By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
If you see former NFL wide receiver Anthony Edwards selling popcorn in the stands of an Arizona Cardinals home game this season don’t be shocked.
It’s about the only job Edwards hasn’t had for the Cardinals.
Edwards, who last played for the Cardinals in 1998, has been with the team ever since he signed with them in 1991. His current title is Senior Director of Player Engagement, but he does much more than that.
He’s the team’s training camp director; handles the travel advance, and is the team chaplain. All of that plus he is the pastor of his church in his hometown of Casa Grande, Arizona just outside of Phoenix.
“I wear a lot of hats,’’ Edwards said. “I’m spread out a lot, but I love it. If you think about it, all of what I do is ministry in some form or another.’’
Edwards became the senior pastor of the same church his father, Clarence Edwards, was the senior pastor of for 46 years. He’s been with the Cardinals now since 1999 the season after his career ended. There is a lot to be said for that kind of staying power.
“I retired after the ’98 season and the head coach, Vince Tobin and (general manager) Larry Wilson asked me to stay on the staff,’’ Edwards recalled. “I started off as what was then called player programs and I was also coaching, first the wide receivers and then some special teams.’’
Dave McGinnis, who replaced Tobin as head coach of the Cardinals in 2000, kept Edwards on his staff both in the player program department and in coaching.
“When (former head coach) Denny Green came in 2004, he told me they’ll handle the coaching. I went strictly to what had become player development.’’
It’s not just how long Edwards has been with the Cardinals, but how he got there that’s an interesting story.
Edwards was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent out of New Mexico Highlands University by the Philadelphia Eagles and then head coach Buddy Ryan in 1989 when Ryan’s son, Rex, now the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, saw him play.
“Rex liked me and called Buddy,’’ Edwards said. “I got to Philadelphia and there were 17 wide receivers in camp, including all six that were on the team the year before. I made the team and Buddy told me I didn’t make because of my talent, but because of my heart. That’s always stuck with me.’’
Edwards stuck with the Eagles for two seasons, but after Ryan was fired at the end of the 1990 season, Edwards was released. He was working at a baby food manufacturer when his old offensive coordinator from the Eagles, Ted Plumb, now with the Cardinals, called.
“Called me right on the job,’’ Edwards said with a chuckle. “Told me the Cards needed receivers and was I interested.’’
The chance to go home to Phoenix and stay in the game was an easy decision to make.
Now years later he’s helping current Cardinals make tougher decisions. Or at least make those tough decisions a little easier.
“Our main objective is to help our players,’’ Edwards said of his role in Player Engagement. “Whether it’s education, going back to school, career internships, if they want to get into banking, say, I can get them in with Wells Fargo or Chase. Player assistance, if they have any issues, we’re there for them. And then really just helping them think about life after the game, while they are still in the game. And then assist them while they’re in it.
“Basically what we strive for is a smooth transition in and a smooth transition out.’’
The same kind Edwards made himself.