Arizona Cardinals Moving Forward — With Or Without Larry Fitzgerald
The first question surrounding the Arizona Cardinals is the status of future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
The Valley’s version of Larry Legend is still undecided about returning for his 18th season.
While not on the playing field, he has been behind a microphone, as a co-host of a new radio show on SiriusXM with fellow NFL great Tom Brady.
On the program with co-host Jim Gray in August, he certainly sounded like a man who was close to hanging up the cleats.
.@LarryFitzgerald on his future in the @NFL: "I just don't have the urge to play right now." Hear a special Training Camp edition of 'Let’s Go! with @TomBrady, Larry Fitzgerald and @JimGrayOfficial' tonight at 6pm ET on @MadDogRadio. https://t.co/nDNoOB5MOX pic.twitter.com/2IeBqSbGi4— SiriusXM (@SIRIUSXM) August 20, 2021
GRAY: So, Larry, are you going to be a radio broadcaster, or are you going to be back out on the football field?
FITZGERALD: For now, I’ll be a radio broadcaster. To be honest with you, I just don’t have the urge to play right now. I don’t know how I'll feel in September, October, November — moving forward, but as of today, I just don’t have the urge and I think I have to be respectful of that.
Fitz, who recently turned 38, started with the Cards back in 2004. He currently ranks 2nd in NFL history in both total career receptions (1,432) and receiving yards (17,492) behind only Jerry Rice (1,549 receptions and 22,895 yards).
Aware of his uncertain status, the Cards signed one of his golf buddies, veteran wideout A.J. Green in the off-season.
Does he think his pal will be back?
“When he says he doesn’t have the urge right now, that means it’s still in the back of his head. So that’s what I took from that,” Green said. “If he said he was done, I would have believed him. But he said, ‘right now’ was the key words, so it’s still back there.”
Even though Green will team up with another perennial all-pro receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, in Arizona, Fitzgerald’s absence leaves a large void, both in terms of ability and leadership.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury has indicated he has an open door policy should he decide to return.
“The ball’s in his court. We feel like we have great depth in that group regardless, but we’ll have a plan ready either way,” Kingsbury said.
And that plan heavily surrounds quarterback Kyler Murray, whose arms and feet combined for over 4,500 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2020.
Kingsbury and the former Heisman Trophy winner enter their third season together with the Cardinals.
“I feel good about where we are, how far we’ve come. The strides that we’ve made offensively,” Murray said. “I feel like we’ve added some key additions to the team. From year one to now, I feel really — we’re in a good spot.”
And the pressure is on to make sure that good spot lands them in the playoffs.
The Cards got off to a solid 2 and 0 start last season, but tailed off late in the season and finished 8 and 8, and missed the postseason for a 5th straight year.
Why could 2021 be different?
With the addition of one of the NFL’s top defensive players in defensive end J.J. Watt, who was lured as a free agent from the Houston Texans for a fresh start in the desert.
It’s obvious Watt — 32 and going into his 11th season — still loves the game.
“You’re like a dog chasing a tennis ball. Wherever it bounces you want to get it, and you’re so excited to be out there, and it doesn’t matter if you’re supposed to go where it bounces, you’re just going for it,” Watt said.
The three-time NFL defensive player of the year and five time pro-bowler has been beset by injuries the last couple of seasons.
To stay healthy and fresh when it comes to playing time, he’ll go for quality, not quantity.
“Yeah, I think I played 97, 98% of the snaps last year. I think that most of the healthy years, I’ve been over a 1,000 snaps, so I think it would be beneficial to cut some of those back a little bit,” Watt said.
The Cardinals' defense will also get a boost from the return of linebacker Chandler Jones, who missed much of last season with an arm injury after a phenomenal 2019 in which he had 19 sacks and led the league with 8 forced fumbles.
Continuing to hang over the NFL season, as in the rest of our daily lives, is COVID-19.
Vaccinated players, coaches, trainers and team employees will still be subject to weekly testing; the unvaccinated every day. Traveling parties will be limited, and masks will be required on the road. Teams who lose players due to the virus are subject to forfeit. Some players, most notably DeAndre Hopkins, have questioned the league’s policy. But not Kyler Murray.
“You can’t really control what guys do off the field, but if they’re bought in, they’ll try their best to stay out of the way or not be in close contact to people. But at the end of the day, you really can’t control it,” Murray said.
They also can’t control who is in the stands. The team isn’t requiring fans to be vaccinated. And although they strongly encourage masking, they aren’t mandating them for home games.
And there’s not much to go yet. We haven’t seen much of the Cardinals in the preseason. The NFL’s new 17-game regular season cut the exhibition season to just three games, and the Cards played only two — with their final one in New Orleans canceled due to Hurricane Ida. So, they might be a bit rusty when they put on the pads for their first game Sept. 12 for their opener in Tennessee against the Titans.
The Cards’ first home game is Sunday, Sept. 19, against the Minnesota Vikings.