Position capsule: Wide receiver

The Arizona Cardinals' wide receivers suffered multiple setbacks in 2016, as the group never produced a stable secondary option to star Larry Fitzgerald.

Position capsule: Wide receiver

Returners: Larry FitzgeraldJohn BrownJaron Brown, J.J. Nelson, Brittan GoldenMarquis Bundy

Free agents: Jeremy Ross

Contracts: Fitzgerald-2017-$15,850,000, Jo. Brown-2017-$837,725, Ja. Brown-2017$775,000, Nelson-2017-$667,450, 2018-$757,450, Golden-2017-$690,000, Bundy-2017-$540,000

Current Roster Number: 6

Ideal Roster Number: 5-6

2016 Performance: Outside of franchise icon Larry Fitzgerald, the Arizona Cardinals' receiving corps suffered through a largely disastrous 2016 season in which no player emerged as a complimentary option to Fitzgerald on the perimeter.

The year began with plenty of hope, as John Brown was coming off a 1,000-yard season and Michael Floyd was entering a pivotal contract season, but neither Brown nor Floyd amassed more than 39 receptions. Brown was diagnosed with sickle-cell trait midway through the season which understandably triggered a drop off in production, but Floyd struggled with drops during the first half of the season and late in the year, was arrested for Driving Under the Influence which ultimately led to his release from the organization.

Jaron Brown also started the season with promise, as the fourth-year receiver out of Clemson nabbed 11 passes for 189 yards early in the year, but suffered a torn ACL that brought his season to a premature conclusion. 

With the second, third and fourth options on the depth chart all battling various issues, Nelson used 2016 to come into his own and showcased his jaw-dropping speed on various occasions throughout the year. Nelson caught 34 passes, but finished third on the team with 568 yards and tied for the team-lead with six touchdown receptions. 

Though no one came close to Fitzgerald's level of production --an NFL-high 107 receptions for 1,023 yards-- the Cardinals' receivers were largely to blame for the team's offensive regression in 2016.

2017 Readiness: Of all the units on the Cardinals' offense, the wide receiver unit may be the least prepared for the 2017 season despite returning six players who appeared in games for the team this season. 

The Cardinals still haven't learned whether Fitzgerald wants to return for one final season in the NFL, and if he departs, the wide receiver unit may need a significant overhaul entering 2017 given all of the struggles it incurred this year. 

If Fitzgerald comes back, though, Arizona will still need to prepare a contingency plan for the following season, so bringing in a high-profile free agent or drafting a receiver early this April are increasingly viable options for the franchise. If Arizona doesn't commit to improving its receiving personnel next year, the Cardinals' offense could be in for a rough go of it, turning into even more of a David Johnson or bust offense than it was this season.

One underrated factor in the Cardinals 2017 plans: How will John Brown and Jaron Brown perform after illness and injury altered the trajectory of their careers this season? Bounce back performances from both players could key a rebound for the unit next year.

The long haul: Despite returning six players who appeared at receiver for the Cardinals this season, Arizona only has one receiver under contract for 2018, Nelson, who began the year as the team's fifth option on the depth chart.

Within the next two seasons, the Cardinals will lose Fitzgerald, a player who anchored this unit for well over a decade, to retirement, and be faced with decisions to make about the futures of John and Jaron Brown. 

At the very least, drafting a wide receiver in the first three rounds would demonstrate a commitment to improving the team's passing attack, and show that the Cardinals' are prioritizing adding offensive weapons to a team that will also need to find a quarterback of the future within the next two years.

Though players like Golden and Bundy are under contract and represent depth options, Arizona needs to focus on finding top-of-the-rotation players who can play every down for this offense.

Draft need: High priority

Position overview: At the conclusion of the regular season, head coach Bruce Arians said he doesn't expect the Cardinals to select a wide receiver with the 13th overall selection in the 2017 draft. If Fitzgerald opts to retire, though, Arizona may not have much of a choice.

Even though the team needs to address its defensive backfield and offensive line, a Fitzgerald retirement would signal a changing of the guard for the Cardinals' offense and would require immediate attention. Though Arians may have his eyes set on a quarterback, the eventual quarterback of the future in Arizona will need capable players to throw the ball to sooner rather than later.

Because only Nelson is under contract through 2018, the Cardinals are in a position to completely overhaul the team's wide receiver unit, which may be the best course of action over the long haul given the struggles its receiver faced in 2016.


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