Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald smiles following his final game in Seattle last weekend.
Larry Fitzgerald did this before, of course. Just last year.
The season ended and the future Hall of Fame wide receiver hadn't committed to playing in 2017, something he mulled until the night of Feb. 1, when he finally said he would indeed come back. He did so in Fitzian ways, catching another 109 passes for 1,156 yards and six touchdowns at age 34.
This offseason, Fitzgerald is again trying to decide whether he plays in 2018 or retires. Even though he will be 35 as the next regular season begins, no one doubts Fitzgerald will be able to perform again. Unless something unexpected happens, he would go into the year still as the Cardinals' No. 1 receiver.
But this offseason, unlike the last, Fitzgerald does not know who his coach will be. He does not know who his
quarterback will be (Carson Palmer hadn't officially said he was returning when Fitz committed last year, but many felt he would.) Those two things would seem to be crucial in influencing Fitzgerald's decision – especially at coach.
The last time Fitzgerald went through a coaching change, it was a sometimes painful transition as Bruce Arians moved him inside. It was difficult, it wasn't really something Fitzgerald wanted to do, and the results showed early on the field.
It turned out awesome for both sides, of course, and Fitzgerald is coming off the greatest three-year stretch of his career in terms of receptions. He's become the best blocking wide receiver in the league.
I'm not sure Fitzgerald would want to go through similar growing pains with a new coach. He'd want to know his role, he'd want to know the coach still wants him to be a big part of the offense, and I'd guess he'd want to know that he would still be trusted to get his body ready even if that meant taking a practice off once in a while.
And that doesn't even begin to touch on the idea of a new offense to learn, or developing a rapport with a new quarterback.
These are all things, however, that Fitzgerald has done before. He knows how to navigate the waters.
Fitzgerald does have significant upside in coming back. He gets another chance to play for the postseason, and depending on what the Cardinals do at the aforementioned important spots, that isn't unrealistic. A
return means – barring an early-season injury – he would rise to No. 2 in NFL history in both receptions and yards, behind only Jerry Rice. That kind of tangible legacy does resonate with him.
It's going to be with the Cardinals or no one. Fitzgerald isn't being traded "to a contender." If he wanted his freedom, he wouldn't have signed that contract extension in November and would have become a free agent. He knows it's a Cardinals-or-retire scenario, because that's what he has chosen.
One good thing: Because he's a wide receiver, there isn't the urgency for him to make a decision, if waiting is what he wants. If you are the coach, yes, you have to decide. If you are the quarterback, yes, it behooves the franchise that you don't wait. In theory, though, Fitzgerald could wait out a long time – free agency in March, and maybe even the draft if he really wanted – to see what the roster would look like. The Cards have to build their wide receivers corps for the future even if Fitz plays, given that his career nears its end.
My gut is that Fitzgerald's decision will come relatively soon after a coach is chosen. He'll know what the lay of the land will be by then. My gut is also that, when it's all said and done, Fitzgerald will give it one more season. But I won't be surprised either way.
Images of the Cardinals' top receivers in 2017