Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 12/12/12
TEMPE, Ariz. On the 12th day of the 12th month of the year 2012, team spokesperson Mark Dalton noted that, entering this season, only 12 players had spent 12 seasons or more of service with the Cardinals. Strong safety Adrian Wilson became No. 13 when he took the field for the clubs opener on Sept. 9. Will that No. 13 distinction be unlucky? Its a tough question to answer. Clearly, little has gone right for the Cardinals since uniform No. 13, Kurt Warner, retired, but one constant through these three years of postseason-less football has been Wilson. Hes played with passion, hes played with precision, hes played through injuries, and hes played with a physical edge that makes ball carriers wary when hes closing on them. Before the season began, Wilson even agreed to play for less money. The Cardinals extended his contract by two years into 2015, but the deal included a significant pay cut. Wilson was supposed to make 6.5 million this season. Instead, hell earn 1.5 million, plus a 1.5 million signing bonus. Between this season and next, the lost salary for Wilson will amount to about 10 million. Wilson was OK with that alteration because he was giddy about the prospects of playing two additional years -- until the Cardinals decided to play him less as this season wore on. Hes a prideful guy, and when it first happened to him, I didnt really say much to him because I know it was tough. But I know first-hand about this, said fellow safety Kerry Rhodes, who saw his playing time diminished in a 2009 Jets defense that had previously been tailored to his play-making abilities. It wasnt to this point that hes dealing with, but not to be in on every down is tough. In the first nine games, Wilson played nearly all of the Cardinals defensive snaps. In the past four games, he has played anywhere from half to 80 percent. That doesnt sit well with a player who takes as much pride in his craft as Wilson. Its gut-wrenching, Wilson said Wednesday. Obviously, I want to play. Whatever role I do have, ultimately, I have to play that role and do the best I can. Those are the cards Im dealt, unfortunately. One of defensive coordinator Ray Hortons favorite phrases is that the NFL is a young mans game. Wilson, 33, is not young in NFL parlance, and Horton has chosen to replace him in nickel situations with Rashad Johnson and James Sanders filling in. It is difficult to know for certain if that trend will continue or if, with the season spiraling out of reach, the Cardinals are evaluating younger players. But there has been one consistent knock on Wilsons game that makes its fair to assume these changes are not temporary. A lot of people say I cant cover, he said. A lot of fans say I cant cover. Ive been dealing with that my whole career, so this season is no different. But what if the coaches also believe it? What if this reduced role is as good as its going to get the rest of his time in Arizona? Can Wilson live with that? My head is on finishing out these last there games, said Wilson, who added that he will take stock of his situation when the season has ended. Thats what I have to do. Ultimately, Im not the decision maker, so thats all I can do. Its hard to imagine Wilson playing anywhere else, not just because this has been his only home, but because his feelings for this franchise are so strong. Remember this quote from training camp? I gave my heart to this team, he said. Theres no way I could leave here. Theres no way I could put my heart in another team. The Cards might not want that, anyway. While the team has done a good job of developing depth along its defensive line and in its linebacking corps, neither Sanders nor Johnson jumps out as an obvious replacement at safety because neither is a big-time play-maker like Wilson has been most of his career. Beyond that, both Johnson and Sanders will be free agents, so theres no guarantee either will be back. Replacing Wilson is no simple matter. The Cards might need to draft and groom his replacement, just as Wilson once replaced Pat Tillman. In the meantime, Wilson promised that his discontent with his playing time will never equate to discontent with the current coaching staff or discord in the locker room. Thats not me. Thats not who I am, he said. Right now, its a tough season and this is a tough stretch, so they need the leaders to be leaders. They need the older guys to lead the way, stay positive and work hard. I try my best to do that, and thats not going to stop. As for the notion that he might just walk away from the game if his role doesnt suit him, Wilson smiled. I can still play, and I know I can still play at a high level, so thats not even under consideration, he said. Well see what happens. Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter
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