Heap’s homecoming ends on sour note

TEMPE, Ariz. – Todd Heap won’t get a chance to write a final, storybook chapter to his football career in Arizona. The Cardinals released the injury-plagued local icon on Tuesday, ending his tenure with the Cardinals just short of two seasons — and well short of expectations.

The Cards replaced Heap with tight end Kory Sperry, a former San Diego Charger who was released at the end of training camp. Heap finished his Arizona tenure with just 32 catches for 377 yards and one touchdown in 12 games.

Heap, who starred at Arizona State and nearby Mountain View High School in Mesa, signed a two-year deal with the Cardinals in 2011, and there was hope he could provide a safety valve for newly acquired quarterback Kevin Kolb. He came home after playing 10 seasons with Baltimore, where he was the Ravens’ career leader in receiving touchdowns (41) and was second in receptions (467) and receiving yards (5,492). In 2010, Heap had 40 catches for 599 yards and five TDs, plus a franchise postseason-record 10 receptions for 108 yards against Kansas City.

But injuries derailed him in 2011, and he took a $1 million paycut in the offseason, trimming his deal to $1.15 million for 2012.

After missing six games last season, Heap looked like his old self again in Week 2 at New England. He had five receptions for 62 yards to help the Cards upset the Patriots. But late in the game, on an important reception, he was hit out of bounds and injured by Patriots safety Steve Gregory. Gregory was later fined for the play.

Heap called the injury a sprain of his posterior cruciate ligament (knee), and he never played another game for the Cardinals. He was inactive for eight games due to the injury, but he was scratched from the lineup the past two games by coach Ken Whisenhunt, despite having returned to full practice.

“He’s got to show us in practice that he’s full speed enough to be able to go, and that hasn’t been the case,” Whisenhunt said last week.

There were reports earlier this season that Whisenhunt was upset with Heap for not returning sooner, reports that he had even called him out for it. Whether it was inability or unwillingness to play through pain, the recent healthy scratches made it apparent that Heap was no longer in the Cards’ plans — particularly with the development of tight end Rob Housler.

Heap was cautious about discussing the injury or his relationship with Whisenhunt last week.

“There’s always a lot more that goes into any injury, but it’s not for me to comment on,” he said. “It’s not for me to raise as an issue. I just have to let people think what they think and worry about what I can do.”

Heap admitted that the innuendos about him being soft hurt.

“It’s hard to watch that — to hear it and be a part of it but it comes with the territory,” he said. “For me to comment on it or say what I think serves no purpose. Even doing interviews, it’s hard to comment on it and tell people exactly what’s going on.”

After 12 seasons, it is entirely possible Heap’s career could be over. But another team still could claim him, and he made it clear last week that he’d like another chance.

“I don’t really give that evaluation until the season is over and done with, so there’s no point in speculating,” he said. “But I definitely don’t want to finish my career on a year like this.”

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