When wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald announced his decision to return to the Arizona Cardinals a month ago, the sigh of relief coming from the team's practice facility in Tempe echoed throughout the valley.
In 2016, Fitzgerald caught 107 passes for 1,023 yards and earned his 10th Pro Bowl invitation, once again proving that age is just a number to the future Hall of Famer.
Even as one of the team's elder statesmen, Fitzgerald proved he was still a dependable, go-to option. The problem for the Cardinals, though, is that it was Fitzgerald and ..... well, that was it.
While running back David Johnson chipped in with 80 receptions, no other Cardinals' receiver caught more than 39 passes in 2016, setting the stage for a critical offseason in which Arizona knows it needs to bolster its receiving corps.
On Friday, the Cardinals made headlines locally and around the league when a report surfaced from ESPN's Adam Caplan announcing the team had re-signed wide receiver Jeremy Ross to a one-year contract extension for the 2017 season.
Because of significant depth issues at the position, Arizona is expected by many to make a splash in the wide receiver market this offseason by acquiring a high-profile free agent or selecting a wideout with an early round draft choice. And while the splash the Cardinals made by re-signing Ross didn't exactly create the wave most anticipated, it does provide a look into how Arizona wants to build its receiving corps this offseason.
If the Cardinals are hoping to prepare their receiving corps for the 2017 season and set the group up for success the day Fitzgerald decides to call it quits, the signing of Ross doesn't accomplish those goals.
However, the Cardinals aren't hoping that a player with 43 career receptions over five NFL seasons suddenly becomes one of the team's primary options at wide receiver. Instead, the re-signing of Ross is about adding depth, and depth that the Cardinals feel confident in moving forward.
Under head coach Bruce Arians, the Cardinals have primarily used four receivers with relative frequency throughout the course of games while using a fifth receiver on the roster primarily as a special teams weapon. In the past, wide receiver Brittan Golden has filled this role, but Golden didn't begin the 2016 season on the Cardinals' roster. Instead, he served as a practice squad player and waited until injuries depleted Arizona's depth to join the team in the middle of the year.
The re-signing of Ross probably threatens Golden's place on the Cardinals' roster, because he's a superior returner of kicks and punts, can play on coverage units and is easily a more trusted threat at wide receiver.
In the past, general manager Steve Keim has talked about adding depth and focusing on the bottom of the roster as closely as he focuses on the top of the roster, and this move certainly speaks to that goal. What the Cardinals have essentially done here is created more competition at the fourth and fifth and potentially even the sixth wide receiver spot on the 53-man roster, because on the surface, Ross represents an upgrade over Golden and perhaps even Jaron Brown, who will be returning from a torn ACL this fall.
What the move does not do, however, is help the team prepare for the long-term future at the position. Ross isn't, and is never going to be, a headliner of the Cardinals' wide receiver group, but he is a solid special teams asset who can plug into the lineup and handle an offensive role when called upon.
In the short term, don't look for Arizona's offseason strategy of attempting to sign a high-profile free agent or use an early draft choice on a wide receiver to change, as the Cardinals still have a long way to go to reach a point where the team feels comfortable about this unit moving forward.