DAN BICKLEY

DeAndre Hopkins’ injury opens door for Larry Fitzgerald’s return to Cardinals

Dec 15, 2021, 5:22 PM | Updated: Dec 16, 2021, 6:52 am
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald sells Paradise Valley mansion for $18M (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Get...
(Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Larry Fitzgerald always knows the score. He always knows how much time is left on the clock.

He must know this is his last, best chance to put a few more Sundays on top of the sundae, ending a glorious career with one more shot at a Super Bowl.

As much as the injury to DeAndre Hopkins hurts the Cardinals offense, it also opens a window to the only real shot of an on-field reunion between our NFL team and the greatest athlete in Arizona history.

For Fitzgerald to return in 2021, he must be needed. Check.

It can’t appear like he’s looking to hop on a gravy train, co-opting someone else’s playoff glory. It can’t appear like he selfishly skipped the grind of training camp and the first half of the season just to chase a ring in December. Check.

The decks have been cleared. Fitzgerald’s return can be the team’s idea. He can be the returning hero coming home to save the season.

For Fitzgerald to return in 2021, he must require a significant role in the offense. He will not rejoin the Cardinals to be largely ignored like he was in the 2020 season. The loss of Hopkins creates a significant void and clears a lot of space.

While Hopkins wasn’t prodigiously productive while playing 10 of Arizona’s 13 games, his presence on the field is undeniable. Of his 42 receptions, eight are touchdowns. He usually draws the other team’s top cornerback at all times, allowing Christian Kirk, A.J. Green and Rondale Moore to flourish in lesser roles. But the Cardinals do not have a secondary receiver capable of stepping into Hopkins’ role, and without him, the team has struggled mightily to pass in the ball in the red zone.

Is Fitzgerald in shape? Can he still run at an elite level?  That must be determined. But it’s certainly worth a phone call. Because Fitzgerald knows the offense and his experience in Arizona makes him the best option by a mile, far better than Andy Isabella or some track star off the street.

Fitzgerald also brings a goldmine of intangibles. He is one of the NFL’s all-time great playoff performers. He will never drop an important pass. He will never miss a touchdown pass because he forgot to turn around. And if the clock is winding down, he will personally run over, grab the football and bring it back to the center.

There was a time when Fitzgerald and Kyler Murray got sideways. There was a time when Fitzgerald’s superstar status and omnipresence were shadowing Murray’s attempt to lead the football team. Surely, that stuff is in the past. As a franchise quarterback, Murray has matured greatly in Year 3, as evidenced by his highly-professional postgame press conference following a loss to the Rams. You would hope Murray would see the benefit of adding a legend to the mix, a calming presence for the storm ahead.

Obviously, Fitzgerald’s return would light up the holiday season. His electrifying presence at State Farm Stadium might even solve the home-field issues facing the Cardinals. It would also bring the type of closure that diehard fans are craving when it comes to Larry Legend.

Before embarking on this column, I sent Fitzgerald a text with a couple of pertinent football questions. Near the end, his response arrived:

“Happy Holidays Dan hope you are great and the family is well.”

Same to you, Larry. And I hope to see you on Christmas Day.

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