Coming off three straight double-digit-win seasons and an NFC championship game berth last year, the Cardinals entered 2016 as Super Bowl hopefuls. Fourteen games later, they’re 5-8-1, clearly among the NFL’s most disappointing teams and set to post a losing record for the first time in head coach Bruce Arians’ four-year tenure. The 64-year-old Arians will return in 2017, he said Wednesday (via Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com), but franchise icon Larry Fitzgerald might not. The future Hall of Fame wide receiver is unsure if he’ll come back next year for what would be his age-34 season.
On the possibility of retiring, Fitzgerald told Jim Gray of Westwood One Radio, “No, I wouldn’t say that I’m contemplating it right now. But I’m uncertain about what I’m going to do moving forward. But I still love the game, I love the competition and I love being around the guys and competing for a championship. That’s a lot of fun to me.”
Fitzgerald is under contract for 2017, having signed an extension in August, but his $11MM salary is guaranteed for injury only. Further, there was a report in early September – just over a month after Fitzgerald inked his new deal – that he’d retire after the season. Losing Fitzgerald would be a massive blow for the Cardinals, of course, as the 13th-year man’s career-long track record of prolific production has continued this season en route to a 10th Pro Bowl nod. With two games remaining, Fitzgerald is two catches away from the fourth 100-reception season of his career. He also needs just 51 yards for his seventh campaign with at least 1,000, though his 9.7 yards-per-catch average is easily a personal worst.
Fitzgerald, whom the Cardinals chose third overall out of Pitt in the 2004 draft, has vaulted to third all-time in catches (1,116, trailing only Jerry Rice’s 1,549 and Tony Gonzalez‘s 1,325), 10th in yards (14,315) and eighth in receiving touchdowns (103, five of which have come this year). Thus, regardless of whether he continues past this season, he’ll go down as one of the greatest aerial threats in the history of the sport.
If Fitzgerald does retire, it would further put the Cardinals’ receiving corps in flux after the departure of fellow wideout Michael Floyd, whom the club released last week. John Brown, JJ Nelson and Jaron Brown are all under contract next year, though they’ve combined for 24 fewer catches this season than Fitzgerald has amassed by himself. Unsurprisingly, then, Arians doesn’t want Fitzgerald to go anywhere. The coach acknowledged that “the same team never comes back” on a year-to-year basis, but his “hope” is that Fitzgerald will return.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.