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Will Larry Fitzgerald

Return To Arizona Cardinals?

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Now That The Season That Once Held So Much Promise Is Now Over, The Future Of One Of The Best Wide Receivers To Ever Haul In The Pigskin Is In The Balance With Little Hope Of A Happy Resolution

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By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

Jan. 6, 2015 — Welp, the Arizona Cardinals’ spectacular 2014 season is over after an excruciating 27-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers. While the loss was expected due to the slew of injuries plaguing the team, it was still disappointing after Arizona put up its best regular season in franchise history. But, we’ll let bygones be bygones and focus on what the team needs to do to sustain its success into next season and avoid being a flash in the pan.

The obvious question looming over the offseason is what will be done with Larry Fitzgerald. On an emotional level, both the franchise and the player want to remain together. But, on a fiscal level, the continued union makes less sense.

Fitz, ever the class act, obviously wants to remain in the only NFL jersey he’s ever worn and has said as much. The team appears on the verge of becoming a perennial contender after years of futility and on-again, off-again success.

Fitzgerald’s ultimate goal is a ring, Arizona is finally looking like place where he can get it.

However, Fitzgerald has also made some vague, albeit still diplomatic, comments that hint he sees the writing on the wall. As much as he might want to stay, that could require yet another contract restructuring, which will just push the cap obligation down the road. And, for all his past success and leadership, Fitzgerald’s $23.6 million cap hit next year will be hard to justify after he had the worst season of his career.

That’s not a knock on Fitzgerald. I still think he’s capable of putting up 1,000-plus yards and 5 to 10 touchdowns a year in the right situation. The problem with the situation in Arizona is that the offense has a plethora of weapons and he’s increasingly become a safety valve instead of  a main target. Cardinals quarterbacks will turn his way when they need a sure 9 or 10 yards, but Michael Floyd and John Brown are the ones getting most of the deep looks.

From the franchise’s perspective, keeping Fitzgerald around should be a priority. Floyd and Brown definitely have the skills to be a great 1-2 punch at wide receiver, but both of them need work and could only benefit from another few years studying under one of the greatest (and classiest) receivers in NFL history.

But, that cap number is huge.

General Manager Steve Keim has said the team has the financial flexibility to make it work, and I believe him. But, despite the fact that the Cardinals could use his services to their benefit, should they make it work? This is a good team, but it could really use a few additions in the offseason and keeping Fitz around at the current rate is going to handicap the organization.

When all is said and done, I think the Cardinals and Fitzgerald come to some sort of agreement yet again. The team is simply too close to a championship to let him go. No one wants to win a Super Bowl in the desert the year after Fitzgerald leaves. It would be like the Suns taking home a title following Nash’s departure.

Even if the team does keep Fitz around, it has other pressing needs. Middle linebacker will be a big one with Daryl Washington’s future still in limbo.

Larry Foote has far exceeded expectations and he may very well have what it takes to do that again next year, but the truth of the matter is, he is old. There is no guarantee he’ll be able to produce a repeat performance of 2014 in 2015, especially without defensive coordinator Todd Bowles (he of the middle linebacker fountain of youth) who is likely to leave for a head coaching job this offseason.

There will be plenty of middle linebackers available in free agency, though none of them really impress outside of David Harris, currently and technically still a member of the New York Jets. The team could also turn to the draft where there is also a glut of good not great inside backers. Odds are, they stick with Foote and bring in a mid-level free agent to compete with Kevin Minter and hope the latter finally lives up to his potential.

The last major concern going into 2015 is the quarterback of the future. The team has both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton under contract. That’s two inconsistent yet capable veteran quarterbacks with a history of knee injuries. If Palmer can repeat his 2014 performance (minus the injury) the Cardinals are set. But, he has only so many years left.

Obviously, Ryan Lindley isn’t the guy. He’s simply overmatched at the NFL level. And, from what we’ve seen of Logan Thomas, I just cannot see him as an NFL quarterback. His footwork is downright awful and his mechanics are all over the place. If anyone can mold him it’s Bruce Arians, but I don’t see it.

That means the team will once again look to draft a quarterback with potential that drops to the later rounds. If I was the team, I’d pull the trigger sooner rather than later. A decent prospect like Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson or UCLA’s Ryan Hundley could be had in the second or third round. Otherwise, you risk ending up with another Thomas or Lindley.

That doesn’t even come close to addressing all of the questions the Cardinals will need to answer this offseason, but those are some major points the team needs to address.

After all, the team is out of the playoffs so it’s the season for writers like me to try and tell the much more qualified individuals in the front office how to do their jobs.

Wayne Schutsky is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine.
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