but I understand the business side of things. I'll be ready to move forward either way."
In the meantime, he continues to be a force in the community. Peters prefers to work in person and hands on, but COVID has robbed him of most of those opportunities.
"Corey is a guy who will help you with anything," safety Budda Baker said.
Peters created the Peters Education Enrichment Project (PEEP) to make a difference in communities while also developing life skills and building future leaders. Peters, after signing with the Cardinals as a free agent in 2015, continued PEEP in Arizona as well as volunteering often in the community.
In the South Pointe School District in Phoenix, Peters began a bi-weekly book club, with lunch and an in-person discussion with high school students. He kept The Corey Peters Playbook meetings going virtually once the pandemic hit. He has also worked with the Harvest Compassion Center to distribute care packages in the South Pointe district to families in need in July, and Thanksgiving turkeys to those in need in the district last month. Peters is also an ambassador for Feed the Children, whose mission is to end childhood hunger.
After it was announced he was Man of the Year, Peters said he heard from teachers, administrators, students and parents of students he has worked with, a nod to his consistent work with those in need.
"The biggest thing for me is seeing kids grow through some of our programming and them coming up to me in the community sometimes and talk about things they have learned or things they have improved upon," Peters said. "That always makes me feel fulfilled."