Lorenzo Alexander: Decision to leave Redskins for Cardinals was both hard and easy

Lorenzo Alexander

Redskins’ linebacker Lorenzo Alexander has made his first Pro Bowl after leading the NFL with 19 special teams tackles. (Ricky Carioti/Washington Post)

As he assessed his decision to leave the Washington Redskins and sign with the Arizona Cardinals, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said the move was anything but clear-cut.

It was difficult because the Redskins were the team he broke into the league with and went on to develop into a Pro Bowl special teams ace. The decision was easy, however, because the Redskins’ financial restrictions caused by the $18 million salary-cap penalty meant Washington couldn’t compete with the offers of other teams that desired his services.

The deal Alexander signed with Arizona is worth $9.5 million over three years and includes $3 million in guaranteed money. The Redskins offer was significantly less. Originally, the team had offered a deal that included $2.6 million in guaranteed money. But on Monday of this week, after the team learned that there was no chance they were recouping any of that $18 million, Alexander said that the offer dropped to $1.4 million. The difference was just too significant. Alexander had said all along that he was willing to take less to re-sign with Washington. But he added, “it’s got to be close, though.”

But the two offers weren’t close.

“It was very hard, but the cap made it easier, from a financial standpoint,” Alexander said in a telephone interview late Wednesday night. “The reality is, the cap messed us up. They wanted to keep Fred [Davis], they wanted to re-sign me, wanted to be able to keep [DeAngelo] Hall. But they couldn’t. It’s hard because as a player, you do everything they ask, and then they can’t make a commitment to you.

“As a player, it’s not all about the money, but a million dollars, you can’t make that up over your career,” said Alexander, who last season had a base salary of $700,000.

He continued: “I even asked Bruce why [the offer] changed, and he said, ‘It’s because of the cap,’ and I got emotional, because this is home. I love the fans, I love the team and the coaches and the guys in that locker room, and the city. But, God’s moving me in a different direction, and it’s the Cardinals. Hopefully, I’ll be able to carry over the same type of hard work and play that I had here, and bring it there. But it was definitely hard. It just didn’t add up for me to stay. But I know, in my heart of hearts, if it wasn’t for the cap, I would’ve been here.”

In addition to an increase in pay and long-term financial stability, Alexander also will receive an opportunity to grow as a player and have an expanded role with the Cardinals than what he would have had if he remained in Washington.

The Cardinals want Alexander to start at weakside linebacker for them in addition to playing on some special teams units.

“They want me as a linebacker who helps on special teams and not just a guy that’s penciled in as a special teams guy,” said Alexander said. “It’s a great opportunity to grow and prove that I can be that starter and every-down player. Being a guy that came into the league undrafted, you’re always embracing challenges and this is one. I talked to London Fletcher about it, and I feel like we’re cut from the same cloth, so I’m excited about it.”

Alexander has had one stint as a starter during his time in Washington when he started 12 of 16 games at outside linebacker, recording 57 tackles and 1.5 sacks. This past season, he saw significant time at both outside linebacker and inside linebacker, when spelling Fletcher, and recorded 46 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Alexander earned a spot on Washington’s roster as a backup defensive tackle after spending time on the practice squad, and from there, he lined up in a pinch at defensive end, tight end, offensive guard, fullback, outside linebacker and inside linebacker.  That versatility, in addition to his special teams prowess, earned Alexander the nickname of “One-man Gang.”

He said his fondest memories will be the relationships he had with Redskins teammates and coaches, and that his final season in Washington will always stand out in his memory.

“This season, finally seeing us turn around the franchise, us as a team, going on that run and winning the division, it was something special,” Alexander said.

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