DAN BICKLEY

Larry Fitzgerald deserves a ring, even if it means leaving Arizona Cardinals

Mar 29, 2021, 4:56 PM | Updated: 5:21 pm
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald #11 of the Arizona Cardinals makes a reception against the Cleveland...
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald #11 of the Arizona Cardinals makes a reception against the Cleveland Browns during the NFL game at State Farm Stadium on December 15, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Browns 38-24. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

It has been over three months since Larry Fitzgerald played a football game. His silence is deafening. There’s reason to fear he is ready to move on, ready to finish his career in another city.

We’ve seen many things as sports fans in Arizona, most of them bile-inducing. We’ve never seen an emotional crossroad like this.

Start with Fitzgerald’s perspective, a man who must discern the long-term value of spending a Hall of Fame career with one team, in one uniform.

It doesn’t happen often. There’s a level of purity achieved and loyalty attached to your name and your career for eternity. It’s a like a Purple Heart. Not many players receive that kind of medal. Just ask Shane Doan.

But what does it really mean?

Retire with the ultimate show of fidelity to Arizona, and Fitzgerald becomes the ultimate local story, confirming his destiny as the Valley’s No. 1 athlete of all-time. It’s also a wet mattress kind of ending unbecoming of the NFL’s greatest big-stage players.

On the other hand…

Play one final season with the reigning Super Bowl champions and Fitzgerald goes out on an enormous platform alongside Tom Brady, Bruce Arians, Rob Gronkowski and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.

While Arians rode off into something of a sunset in Arizona, his retirement felt more like a mutual decision. Make no mistake: He would love to provide an alternative ending to Fitzgerald. The Buccaneers have signed everyone back from their Super Bowl-winning team except wide receiver Antonio Brown, a job that would go to Fitzgerald.

And I’m guessing Brady has communicated a powerful message to Fitzgerald on numerous occasions.

If a then six-time Super Bowl champion like Brady (now seven-time) can leave his legacy in New England, then a ring-less wide receiver can leave a franchise in the desert — the one that posted the fourth-worst winning percentage in the 16-game season era — which stretched from 1978-2020.

For the kicker, I’m sure Brady promised to throw him the football a little more often than Murray — and further downfield.

Consider the current terms of Fitzgerald’s retirement: He watched the final game of 2020 in street clothes, on the sidelines of Los Angeles. He hasn’t been on a winning team since 2015. He doesn’t exactly vibe with Kyler Murray. He doesn’t feel like a pivotal piece in the offense. And why would that get better following the acquisition of A.J. Green?

The temptation must be crushing. Or maybe Fitzgerald has already decided and is just waiting for the right time to drop the news and the change of address. Or maybe he’s truly torn. Or maybe he’s retiring and just making the Cardinals sweat for a minute.

I believe a majority of Cardinals fans feel as I do:

Fitzgerald should do whatever he pleases. He needn’t worry about us. He has played with over 20 different quarterbacks in Arizona. He endured three different valleys with the Cardinals, and the peaks have only brought one real shot at a championship.

Granted, this is not what any of us want, especially the Cardinals. We have seen Steve Nash finish in a Lakers uniform and Randy Johnson win his 300th game with the Giants. This would be worse.

At least for us.

For Fitzgerald, it might be exactly the ending he deserves.

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