With the San Francisco 49ers still debating who will start at quarterback, and the LA Rams kind of doing the same as they find out what they have in Jared Goff, the NFC West is likely going to be a two-team race between the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals have done an amazing job of turning their franchise around in the last three years, going 5-11 in 2012, then hiring Bruce Arians and Steve Keim in 2013 and going 34-14 in the three seasons since. Literally one of the only things that Keim and Arians did not have to do in rebuilding the Arizona franchise was go out and get All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who is about to play his 13th season in the NFL.
But will it be his last?
It’s not worth spending too much time speculating on the potential retirement of Fitzgerald after this season, but it is a good reminder that basically none of Seattle’s core players — in terms of guys who have as much importance to the team as Fitzgerald does to Arizona — seem to be on the verge of retirement. Most key players on the Seahawks are under 30 and signed through 2018, at least.
Fitzgerald turns 33 before the season and he could be a free agent after this year. (When he renegotiated his contract in 2015, it essentially gave the Cardinals immediate financial relief but included two automatically-voided seasons in 2017 and 2018 that will count over $4 million against the cap.) If he leaves via free agency or retires, that might not be the only problem for Arizona: Michael Floyd, Tyrann Mathieu, Calais Campbell, Chris Johnson, Evan Mathis, and Chandler Jones are also set to be free agents. It’s also hard to ignore the fact that Carson Palmer is turning 37 in December.
If Arizona hasn’t hit on it’s recent draft picks — including Robert Nkemdiche (currently behind schedule because of a high ankle sprain), D.J. Humphries (missed all of rookie season due to injury), Markus Golden, David Johnson, Deone Bucannon, Troy Niklas, and John Brown — then the next rebuild may be sooner than we realize, and more difficult than the last one. Notice that none of those players are quarterbacks, and that their most recent heir apparent to Palmer, Logan Thomas, has already been released.
The Cardinals look like a legit Super Bowl contender this season but the thought of losing Fitzgerald next year is a reminder of how Arizona’s window for being that good could close quickly with a disastrous 2017 offseason. (And not in the way that any team could have a disastrous offseason, but in the way that they have so many important players entering the unknown soon.)