Over the last month, ESPN combed through the career statistics and resumes of the top players from each of the 32 NFL franchises and named one outstanding player from every team the Player of the Decade. For the Arizona Cardinals, that standout player was 16-year NFL veteran and Pitt great Larry Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald was selected by Josh Weinfuss of ESPN, and Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson earned honorable mention for his contributions to the team in the 2010s. In the article announcing the pick, Weinfuss discussed his selection of Fitzgerald.
“This was as easy as it gets,” Weinfuss wrote. “Fitzgerald may be the best player in Arizona Cardinals history, so the Player of the Decade wasn’t a reach. When the decade began, Fitzgerald was a 27-year-old in the midst of a five-year run of 1,000-yard seasons. By the time it ended, Fitzgerald was 36 and a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer.”
Fitzgerald has become the face of the franchise for the Cardinals as the team’s one steady presence amid the retirement of Carson Palmer and the departure of Bruce Arians in 2018 and the retirement of Kurt Warner and the departure of Ken Whisenhunt several years earlier. And through it all, he has continued to chase records and distinguish himself as one of the all-time greats at wide receiver.
The 6’3”, 218-pound pass-catcher has been the Cardinals’ leading receiver in 13 of his 16 seasons since entering the league as a first-round draft pick in 2004. He has played in 11 Pro Bowls and earned All-Pro honors in 2008, 2009 and 2011. His first two All-Pro nods coincided with the two seasons he led the NFL in touchdown receptions, but one statistic that illustrates his staying power is that he led the NFL in total receptions twice in his career: once in 2005, his second year in the league, and once in 2016, at the age of 33.
Fitzgerald has become a portrait of reliability during his 16-year career, and not just as a constant presence in Phoenix, but also as a result of his play on the field. Despite the fact that the Cardinals have had 16 different quarterbacks log starts in Fitzgerald’s time with the team, he has never contributed fewer than 700 yards in a season, and he has more tackles than drops in his career, with 39 tackles to 29 drops on 2,263 targets.
As a result of his consistency, Fitzgerald is second only to Hall of Famer Jerry Rice in career receptions and receiving yards, as he has 17,083 yards on 1,378 catches. And even with the notoriously inconsistent play of Arizona’s quarterbacks over the years, he has managed to accrue 120 career touchdowns, ranking sixth all time. With that said, the bulk of his production has come over the last decade, as 10,016 of his career receiving yards were amassed since 2010, as were 61 of his touchdowns and 855 of his receptions.
At this point, Fitzgerald is in the twilight of his career, and every offseason brings with it talk of his retirement. However, his performance has been as strong as ever, as he had 804 yards and four touchdowns in 2019 while working with rookie quarterback Kyler Murray. And with Murray winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors from the Associated Press in 2019, 2020 could be a brighter year for Fitzgerald and the Cardinals offense. But whenever the Pitt great does decide to call it quits in the NFL, enshrinement in Canton shouldn’t be more than five years away.