Those making the football decisions for the Arizona Cardinals, including coach Dave McGinnis and vice president of football operations Rod Graves, were at dinner Wednesday night with Emmitt Smith at the Four Seasons Resort in Scottsdale.
“At one point in the conversation, the free-agent running back turned to the two and said if he ended up in Arizona, it would be a “mutual advantage situation.”
“He’ll do what it takes to become a winner,” Graves said. “This isn’t solely about Emmitt Smith.”
Graves plans to begin talking contract with Smith’s agent, Eugene Parker, today. Smith, who turns 34 in May, said he expects to be signed somewhere in the next three or four weeks.
There is little question the Cards’ courtship of the NFL’s all-time leading rusher is being done partially for public relations. That was clear during Smith’s visit to the team’s complex Thursday. The Cardinals allowed fans who had shown up to see Smith access near the normally restricted practice fields so Smith could see them and sign autographs.
But the Cardinals are serious about Smith because of the benefits he could bring on and off the field. Smith, who ran for less than 1,000 yards last season for only the second time in his career, sounded confident he could deliver from both angles.
“Obviously the Cardinals have some younger players on their ballclub and I don’t want them to feel threatened by me,” Smith said. “I want them to receive me as one of their own. That goes for any ballclub. I am not coming in to be a distraction, I am coming in to be an asset.
“Some people get caught up in the stardom side and look at me as a major star that can’t relate to younger players. I can relate to younger players totally. They have to be more willing to be open to understand what it is going to take to be a proven winner.”
Smith listed his priorities for finding a new team in order: winning, playing time and money. The Cardinals, about $16 million under the salary cap, can provide the money. Smith, who told the Cardinals he thinks he can play another three seasons, is 2,838 rushing yards short of 20,000. So even with the Cards paying Marcel Shipp $1.4 million a season, the team is apparently willing to put Shipp back on the bench if Smith comes to town.
Shipp was clearly disappointed last week when he first heard of the Smith talks and said he’d compete with Smith for the job. But Shipp also said he’d welcome Smith “with open arms” if Smith signed.
“Marcel will still develop and it will be a workable situation,” McGinnis said. “I don’t see it as any kind of negative at all.”
The winning part of the equation is a stickier subject. Smith did not have a family when he won his three Super Bowl rings, and said he’d like for his wife and kids to be a part of a Super Bowl experience.
The four signings the team made Wednesday were a positive, although Smith emphasized the Cardinals better continue to add players. That said, he insisted he wasn’t fearful of the team’s dismal history.
“Just like I told coach McGinnis,” Smith said, “I am not concerned about what happened in the past.”
Besides, Smith may find it difficult to find a perfect landing spot. Carolina was interested in Smith if its attempts to sign Stephen Davis had fallen through, but Davis signed with the Panthers on Thursday. There has been talk Tampa Bay had interest, but the Buccaneers already have a loaded backfield with Mike Alstott, Michael Pittman and Travis Stephens. They are also tight against the salary cap. Kansas City has publicly expressed interest, but the Chiefs have Pro Bowl performer Priest Holmes.
“My indication from (Smith) and his business manager was they were very interested (in Arizona),” Graves said. “I think this (visit) is more than just a window dressing situation.”
Graves said he was impressed with Smith’s preparation for the visit. Smith researched the franchise and the roster, telling the team his ideas about what the team could do to improve on and off the field. Smith also said he “felt at home” with the Cardinals.
To the Cards, that sounds like a good start.
“Obviously,” Graves said, “he is important to us.”
The agent for defensive end Vonnie Holliday said the quartet of players the Cards signed Thursday helps the team in its pursuit of Holliday and characterized talks between himself and the Cardinals as “moving forward.” But, said Brian Levy, Holliday is still exploring options with other teams. . . .
The Cardinals are hosting free agent offensive linemen Frank Garcia (today) and Cameron Spikes (next week).