Tight end John Carlson (left) signs his new two-year contract alongside team president Michael Bidwill.
John Carlson started his career with a flourish, making 106 receptions in his first two years in the NFL with Seattle and looking like a star in the making.
Injuries took a toll on the tight end the past few years, however, and even after scoring a big free-agent contract in Minnesota a couple years ago, Carlson is still trying to regain that production. His effort will come in Arizona, after the Cardinals signed him to a two-year deal Friday, just two days after being cut by the Vikings.
"It's a huge goal," Carlson said of getting back to his early production. "Football is a great game because it is the ultimate team sport, and it isn't just about the accolades and the numbers. That said, great teams
have great individuals with great stats. I want to do what I can to contribute to this team. I want to have as many catches as possible."
Carlson begins to help fill a void at the position that was left nebulous heading into free agency. Rob Housler remains as a starter, although he still has much to prove. Fellow starter (in Bruce Arians' two-tight end alignments) Jim Dray is a free agent-to-be, as are Jake Ballard, Kory Sperry and Jeff King. NFL.com reported Carlson's deal was worth $4.65 million.
The Cardinals jumped on the Carlson possibility quickly, bringing him in for his visit Thursday, taking him to dinner Thursday night with the team decision-makers and then getting a deal done Friday – the quick turnaround, don't-let-them-leave-without-signing process head coach Bruce Arians and General Manager Steve Keim have both talked about.
It doesn't come without some pause. Carlson, who missed all of the 2011 season with a shoulder injury, had concussion problems at the end of his stay in Minnesota. They were enough of a concern that some suggested Carlson might retire, but Carlson said he worked with doctors to assure him he could continue his career and he never considered retirement.
"This is football and it's a risky game," Carlson said. "Concussions are a serious thing and I took the proper steps.
"It's a blessing to be in this business. I saw some experts. I was disappointed to end the season on (injured reserve) … but I feel really good."
In 74 career games, Carlson has 177 catches for 1,906 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Seahawks' second-round pick in 2008, he had 55 receptions for 627 yards that season, both which remain career-bests. Last season he had 32 receptions for 344 yards and one score in 13 games on a Minnesota team with inconsistent quarterback play.
He is considered by many a catch-first tight end – Arians has said he prefers tight ends who block first, catch second – but believes he can do whatever job asked.
"That's the great thing about playing tight end," Carlson said. "We're asked to block in the run game, pass protect, make plays down the field in the pass game … There is a lot involved in this position which is one of the reasons it is so fun to play. I consider myself well-rounded.
"Blocking is part of what we do, sometimes it's the majority of what we do."
A Minnesota native, he said he knows fellow Minnesota natives Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd "a little." He also said with the way the team is trending, it was an "easy sell" to him to come to the Cardinals.
"I have a lot to learn about the system," Carlson said. "But looking back statistically with the things tight ends can do in this system is encouraging."
Keim will be back to work in free agency Saturday morning, when teams can begin calling representatives for free agents with expiring contracts. Teams cannot make offers or sign anyone until Tuesday at 1 p.m. Arizona time, and Keim has indicated he will still want to bring players in for visits and get some face-to-face time before locking down any offers.