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Larry Fitzgerald expected to retire before the 2021 NFL season

Matt Johnson

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Larry Fitzgerald has starred for the Arizona Cardinals since he entered the league in 2004. As the 37-year-old weighs his future, many in the league believe they already know what direction this is headed.

There have been hints at retirement before from the Cardinals’ legend. His father indicated it was on the table after the 2019 season. But Fitzgerald ultimately returned for his 17th year in the NFL, committing to the Cardinals and hoping for a shot at winning the Super Bowl.

It was a difficult year for Fitzgerald and the Cardinals in 2020. Arizona missed the NFL Playoffs entirely and he tested positive for COVID-19. For the first time since 2014, he was unable to take the field with his teammates and ultimately missed three games.

The Cardinals have taken a win-now approach this offseason. The front office signed J.J. Watt and traded for Rodney Hudson, one of the NFL’s best centers. Arizona also boosted its receiving corps, adding Pro Bowl weapon A.J. Green to pair with DeAndre Hopkins. Despite the aggressive moves, it seems we might not see Fitzgerald back on the field.

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Multiple NFL executives told The Athletic’s Mike Sando, that they expect Fitzgerald will retire before the 2021 season. With Hopkins and Green on the outside and a depth chart full of young receivers, Arizona just doesn’t need Fitzgerald like it did for years. He finished third in targets (72) last season, well behind Hopkins (160).

If this is the end of his NFL career, Fitzgerald’s resume and accomplishments speak volumes.

Larry Fitzgerald stats cement his Hall of Fame legacy

Expectations are always high for first-round picks, even more so when they are the No. 3 overall pick. After winning the Walter Camp Award, Biletnikoff Award and being the Heisman Trophy runner-up in his final season at Pittsburgh, Fitzgerald was easily one of the best players in the 2004 NFL Draft. Arizona recognized a game-changing talent and Fitzgerald managed to exceed even the team’s wildest hopes.

WATCH: Larry Fitzgerald goes Beast Mode on touchdown against Seahawks in Seattle

Fitzgerald made an impact immediately, hauling in 58 receptions for 780 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in his rookie season. It wasn’t enough to earn a Pro Bowl selection, but he’d receive that nod for the first time the following year.

The 6-foot-3 receiver broke out in 2005, becoming one of the best receivers in the NFL. He recorded a league-high 103 receptions, tacking on 1,409 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. It would be just the start of a special career, putting up phenomenal numbers despite dealing with pedestrian quarterback play for so many years.

From 2006-’17, Fitzgerald hauled in 1,073 catches for 13,356 receiving yards and 92 touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl 10 times during that same stretch, earning All-Pro honors three times and was named to the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team. He made the same kind of impact away from the field, earning the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 2016.

Statistically, Fitzgerald is up there with the greatest wide receivers in NFL history. He ranks second in all-time receiving yards (17,492), receptions (1,432) and is sixth in career receiving touchdowns (121).

WATCH: Larry Fitzgerald with brilliant one-handed catch on 4th-and-5

While it’s often difficult for wide receivers to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in their first year on the ballot, Fitzgerald has an outstanding case for it. Between his on-field production, longevity and off-field reputation, there won’t be an argument against him.