Fitzgerald Talk Could Dominate Offseason

For the Kansas City Chiefs, this weekend's game with Arizona is shaping up as a turning point in the 2010 season.

The Chiefs have an opportunity to end their two-game losing streak, perhaps build up some confidence as they did against the Cardinals' division mates from San Francisco, and maybe even regain first place in the AFC West depending on how the Raiders fare in Pittsburgh.

If the Chiefs play like the contenders they appeared to be over the first month or so of the season, it would go along way towards erasing the doubt that has crept in these last few weeks.

On the other hand, this game could mark the end of the season's surprising turnaround. If the Chiefs continue to look like the pretenders who barely squeaked by Buffalo, cost themselves a win against Oakland, and got blown out in Denver, then any remaining playoff hopes can officially be put to bed. After all, if they can't right the ship after what happened in Denver, then when will they ever do it?

Those are some of the immediate issues that will be settled this weekend. But lurking just under the surface is a potential game-changing issue that could affect the Chiefs in 2011 and beyond.

Sunday's contest with the Cardinals will be the first regular season appearance at Arrowhead for wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and the hope of plenty of Chiefs fans is that it will be far from his last.

Because of his connection to head coach Todd Haley, fans have been loosely connecting Fitzgerald to Kansas City for almost two years now. When Haley was hired to lead the Chiefs, he was mostly known as a hot-headed assistant who'd been seen sparring with the likes of Terrell Owens on the sideline.

But as people around K.C. sought out more information on their new coach, a clearer picture of Haley began to emerge in large part due to Fitzgerald, who raved effusively about his former coordinator during the Cardinals' run to the 2009 Super Bowl.

The relationship between Fitzgerald and Haley has had many fans hoping against hope that the receiver might find his way to the Chiefs one day. Until this season, though, the idea seemed like little more than a pipe dream.

But the retirement of quarterback Kurt Warner has brought Fitzgerald's future with Arizona into question. Just two years removed from their Super Bowl appearance, the Cardinals are 3-6, in last place in the woeful NFC West, their defense is one of the league's worst, and they appear to have no answer at quarterback on their current roster.

Going forward, that might not be the kind of situation a superstar like Fitzgerald would find appealing.

A marriage between Fitzgerald and the Chiefs in 2011 makes far too much sense.
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According to Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic, Fitzgerald's contract – assuming all goes well with the league's labor negotiations – will end after next season. When Fitzgerald signed his deal in 2008, it contained a clause that prevents the Cardinals from placing the franchise tag on him. That means he could conceivably walk away in free agency without Arizona getting anything in return.

The Cardinals surely want to avoid that result, and according to Somers, the team doesn't want him to enter the final year of his contract without a new deal in place.

But if Fitzgerald isn't receptive to the idea of staying on a declining team, what happens then? Would the Cardinals take a gamble and let him play out the last year of his deal, hoping for a turnaround that would convince him to stay? Or would they start listening to trade offers to make sure they don't get left empty handed?

It's worth noting that, in addition to the franchise clause, Fitzgerald's last contract also contained a no trade clause, which was referenced just recently in an analysis of the receiver's future by the Republic. However, a report in the same paper last August claimed the no trade clause had been dropped when Fitzgerald restructured his contract, so it's unclear where that issue stands.

Regardless, despite Fitzgerald's suddenly cloudy future in Arizona, it still remained a stretch to think he could ever wind up with the Chiefs. At least until Fitzgerald spoke to the media about this weekend's game.

"I would love to go play for Coach Haley," Fitzgerald told reporters. "I will go play for him in Canada or if he was coaching high school. I would go and do whatever Coach Haley asked me to do, because that is just the respect and admiration I have for him."

A superstar player making those sorts of remarks isn't something fans in these parts are used to hearing. Clearly, if Fitzgerald decides to leave Arizona, the Chiefs – as long as Haley remains coach, at least – will be high on his list of potential destinations.

Likewise, you'd have to assume the attraction would be just as strong from the Chiefs' end. The team is clearly in need of receivers, and Haley isn't shy about calling Fitzgerald the NFL's best player at the position. Fitzgerald, known for being humble and hard-working, also seems to be a perfect fit for the "Right 53" concept that Haley and Scott Pioli continuously preach.

The marriage seems like a perfect fit on both sides – except for the cost it would take to make the potential trade a reality. Earlier this year, the Chiefs were reportedly involved in trade discussions for Fitzgerald's long-time running buddy Anquan Boldin, but bowed out when the price got too steep. And that cost was nothing compared to what it will take to get Fitzgerald.

Would Pioli really be willing to part with the compensation the Cardinals would seek, which would surely be in the Jared Allen/Jay Cutler vein of multiple high draft picks?

We may never know how interested the Chiefs are, or how much Pioli would be willing to give up. But barring Fitzgerald reaching a new deal with Arizona, his comments this week have practically guaranteed that he'll be a hot topic in Kansas City throughout the upcoming offseason.

For now, though, let's just hope that his first victory at Arrowhead doesn't come as a member of the Cardinals.

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