Bradley working to live up to hefty contract

Bradley working to live up to hefty contract

Published Jun. 5, 2012 6:49 p.m. ET

TEMPE, Ariz. -- He came from the Philadelphia Eagles, signed a big contract with the Cardinals, then had a hard time staying on the field and calling plays.

We’re not talking about quarterback Kevin Kolb. We’re talking about linebacker Stewart Bradley, whose 2011-12 season shared many similarities with his old Eagles teammate.

“He kind of mirrors what we did as a defense,” defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. “He struggled, we struggled on defense. Guys picked it up and got it, and he ended up playing for us and played well in the San Francisco game (Dec. 11) when we put him in.”

But Bradley couldn’t crack the starting lineup. Much of that was due to the surprising play of inside linebacker Paris Lenon, who finished second on the team in tackles (93) at age 34.

“Paris had that elixir of the fountain of youth,” Horton said. “Everybody was like, 'Oh, you know, he can’t do it any more.' And he said, 'Yeah, I can.’”

But when you sign a five-year, $30 million free-agent deal, you are expected to start and you are expected to make an impact on the game. Bradley knows this. He also knows the lack of offseason workouts due to the lockout, moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense and Horton’s complex defensive scheme are excuses nobody wants to hear, regardless of their merits.

“I wasn’t the only one who had to learn the defense, but my position put a premium on being on top of the whole system -- especially when you have guys depending on your calls more so than they maybe would be if they had been in the system a year or two,” Bradley said. “If I was coming in and playing a different position where you’re less in control of what other people are doing, I think last year would be harder to swallow. But I comprehend what happened and why it happened and what I can change this year.”

He will have the opportunity. While Horton rattled off a list of players he expects to start on defense -- defensive ends Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, nose tackle Dan Williams, inside linebacker Daryl Washington, safeties Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes and hopefully cornerback Patrick Peterson -- he left the door open alongside Washington.

“Do I know if 51 (Lenon) or 55 (Bradley) is going to be our starter?” he asked. “Not right now, today. Let them battle it out.”

To win that battle, Bradley has to prove to Horton he's mastered the mental side of the defense.

“If he’s going to be our starter, he’ll take over and he’ll call the defense and he’ll play and do everything that is called upon by that position,” Horton said. “It’s going to come down to four preseason games where you go in and show me that you can run the defense, set the defense, make the tackles which we know he can. It’s just a process of him feeling very comfortable.”

There has been some talk of playing Bradley outside in certain situations, but thus far in organized team activities Bradley said he has been taking snaps exclusively at inside linebacker.

“As long as I’m on the field I’m happy, but obviously I have more experience inside, and the reason they signed me here was for my play at inside 'backer,” he said.

Bradley took a pay cut from $5 million to $2.5 million this season (he said the rest of his contract hasn’t changed) because he wanted to stay in Arizona.

“It’s not something you want to do, but if I’m playing ball I’m making the same money I was making before,” he said.

That comes down to one simple necessity.

“It’s dependent upon my being on the field,” he said. “In this game, if you’re not on the field you’re not around very long.”