Loss of Fitzgerald could be Cardinals' gain

Larry Fitzgerald (Getty)

Nobody in Arizona wants to see Larry Fitzgerald go, but should the Cardinals risk coming away empty handed?

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Larry Fitzgerald is a beloved figure in Arizona. For many different reasons, Fitzgerald the type of player every NFL team craves. Not only is the five-time Pro Bowler a tremendous asset on the field but off of it in the community as well. So how could the loss of Fitzgerald be the Cardinals' gain? There are some scenarios that would lead to that conclusion.

Depending on who winds up being the quarterback in Arizona next season, it may not matter who's on the receiving end of those passes. The trio of Fitzgerald, Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin wouldn't make a difference if the Cardinals don't bring in a signal caller that can provide some sort of stability on the offensive side of the ball.

Arizona has made several blunders over the past handful of seasons but none have been bigger than the mishandling of the situation under center heading into 2010. Did anyone really think Derek Anderson would last an entire season? Max Hall, really? Richard Bartel, double really? Sure, John Skelton shows some of the characteristics needed to develop into a contributor at the NFL level but starting him this season basically equated to Plan D by the Cardinals coaching staff.

Kyle Orton

Unless the likes of Kevin Kolb - or possibly Kyle Orton - make their way to the desert, unloading Fitzgerald in the near future makes perfect sense. Fitzgerald would still demand top dollar on the open market. Another lackluster season and his value could begin to diminish.

Nobody wants to see Fitzgerald go. He's been part of a core group of players that brought a historically losing franchise to consecutive playoff appearances and within seconds of bringing home the Lombardi Trophy. Now those days appear to be long gone and soon Fitzgerald could be as well.

While the Cardinals front office is busy doing whatever it can to keep Fitzgerald and improve the roster, it's going to be an uphill battle. The quarterback position must be addressed. There is some talent on the depth chart but a deeper inspection shows gaps that will be difficult to fill.

It's going to take an investment-heavy offseason in free agency and the draft (whenever that process commences) for Arizona to return to competitiveness in the rapidly inmproving NFC West. Many of the Cardinal faithful would admit first hand that the organization's track record in the past doesn't exactly boast much confidence in that taking place.

Trading Fitzgerald is an option but there would be some roadblocks in the way. Fitzgerald's last contract provided him a great deal of control over the potential outcomes at the conclusion of the current deal. Fitzgerald has a no-trade clause, meaning he can dictate if and to where a trade occurs.

In addition, Arizona can't place the franchise tag on Fitzgerald following next season, putting even more pressure on the organization to work things out in the long-term or to ensure they receive ample compensation for one of the top wideouts in the league.

The bottom line: the Cardinals must act fast to rebuild the supporting cast around Fitzgerald or be prepared to part ways with one of the most popular players in franchise history. Parting ways would more than likely mean securing multiple draft picks to help renovate a failing roster.

Depending on how the draft board shakes out this April, there could be an immediate contingency plan available. While general manager Rod Graves might have a difficult time finding value with the No. 5 overall pick, Georgia WR A.J. Green would fit the bill. Green was a dominant receiver in the SEC for the Bulldogs and within a year or two could develop into a Fitzgerald-type performer.

Consider the alternative: another subpar season and Fitzgerald departs via free agency, leaving the Cardinals with nothing in return - other than the prospect of a measly compensatory pick.

Although the draft is still over two months away, Arizona is already on the clock. Deciding what to do with Fitzgerald will be an incredibly important decision that will likely shape the franchise's future for years to come.

Questions or comments? Contact Brad Wilbricht at brad.wilbricht@gmail.com


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