Neither Dockett nor Cardinals deserve blame for his departure

Darnell Dockett's passion for the game is what should be the lasting impression of his 10 seasons in a Cardinals' uniform.

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Darnell Dockett’s decision to sign a two-year deal with the 49ers on Thursday left some Cardinals fans feeling betrayed, angry and belligerent.

Some thought he was stupid for joining a team they believe is on its down swing. Some reminded him how he chided former teammate Karlos Dansby for "chasing the money" by signing a four-year, free-agent deal with Cleveland last offseason. Many said things not fit for print.

Why all the anger? It’s understood that fans are emotional and, by nature, incredibly biased. But Dockett did nothing wrong. There don’t have to be any bad guys here. Remember: It’s just business.

There is a lot of personal pride that comes from being a pro athlete. The same egos that help players excel on the field get in the way when something like this occurs. Most athletes understand the money they are making is foreign to every-day people, but in the same breath, they’ll tell you the money is a measure of respect — from the team for which they play and from their peers.

Money is absolutely the reason the Cardinals weren’t willing to keep their "heart and soul." Given their salary cap constraints and an insatiable demand for success, NFL GMs cannot afford to be sentimental.

Besides, Dockett is not Larry Fitzgerald, that rare guy who gets to stay a little longer than may be financially or otherwise prudent. Fitz has been a class act, a future Hall of Famer who always represents the franchise and community with dignity and grace. Dockett has gotten himself into hot water more than a few times, with on- and off-field antics.

He’s the guy you want next to you in the trenches, but he’s not the guy you want speaking for your franchise.

Dockett is also coming off a season-costing ACL injury and will be 34 in May. With a cap hit of nearly $10 million in the final year of Dockett’s contract, the Cardinals knew they had to do something this season, and the injury only emphasized that point.

Dockett signs 2-year deal with 49ers

Dockett should have known this. If he didn’t, he is naive. Organizations have to play the public PR game to appease the fans who grow attached to their star players, but privately, Keim knew there was no way he could keep Dockett in the fold at that kind of number, so he made him an offer that would work within the team’s cap constraints — a number he felt matched Dockett’s current ability.

Dockett clearly felt slighted and accepted the 49ers’ two-year deal for $4 million in 2015, $2 million of which is guaranteed. The contract is worth a total of $7.5 million if Dockett plays two years. The Cardinals reportedly offered Dockett a one-year deal with a base salary of $2.5 million, but if he could achieve incentive clauses, he could make $4 million.

Clearly, the Cardinals could have matched San Francisco’s offer if they really wanted Dockett back that badly. They did not. Consequently, the defensive line could take on a whole new look, with nose tackle Dan Williams also exploring the free-agent market and the Cardinals more than willing to let him do that.

If you want assess blame, maybe you should look at the underlying reasons why the Cardinals couldn’t keep Dockett. Maybe you should look at that salary cap in comparison to league and team revenue. Maybe you should look at the persistence of non-guaranteed contracts. 

The fault for those doesn’t lie with Dockett or Keim. It goes much higher than that, and good luck convincing the powers that be to change the system to better compensate and protect employees for their contributions. How that’s working out in your own line of work?

One day, when Dockett has retired and enough time has passed, he’ll have his name placed in the Cardinals Ring of Honor. He’ll stand on the field for what could be a most entertaining speech, and it will be one big happy family again.

Maybe that moment will seem somewhat artificial, but in the end, it will also remind everyone why they were so passionate about today’s decision in the first place. 

Dockett is one of the Cardinals greats. His passion for the game is what should be remembered.

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