The emergence of Cardinals receiver J.J. Nelson over the past four weeks has stabilized a receiving corps that entered 2016 with high expectations but produced, largely, disappointment.
More than that, the stability of the offensive attack of late has given coach Bruce Arians and others, like Larry Fitzgerald, a reason to be excited about next season.
When it comes to Fitzgerald, knowing what to expect within his own position group and beyond would probably make it more likely he foregoes retirement this offseason. So, too, might be a conversation with his head coach when the season is over.
“One of the key things is talking Larry into coming back,” Arians said Tuesday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s Bickley and Marotta. “I don’t know (what Fitzgerald will do). We kid on the bus, but I think it’s just soul-searching on his part.”
When the team’s leading wide receiver told Jim Gray last week that he was uncertain about his future, he indicated that chasing a championship would pull him toward returning for another run.
“I still love the game, I love the competition. I love being around the guys and competing for a championship. That’s a lot of fun to me. That’s kind of where I’m at right now,” Fitzgerald said.
In other words, it’s not about chasing personal benchmarks; he’s done some of that with one game remaining in 2016 by catching 102 balls thrown his way for 980 yards.
Like Fitzgerald suggested himself, Arians believes the Cardinals putting together a team that on paper should challenge for a Super Bowl would entice Fitzgerald to stick around. That remains an “if” because of the 20-some free agents who could leave Arizona.
“I think he knows how good it can be,” Arians said. “It’s just a matter of who we’re able to keep and what free agents off our own team are we going to be able to keep.”
If the Cardinals’ 34-31 win against the Seattle Seahawks in their penultimate game suggests anything, it’s that Fitzgerald still has a passion for the game. The receiver’s reaction on the sideline during the game-winning kick says something, Arians said.
“And if he ever hits me that hard after a game — you would not think he’s retiring because my shoulder’s still really, really sore and he knows it, so it’s gonna cost him,” Arians said. “He knocked the crap out of me. And he wouldn’t let go. I’m all tangled up in wires.
“If I can’t play golf, it’s gonna really cost him.”
Arians will be more willing to deal with the pain if it means Fitzgerald is still around in 2017.
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