Why the Arizona Cardinals season may depend on Larry Fitzgerald

(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images) Larry Fitzgerald
(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images) Larry Fitzgerald /

As the all the talk surrounding the team has been about the new additions, the season may come down to Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald

This off-season, General Manager Steve Keim set a clear goal of re-developing the culture of the franchise. It all started with the hiring of Head Coach Steve Wilks. Wilks comes to Arizona in high regard, after a successful stint as the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator.

On offense, Keim was forced back to the drawing board after Carson Palmer’s retirement. Now, Arizona finds themselves with a completely overhauled quarterback room, headlined by veteran Sam Bradford and polarizing rookie Josh Rosen.

In an attempt to surround his new signal callers with additional weapons, Keim signed wide-receiver Brice Butler and drafted slot-dynamo Christian Kirk out of Texas A&M.

Still, while much of the talk has been centered around Arizona’s new faces, I believe the success of this season hinges on a familiar one. And an old one at that.

If veteran wide-receiver Larry Fitzgerald, has one more year of high quality production in him, Arizona has a chance to contend for a playoff berth in a highly-competitive NFC. If not, they could find themselves sitting in last place in the NFC West.

Set to turn 35 prior to the start of the regular season, Larry Fitzgerald is not the athlete he once was. Still, Fitzgerald proved throughout an incredible 2017 campaign, that he can still carry the load for his one and only NFL franchize.

Fighting against father time and an underwhelming carrousel of quarterback play, Fitzgerald still managed to haul in over one hundred receptions for the third consecutive season, in 2017. In all, Fitzgerald amassed 1,156 yards at the ripe age of 34.

Yet fans and media pundits alike, rarely mention Fitzgerald around Arizona these days. All eyes are set on quarterbacks Josh Rosen and Sam Bradford, explosive rookie wide receiver Christian Kirk, a defense transitioning schematically under new leadership, and a returning David Johnson. But to me, everything starts and stops with Fitzgerald.

The Cardinals have a legitimate shot to boost the league’s most diverse and intriguing receiving corps. At 6-3, 213 pounds, Brice Butler has the ability to develop into a consistent starter as an outside receiver. Third year receiver J.J. Nelson returns as the team’s dynamic deep threat, as he enters his fourth professional season. And Kirk, should step in and immediately become one of the league’s most dangerous slot receivers from day one.

Still, everything is predicated on Fitzgerald.

If Fitzgerald can remain the team’s true number one receiver, the three mentioned above should excel in complementary roles. With a rejuvenated running game, either quarterback would have success scanning the field for those collection of receivers.

But if Fitzgerald finally begins to slow down, Arizona may have a big problem on their hands.

While Butler has the necessary measurables to play like a number one receiver, he has never amassed more than 21 receptions in a single season. J.J. Nelson has an incredibly high ceiling as a deep threat, but at only 5-11, 161 pounds, he is limited by his slight frame and has already struggled with durability issues.

Rookie Christian Kirk may one day develop into a star on the outside, but in the early portions of his career, Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy would like to keep him in the slot. Thus the importance of Fitzgerald.

If Larry is Larry, the Cardinals should jump right back into the midst of a heated fight for the NFC West Divisional Crown. If not, the Cardinals may find themselves at the bottom of the pack.

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Former Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer recently lamented Fitzgerald as the greatest receiver in NFL history. Now more than ever, Arizona needs him to prove it.