When the Cardinals traded for Pittsburgh's Marcus Gilbert last offseason, he headed to Arizona with both talent and injury concerns.
The latter prevailed, as the veteran right tackle tore his ACL days before the regular season and missed the whole year. It was the latest in a spell of setbacks, as Gilbert has now missed an average of 12 games over the past three seasons.
However, even as his 32nd birthday approaches, it's not retirement on the brain of Gilbert, but a return to the caliber of play he showed during his prime.
"I knew that wasn't the way I wanted to go out, especially coming off a disappointing year before," Gilbert said. "I had every thought to come back and reclaim that top right tackle spot (in 2019.) That did a lot of damage to me, but I still know I have a lot ahead of me. I don't want to hang it up too soon. I know what type of player I am."
Gilbert is an impending free agent in March. His fill-in, Justin Murray, is tied to the Cardinals in 2020, and General Manager Steve Keim also has cap space at his disposable, so it's unknown how the right tackle situation will be addressed.
Gilbert is clear on his desire to return, as his goal in 2020 is to help a team become a contender, "and hopefully it's here in Arizona, where I'd love to be."
It has been five months since the torn ACL, an injury which generally takes nine months to recover from if there aren't complications. Gilbert has an easy road map to follow, as center A.Q. Shipley tore his ACL in training camp of 2018 before returning last year.
"For him to come back and play a full 16 games at a high level, that was really encouraging to me," Gilbert said. "To see the type of feedback I've gotten from the guys, like Carson Palmer, Maurkice Pouncey – they gave me a lot of encouraging words. Mentally where I'm at right now is to attack this thing."
Gilbert is confident he can mirror Shipley's path by returning to the field in some capacity during offseason work and then ramping up when training camp arrives.
While the injuries have gotten the upper hand of late, Gilbert doesn't believe they will dominate the final chapter of his career.
"I did a lot of reflection, and I can say that mentally I'm more prepared than ever to get over this hump and have a couple good seasons that I feel like I have in me," Gilbert said.
Images of Cardinals cheerleader McKayla during the 2019 season