As the Arizona Cardinals begin their quest to cut the team’s roster size from 90 to 53 by the end of the preseason, we’re taking a look at every player at each position group and determining their odds of making the final cut.
Player: Larry Fitzgerald
Position: Wide receiver
Experience: 14th NFL season
Contract status: 2017-$15,850,000
2016 season quick review: The 2016 season once again proved that Fitzgerald is a timeless wonder, an NFL icon who could probably play into his late 30s or early 40s and still have a meaningful role in a professional wide receiver corps. Though Fitzgerald insists his career is in its final stages, if he did elect to play another five or six seasons, the Minnesota native would at least have an opportunity to approach many of Jerry Rice’s fabled career records, some of which are destined to stand forever. Fitzgerald is in that position because of seasons like the one he enjoyed in 2016, when he finished tied for the NFL lead with 107 catches and recorded the eighth 1,000-yard season of his career. While Fitzgerald’s yards per catch of 9.6 was the lowest of his career, he was the most important threat in an offense that needed every bit of production it could find from its wide receivers. A former outside receiver who has clearly mastered the art of playing in the slot, Fitzgerald continues to cement his legacy with each passing season.
Projected roster status: The Cardinals would allow Fitzgerald to play into his 50s if he so desired. He’s making the team.
Projected depth chart status: Fitzgerald projects as the No. 1 slot receiver on the Cardinals’ roster, and if he stays healthy, there’s a very good chance he’ll once again wind up as the team’s leading receiver, even as he approaches the age of 34. The Cardinals are hoping outside target John Brown is back to full health this season which would prevent Arizona from having to depend on Fitzgerald so heavily, but as long as Fitzgerald is on the field, it’s hard to imagine Carson Palmer targeting a different player more frequently.
CardinalsSource.com analysis: At this point, there’s not much left to analyze with one of the most dominant receivers in NFL history. Fitzgerald has provided the Cardinals with a transcendent presence, and is a surefire first ballot Hall of Famer thanks to a career that’s only rivaled by some of the games legends. Nevertheless, at some point, Fitzgerald’s production figures to trail off, and many analysts and experts assumed that was taking place between 2012 and 2014, when Fitzgerald failed to record a 1,000-yard season. However, a move to the slot and a developing relationship with Palmer inspired a career Renaissance for Fitzgerald, who has now recorded consecutive 100-reception and 1,000-yard campaigns. Aside from his chops catching the football, Fitzgerald is also one of the game’s top blockers in the slot, and has become a tremendous asset for the Cardinals in the run game. When young receivers are looking for a player to study, they watch Fitzgerald because of the precision he brings to the position on an every down basis. Though Fitzgerald has obviously lost a step since he first entered the league, he makes up for it with crisp routes, sharp footwork and an all-world level of focus that have helped his pass-catching abilities reach legendary status. As long as Fitzgerald’s speed doesn’t fade off too much, there’s no reason he can’t give the Cardinals another season with at least 80 receptions from the slot.
Overall value: Because Fitzgerald is responsible for a cap hit of over $15 million in 2017, it’s going to be nearly impossible for his production to match the value of his contract. Fitzgerald has reached a point in his career where he’s no longer a top three or top five player at the receiver position, yet he’s still paid as if that’s the type of production he’ll contribute. Is it worth it for the Cardinals to shell out over $15 million to Fitzgerald? In all likelihood, yes, because of the emotional attachment fans have to him and because of the money he brings in for the franchise on the side. Imagine Fitzgerald in a different color jersey. It just doesn’t work, so therefore, as long as Fitzgerald wants to play, the Cardinals are going to have to pay up to keep him, as long as it’s a salary that’s within reason. The $15 million sum Fitzgerald will take in during the 2017 season is stretching the boundaries of that reason, but the franchise only has more season committed at this rate.