Part of the reason why many felt Larry Fitzgerald would ultimately decide to continue his playing career in 2017 was the simple fact that he was still under contract.
Fitzgerald’s deal, which was negotiated in training camp 2016, calls for him to be paid $11 million in 2017, with a cap hit of nearly $16 million.
When asked why he decided to come back for another season, Fitzgerald has cited “unfinished business,” which is his desire to get to another Super Bowl. Though the Cardinals finished last season with a 7-8-1 record, he is confident they are not far off from being the team that took the field in 2016, the one that fell one victory shy of reaching Super Bowl 50.
Maybe he is right and the Cardinals will rebound in 2017 and make a title run. Or, maybe he’s wrong, and the Cardinals will be like 31 other teams and not win the next Super Bowl.
If it’s the former, chances are Fitzgerald will walk away from the game with his career, essentially, lacking nothing. But if the Cardinals fall short in their ultimate goal once again?
Fitzgerald, who will be 34 when the 2017 season begins, would not commit to anything beyond this next season.
“I think moving forward, it would be foolish of me to say ‘I’m going to do this or I’m going to do that,'” Fitzgerald told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Tuesday morning. “But I’m going to give everything I have. I’ll have nothing left when I walk off the field for the last time next season in terms of energy and emotions.
“I’m going to leave it all out there like I do every single season I play.”
Fitzgerald is coming off a season in which he led both the Cardinals and entire NFL in receptions, with 107. He topped the 1,000-yard receiving mark (1,023) for the eighth time in his Hall of Fame career, and while not the same player he was earlier in his career, the former No. 3 pick in the 2004 NFL Draft is still one of the most reliable and effective receivers in the league.
Even after a campaign like that, however, Fitzgerald said he really did give retirement some serious thought.
“I spoke with people that were close to me and I wanted to think it through and take some time to compose myself and make sure that that fire was still burning like it needed to be burning to be able to play and go through the rigors of the season,” he said. “I concluded after watching some of the playoff games that there’s no way I could sit here and watch this and watch it without any emotion.
“So I made a decision pretty quickly.”
Fitzgerald did not share that decision until Feb. 1, but at the very least, it put to bed any speculation that the franchise’s all-time leading receiver may have caught his final pass.
Any dreams the Cardinals have of getting back to the postseason and reaching the next Super Bowl, which just so happens to be slated to be played in Fitzgerald’s home town of Minneapolis, Minnesota, are certainly more achievable with No. 11 on the field.
They would also be buoyed by the return of QB Carson Palmer, who like Fitzgerald has been contemplating retirement but has not yet announced a decision.
Every time he’s been asked about Palmer’s thinking, Fitzgerald has maintained he has not tried to sway the quarterback’s thinking one way or another because, having gone through this himself, he understands the last thing one needs is to be told what to do by other people.
But would Fitzgerald really come back if there was a chance of uncertainty at the quarterback position? He’s been through that before and it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable experience.
Given Fitzgerald’s decision to return there has been some thought that the receiver has, if nothing else, at least an inkling Palmer will make the same call. Yet, Fitzgerald said the QB did not try to influence his decision at all with that kind of talk because, he noted, Palmer is too much of a professional and good teammate to do that.
No doubt Fitzgerald would prefer to have Palmer back, though, because any window the Cardinals may or may not have to win a championship likely rests on the three-time Pro Bowler’s right arm. With Palmer, you can see a path for the Cardinals being a contender.
Without him, the proposition is pretty dicey.
“Obviously we’re not foolish, we understand he’s the linchpin; if you don’t have a quarterback in this league, you don’t have a chance to compete no matter how good you are at that position,” Fitzgerald said. “We understand that and Carson understands that. I would imagine, in his mind, he’s thinking some of those same things. But I hate to speculate and as a friend we’ve just got to give him that time to make his own decision.”
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