Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

2016 in review: Larry Fitzgerald

For the eighth time in his career, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver amassed over 1,000 receiving yards in a single season.

In 2012, the Arizona Cardinals used their first round draft choice on a wide receiver, Notre Dame's Michael Floyd.

Floyd entered Arizona with sky-high expectations, as the Cardinals hoped he could eventually take over the team's No. 1 wide receiver role when franchise icon Larry Fitzgerald elected to retire.

Fast forward to the end of the 2016 season, and Fitzgerald has outlasted Floyd in Arizona, undergone a career renaissance, and continued to climb through the NFL career record books.

This offseason, Fitzgerald is mulling the possibility of retirement after spending 13 seasons in the NFL, all with the team that drafted him in the first round out of Pittsburgh way back in 2004. 

Though Fitzgerald has certainly enjoyed an extended career in the league, if he ultimately decides to leave the Cardinals this offseason, his absence will still leave a massive void perhaps no player can step in and fill. If Fitzgerald's 2015 and 2016 seasons taught us anything, it's that Fitzgerald still possesses the talent and skills to play at a high level in the NFL, the only question is whether he desires to keep on playing.

Outlasting the player expected to one day assume his role is yet another accomplishment for Fitzgerald, a sure-fire Hall of Famer who will almost undoubtedly be inducted as soon as he becomes eligible. 

Will Cardinals fans make a pilgrimage to Canton, Ohio five years from now? Or will they get to wait another season, and take in a definitive swan song for one of the most accomplished receivers in league history? Arizona should find out in the coming weeks, but either way, when Fitzgerald does decide to hang up his cleats, the Cardinals won't be the same.

Fitzgerald in 2016

After experiencing three consecutive seasons in which his production dipped compared to the numbers Fitzgerald put up during his first eight NFL seasons, the Cardinals' wideout secured one of the more impressive years of his career in 2015, nabbing 109 receptions for 1,215 yards.

Fitzgerald's successful transition from playing on the outside to the slot under head coach Bruce Arians wasn't necessarily smooth, but Fitzgerald made it look easy and continued to build on his success in 2016.

Even though Floyd struggled with drops, No. 3 wide receiver John Brown attempted to rebound from a diagnosis of sickle-cell trait and No. 4 wide receiver Jaron Brown tore his ACL, defenses still couldn't stop Fitzgerald as they had the freedom to key in on him for much of the year.

While running back David Johnson helped draw attention away from Fitzgerald, the 13th year veteran still tied for the NFL lead in receptions in 2016, as he matched Steelers' wide receiver Antonio Brown in the final week of the regular season to finish with 107 catches. Fitzgerald's yards per reception dropped off in 2016, but he still amassed 1,023 yards and added six touchdowns, giving him over 100 touchdown catches for his storied career.

Fitzgerald caught at least three passes in all 16 Cardinals' games, nabbed seven or more receptions in seven different contests, and finished with at least 60 receiving yards in 10 games in 2016.

Though his longest reception was only 32 yards this season, Fitzgerald was the model of consistency in 2016, much as he has been throughout his career with the Cardinals.

Fitzgerald in 2017

Arizona anticipates Fitzgerald's decision regarding his future to come by the end of January, and if he elects to play one more season and finish out the terms of his current contract, Fitzgerald will return as the team's premier threat on the perimeter next season.

Heading into his 14th season, Fitzgerald would still be considered one of the top overall receivers in the NFL, ranking among the league's elite slot receivers, and perhaps the best overall blocking receiver in the league. Fitzgerald's skill set is vast, and what he's lost in speed through the years, he's made up for with precision and attention to detail.

If Fitzgerald retires, the Cardinals will immediately need to scour the free agent market, explore a wide range of possibilities on their draft board, and do their due diligence to ensure Arizona's offense will experience as small of a drop off as possible next season. If Fitzgerald doesn't come back, the Cardinals' playoff and Super Bowl hopes aren't slashed, but they will need to adjust their offensive personnel to offset his loss and make the unit more dynamic.


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