Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals clipped wings
Larry Fitzgerald is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. No one will argue that. The travesty is that he is not universally considered the best receiver in the game, which is of no fault of his own. He has made it to six Pro-Bowls, has been an All-Pro on four separate occasions, and led the NFC in receiving yards in 2008. That same year he would lead the Cardinals to an NFC championship, and they would just fall short in the Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers despite Fitzgerald catching two touchdowns in the game (including a score to put them ahead with 2:27 left in the game). Larry Fitzgerald has over 700 receptions and 10,000 yards, as well as 77 touchdowns, at the young age of 29. He is fourth all time in receiving yards per game (76.0), trailing only Tory Holt, Isaac Bruce, and Marvin Harrison. He is the current franchise leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns for the Arizona Cardinals.
Larry Fitzgerald is at risk of having his first season since 2006 where he doesn’t reach the 1,000 yard marker. That has only happened twice to Fitzgerald in his career, his rookie season, and in 2006, where he played 13 games and had 946 yards. This has not happened because of any particular drop-off by Fitzgerald, who totaled over 2,500 yards in 2010-11 seasons, to go along with 14 touchdown receptions. The fact of the matter is, the Arizona Cardinals have continued to make questionable moves, having the team fall apart on him, as opposed to building around him.
Kevin Kolb has by far been the best quarterback the Cardinals have had since Kurt Warner. Take a minute to digest that. While I still feel they got fleeced by signing him for that much and losing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second round pick, that the Eagles are struggling and the Cardinals have a decent record with Kolb. But now that half their games this season have been started by John Skelton and Ryan Lindley, who combine for under 1,600 passing yards, barely over 50% completion, under six yards per an attempt, and have thrown for two touchdowns as opposed to 10 interceptions, Fitzgerald’s numbers are taking a hit. As much as everyone seems to rag on Alex Smith, he would be an incredible upgrade over everyone the Cardinals have put under center since Warner.
The running game has also been a nightmare. After using a first round pick on Beanie Wells in 2009, they decided that his production wasn’t up to par in his first two seasons, so with the 38th pick overall in 2011, they would draft Ryan Williams, who has played five out of a possible 28 games thus far, being inactive due to injury the rest of the time (and when healthy averaging less than three yards a carry.) Of course, Williams missing all of 2011 allowed for Beanie Wells to have his best season, by barely breaking the 1,000 yard marker in 2011, only to miss the seven games this season. The leading rusher for the Arizona Cardinals this season? That would be LaRod Stephens-Howling, who has 3.4 yards per carry to the tune of 313 total rushing yards. You think your running backs have disappointed Carolina? Send either DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart (even Mike Tolbert over) and Fitzgerald will celebrate as if he just scored a touchdown (he hasn’t had the chance to do that often this year, being in jeopardy of scoring a career-low in touchdowns with four.)
Of course, the issues don’t stop there, with the offensive line striving to be like the old Houston Texan’s lines that tried to kill David Carr. The website FootballOutsiders published a study on October 19th, that six games in the season, the two starting tackles of the Arizona Cardinals ranked first and second in sacks given up this year. Wondering if that is a byproduct of the quarterback holding the ball too long? Each and every one of those sacks occurred less than 3.5 seconds after the ball was snapped. This should not be a surprise either, with the Cardinals starting a rookie 4th rounder at right tackle in Bobby Massie, who all of his sacks up to that point took less than three seconds, and undrafted eight year veteran D’Anthony Batiste playing left tackle. Think your line is bad Bears fans? They look like a bunch of surgeons compared to the death squad the Cardinals are starting.
We have seen this happen before in sports. We saw Barry Sanders leave on the top, without ever going to a Super Bowl. Dan Marino would only go to one Super Bowl and would never return throughout the 90s, as he would never have a reliable receiver besides OJ McDuffie, or a 1,000 yard rusher besides Abdul Karim Al-Jabbar’s 1996 season. To cross sports, we saw Pistol Pete Maravich suffer the same fate, passing out of double teams only to see his teammates miss horribly.
So in writing this article, I’m asking the Arizona Cardinals to think long and hard about this offseason. Fitzgerald has more years left on his contract than in his prime. If when they look themselves in the mirror they realize that they can’t build a winner, can’t find solutions within the next year or so to their abysmal offensive line and quarterback situations, to do the game a favor, and trade him. Rebuild for the future, and let the NFL and its fans enjoy this superstar talent before it sets. The game is better when its superstars are battling, playing late when the stakes are high, and Fitzgerald has sat out January’s for too long. To go back to Marino, I remember being so disgusted with my team, watching them waste the rest of his career, only to cast him aside after an atrocious playoff outing. The Vikings tried to pry him away, but his loyalty, and the accumulating injuries, forced him to retire. So Dolphin fans were left to wonder what would have happened if they had drafted Moss, or any other weapons to help him out. Marino’s most successful season ended up being his second year in the league, in a Super Bowl loss. His teams peaked before he did. Let’s hope Fitzgerald’s more fortunate, whether it’s with Arizona, or somewhere else.