Since being signed by the Arizona Cardinals in 2016, veteran nose tackle Corey Peters has been a reliable presence in the defensive line room. Touted for his ability to execute his assignment on every given play, the 10-year NFL veteran has the uncanny ability to bring people together both on and off the gridiron.
It is part of the reason why the franchise named him the Arizona Cardinals/Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Thursday. It is also why Peters was designated as a team captain for the third straight year before the start of the season.
So, when the Cardinals officially lost Peters for the season by adding him to reserve/injured Nov. 19 after he suffered a knee injury in the 32-30 win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 10, it had massive implications.
"It's unfortunate because of a number of things," general manager Steve Keim said at the time. "Obviously Corey is a very good football player, but an emotional and inspirational leader in our locker room, a guy who's been a very good leader for us and is a natural leader. He's a guy that — there's some different types of leaders and he is certainly not rehearsed. His comes from the heart and it's authentic and we are certainly going to miss him.
"The way he comes off, he's a guy that does not say a whole lot. He's not a rah-rah guy, he's not a guy that's down yelling in the weight room, but he carries such a strong message that when he does talk, everybody listens. When Corey Peters stands up and he says a few words, I can promise you can hear a pin drop. And that's the respect that his teammates and everybody in this organization has for him."
Meanwhile, Peters was in the midst of a productive season plugging the A-gap in which he played and started in every game prior to his injury, accumulating 15 tackles (10 solo, five assisted), four quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, two sacks and one pass defensed in the process.
With the three-year, $12 million contract extension that he signed in 2017 set to expire at the conclusion of this season, Peters said he is prepared for whatever the next step in his career looks like. For now, he is focusing on rehabbing to full health so he can be just as effective upon his return.
"Obviously, being here in Arizona for the past six years has been amazing," Peters said Thursday. "We've put some roots down here and started to do a lot of work in the community and, regardless of my situation with the Cardinals, that work is going to continue. It is what it is. I'm not under contract next year, so obviously I'd love to be a Cardinal for the rest of my career, but it is what it is. I understand the business side of things and I'll be prepared to move forward either way."
In Peters' absence, the Cardinals signed veteran nose tackle Domata Peko Sr. to fill in his place. Additionally, the franchise converted Angelo Blackson from defensive tackle to the nose role to provide more depth.
With the fate of the season out of Peters' control, the one element he can completely determine is his work habits. As such, his process for handling catastrophic injury has changed from when he tore his Achilles in 2015.
"I think being older and that experience helps," Peters said. "The first time I tore my Achilles, which was my first major injury, I didn't handle it well at all. I got very depressed and just didn't do the things that I needed to do to come back and be where I needed to be when I could play. Just learning from that experience, trying to keep my head in a positive space, which I've done a great job of. I'm older now, things are different, I'm more established financially and everything like that.
"I think the stress of getting hurt as a young player, third or fourth year in the league, is different when you're older and you've got family to support you and that's been through this whole process. For me, it's just about really attacking the rehab and doing what I can do to get better. Even if that's just a baby step, taking that wholeheartedly and just putting my whole effort into it so that as we continue to progress, I can be in good a shape as possible for when I return."
Photo: Arizona Cardinals