Football administrator Justin Casey aligns a Cardinals' position-by-position roster in his office.
General manager Rod Graves was working on multiple projects, and suddenly Justin Casey was the Cardinals' point man of the back-and-forth contract negotiations for free-agent fullback Terrelle Smith.
It was intense, juggling the talks. It was also exhilarating for Casey, who improbably was doing the job he now knew he was always meant to do.
"I don't think there really is a typical way" to get to where he has landed, Casey said. "It's really about just getting your foot in the door."
Rising from a broadcasting background and time spent in the video departments of two college football programs, Casey's title is "Football administration/salary cap." In reality, he serves as Graves' right-hand man in football operations.
He helps negotiate contracts. He's the go-to man in the organization when it comes to rules – be it about the collective bargaining agreement, player personnel or salary cap. He's the liaison for rookies when they first come to the Cardinals, lining up their new NFL lives. During the draft, he's one of the few who stays in the war room, organizing all the information flowing around the league. On game days, the 35-year-old Casey helps out in the coaches' booth in the press box. And in his spare time – infrequent as it is – he watches video, of both pro players and potential college draftees.
"He has what I would call an extreme passion for his work," Graves said. "Very detailed, organized, above all, dedicated. He's the one to turn the lights on first thing in the morning and cut them off after everyone is gone. Those are the kind of hours he keeps."
It's not unique to rise from a non-football background to reach an NFL front office. Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney, for instance, was a newspaper reporter covering the Washington Redskins when he first broke into the NFL with Redskins GM Bobby Beathard, and eventually reached his current post.
Casey is hoping – eventually – for a similar endgame. In the meantime, he enjoys where he is now, close to the action and making an impact.
He grew up thinking he'd be in the media, as a play-by-play man or an anchor at ESPN. That led the Phoenix native to Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism. As Casey took broadcasting classes, however, he began to realize it wasn't what he wanted. A chance opportunity to work in the video department of the football team swayed Casey in a different direction.
Working on the inside with the Sun Devils – his first year happened to be the school's undefeated run to the Rose Bowl with quarterback Jake Plummer in 1996 – had him hooked. It wasn't about hanging out with the players, or even in the winning. "It was more about the process," Casey said. "How did it all work, why were certain teams successful, why were certain players successful?"
Casey's work led him to spend many hours breaking down video for coaches with coaches, allowing him not only to learn his job but learn about scouting and personnel. After seven years of work at both ASU and Colorado State University (as video director), his football knowledge had grown exponentially.
A job opening came up with the Cardinals. It was home, a chance to be near family, although it was in the broadcast department and his "former" life. Casey gave it a shot, but knew immediately it "wasn't where I was supposed to be." He wanted to be part of the action, and spent the next three years helping wherever he could, finally convincing Graves and then-salary cap/administrator John Idzik to give him a chance in February, 2006.
"From day one there, I knew that was where I was supposed to be," Casey said.
First helping streamline data and information flow within football operations, Casey learned enough from Idzik and Graves so that when Idzik left in early 2007 to work for the Seahawks, "Justin was a natural to move into that spot," Graves said.
His status has just grown stronger. Evolving as integral to the process, Casey's background is now just part of the story.
"His story is a profile in dedication and what it means to work hard to move up the ladder," Graves said. "He certainly has demonstrated he can do the job at hand, and that's really what matters."
When the new league year finally starts, Casey will get back to helping negotiate contracts, whether it be for drafted rookies, the undrafted free agents and the veteran free agents. He's a long way from that first contract dealing with Smith, who eventually signed a two-year deal and started for the team that reached the Super Bowl.
It was some tangible proof Casey was finally close enough to the action.
"When we won the NFC Championship," Casey said, "it was the best day of my life."
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