In 2015, the Arizona Cardinals invited an NFL Films crew into their organization for unprecedented access that allows fans a glimpse into the everyday realities of life in the NFL.
The eight part series, entitled "All or Nothing," takes viewers from the 2015 Draft up through the end of the Cardinals' quest for the first Super Bowl in franchise history. Over the next week, we'll be publishing our takeaways from each episode of the series and discuss how these takeaways can help inform us about the Cardinals' organizational philosophy.
Episode three: "The Penthouse"
"He's (Lawrence Okoye) a really talented guy. He probably ought to go to Oxford."
The NFL is a business, and though it's often times hard for casual fans to admit it, players are treated like the employees that they are. Perform well, receive a higher salary. Perform poorly, start looking for a new job.
In episode three of "All or Nothing," viewers see the realities of the business-side of football first-hand through head coach Bruce Arians' decision to cut Lawrence Okoye.
Okoye competed in the 2012 Olympics in the discus for Great Britain and played rugby growing up, so his transition to the NFL was viewed mostly as experimental. Nevertheless, the Cardinals stashed Okoye on the practice squad hoping to harness his impressive athletic potential and turn him into a successful defensive lineman.
When Arians discovers that Okoye has routinely been parking in a reserved parking spot, he decides to cut Okoye from the roster. Cutting a player based on parking in the wrong spot might come across as overly dramatic to some viewers, while others probably loved the no-excuses attitude. Regardless of how you felt, Arians demonstrates that if a player doesn't play by the rules and pay attention to details, that player has no future with the Cardinals.
Of course, this type of transgression probably varies on a case-by-case basis. Would the Cardinals cut Larry Fitzgerald for parking in the wrong spot on a few occasions? No. But in the discussion regarding Okoye's future with the team, the Cardinals noted the sense of entitlement they believe Okoye carried so this was likely just the last straw.
Different rules apply to different people in different ways, but that's the business world. A CEO has more wiggle-room than an intern, and Okoye fell out of favor.
"I'm not trying to be Michael Jordan. I just want to be somebody everyone can relate to."
Episode three of "All or Nothing," gives viewers the series' most extended look at the journey Cardinals' safety Tyrann Mathieu took to the NFL. Mathieu's path from being kicked off the team at LSU to slipping into the third round of the draft before being selected by Arizona is well documented, but once again, "All or Nothing" provides viewers with the type of context that helps a story become a reality.
Losing a season of football because of Mathieu's marijuana usage clearly impacted his outlook on the game, and on life itself, and Mathieu's mission since the Cardinals drafted him is to give the organization his best effort in exchange for its willingness to take a chance on him.
General manager Steve Keim talked about the risks associated with drafting a player like Mathieu, and suggested it's a chance only a few teams might have taken. But even in his first season as the general manager back in 2013, Keim decided to proceed with the risk and it has paid off quite nicely for Arizona.
The scenes NFL Films gathered at Mathieu's draft party are some of the best in all of "All or Nothing," in part because it's archival footage that wasn't shot during the 2015 season by the crew following the Cardinals. Instead, it's raw footage and some of the most emotional draft footage casual fans have been able to watch, and the way Mathieu carries himself on draft night helps paint the image of redemption he's trying to achieve.
When Mathieu was on the phone with the Cardinals on the night of the draft, he had to agree to terms regarding drug tests the majority of other players probably don't have to, but he clearly spent time leading up to the draft preparing himself for that exact situation.
Mathieu desperately wanted football back in his life, and as we've seen from his first three seasons in the league, football is glad to have him back. Mathieu has a fiercely loyal following among Cardinals' fans, and so far, he's achieved the goal he set out of being somebody everybody can relate to.
Fans love underdog stories, and there's something appealing about an undersized 5-foot-9 player who leaves it all out on the field, knowing exactly what the second chance he received means to him.
"As soon as I saw that ambulance come on the field, that's when I broke down."
Mike Iupati's wife Ashley shares her perspective of Iupati's injury against the Seattle Seahawks and gives insight into what it's like to be the wife or family member of an NFL player.
When a player goes down in a game, a range of thoughts run through the minds of NFL coaches, players, media members and fans. Is that player going to be okay? What's the severity of the injury? Who will step in and replace that player? What does the team's depth look like right now?
Hardly ever do we ask ourselves, "What about his family?" Watching Iupati being carted off the field against the Seahawks with what could have been a head, neck or spine injury was a difficult moment in its own right, but reality really kicks in when we hear from Iupati's wife Ashley.
When players take the field, their livelihood is at stake, and though it's easy for many of us to brush that aside, it's obviously difficult for players' wives and family members to remain calm when games take place.
One of the great ways the Arizona Cardinals incorporate families is by inviting them to the team facility for Saturday walk-throughs, and in my opinion, this concept helps humanize players.
The concussion issues that have plagued and continue to plague the NFL are a serious concern, and so too are any injuries that could alter a player's life after football in any way, shape or form. Yes, these players have a choice, and no one is forcing them to play the sport. But they also hope to provide a better life for their family, and for many of them, taking on the inherent risks and dangers associated with the game in order to bring home a paycheck is the best way of providing. It's a delicate balance between family life and professional life, but in sports, it's a balance that is so often overlooked.