It’s no secret that Larry Fitzgerald is closer to the end of his career than the beginning.
The 32-year-old is set to enter his 13th NFL season since the Cardinals chose him third overall in the 2004 draft, and after 186 regular season games and another nine postseason contests (plus whatever action he’s received in preseason), no one would blame him if he walked away in the near future.
A guest of Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Tuesday, Fitzgerald said he has not really thought about the possibility of this being his last season playing in the NFL.
“When I committed to doing two more years, I’m focused on two, and after the season — hopefully it’s in February — I’ll sit down with my family and think about it, what I want to do moving forward, but it’s been a great run and I really enjoy being in this community and playing for this organization.”
Fitzgerald signed a two-year, $22 million contract in Feb. 2015. He then went on to post one of the best seasons of his career, catching a career-high 109 passes for 1,215 yards with nine touchdowns. His performance in the team’s Divisional Round playoff win over Green Bay, in which he caught eight passes for 176 yards and one touchdown, is the stuff of legends.
If this is it for him, however, he has no plans to go out the same way other sports legends have, with so-called retirement tours during their final seasons.
“I’m just not like that,” he said. “You won’t hear from me; I’d probably just say thank you and keep it moving.
“It’s a sport; it’s about allowing guys to enjoy the ride and everybody’s got to be a part of that.”
Should Fitzgerald’s 2016 be as successful as his 2015 was, it’s a little difficult to see him calling it quits. He would not be the first athlete to hang ’em up while still being able to play at a high level, but at the same time, instances of that are rare.
Asked about what it would take to put his body through the grind for another season after this one, Fitzgerald said a lot has to do with the team around him.
“I just want to be on a contender; we’ve got a great group of guys here, we’ve got a wonderful football team that can compete at the highest level right now,” he said. “I’m hoping that we can win the Super Bowl this year and it would be no questions asked.”
Wait, no questions asked? So a victory in Super Bowl LI would mean the end of his storied career?
“I would still have to think about it and see where I was at,” he said, before linking his fate to his quarterback’s. “A lot of it’s tied to Carson (Palmer) — Carson’s playing at a high level. I don’t want to go through any other quarterback situations. It’s been great to have the stability that we have now with the big fella, he’s been playing light’s out.”
The idea that the quarterback situation could be a factor is not at all surprising. Palmer, 36, is signed through the 2017 season, and last year posted career highs in yards (4,671), touchdown passes (35) and QB rating (104.6) while being named to the Pro Bowl. His presence makes the Cardinals contenders and gives Fitzgerald a chance to make plays, which is something he was mostly robbed of in the time between Kurt Warner’s retirement in 2010 and Palmer’s arrival in 2013. While still productive during that stretch, life was not nearly the same for No. 11.
Even as recently as one year ago, many felt like Fitzgerald, while not at all finished, was not quite the same player he was in the Warner era. With Palmer’s help, that theory was proven wrong last season.
“In my position you can be open, you can run good routes, but if the ball’s not coming your way you’re not going to make an impact,” he said. “I just think from the very beginning I was a lot more involved in the game-plans and that was the biggest difference.”
With John Brown and Michael Floyd lining up with him at receiver and David Johnson, Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson in the backfield, it would not be a surprise to see Fitzgerald’s numbers take a dip in 2016. It would have nothing to do with him, of course, rather instead the sheer volume of talent around him. There is only one football to be thrown around, and it can’t head his way all of the time.
Fitzgerald understands that, and at this point in his career is focused on winning more than anything else. The statistics and individual accolades are there. The only thing he’s missing is the Lombardi Trophy, and as of now the Cardinals are one of the early favorites to hoist it in Houston next February.
And of course, doing so would offer the chance of a storybook ending for one of the most storied players in franchise history. As Fitzgerald alluded to, it’s possible this could be his final season, and going out a champion with the only organization he’s ever played for would be about as good as it gets.
Make no mistake, he has no intentions of ever wearing another team’s uniform.
“Maybe if the Diamondbacks let me come out, or the Phoenix Suns or Coyotes let me do something,” he joked. “But football uniform, I can’t see myself anywhere else.”
Whether it’s one year from now or a little further down the road, retiring a Cardinal is the way Fitzgerald right now sees his career coming to an end.
“That’s definitely a priority,” he said.
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