Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald: How Good Is He?

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Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald: How Good Is He?
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Life in the NFL for Arizona Cardinals’ star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been good.

He recently signed a contract extension with the Cardinals that will keep him in Arizona until 2018. The new deal, an eight-year, $120 million mammoth, came as no surprise to many fans and shocked others not sold on his ability.

The proof that he is worthy of the largest contract in Arizona franchise history is in not only the numbers, but with whom he has racked up those numbers.

As a rookie in 2004, Fitzgerald led the team in receiving (58 receptions, 780 yards, eight TDs) despite having the likes of quarterbacks Josh McCown, Shaun King and John Navarre throwing his way.

Altogether, they totaled a meager 67.7 QB rating that season.

In 2005, Fitzgerald again led the team in receiving (103 receptions, 1,409 yards, 10 TDs), but aging and washed-up veteran Kurt Warner was added to the mix of signal-callers with which he could play catch. Warner led the Cards in passing, though he was not spectacular.

Arizona drafted Matt Leinart with the No. 10 overall pick in 2006, thinking he would be the future leader of the team. He split time with Warner his first two seasons, but he was immensely outplayed.

Still, Fitzgerald plugged away and in those two seasons totaled 169 receptions for 2,355 yards and 16 TDs to lead the team.

Warner took over in 2008 as the full-time starter, and Fitz once again led the team in receiving. In fact, the two-year span with Warner at the helm the offense was one of the best in the league. Everyone benefited from the great quarterback play.

Fitzgerald totaled 193 receptions for 2,523 yards and 25 TDs over that time, and the Cardinals won back-to-back NFC West titles.

His 30 receptions, 546 yards and seven TDs in the 2008 postseason are among the best in NFL history in a single playoff year.

In 2010 after Warner retired to a more comfortable role as an analyst at the NFL Network, Arizona signed Derek Anderson, thought to be Leinart’s backup. That soon changed as Leinart performed so poorly in the preseason the Cardinals ran him out of town, giving the reins to Anderson.

In hindsight, that was likely the wrong choice.

However, in the process of suffering through the terrible play of Anderson, Richard Bartel and rookies Max Hall and John Skelton, Fitzgerald plugged away once more, somehow compiling 90 receptions for 1,137 yards and six TDs.

He made the Pro Bowl for the fifth time in his career seemingly in defiance of the worst quarterback play in the NFL—a 60.4 rating from the quarterbacks.

This past year in 2011, Arizona traded for Kevin Kolb, whom it thinks can be the franchise quarterback it has needed since Warner gave it a taste of glory. It cost the Cardinals a pretty penny, and he was able to play in only eight games due to injury. Splitting time with Skelton, it was difficult for the offense to be consistent.

Fitzgerald did not care.

The veteran once again made the Pro Bowl in spite of shoddy quarterbacking, catching 80 passes for 1,411 yards and eight TDs.

Fitzgerald has been one of the best pass-catchers in the league during his first eight seasons. This chart compares Fitz’s career stats to those of some of the great receivers in history over the first eight years of their respective careers:

 

Player

Receptions

Yards

Touchdowns

Jerry Rice

610

10,273

103

Larry Fitzgerald

693

9,615

73

Chris Carter

449

5,833

49

Tim Brown

405

6,076

46

Michael Irvin

527

8,538

50

 

This chart shows where he projects to be should he play out the remaining years of his contract and retire after the 2018 season:

 

Player (Years Played)

Receptions

Yards

Touchdowns

Jerry Rice (20)

1,549

22,895

197

Larry Fitzgerald (15)

1,299

18,028

136

Chris Carter (16)

1,101

13,899

130

Tim Brown (17)

1,094

14,934

100

Michael Irvin (12)

750

11,904

65

 

Projections show he would be the second-best wide receiver in the history of the NFL purely based on statistics.

That is only if he retires at the age of 35. Carter played until the age of 37. Brown played until he was 38. Rice, the old man that he was when he finally retired after the 2004 season, was 42 the day he hung them up.

If Fitzgerald plays just three more years after his current contract expires, he would need to average 78 receptions, 1,208 yards and 11 TDs per season to finish with more receptions (1,551), more yards (22,903) and three fewer touchdown catches (194) than Rice—the game’s best ever receiver.

He would be doing so four years sooner than Rice and with far less help from his quarterbacks (to date, anyway). If Manning ends up in Arizona those records may fall much sooner.

But that is for another article of hypotheticals.

This chart shows the team quarterback play each player had to deal with during his career. Note the overall quarterback rating in each instance:

 

Player

Comp %

Total Yards

Touchdowns

Interceptions

QB Rating

Rice

62.7

85,713

570

298

91.4

Fitzgerald

59.9

32,371

174

155

79.4

Carter

58.3

60,205

399

282

81.6


Brown

57.0

60,214

381

274

80.7

Irvin

59.6

41,355

209

182

79.6

 

Fitzgerald has not had the greatest quarterback play, that we know.

For what he has done in his career, he is already one of the best at his position in football history. The passion with which he plays—no matter his team’s record—is a remarkable sight. He approaches every game as if it were the biggest and most important of his career and has become the face of the Arizona Cardinals’ franchise in large part because of that.

No matter the quarterback, Larry Fitzgerald has produced—and will continue to produce—at an All-Pro level.

Barring serious injury or another unforeseen roadblock, he will be considered one of the best players of his era, likely culminating with a bronze bust of his likeness in the halls of Canton, Ohio.

 

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