One of the greatest annual storylines over the past four or five years has been whether or not Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald was going to play for the New England Patriots. It was never going to happen due to his insane mega-million dollar contract, but the question would surface, like clockwork.
It’s that time of the year again, but this time it’s for real. Maybe.
The rumors started in 2010 after the departure of QB Kurt Warner and it took a backseat last season as QB Carson Palmer led the Cardinals to an NFC West title, but Palmer has turned back into a pumpkin. The Cardinals sit at 5-8-1 and are out of the playoff picture.
Fitzgerald will be 34 at the start of next season and wants to play his final years in the league with a contender.
“No, I wouldn’t say that I’m contemplating [retirement] right now,” Fitzgerald told Westwood One radio, via Pro Football Talk. “But I’m uncertain what I’m going to do moving forward. But I still love the game, I love the competition. I love being around the guys and competing for a championship. That’s a lot of fun to me, and that’s kind of where I’m at right now.”
Fitzgerald currently leads the NFL with 98 receptions out of the slot and ranks 3rd all time in NFL history for receptions. The Patriots could be on the market for another slot receiver if WR Danny Amendola is unable to come to terms with another contract restructure.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has been unabashed in his praise of Fitzgerald.
“I think [Fitzgerald is] a Hall of Fame receiver,” Belichick said prior to the 2016 season opener. “One of the best that’s played the game over this past period of time that he’s been in the league.”
“Great competitor,” Belichick added about Fitzgerald. “Blocks. Makes big catches. Very consistent. Unbelievable hands. Big plays in the red areas. Scores touchdowns. Unselfish player.”
Fitzgerald record 8 receptions for 81 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Patriots in the opener.
It feels like Fitzgerald has been destined to finish his career in New England, but the question is whether he’ll be more successful than Joey Galloway, Chad Ochocinco, and Reggie Wayne. None of those veterans succeeded with the Patriots.
Fitzgerald is due $11.0 million as a 2017 base salary and he has $9.7 million in dead cap space if he is released after the season- or $4.85 million in dead cap space with a post-June 1 designation. Fitzgerald would have to restructure his contract before the Patriots would agree to a trade, while the Cardinals might not be willing to move a still-productive player if it will have such a negative impact on the salary cap.
I have a hard time believing the Cardinals would trade or release Fitzgerald and Arizona could be a Tony Romo away from contending in 2017. In all honesty, I think the Patriots would rather work with Amendola than move mountains to acquire Fitzgerald.