Larry Fitzgerald is the greatest Cardinals football in the history of the franchise and a first ballot hall of famer. Let’s get that out of the way right now so you know my view of him as a player.
However, over the past few seasons Fitzgerald has not performed to the same level as when he was younger. He hasn’t been the best wide receiver in the league or even in the argument. Part of that is just the product of time (cue the obligatory Hootie and the Blowfish music). Players get older, younger ones come into the league. Fitzgerald isn’t immune to age.
Yet, to say Fitzgerald is old and close the argument is a false, simple narrative. One which has been played out by national announcers for years. There is a reason every video of Fitz’s 80 yard TD last year was described by some "old man showing he still has gas in his tank" cliché. The passage of time reason also means that his decline is irreversible.
I would argue there are many reasons over the years of the decline in production, each having a varying amount of blame. The major contenders would be poor rosters, new offensive scheme and position and age/injuries.
How much blame lays with poor passing? The majority.
Since Kurt Warner retired, the Cardinals have struggled with some of the worst quarterback players in the league. And from 2010 to 2013, that was the problem in Fitzgerald falling production. Between Max Hall, Derek Anderson and John Skelton.
Yet, during the dark days of the Whisenhunt era, Fitzgerald put up a season of respectable numbers in 2012 of 84 receptions. This is because he was relied upon for the bulk of the Cardinals offense as the running backs, tight ends and even wide receivers were not nearly as good as they are on the present team.
Compare Beanie Wells to Andre Ellington. Andre Roberts to John Brown.
Regardless, the problem with poor quarterbacks has persisted with Arians as we all saw last season where injuries, out of the teams control. Forced the Cards to have to fall back to a rookie Logan Thomas or Ryan Lindley at the end of the season.
Steve Keim and Bruce Arians did fix the roster as a whole. But with them came a whole new, complicated offense and position.
It took the entire team an entire offseason and half of the whole year to learn the offense Palmer and Fitz certainly hadn’t created a sense of timing during their first year. At the same time, Fitzgerald was learning all the WR positions.
As fans we think of the wide receivers as one single position. But each player has different skills suited for different types of wide receivers. Each play may even have several different variations.
Nor should you forget that Arians came in and put an emphasis on running and throwing the ball to the running back. Last week an article highlighted how Fitz is one of the best blockers at wide receiver. His receiving production goes down if the team is effectively running the ball more often too.
Finally, within the past two years Fitz hasn’t been the same player. Age has started to catch up to him.
The argument against this would be that Fitzgerald was never going to be the most athletic wide receiver in the NFL anyways. But it’s more than that.
Fitzgerald has been hampered by hamstring injuries the past two seasons. Not the Patriots, ‘Tom Brady is perpetually injured.’ Injuries important enough to cause him to miss playing time. Both directly and indirectly his age has and will continue to slow him down.
Larry Fitzgerald is not the same player. Every season brings a different iteration of every player. That’s why we watch the game. To see our teams perform (hopefully) better than the previous year.
But that’s all the past five years. How many of us believe the roster, specifically the quarterbacks haven’t improved? Even with all the new players, like Ellington and Brown, does that mean Fitz is obsolete? If past performance doesn’t predict future success, what should we expect from Fitz in 2015?