Although he didn’t totally agree with the decision at the time, LaRon Byrd is thankful the Arizona Cardinals didn’t turn their backs on him and throw him back onto the football field.
At least the wide receiver knows the Cardinals cared about his well being.
Two days before the Cardinals’ first preseason game last summer, Byrd ran a slant route and was upended by a defender, landing on his head. Byrd suffered a concussion and had to sit out the entire preseason and regular season.
After much soul-searching, Byrd is in complete agreement with the Cardinals’ decision to keep him sidelined for the entire 2013 season.
“With the concussion deal, I thought I was going to be cleared up and then back at it, but with the Cardinals, I guess they were just taking precautions,” Byrd said. “And then during that time the NFL had a big old lawsuit going on, so I guess it’s just business.”
Last August the NFL reached a $765 million settlement with nearly 5,000 former players, who alleged the league misled them about the long-term dangers of concussions. A federal judge rejected the settlement in January.
Byrd, meanwhile, slept well knowing that the Cardinals had his best interest at heart.
“They were basically covering themselves and making sure everything was OK on the home front, and I kind of respect that,” Byrd said. “I felt like they did me a service of also just making sure I was OK instead of just throwing me out there.”
The Cardinals eventually released Byrd on April 4 and the Hahnville, La., native signed with the Dallas Cowboys on April 26.
The Cowboys, of course, were aware of Byrd’s only bout with a concussion prior to offering him a contract. But those concerns are no longer an issue as Byrd has been a solid contributor during the squad’s organized team activities.
“We had to do a lot of diligence to make sure there were no issues, but he’s been great so far, so hopefully he’ll keep that up,” receivers coach Derek Dooley said. “He has a great attitude, he’s got a really good work ethic — and it always starts with those two things — and he’s made some plays for us.
“So he’s just got to keep doing what he’s doing. It’s a long process, and hopefully we’ll feel the same way in training camp.”
Byrd signed with the Cardinals in 2012 as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Miami, where he had 106 career receptions for 1,254 yards and seven touchdowns in 51 games. But he played only four games with the Cards as a rookie, catching just one pass for eight yards and collecting two special teams tackles.
That limited action, coupled with his inactivity last year, has Byrd facing the reality of his situation.
“This season is real big for me,” he said. “I would say it’s the turning point of my career.
“It’s definitely important basically for me just to let people know I can play this game. And also to let the coaches and everybody know I’m healthy.”
Dooley anticipates it will take time before the shine comes back to Byrd’s game. But he steadfastly believes that the 24-year old speedster can help the Cowboys.
“I think any time you’re out of ball you’re going to develop a lot of rust on you, which you’ve got to knock off because the only way to play well is to play well a lot,” Dooley said. “When you’ve been off for a while it takes you awhile to kind of get back into that rhythm of what it felt like.
“But I think he’s there. I think he’s gotten a little comfortable out there and now it’s a matter of just improving his skills.”
With Arizona, Byrd was able to learn his position from one of the game’s best — eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Byrd even plans to attend Fitzgerald’s football camp in Minnesota next month, as he did last year.
“[Fitzgerald] is one of the best in the league and he’s going to be a Hall of Famer one day,” Byrd said. “There never was one time that I asked him a question that he didn’t help me.
“It was more like a little brother, big brother type relationship that we had. Even to this day, we text and call each other and I ask him certain things about how defensive backs play me and how should I attack them.”
At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Byrd is currently the tallest receiver on the Cowboys’ roster. That could bolster his chances of making the final roster.
“LaRon’s got good size, he’s got a little experience because he’s been in the league a couple of years, so he’s very mature from that standpoint,” Dooley said. “He’s a very big target, he’s got good hands and he’s smart.
“Now it’s just about going out there and trying to create a role for himself.”