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The Arizona Cardinals have a conundrum on their hands.
According to numerous reports, star receiver DeAndre Hopkins recently suffered an MCL sprain that will supposedly sideline the All-Pro through the end of the regular season. The injury comes just one week after Hopkins returned from a pulled hamstring that caused him to miss the previous three games. While there is hope that Hopkins may be able to return at some point during the postseason (Hopkins is currently getting a second opinion), the expectation is that we’ve likely seen the last of #10 for at least the next month.
As a result, once again, the Cardinals and coach Kliff Kingsbury will be forced to adjust to life without their number one receiving option.
In the short-term, expect Kingsbury to lean on the foursome of A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore and Antoine Wesley. Wesley filled in admirably on the outside opposite Green last month which allowed Kirk and Moore the ability to operate in their natural positions underneath in the slot. The team also benefits from the midseason acquisition of Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz who has become a common favorite for quarterback Kyler Murray.
Throw in the impending return of pass catching RB extraordinaire in Chase Edmonds and the Cardinals appear to have enough receiving weapons needed to mitigate the loss of Hopkins at least until the NFL playoffs begin.
With that in mind, how on earth does Larry Fitzgerald factor into things?
The discussion surrounding the greatest Cardinal ever potentially reuniting with a team destine for postseason play was inevitable the moment the Hopkins injury news was first reported. Despite Fitzgerald’s age and absence through the teams’ first 13 games, questions have resurfaced pertaining to whether or not the future Hall of Famer would suit up one last time to help ease the loss of Hopkins. For those who haven’t been keeping up with Fitz, he’s been busy doing everything but football including the hosting of a podcast with Tom Brady and Jim Gray.
So the question remains, if Cardinal GM Steve Keim were to call Fitzgerald, would he even pick up the phone?
While the Cardinals had formally remained adamant that the ball was firmly in Fitzgerald’s court should he want to play football this season, prior to now, it’s always felt like the two sides were destine for an eventual divorce. In the offseason the Cardinals added both Green and Moore to the mix while spending the large majority of their already limited cap space on the acquisition of J.J. Watt.
Fitzgerald has averaged an 8-figure salary for the large majority of his career while also possessing the title of top receiver for the Redbirds. With both of those entities in jeopardy, it made sense for Fitz to quietly walk away. Yet with the Cardinals suddenly lacking their top receiving option, does it now make sense to rekindle talks for what could be a magical stretch run of football?
The first thing that would have to be determined is whether or not Fitzgerald would be seen as an upgrade over what the Cardinals already have in house. While both Green and Kirk are firmly cemented as above average starters, it appears as if rookie Rondale Moore has hit a bit of a wall. The former Purdue standout has failed to eclipse more than 25 yards in seven of his last eight outings while seeing his yards per catch plummet in the process.
Antoine Wesley, meanwhile, remains largely unproven while only being active for four games this season.
While an argument can be made that each current Cardinal receiver does indeed possess more physical gifts than the now 38-year-old Fitzgerald, there is something to be said for his immense experience playing in big games. His 2008 postseason run remains the stuff of legends, as Fitzgerald produced an NFL record 546 receiving yards in just four games played. His presence for a Cardinal team still attempting to cement themselves as major players in the NFC could be invaluable especially when you consider the respect he’d demand from opposing defenses.
On the flip side, it can’t be argued that what we saw from Fitz last season was difficult to watch. The Minnesota native appeared slow while lacking any ability after the catch following each reception. Fitzgerald also fought an ugly bought with COVID-19 that saw him lose nearly nine pounds in the process. With career lows across the board, last season was a campaign to forget for Fitz which was why so many were surprised to see his lack of interest in returning for a curtain call in 2021.
An argument can be made that Fitzgerald and the town that loves him were cheated out of a Derek Jeter-esque swansong with the Cardinals.
Alas, time is running out for a potential reunion.
If Fitzgerald was indeed waiting on an opportunity to swoop in and help save the only franchise he’s ever played for, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better time than now. The Cardinals remain a legitimate threat to win a Super Bowl, something that has alluded Fitzgerald his entire career. An infusion of Fitz could be just what the doctor ordered to help steady the waters offensively before an eventual Hopkins return.
Imagine the storybook ending of an energized Larry Fitzgerald returning to State Farm Stadium one last time in a pursuit of a world championship.
Crazier things have happened.
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