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Did Saints ‘Bounty’ Reshape Arizona Cardinals’ Future?

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You wonder what might’ve been.

The Arizona Cardinals finished 2011 with an 8-8 record, despite playing with quarterbacks who completed just 55.8 percent of their passes, threw for just 222.9 yards per game and had more interceptions (22) than touchdown passes (20).

You wonder whether the Cardinals could’ve made the same kind of run the New York Giants did – or even a run similar to that of the 2008 Cardinals – if they would’ve had a reliable QB the entire season.

And then you read about the bounty system the New Orleans Saints employed during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 season; the defensive coaching staff paid players based on cart-offs and knockouts of opposing offensive players.

Your mind starts to remember the 2009 Cardinals’ playoff game against the Saints and the hit Warner took in the second quarter by New Orleans’ Bobby McGray after Warner threw an interception.

By all accounts, it was a clean hit. Warner was looking to make a tackle on the interceptor, Will Smith. McGray came up and blindsided Warner, knocking him out of the game. Warner returned to the game when the Saints already had wrapped it up, and two weeks later, he retired.

Warner said in an interview with USA Today that the hit had no bearing on his decision to hang it up; he was ready to do so, anyway. McGray easily could’ve prevented Warner from making a play simply by pushing him out of the way.

But you can bet your bottom dollar that McGray was graced with a few extra bucks for that hit.

Who could blame Warner for retiring when he’d taken shots like that throughout his NFL career? McGray’s hit may have been clean, but it was also unnecessary.

Players lament their short NFL careers, sue organizations for making them play with concussions and other injuries that catch up with them after their careers are over. They complain, and their points are valid, that coaches, teams and organizations simply went with the next player on the depth chart if they were hurt, so they had to suit up.

But then you’ve got defenders like the Steelers’ James Harrison and the Lions’ Ndamukong Suh who look to decapitate the opposition at every opportunity and wonder why the NFL won’t let them do it.

And it’s not like NFL players aren’t getting paid handsomely to risk injury. They can always work the drive-thru at McDonald’s for $8 an hour. Nobody’s forcing them to endanger themselves.

Football is a violent enough game – especially today when players are eschewing pads so they can play faster. Collisions are going to take place. But the NFL finally has realized that while fans may ooh and ahh at the big hit, they watch primarily to see their favorite players do things with a football that we mere mortals cannot do.

The players can’t criticize owners and coaches who have no regard for their long-term safety while looking to cash in on a bounty for taking out another player.

Warner may not have retired because of McGray’s hit, but it’s safe to assume that a collection of McGray-like blows factored into his decision.

Warner was 40 years old during the 2011 season, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could’ve been playing last year if the previous 12 years hadn’t taken such a physical toll.

With Warner in the lineup last year, it’s logical for you to think that the Cardinals could’ve won 10 games in 2011 and made the playoffs and then – who knows?

You hope the NFL, team owners, general managers, coaches and players come to some understanding as to how to preserve the excitement of the game while protecting every player more.

Then you may not have to wonder so much what might’ve been and actually get to see how those events turned out.

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