Questions surrounding Fitzgerald’s playing future linger as Cardinals enter offseason.
Larry Fitzgerald is the greatest football Cardinal in franchise history.
That includes Chicago, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and now Arizona/and or Phoenix.
Let’s just get that out of the way.
Fitz is the Bidwill family’s greatest personnel acquisition. His impact, on and off the field, cannot be overstated. The drafting of the former Heisman finalist at number three overall back in 2004 was the day the Cardinal franchise changed for the better.
Since that time, Larry Fitzgerald has been the Arizona Cardinals. He’s been their identity, their saving grace, their icon, their credibility, their star.
He is their greatest of all time. He represents the Valley like no other individual outside of perhaps the late John McCain. He is Arizona.
With all of that being said, I do believe that now is the time to move on from Larry Fitzgerald the football player.
For clarity, I am not suggesting the Cardinals or Arizona as a whole move on from Larry Fitzgerald the person. He will undoubtedly continue to have an impactful presence with both the franchise and the community that surrounds it. Both parties are better off with Fitzgerald involved and active in them.
What I am suggesting is that the 2021 Arizona Football Cardinals and their 53 man roster, which is increasingly hamstrung by a pandemic-reduced salary cap, allow Fitzgerald the grace of retiring.
Or, if it comes to it, playing elsewhere.
The Cardinals are in a difficult position, for many reasons, when it comes to Fitzgerald. At the writing of this article, the team only has slightly $13 million in available cap room. There is not a realistic scenario in which the team is able to bring back Fitzgerald while also aiding a roster that has so many glaring weaknesses.
For those clamoring for Fitzgerald to take a reduced rate, below are his previous four contract years with the team:
Fitzgerald (37) 2019: 11 million
Fitzgerald (36) 2018: 11 million
Fitzgerald (35) 2017: 11 million
Fitzgerald (34) 2016: 11 million
Cardinals WR coach Shawn Jefferson said Larry Fitzgerald texted him reaching out saying he looked forward to meeting with him. Jefferson has gave him space since.
— Kevin Zimmerman (@KZimmermanAZ) February 16, 2021
What does a reduced rate even look like for a soon to be 38 year old player that is coming off a season in which he tallied just 409 yards receiving at 7.6 yards per catch? In previous years, these issues weren’t as glaring because the team had lacked the presence of another star receiver.
That all changed last March when Steve Keim acquired All Pro DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans.
Count me as someone who thought Fitz would benefit from the presence of Hopkins and the then ascending Christian Kirk. Instead, what we saw was a receiving core that was too dependent on their lone known commodity (that being Hopkins). Young players like Kirk and Andy Isabella failed to take that next step in their development while the once ageless Fitzgerald suddenly looked the part of an NFL receiver quickly approaching 40 years old.
The NFL is a young man’s game, especially at skilled positions that require speed, explosiveness and yards after catch/contact. If you watched Fitzgerald in 2020, you know that he no longer possesses many of these key traits in order to be successful. At his best, he is a steady target that struggles to get open and can no longer consistently break tackles.
Again, that’s no knock on Fitzgerald or his legacy. Please do your best to separate that when you’re weighing all options. To be in your late 30s and playing in the NFL should be celebrated but nothing lasts forever.
For the record, I would be open to welcoming back Fitzgerald on the veteran minimum salary, however I am not confident he’d accept such an offer. Nor am I confident that Michael Bidwill would even entertain something like that. Just know that those hoping that Fitzgerald returns to the Cardinals is 100% up to him.
The team, I’m told, would welcome him back.
If he were to return, however, you need to ask yourself what kind of role would he have in 2021? The 53 man roster isn’t charity, as every individual on it should have a clearly defined role.
We all assume the team will add a complimentary #2 wide receiver in either free agency or the draft (or both), which would further push Larry Legend down the depth chart. Remember, he was already supplanted by the aforementioned Kirk in 2020.
It does not make sense to give a 38 year old Fitzgerald snaps over a first round rookie receiver (Jaylen Waddle) and or a free agent addition like Marvin Jones, Will Fuller or Curtis Samuel.
It does not make sense to have Larry Fitzgerald be a number 4 or 5 receiver who does not contribute on special teams while still earning $5-7 million dollars.
Take emotion out of it and also ask yourself if that money can be better spent elsewhere?
Deep down you know the answer and it’s an obvious one.
If you’re the type of person who wants Fitzgerald around for his leadership attributes, I can respect that. But if his singular presence is that important for this team to be successful, then what does that say about Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins and Kliff Kingbury?
Shouldn’t they as leaders be enough?
Lastly, for the crowd hoping to secure Fitzgerald a Super Bowl ring, I understand that sentiment as well. But baring something unforeseen, that time has unfortunately passed unless he chooses to play for another franchise.
The last time I checked, the Cardinals still play in the NFC West and are still coached by Kliff Kingsbury. Even if they improve upon their 2020 season, which is a huge challenge in and of itself, no one expects a title next year.
Larry Fitzgerald is arguably the second greatest wide receiver of all time. His pristine reputation remains largely intact. He will continue to have massive professional and personal successes long after his playing days are over.
But in the best interest of the 2021 Arizona Cardinals, the team desperately needs to spend the money previously allocated to Fitz elsewhere.
In the dreaded NFC West, you’re either getting younger, faster and more athletic or you’re finishing fourth.
The time is now to move on.
For both parties.