The path Greg Little took to the Cardinals began simply with an iPhone video.
The Cardinals are like any other team, getting dozens of e-mails and video clips every week of potential players that, in the senders’ estimation, have simply been overlooked in the thousands of man-hours the NFL collectively puts into such efforts.
But Little’s routes-on-air scene managed to catch the eye of the Cardinals. For a one-time rising star who hasn’t appeared in an NFL regular-season game since 2014, it has provided another unexpected – and perhaps final -- chance in the league.
It was pro scout Glen Fox who first saw the video, noticing Little seemed to be in excellent shape and looked sharp, especially for a guy who hadn’t been playing. He shared it with director of pro scouting Quentin Harris, whose first reaction was admittedly, “Greg Little? He hasn’t done anything lately.”
But then Harris looked into specifics. The size and body-type was there. Harris was stunned to find out Little hadn’t yet turned 29. The video, too, impressed. Harris got the go-ahead from General Manager Steve Keim to bring Little in as one of the couple of veteran tryouts at the team’s rookie minicamp in early May.
“Obviously, there are questions marks at our receiver position, he was productive a few years ago, why not take a look-see?” Harris recalled thinking.
It was worth it. The Cardinals knew by the end of the minicamp they wanted to sign him, although Little tweaked a hamstring and needed to get healthy. Little never left Arizona between then and when he finally signed with the team prior to the full team minicamp in mid-June.
“I knew this is where I was going to be,” Little said.
Little doesn’t get into specifics of the ups and downs of his NFL life. His first three seasons in Cleveland produced decent statistics – he had 155 of his 161 career catches -- but he struggled with consistency and drops before he was released in 2014. He was picked up by the Raiders, then cut, before the Bengals grabbed him. He appeared in just six games.
The Bengals brought him back the following year but he was inactive every game before being cut in October. Little was signed in 2016 by Buffalo but he was cut at the end of training camp and hadn’t been on a roster since.
“I’ve been in some situations where it didn’t play out the way I wanted it to, and that’s that,” Little said, adding later, “It makes you appreciate the privilege of being in the NFL.”
Self-awareness matters. Harris deals with potential veteran free agents all the time, especially those who are essentially going to be minimum-contract guys. Sometimes, the Cards will show an interest in a tryout and potential signing – at least until the player might start asking for a signing bonus or something else extra.
“Right there, you’re thinking, ‘You don’t have a job and you’re trying to get extra benefits?’ ” Harris said. “You better be worrying about coming in and working and showing you deserve a contract. There is a little of that sometimes with guys who aren’t realistic. You will get excited about a guy who is younger, who might be healthy again, and then he’s starting with the little demands and it’s a red flag. We want guys in that situation to be hungry and put their head down, and Greg has done both.”
There is little doubt Little has opportunity. Beyond Larry Fitzgerald, there is nothing set within the Cardinals’ wide receiving corps, other than second-round pick Christian Kirk will be on the roster regardless. But no spots have been claimed, and any other receiver could find himself with a job or without.
Within that prism, it’s interesting that Little not only has made some plays in practice but that head coach Steve Wilks has specifically mentioned Little multiple times since camp opened.
“We’ve all seen his skillset over the years,” Wilks said. “For whatever reason he’s bounced around, he can’t find a home. He’s very talented. To be honest, he probably realizes this is his only and last opportunity.”
Little won’t argue that the Cardinals were his only option, although he notes he has been told before he was down to his last opportunity – or even believed himself he had already run out of them.
“I had those conversations with myself, in my head, out loud,” said Little, who turned 29 in late May. “There was a lot of frustration.
“Every night before I go to bed I try to realize and reflect and meditate a little bit about my journey and where I have been.”
Images from the 10th practice of training camp