Patrick Peterson committed to Cardinals, 'next in line' to lead

Perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson wants to finish his career in Arizona and follow in the footsteps of Larry Fitzgerald. Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Whenever Larry Fitzgerald decides to retire, the Arizona Cardinals will also say goodbye to the longtime face of their franchise.

They'll bid farewell to the best player in team history -- a future Hall of Famer -- and also a recognizable part of Arizona's fabric. When people think about Arizona, they think about the Grand Canyon, cacti, John McCain, the desert and Larry Fitzgerald.

Whenever Fitzgerald decides to retire, that's a tough legacy to follow.

But Patrick Peterson doesn't think the Cardinals will need to look far to find Fitzgerald's replacement. He's up for the job.

"I want to follow that man's shoes," Peterson said recently. "He's been here forever -- 15 years being a cornerstone of this Arizona Cardinals organization. I feel like I'm next in line. We'll see what happens."

Peterson, drafted fifth overall in 2011, is the longest-tenured Cardinal behind Fitzgerald. That, in itself, is one reason Peterson feels like he's a natural fit to be recognized as the face of the franchise.

In order to be that, though, Peterson would have to remain in Arizona for the long term. He's under contract for two more years but his commitment to the organization has been questioned this season.

It leaked in late October that Peterson had requested a trade. He tried to curb the damage with a statement that day and he moved up his weekly media gaggle to answer questions instead of letting the uncertainty drag out. He tried to convey that he was frustrated but wanted to stay in Arizona.

Almost two months later, Peterson doesn't think the situation complicates his standing in the organization.

"No, not at all," Peterson said. "It's rumors."

Peterson recently said there's "no doubt about it" he wants to finish his career in Arizona.

"It definitely will be special," Peterson said. "And what will be even more special to get us that championship in the desert. That's my main focus. When I got picked fifth overall. That's something that I wanted to bring to this city. That's still my goal. That's the end result that I'm looking for here as an Arizona Cardinal."

While being the face of the franchise is certainly not an official title, it does carry a heavy burden, some of which Peterson already shoulders.

Fitzgerald is a representative of the Cardinals wherever he goes, more so than any other player during his tenure. Peterson, who's widely recognized around Arizona and whose No. 21 jersey is a common site at Cardinals games, has been preparing to take on that role.

"I've been doing what I've been doing since I got here -- respecting everyone around here, making sure that everybody's in line, being the leader that I am in this locker room and also in the community and just showing guys how to get things done and how to be a pro," Peterson told ESPN. "I've been through the bad. I've been through the good."

Peterson earned his eighth straight Pro Bowl appearance on Tuesday, surpassing Fitzgerald's team record of seven straight from 2007-2013. Peterson is the 13th player to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first eight seasons. The last player to do that was Joe Thomas and the other 11 are all in the Hall of Fame. This season Peterson has 50 tackles, a sack and two interceptions. He's also active in the community with the Patrick Peterson Foundation for Success.

Taking on Fitzgerald's role as team ambassador has been "instilled" in Peterson, he said.

Fitzgerald thinks Peterson is "well on his way" to becoming the organization's next Hall of Fame defensive back in the mold of Aeneas Williams and Roger Wehrli. Both were drafted by the Cardinals. Williams spent the first 10 of his 14 seasons with the Cardinals, while Wehrli spent all 14 of his seasons with the Cardinals, who were then in St. Louis.

"Patrick is that," Fitzgerald said. "He's an unbelievable ambassador for this team and the community. He represents himself and his [family well]. He's what you look for in a football player, not only on the field but off the field, and we're very fortunate to have him here."

Peterson understands he needs to stay the course, and if it happens, it'll be proof that Peterson did everything right.

He doesn't just try to follow Fitzgerald's lead, though. He also looks up to the likes of Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, among others. To one day be mentioned in the same category as guys like that would "speak volumes" for Peterson, who said it'd also be a reflection on his parents and his teammates.

For now, Peterson will wait for Fitzgerald to retire. Until it does, Peterson will be waiting in Fitzgerald's wings.

"I know my place," Peterson said. "I know my place. All I have to do is continue playing my role. If I got to be that wing man -- 'Hey, pass it to me.' -- or I got to be the point guard, I'm down for that, too. I'm all about playing my role and also because, at some point, everyone has to wait in like to get where they want to be."