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Carson Palmer intently focused on what time he has left in football

5/21/2015
Carson Palmer, 35, has focused this offseason on rehabbing the torn ACL he suffered last November. AP Photo/Matt York

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Carson Palmer was lying on his bed at home in Arizona with his left knee bandaged and propped up in a rehab machine last November when he first began accepting his football mortality.

The quarterback was 34 at the time, recovering from the second major knee injury of his career. He knew this one was different. He wasn’t young anymore. The end of his career wasn’t just on the horizon, it was around the bend. And instead of playing, he was spending Sundays watching his Arizona Cardinals' teammates finish the 2014 season without him.

As the weeks passed following his Nov. 9 injury, Palmer began to narrow in on his football future.

As he stood in a light breeze Tuesday morning following organized team activities -- answering questions about his knee, his arm and his offense -- Palmer showed his focused.

“I’m six months and two days post-op today,” Palmer said.

It’s not like he’s been counting or anything.

“Literally from [surgery on] Nov. 18, I just had a very tight focus, a very small vision, a certain intensity, a certain realness, just a certain focus about everything I do,” he said.

As he counted the days since his surgery, Palmer also counted the days until he’s cleared for full football workouts. “I still have another two months,” he said. Time has become a major part of Palmer’s life since he tore his left ACL in the third quarter against the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 16.

From the moment he stepped up in the pocket and went down untouched, everything he’s done has been measured by minutes, days and months. How long until he can walk again. How long until he can run again. How long until he can do football drills. How long until he faces live action. How long until he’s cleared. How long until he’s back.

How long until he’s done.

“You only get so many opportunities,” Palmer said. “If you’re lucky enough to play as long as I have, it takes you until you know you’re getting to the end that you realize how small that window is and how few of opportunities you’re going to have.”

But there’s one benefit of time passing. It’s allowed Palmer to look back, not just at his last injury in 2006, but at his entire career.

Five years ago, Carson Palmer thought he was fully committed. But, it took a season-ending knee injury for him to see that might not have been the case.

“I thought I was all-in and 100 percent in, and very focused and very committed,” Palmer said. “And I was not compared to where I am now.

“It wasn’t for lack of trying. It was just I didn’t realize I wasn’t mature enough to realize it back then. It wasn’t as close to reality as it is now. Because now, 35-year-old quarterbacks only play until they’re 36, 37, 38 and I realize that, and I’m taking advantage of every second that I can.”

The window is closing for Palmer, a former No. 1 overall pick.

His contract runs through 2017, expiring when Palmer will be 38. But that gives Palmer three more seasons to claim that elusive playoff win. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians can see a sense of urgency in this year’s team.

Time is running out to win with Palmer.

“He knows the clock’s ticking,” Arians said. “We all know the clock’s ticking. It is for a lot of guys on this team. You get a window to make a run and most of it depends on your quarterback, and right now, it’s our window to make our run with him.”

Palmer sees the talent on this year’s team. He sees the speed. He said it’s a “good group of everything.”

If Palmer’s healthy, a third 4,000-yard season in four years will be expected. He’s doing everything in his power to make sure he’s on the field for all 16 games. Part of his rehab means adhering to a strict meal plan and remaining diligent with his workouts.

“My outlook on life hasn’t changed at all,” he said. “My outlook [on] my job and my career and what I’m leaving behind when I’m done playing has changed because I realized that, like I said, you only get a couple [more of] these opportunities.

“You only get the day that you’re in. You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”