FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The off-field frenzy has not let up for the Arizona Cardinals.
The team, revamping its roster in a bid to return to the top in the NFC West after a 5-11 season a year ago, started Sunday by signing two-time All-Pro tight end Todd Heap and wrapped up the afternoon by trading running back Tim Hightower to the Washington Redskins for 14-year NFL defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday and an undisclosed draft pick.
At sunset, the Cardinals welcomed first-round draft pick Patrick Peterson at a training camp news conference. The LSU cornerback, who reached a contract deal on Saturday, is set to practice on Monday.
The Cardinals historically have not emphasized the tight end position, but that has not been the case this year. Early in the free agency bustle, Arizona signed tight end Jeff King to a three-year deal. King, known more for his blocking, played all five of his NFL seasons with Carolina, and started all 16 games a year ago.
In addition, the Cardinals drafted tight end Jeff Housler out of Florida Atlantic in the third round.
It will be a homecoming for Heap, who grew up in Mesa, Ariz., and starred at Arizona State. Heap was released by Baltimore last Thursday after 10 seasons with the Ravens.
The question will be how much Heap has left in him, but if the end of last season is any indication, the answer would be quite a bit.
Heap is the Ravens' career leader in receiving touchdowns and is second in receptions and receiving yards. Last season, Heap had 40 catches for 599 yards and five touchdowns. He caught a franchise postseason record 10 passes for 108 yards against Kansas City.
Heap's 467 career receptions rank fifth among tight ends and his 41 touchdown catches are fourth among those to play the position.
"I'm just really excited about how he fits in and what we're going to be able to do with him," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "You know a large part of this next couple of weeks is seeing what his strengths are in our offense, but when you just think about some of our receivers and combining Todd Heap with them and trying to create some mismatch, you get pretty excited about that."
The hard-running Hightower had played all three of his seasons with Arizona after making the team as a fifth-round pick out of Richmond.
"We had an opportunity arise. After a lot of consideration, we thought it was probably in the best interest of both — the club and Tim — that we go in that direction," Whisenhunt said.
The 6-foot-4, 338-pound Lutui signed a one-year deal with Arizona after his free agent contract with Cincinnati fell apart. Weight is not an uncommon problem for Lutui, who had to earn his job back after coming in out of a shape after an ill-advised holdout a year ago.
Since the Cardinals already had signed his potential replacement in free agent Floyd Womack, who played all 16 games for Cleveland last season, Whisenhunt made it clear there is not much room for error for Lutui.
"We love Deuce. He's a good football player. He's a guy we tried to get obviously when the free agency period started but he comes back to us now in a position when he's got some things to prove," the coach said. "Sometimes it's meant to be. Deuce has got an opportunity to come here, but he's going to have to earn what he gets on the football field. When he does it right and his weight's not an issue, he's a good football player. Hopefully Deuce understands that now."
There was so much activity that Peterson's return failed to get the usual top billing that a first-round pick, a man some believe was the best player in the draft, usually would receive.
With the Cardinals willing to trade cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as part of the deal to bring in quarterback Kevin Kolb, there is even more pressure on Peterson to make an impact from the get-go.
Asked what he was looking forward to most, Peterson smiled and said, "making interceptions."
"Making plays and hopefully getting the offense back in good field position," he said, "getting Kolb and Larry Fitzgerald and those guys in good field position so we can put points on the board."
The personnel moves overshadowed the team's second practice, a ragged affair.
"We've got a long ways to go," Whisenhunt said. "A lot of the little things you're seeing — guys lining up offsides, missing the count, being in the wrong place — a lot of the things you see early in the offseason that you get your players more comfortable with, now you're going to have to fight through. But the energy is good, the enthusiasm's good. We'll see as we proceed what kind of players we've got."