GLENDALE, Ariz. – Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson reacted to the question like it was the craziest thing he'd heard.
Patrick, have you thought about where they're going to put your name in University of Phoenix Stadium's ring of honor when you retire?
Peterson just turned 24. He has only three NFL seasons under his belt. With any luck he's barely a quarter or less into his pro career. Retirement and his ultimate legacy in the game are a long way off.
Of course he has thought about where his name and number are going to go on the ring of honor. What a silly question.
"Yeah, I thought next to Mr. Bidwill's," Peterson said without a hint of sarcasm, referring to the spot next to late Cardinals owner Charles W. Bidwill Sr.'s name on the northeast side of the stadium.
Oh. Well, have you started working on your Hall of Fame speech yet?
"Actually not yet, but my marketer told me I need to start working on it because I am a first-ballot Hall of Famer," Peterson said with a laugh. "We'll see. But I do think about the future, five and 10 years down the line."
Peterson isn't taking this thing year-by-year, not when he talks so freely about picturing himself winning a Lombardi Trophy, being the face of the Cardinals' franchise or the possibility of making the Hall of Fame. He doesn't say these things in a bragging or obnoxious tone, he's just extremely confident and has everything planned out, and he said he visualizes all of it. Part of his plan is to be the best cornerback in the NFL. He has said whenever asked that he thinks he is the best cornerback in the league, and he just got paid that way. In late July he signed a five-year $70 million extension with about $48 million guaranteed, the largest contract for a cornerback in NFL history, in terms of guaranteed money.
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He didn't buy a few Lamborghinis or a beach house to celebrate. He still hasn't bought anything special, actually.
"I pretty much have everything I want," said Peterson, who got an $18.4 million deal as the fifth overall pick in 2011. "When you have everything, it's hard to go out and pick out something new. I'm not new to the money thing."
That's the ironic thing about his massive headline-making contract: It wasn't about the money itself. It was about respect. Peterson is driven to be the best cornerback in football. Contract numbers are a way for professional athletes to keep score, and it was important for Peterson to be No. 1. He's also well aware it raises his profile and increases the pressure on him. Peterson gave up 688 yards and seven touchdowns in coverage last year according to Pro Football Focus (way more than his Twitter nemesis Richard Sherman, which Sherman happily points out), and he needs to tighten that up.
"Now that I am the highest-paid cornerback, I pretty much have to play like the highest-paid cornerback each and every down," Peterson said. "Now I have that bull's-eye on my back. Every little thing I do wrong, I'll get criticized about it."
But he has prepared for this moment in the intense spotlight, in many ways other than just visualizing it.
What makes Peterson a great player? Well, first you need to start with the obvious. He's 6-feet, 219 pounds and runs a 4.34-second 40-yard dash.
"God gave him some stuff he didn't give the rest of us," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.
Arians also added Peterson's hands to the long list of his physical skills. Peterson did moonlight as a receiver last year, although he'll be just a cornerback this season. When a cornerback has Peterson's size, speed and hands, he isn't afraid of taking a chance for a big play, Arians said.
But you don't get to Peterson's level on athletic ability alone.
"He's also a very, very bright player," Arians continued. "He studies a ton of tape. He reads route combinations extremely well. He's extremely coachable. He's really a dream player to come with that skill set and that mindset."
Peterson started learning how to watch film in high school, because his coach was getting his players ready in case they played in college or beyond. Listening to Peterson speak about football, he obviously takes the game very seriously. He describes his technique, how he stays square and patient, not opening up at the line to give the receiver a way to beat him. When asked why his job his so tough, as a cornerback who moves around the entire field to match up with the opponent's best receiver, he doesn't give a standard answer of facing the best receivers in the game every week, often with little safety support.
"It takes my studying to another level," Peterson said, describing the challenge of his job. "I just can't study what he does on the right, or on the left. I have to study when he motions. I have to study when the quarterback gives him a signal. I have to study what he does with his left foot up, with his right foot up. Different things like that."
You can argue if Peterson is the best cornerback in the game, and it has become a popular debate. Peterson, Sherman, Cleveland's Joe Haden and New England's Darrelle Revis are the consensus top four. Peterson respects them all but won't list any ahead of himself, not even Sherman.
Peterson and Sherman have had a fun debate going on this offseason, via Twitter. They've argued about who is the best, and thrown barbs regarding their contract extensions. Don't worry, it's all in good fun.
Peterson said he has known Sherman since the end of their high-school days, when they were at an all-star game together. They haven't texted in a while, he said, but the feud isn't personal.
"I think it's fun. I think it's good for the fans. I'm not going to punch him in the face or anything like that," Peterson said. "It's all fun and games. I don't take things to heart. I'm having fun with it, he said he's having fun with it as well."
They're joking on Twitter, but the competition is serious. Peterson knows if he wants to be the best cornerback in the game, he needs to elevate his game beyond Sherman, and any other corner. It motivates him.
"It's definitely a competition," Peterson said. "You don't want to be recognized as one of the best. You want to be recognized as the best at your position."
We've seen plenty of players get huge contracts like Peterson just did, and then the slide starts because their big career goal was that huge payday. There probably isn't that concern about Peterson. It's just one part of the Cardinal cornerback's long-term plan for himself.
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