For the Cardinals and their fans, the question now is whether retirements are among the things that come in threes. With Carson Palmer quickly following Coach Bruce Arians in announcing this week that he was calling it a career, Larry Fitzgerald could well become the third major figure for Arizona to walk away from the NFL.
Fitzgerald, 34, had already mulled retirement around this time last year, only to return to the team for a 14th season. If he does hang up his cleats, the Cardinals will not only be losing arguably the best player in a franchise history that dates from well before the NFL was founded in 1920, but one who remained a central part of the offense in 2017.
On Sunday, following a season-ending Cardinals win against the Seahawks, Fitzgerald said he didn’t have a “timetable” for deciding on retirement. However, he added that he was “holding out hope” that Arians would be back next season, and the coach’s departure, combined with the loss of the team’s starting quarterback, could be enough to convince Fitzgerald to follow suit.
“It’s been a great ride. . . . I will miss the game,” Arians, 65, said Monday. In five seasons in Arizona, he went 40-27-1, plus 1-2 in the playoffs, and as a former offensive coordinator he helped Fitzgerald produce big numbers with Palmer.
“Over the years, I’ve had teammates who decided to hang it up and I would ask them how they knew when it was time to walk away,” Palmer, 38, said in an open letter Tuesday. “The answer was almost always the same: You just know.
“For me that time is now. Why? Quite simply, I just know.”
Palmer and Arians arrived in Arizona in the same year, 2013, and helped revive an offense that had stagnated under former coach Ken Whisenhunt and journeymen quarterbacks such as Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley and John Skelton. Despite missing 10 games in 2014 and nine in 2017 with major injuries, Palmer racked up 38 wins, third most in Cardinals history, and authored one of the franchise’s finest individual seasons in 2015, when he completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 4,671 yards, 35 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and an NFL-leading 8.7 yards per attempt.
Selected first overall in the 2003 draft by the Bengals, Palmer went on to play seven seasons in Cincinnati before dissatisfaction with team management led to a trade in which the Raiders sent first- and second-round picks for his services. Palmer played just two underwhelming seasons in Oakland, then was traded to the Cardinals for little compensation but has performed well enough to finish his NFL career 12th all-time in passing yards (46,247) and passing touchdowns (294).
“My family and I are beyond grateful for everything the game has given us as well as the love and support we’ve felt from fans everywhere we’ve been,” said Palmer, who is the only NFL quarterback to pass for at least 4,000 yards in a season for three different teams. “That’s been especially true in Arizona, where we never expected to end up but wound up being such a special place for us.”
When Palmer got hurt in 2014 and was replaced by Lindley and Drew Stanton, Fitzgerald sunk to his lowest numbers in receptions, yards and touchdowns since his rookie season in 2004. However, he has bounced back in a big way over the past three seasons, catching at least 107 passes for more than 1,000 yards and at least six touchdowns in each.
Fitzgerald is first among active players and third all-time in NFL receiving yards (15,545), and if he plays next season he would be very likely to gain the 390 yards needed to pass Terrell Owens for second in league annals. Fitzgerald needs two more touchdown receptions to pass Tony Gonzalez for seventh all-time in that category, and he will need five to pass Antonio Gates for sixth, if the latter chooses to retire this offseason.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday that, in texts exchanged with Fitzgerald over the past couple of weeks, the 11-time Pro Bowler has been “noncommittal” about possibly retiring. He added, though, that people “close” to Fitzgerald “believe that he doesn’t want to learn a new offensive system, so if [Arians] left, they thought that Fitzgerald would leave, as well.”
“Nothing firm yet, but I would not be surprised to see these three guys go out together,” Rapoport said, referring to Palmer’s retirement earlier in the day.
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