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Larry Fitzgerald And The Decision

Posted Jan 27, 2017

The process of retirement consideration -- for Fitz, for Palmer -- contains many factors

Quarterback Carson Palmer (3) and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) congratulate teammates after the Cardinals beat the Rams in L.A. to close out the 2016 season.

When a playoff loss ended the 2009 season for the Cardinals, the will-he-or-won’t-he speculation of Kurt Warner and his potential retirement was at its peak.

Warner said what nearly every player in that position says. He needed to get away from the season, get some distance from the immediate pain – both physically and emotionally – of the moment, and contemplate his future.

“What gets harder is the preparation, the expectations, the pressure, physically when you aren’t healthy and having to manage your body,” Warner said at the time. “All that stuff takes away from the excitement and fun you have in the game.”

As the Cardinals and their fan base wait for word from veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald about whether he will return in 2017 – and to a lesser extent, quarterback Carson Palmer -- recalling Warner’s process, and his words, are important.

It isn’t always just about the physical ability to still compete, although yes, with advancing age, that is a factor.

Fitzgerald basically said as much late in the season, noting that he still loves to play the games and knows he can still produce. His 107 receptions this year – as basically the team’s only consistent threat as a wide receiver – proved that.

It’s the other stuff. It’s the body management. It’s the grind – Fitzgerald was making it plain in August exactly how much he didn’t love the drudgery of training camp.

Contrast that with Palmer, who has said multiple times he still enjoys the mental preparation of the game and practice. That’s why the question of Palmer’s return isn’t really a question. The quarterback needs his body to respond after a little time off, but the expectation is that will happen and Palmer will be behind center yet again.

Fitzgerald’s situation is a little more complicated. It’s a virtual certainty he needs Palmer to play for him to want to come back. Even if Palmer plays, Fitzgerald still has had pause whether to keep going. It’s not like he hasn’t given this thought, for much longer than these last couple of months.

The numbers are what they are – he said late in the season he won’t play long enough to catch Tony Gonzalez for second-most receptions all-time and he’s only 200 away, which creates a pretty distinct window in his remaining career. And while Fitzgerald acknowledged he’d miss the paychecks (he’s scheduled to make $11 million next season), he’s made $140 million in his career from the Cardinals alone, aside from anything he’s made in endorsements. He doesn’t need to stick around for the money.

(Nor does Palmer for that matter, at $156M for his career.)

Fitzgerald is chasing a Super Bowl. That’s why he was crushed after last year’s NFC Championship loss, and why he needs to feel like the Cardinals have a chance to win if he comes back. By the time he will need to answer his question about 2017, he won’t really know exactly how the roster will be constructed. It’ll be too far before free agency and the draft. He could have a conversation with GM Steve Keim about the team’s plans, but it feels much more like – as Bruce Arians has said – this will be a deeply personal decision for Fitz.

Saying it’s over is a big step.

A couple of weeks after Warner said he needed some distance from the game to make his decision, he announced his retirement. He had been near retirement after the Cardinals reached the Super Bowl, and he came back for one more shot.

The Cardinals are hoping Fitzgerald too wants to put in for one more run.

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