Free agent Harper could become Cardinal

The Associated Press

TEMPE The main cause of Alvin Harper's frustration in Dallas was having to play in the shadow of Michael Irvin, the first wide receiver in Cowboys history elected to four straight Pro Bowls.

Harper would have no problem with the Arizona Cardinals, who have guaranteed to make him the the focal point of an offense that head coach Buddy Ryan is out to revamp.

Harper, 27, an unrestricted free agent, visited the Cardinals on Thursday and said he liked what he heard.

''I want to show everybody that I can get the job done, that I can be the go-to guy,'' said Harper, who led the NFL in yards per catch last season (24.9) and had eight touchdown catches three fewer than the Cardinals as a team.

Offensive coordinator Dave Atkins said he would design a package of plays to feature Harper.

''He's not going to be a situation player like he was in Dallas,'' Atkins said. ''I told Alvin, 'Hey, you're going to have a package in the system just geared around you and your ability,' and he kind of liked that.''

First, though, the Cardinals have to offer Harper enough to get him away from Tampa Bay, a team he visited Tuesday, Kansas City and the Washington Redskins, coached by former Cowboys offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

Harper, who has 124 catches for 2,486 yards and 18 touchdowns in his four seasons, knew about Arizona's offensive downside last in the NFL in touchdowns (23) and next-to-last in scoring (235 points).

''They've got an up-and-coming team,'' Harper said. ''They've got a great defense, the best in the league right now. The only thing they need is some offense.''

And he said former Ryan players had told him to ignore Ryan's reputation as a coach who would undercut his own offense in his mania for defense.

Agent Jimmy Sexton said Harper still must visit Kansas City and Washington. Although talks haven't settled on money, Harper was believed to be available for an average $2 million per season.

The Cowboys recently re-signed Irvin to a $15 million, five-year deal, and Sexton said that meant his client wouldn't be back in Dallas this fall.

''They love Alvin and would like to have him back, but they can't pay him what the others can,'' Sexton said.

After the Cardinals finished 8-8 with a 10-6 loss at Atlanta, Ryan told the top three wideouts Ricky Proehl, Gary Clark and Randal Hill they were through. He put quarterback Steve Beuerlein on the expansion list along with Proehl and Clark, leaving Jay Schroeder as the only quarterback still in the picture.

Harper said he was hoping to sign a contract by the time the NFL owners begin their annual meeting March 12 in Phoenix and wasn't concerned about the question mark at quarterback.

''That's not my business, whoever they get in here, as long as he has a strong arm and can get it in my area code,'' Harper said.

Harper had no catches last Oct. 9, when the Cowboys routed the Cardinals 38-3 in Irving, Texas, but he caught four passes for 75 yards and one touchdown two weeks later, when the Cowboys beat Arizona 28-21 in Sun Devil Stadium.

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