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Focus on Fitzgerald: Cardinals WR would retire like Duncan, Johnson

(AP Photo/Matt York, file)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – In the offseason, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said he would address his future one time in training camp.

That time was Sunday, Day 2, following the morning walk-through.

As expected, there was no big announcement.

Fitzgerald is entering his 14th season, and last under contract with the only team he’s played for in the NFL.

Over the course of a nearly 13-minute press conference, Fitzgerald addressed a number of topics, mostly about his future, with reporters.

You’ve said that training camp isn’t your favorite thing, has anything changed or feel any better about it?

“No. It is what it is. We finished the season in a position that we all didn’t want to be in, so it’s a week earlier to get back to try to replicate what we were able to do two years ago and it starts with this. We have to have a better camp. We had a good start yesterday. We’re just going to have to keep stacking those kind of practices and when we finally get to gametime situations, we have to be better and it has to start earlier.”

How excited were you when Coach Arians told you that you weren’t playing in the Hall of Fame Game?

“He didn’t tell us anything. Somebody texted me and said, ‘Fitz, you’re not playing in the game.’ I said, ‘I didn’t hear anything about it’ and that’s how I found out. As a player you play when you’re told to play and you play as long as you have to play and once you get out there on the field, it’s ball, the same game I’ve been playing since I was 6 years old. You play hard and play as long as you need to play, that’s how I look at it.”

Were you thinking you were going to get back to a point where you were going to have a couple of 100-catch seasons when Arians arrived? Are you surprised by that?

“Surprised? No. I can still play at a high level. You have to that confidence and you have to have that ability to compartmentalize what’s going on; good, bad or indifferent and never lose your confidence. And that never happened. I never felt like I couldn’t play any more. I knew if my number was called I could still make the play. I’ve proven that over the last few years, again, and that’s the way I still feel.”

Now that Carson Palmer is on a new throwing program, do you notice a difference in his arm strength?

“I never saw really a difference last year. I don’t run too many routes past 20 yards so his arm strength looked great to me. Those are questions for ‘Smoke’ (John Brown) and J.J. (Nelson) and them guys like that. All of his throws to me always hit me right in the face. I mean, they’re always accurate and on time. I never personally saw anything that was off.”

Is it important to you to be able to walk away (whenever that may be) still playing at a high level?

“Yeah. The end is never really pretty for elite athletes. It never looks good for the most part. You watch Michael Jordan in a Washington Wizards uniform or see Tony Dorsett playing for the Denver Broncos or Shaquille O’Neal playing for the Boston Celtics. It’s weird because you’re used to seeing them when they’re at their most dominant stage. Willie Mays running around with bad knees. It’s not pretty. For me, I really want to be able to play and do things at a high level and be able to walk away and still be someone who can play at a high level. That’s something that I pride myself on. I don’t want to be a stealer, I don’t want to steal like that.”

Is 2017 going to be it for you and your playing career?

“I feel good right now. When that changes, I’ll let you know. But it will never be in front of a podium and there will be no tears and none of that stuff. That’s not how it ever will be. That’s not how I am. I’m just one player out of 1600 in the National Football League. It’s a lot bigger than me. It’s never going to be like that.”

Is there a player you’ve watched walk away that maybe you’d like to emulate?

“Calvin (Johnson) for different reasons. Calvin was still playing at a really, really high level when he decided to say he was finished. Tim Duncan was still a 20-10 guy when he walked away from the game. Did it with no fanfare. There’s a lot of guys who just for some reason they say they want to move on and it’s time, not because they can’t play or they were showed the exit. Most times athletes don’t have the chance to retire. They get retired, so when you do have the chance to retire I think it’s a privilege and you have to understand that if you hang around too long, you will eventually get retired. I think you have to be honest with yourself and always kind of assess where you are.”

Could you still be apart of this team even if you weren’t at the highest, highest level?

“Mentally I would struggle with that.”

Is the challenge then figuring out when to walk away knowing you can still play?

“It’s not something that you wake up in the morning and say, ‘Oh, I’m done.’ It’s something that kind of is bubbling for awhile and I think you just know. When I talk to guys — because that’s one thing I always do. I always reach out to guys, players, and I pick their mind and ask them questions about the transition and when did they know. I kind of want to understand their thought process going into it so I’m a bit more informed; just trying to gather as much information as possible so you can make an informed decision when that point comes.”

Have you thought about what you want to do next?

“I have a plethora of things that I’m involved in but right now I’m still very passionate. I love to play. I enjoy being out there with the guys. That part of it is not a struggle. It’s not like pulling teeth.”

How much do you weigh the quest for a Super Bowl ring?

“That’s huge. That’s the only reason I’m playing at this point. From the personal standpoint and things I’ve accomplished, they’re fine but the thing that you will say is out of your control because you’re in a team sport is a championship. I love the fact that you can influence the play of other guys around you, motivate them, inspire them. I like that aspect of team sports.”

How much will Arians’ and Palmer’s decisions after this season affect your own decision?

“I don’t really make any decisions based off anybody else. I never have. I don’t know what the future holds, that’s why this year is just so much more important because we don’t have to think about what we’re going to be doing after February 4th. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is from today until then and how we can improve and get better and do what we need to do to give ourselves an opportunity just to get into the playoffs and possibly win the division and try to win the NFC Championship Game and get to the Super Bowl. That’s really what’s important. The long-term doesn’t mean anything at this point.”

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