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Looking At The Wide Receivers

Fitzgerald's extension the question, but he remains Cards' leader


Larry Fitzgerald remains one of the best receivers in the NFL.

As long as Larry Fitzgerald is around, the Cardinals are going to have a strong receiving corps.

Making sure he stays around may be the Cards' most important issue once the NFL reaches post-lockout status.

Fitzgerald is going into the last year of his contract and is scheduled to be a free agent after the 2011 season, a scenario that is front and center of any discussion about the team's wide receivers. The two sides did have some talks about a contract extension before the labor situation forced a halt, but Fitzgerald's situation is intertwined with the Cards' search for a new quarterback – because Fitzgerald clearly wants to wait and see how that plays out before he makes any decisions about his future.

In itself, however, Fitzgerald's future  looks just fine. His "down" season in 2010 still featured 90 catches and a total of 1,137 yards that actually exceeded his performance the year before with Kurt Warner at quarterback. He came into the league so early that he doesn't turn 28 until after training camp ends (his birthday is Aug. 31 and he is actually younger than Steve Breaston) and remains in the prime of his career.

Who Fitzgerald has riding alongside him at the position remains in doubt. That's because Breaston is likely to end up as a free agent, and his return is cloudy. It could well depend on the level of interest Breaston has should he hit the open market. Breaston started last season as a top key target for the Cards, especially with Fitzgerald coming back from a knee injury. Then Breaston had minor knee surgery himself, and by the end of the season, his role was cut into by rookie Andre Roberts.

Roberts, in fact, came on so strong in the back half of last year, he has changed the dynamic of the wideout corps. The third-round pick struggled mightily in training camp and at the beginning of the season, but by the end showed he may indeed be the Cardinals' future No. 2 receiver. Early Doucet has flashed every time he has played, but injuries have prevented any extended playing time – and the corresponding trust that he will be available enough.

In the meantime, one-time undrafted free agents Stephen Williams and Max Komar will try and build on their rookie progress, although they are among those players most hurt by not getting an offseason of work with the coaches. That's also why seventh-round draft pick DeMarco Sampson may be fighting an uphill battle to make the roster.

Fitzgerald will be the anchor. He'll be the leader of the offense and the man whose reaction to whomever the Cards get at quarterback will be the most anticipated. And then we'll see if the Cards will be able to lock him up going forward.

KEY PLAYER IN 2011: Roberts' development was such that, especially if Breaston isn't around, he'll carry significant responsibility. The Cards have been high on him since drafting him.

CONSIDER THIS: Over the final four games of the 2010 season, Roberts was targeted on 24 pass attempts, Breaston on 17 pass attempts.

ROSTER CHANGE CHANCES ON 1-10 SCALE:  About a 5. Even if Breaston were to leave, a Fitzgerald-Roberts-Doucet trio is the likely top group. If Breaston stays, the Cards remain fairly deep and get a little more leeway in finding out Doucet's future.

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