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Rodney Hudson Takes His Time, Comes Back To Cardinals

Center contemplated retirement but returns 'all in'

Center Rodney Hudson takes part in a training camp practice.
Center Rodney Hudson takes part in a training camp practice.

Rodney Hudson doesn't know if this will be his last NFL season. For him, that's much to far in the future, when the focus of the Cardinals' center is simply now, prepping for the season in training camp.

But there had been a chance last season would have been his swan song. That's why there was uncertainty over Hudson's status all offseason, why he skipped all offseason work including the mandatory minicamp.

Hudson had to take some time to be with his family, to listen to his body, and to assess whether continuing made sense.

"Like any other season, you take some time off, spend some time with your family," Hudson said. "In this sport, we all say family comes before football, but that's somewhat untrue."

Hudson couldn't give an idea how close he had come to retiring – "I don't have a meter" – but it is just natural for him to give his family life and his health consideration, now going into his 12th NFL season.

"Those things, at my age, you at least start to think about them," said Hudson, who turned 33 earlier this month.

His return was met with joy from coach Kliff Kingsbury and his teammates, who knew the hole that would exist in the middle of the offensive line had he not come back.

"We held group prayers at the office for him," Kingsbury deadpanned, pointing out how effective the offense had been when Hudson was healthy and playing, and the kind of calming influence he provided on the line.

Hudson finally let the team recently he'd be coming for camp, although Kingsbury joked that he didn't know until he saw him physically at camp.

"When I saw Rodney I just gave him a big hug and said thank you," running back James Conner said. "I am ecstatic Rodney came back. We are all mission driven. That's why Rodney came back. He felt we were capable. The man in the middle, touching the ball every play, the OG veteran."

Hudson was bothered with a ribs injury that kept him out three weeks in 2021 and hampered him in other games. "That's ball," Hudson said in a nod to inevitable injuries for football players, but it was a reason he wanted to get his body in a place where it would hold up.

He talked to teammates often this offseason, but there was no lobbying for his return. While he talked to his wife about his plans, Hudson said, "the decision was totally mine."

Center continues to evolve in importance. The Buccaneers are finding that out, with starter Ryan Jensen already suffering a serious knee injury in camp. That was the fear of Kingsbury and the Cardinals, who in light of Hudson's offseason uncertainly, considered moving veteran guard Justin Pugh to center, as well as visited with veteran free agent Billy Price.

"The passing game and the tempo stuff and the quicks and the sophistications of the defenses those guys have to try to analyze on the go, it's incredible now," Kingsbury said. "Rodney studies more film than anyone I've ever been around.

"(The center) has to be a heads-up, cerebral, tough leader. All those things go into it. When you have a good one, it's hard to replace."

Hudson acknowledged the game has changed for centers and for him since he came into the league. Then again, "everything is different. When I came in we used to get CDs, now (video) is on iPads."

Hudson chuckled at a question about whether he was fined for his unexcused absence from mandatory minicamp but declined to answer, saying minicamp was in the past.

So too is his decision whether or not to come back. He'll face it again months from now, but he's playing football in 2022 and how he got there no longer matters.

"When you come in, it's all this, all the time," Hudson said. "Which is what I think it's supposed to be. When you start the season, you're all in."

Images from 2022 Cardinals Training Camp at State Farm Stadium