Trent Sherfield was in the huddle Thursday at practice when he turned to fellow wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
“You coming back next year?” the rookie asked.
Fitzgerald just looked back at Sherfield with nary a word. It doesn’t matter if it is a teammate, a coach or anyone else, Fitzgerald’s future – and whether Sunday could end up being Fitz’s final home game at State Farm Stadium – is a subject Fitzgerald has little interest in exploring.
“He’ll talk about anything else,” Sherfield said in the locker room after practice, “but he will not talk about that.”
Fitzgerald insisted that the game against the Rams is “just another game for me.” For everyone else, there is the shadow of something bigger. Inevitably, chants of “LAR-RY, LAR-RY” will break out at some point, and while that happens every time the Cardinals play at home, there will be a deeper meaning attached.
The Rams have struggled in the secondary. While their pass rush remains scary – especially for a Cardinals’ offense that absorbed seven sacks last week – perhaps Fitzgerald can get loose. He is coming off a seven-catch, 82-yard performance in Atlanta, both the second-best totals Fitzgerald has had in a game.
In this offensively-challenged season, Fitzgerald has a team-leading 59 receptions for 645 yards and five touchdowns. He still provides thrills.
Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said he has “been on” Fitzgerald every day since training camp to return in 2019.
“Guys like Larry, you wish those type of guys could play forever,” Leftwich said. “You wish this type of talent, this type of human could play forever. Larry will make his decision when Larry makes his decision, but I’m one of the guys that is always leaning for him to try this thing again.”
Not that Leftwich gets any answers. No one does.
“If I decide to retire, I’ll let you guys know,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve never going to tell you ‘This is going to be my last day, I’m excited, honor me.’ Those words will never come out of my mouth. Ever.”
That’s something Fitzgerald has made clear. In his perfect world, whenever he steps away – whether it’s in two months or three years – there would be no press conference, no spectacle. With that the case, he has no desire in creating a celebratory circus while he’s still playing.
“I definitely want him here as long as I’m here, just because of the guy he is,” Sherfield said. “Sometimes I sit back and think, ‘Man, this potentially could be his last year.’ And I would hate to see him go.”
As of now, Fitzgerald will be a free agent in March. Never has Fitzgerald been playing in a season this late without a contract for the following season. Last year, he signed a one-year extension in mid-November to cover 2018. He signed the extension for 2017 in training camp of 2016.
This isn’t about Fitzgerald potentially playing elsewhere. He’s said many times he’s only playing with the Cardinals. The reality is that if Fitzgerald wants to play in 2019, the Cardinals will get him a new contract. Fitzgerald said he has not talked about an extension with the team.
“They’ll let me know,” Fitzgerald said. “When they don’t need my services anymore, they’ll stop offering contracts and put me out to pasture.”
Does that mean if the Cardinals offer a deal, he’d take it? “Not necessarily.”
Make no mistake, this is Fitzgerald’s decision to make.
The Cardinals will undergo a makeover of some kind for 2019, after this lost season. The receiving corps, among other positions, needs work to provide Josh Rosen with some weapons.
The Cardinals would take Fitzgerald as the veteran leader of however that room might evolve. He knows that. There is a reason he always takes some time to see what he wants to do the following year. Arguments can be made to stay. Arguments can be made to retire.
Fitzgerald doesn’t yet know if Sunday will be his last on-field work at State Farm Stadium. He may not ever say it is, but he won’t say it is not, either.
“All the guys who came before me that I ask about it, they tell me you know when it’s time,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ll know when it’s time.”