Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald heads into his 11th season with the Cardinals.
Larry Fitzgerald has thought a little bit about his post-football life, with a couple of businesses he already is involved with and past internships in real estate and financial management. Television work, or at least the option to do it, is inevitable.
It's not really a subject the wide receiver puts much stock in right now anyway. Fitzgerald may have just turned 31 over the weekend, but football isn't going anywhere for a while, and he's thinking even more short-term than that.
"There are a lot of doors that potentially could open for me (eventually)," Fitzgerald said. "But I just want honestly to play well this year and focus my attention on getting us wins and getting us to that Super Bowl."
Fitzgerald has always been loath to look beyond the current season anyway. This one carries with it an added reason, that
$23.6 million salary cap number his contract holds for 2015. Fitzgerald will be playing football that season. Whether it is still in Arizona, no one knows.
General Manager Steve Keim and team president Michael Bidwill have said multiple times they want Fitzgerald to be with the Cardinals for his entire career. Fitzgerald too has said he would like to stay. But business is business, and something – or someone – will have to give before Fitzgerald's schedule $8 million roster bonus is due in early March.
"The cap number is what the cap number is," Fitzgerald said. "I could go out this year and get 2,600 yards and that cap number is still going to have to be addressed, know what I mean? It doesn't matter how well I play or how bad I play, it's going to be addressed. I don't even think about it."
That's why the here and now is more important to him. That too comes with questions. Fitzgerald had 10 touchdowns last season, a red-zone ace as he had been earlier in his career, to go with a team-best 82 catches. But for a third straight season he failed to crack 1,000 yards, finishing with 954 as he tried to learn a new position under coach Bruce Arians.
Arians moved Fitzgerald inside much more often like he had done with Hines Ward and Reggie Wayne in previous stops. It was not easy for Fitzgerald, and there were times when the learning curve looked steep. He acknowledged he faced some adversity last season, but added it "made me a better man."
"There comes a point in time in your career that if you want to continue to have success and get a lot of balls, you've got to stretch your envelope a little bit," Arians said during training camp.
Mixing in pass catchers like rookie John Brown and tight end John Carlson, along with an increased role for Andre Ellington, to Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, and it's hard to get a good sense of exactly how Fitzgerald's year will play out.
"In terms of numbers and stuff, goals I would set for myself back in the day, they were realistic where I was playing,"
Fitzgerald said. "Now you have to adjust that based on what you are asked to do. Now, my expectations in terms of being a leader, being on time, being accountable to my guys, being a role model in the community, those don't change."
Nor does it seem that Fitzgerald's stature in Arizona will change. His profile remains as high as ever. The possibility he might not be a Cardinal is toxic to many fans. He isn't unaware of his influence, underscored every home game when "11s" dot the University of Phoenix Stadium seats.
"Every time you walk in the stadium it's humbling," Fitzgerald said. "You see hundreds, maybe thousands of people wearing your jersey. Parents wouldn't allow their children to wear your jersey if they thought you weren't a guy who was responsible. Those types of things always resonate with me."
However Fitzgerald has evolved as a player, he remains hugely important to an offense that needs his sure hands near the end zone and his ability to draw the defenders' attention. He still makes the spectacular play, like his one-handed grab against the Bengals during a preseason game.
Fitzgerald isn't officially a captain this season – the players voted quarterback Carson Palmer in this year – but he hasn't stop dispensing advice either. Cornerback Patrick Peterson said Fitzgerald is constantly giving him tips not only on the field but how to set up off the field, getting to know the right people in the organization, meeting people outside the organization and being smart about the future.
"You can only play this game for so long and you're still going to be a young man when you are done," Peterson said. "You have to be able to maintain your normal life."
Someday, life will be different for Fitzgerald. Whether he goes through such change next year is up in the air, but such things do not faze Fitz. If he's learned anything during his decade-plus as a pro, it's that the NFL is a business, a notion he doesn't fight.
"I love the fact it's a business," Fitzgerald said. "That's what keeps you awake every day. You come in here and two weeks ago we had 90 guys in here. Now it is 53. That's the reality and it reminds you how fortunate you are to be part of this team. It's tough to be able to do this for a living, for as long as I've been able to do it. I don't take it for granted."
Images from past games between the Cardinals and Chargers