Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, having a laugh before practice Sunday, said he wants to make sure he's playing at a high level whenever he does decide to retire.
For someone who may (or may not) be getting to the end of his career, Larry Fitzgerald has been prolific of late.
His last two seasons have featured 109 and an NFL-leading 107 receptions, respectively, the highest two totals of his career. The thing is, the future Hall of Fame wide receiver wants to make sure that's exactly the kind of production he is capable whenever he does call it quits.
"The end is never really pretty for elite athletes. It never looks good for the most times," Fitzgerald said Sunday, noting how players like Michael Jordan, Tony Dorsett, Shaquille O'Neal and Willie Mays finished up.
"I really want to be able to play and do things at a high level and being able to walk away and still be someone who can play at a high level."
Will that be after 2017? Who knows? Fitzgerald does not, something he has reiterated often (although it is notable his
contract expires after the season.) In his first and likely lone press conference of training camp, Fitzgerald emphasized there was a singular reason to continue playing, and it isn't to better his third-place ranking in all-time NFL catches or reach 1,000 yards once again – it's to chase a championship.
"That's the only reason I'm playing at this point," he said.
Fitzgerald did his part last season. While most of the receiving corps was up and down at best and disappointing at worst, Fitzgerald remained a rock. He not only had the 107 receptions for 1,023 yards, leading the team.
As Fitzgerald had transitioned to a new role under Bruce Arians back in 2013 and 2014, the coach warned that Fitzgerald's high-volume catch years might be behind him. But as the Michael Floyd project fizzled, Fitzgerald has been as reliable as ever.
"He was always a student of the game," Arians said. "But he's a better student of the game."
Fitzgerald understood all too well where he was a couple of years ago. But he said he always knew he was capable of making the play every time he was needed, knows he has proven it the last two years, and feels the same in 2017 with his 34th birthday approaching at the end of August.
That's a good sign for the Cardinals this year. It also keeps alive that ultimate goal of playing at a high level whenever he is done.
"Most times, athletes don't have a chance to retire. They get retired," Fitzgerald said. "I think you always have to be honest
with yourself and assess where you are."
Fitzgerald gave few hints about what he might be thinking. He said he has a "plethora" of interests outside football whenever he does wrap up, but also said he still has a passion to play. He admitted he would struggle with any plan where he was not the main receiving option.
It was interesting to hear that he has talked to players over the last few years that have retired – Peyton Manning, Tony Gonzalez, Calvin Johnson – to find out about their decision-making process.
Fitzgerald did emphasize his choice won't be linked to the choice of Arians and/or quarterback Carson Palmer if either one of them did decide to retire (although Fitzgerald is sensitive about playing with uncertainty at quarterback, having gone through the Kurt Warner retirement.)
"I don't really make decisions based on anybody else," he said. "I don't know what the future holds. That's why this year is so much more important. We don't have to think about what we will be doing after February 4th. … The long term, it doesn't mean anything at this point."
As long as Fitzgerald is willing to come speak in a press conference, as he did Sunday, that's a good sign he's sticking around. Because he wouldn't otherwise.
"I feel good right now," Fitzgerald said. "When that changes, I'll let you know.
"(Retirement) will never be in front of a podium, no tears, none of that stuff. That's not how I am."
Images from the second practice of #CardsCamp