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Boldin changes approach about contract, team

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin(notes) should have writer's cramp by now to go along with a weary body from two hours of practice.

For more than an hour after practice, Boldin has signed autographs for fans at training camp. Even with the sun fading below the pine trees that line the practice field at Northern Arizona University, Boldin won't stop until the last fan goes away happy. He signs everything from shirts to hat to cards to even a rubber duck that a young boy brought up toward the end. He also poses for more pictures than a fashion model.

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Boldin signs autographs following a practice session last week.
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

If this is the same guy that has said on many occasions that he wanted out of Arizona because of disputes over his contract, you'd have a hard time knowing it based on this display. Moreover, if the Cardinals are to go from the notion that they were a flash-in-the-pan last year to a consistent contender, what Boldin is doing after practice is just as important as what he does during the week and in games.

"Do you know what it's been like to get to this point where we can hold our chest out a little more and be proud to say, 'I'm an Arizona Cardinal,' " said defensive lineman Bertrand Berry(notes), who is entering his 12th season and sixth with Arizona. "For Anquan to be out there with the fans, showing how proud he is, that's all part of it."

Boldin downplayed the moment, saying merely that, "This is what it's all about, being there for the fans." But there's more to it. The fact that Boldin came to camp and put his unhappiness about his contract aside is a crucial message for an organization that has long had players complain about money and the treatment they have received from ownership.

"You're either way too happy about what you're doing or upset," said Boldin, who also changed agents this offseason after his strategy of complaining failed to get any results. "To me, it's better to be happy about it. In a couple of years, when my contract comes up, we'll see. If they want me back and we can work something out, great. If not, I'll move on. That's the way it goes."

Boldin has definitely illustrated that he isn't focused on simply receiving things. Coming out of poverty-stricken Pahokee, Fla., Boldin has consistently tried to give back to his community. He recently donated a six-acre parcel of land for a Boys & Girls Club that he's trying to have constructed. He holds an annual charity event in the town featuring a basketball game with numerous pro athletes.

He has been so giving that Pahokee High voted in June to name the new football stadium after him. Boldin was a runaway winner of the honor, receiving nine of 15 votes and beating out former school administrators and even former head coach Don Thompson Sr., the first man to lead the Blue Devils to a state championship in football.

"We all kind of knew it was going to go that way," Pahokee principal Ariel Alejo said. "Anquan has done so much for this area."

Boldin called it "surprising and humbling" given all the great players who have come from one of Florida's top hotbeds for football.

Still, for all his graciousness, taking such a positive approach now isn't always easy for a guy who has been part of the team's turnaround since being a second-round pick in 2003. Boldin's work ethic and toughness (teammates are still amazed that he returned only three weeks after breaking his jaw last season) are beacons for younger players. His willingness to run through the middle to catch passes is inspiring.

Like so many players, Boldin thought all of that would get him more consideration from ownership when he was unhappy with his deal. Boldin felt at one point in 2008 that he had been promised a new deal. The Cardinals didn't see it that way. His former agent, Drew Rosenhaus, repeatedly asked for a new deal. When that didn't happen, Rosenhaus pushed the idea of a trade, but nothing ever materialized. Shortly after the draft, Boldin left Rosenhaus.

"That was never really how Anquan wanted to be perceived, as really wanting out no matter what," linebacker Karlos Dansby(notes) said. "He felt like he had been lied to, but you gotta get over that and move on when things don't happen. That's really the way our whole team has been. All the guys pick up on that and when something doesn't go the way we want, we regroup.

"That didn't always happen around here before."

A critical moment last year as the Cardinals reached their first Super Bowl and first championship game since 1948 was the reaction after a 47-7 loss at New England on a snowy day in the second-to-last game of the season.

"We acted like we weren't even there that day, that we didn't want to be there," Dansby said. "Our minds were like 30,000 miles from there. It was cold and all anybody wanted to be was back in Arizona. We had to talk that all through and get our minds straight. When we did, you saw what happened."

True, but if that's going to continue this season, the approach can't change. Everybody has to want to be here and willing to fight through any battle, be it with another NFL team or even ownership.

Or even if it's dealing with the hordes of fans who want autographs. Right down to the last one.