TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is just 14 yards shy of his fifth career 1,000-yard receiving season, quite an accomplishment considering the Cardinals are next to last in the NFL in passing offense.
It’s little solace for a player with one more year on his contract, the face of a franchise that the Cardinals dearly want to keep.
“I want to stay here. I enjoy playing for coach (Ken) Whisenhunt. I enjoy working for the Bidwills,” Fitzgerald said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday. “They’ve always treated me good since I first got here. This is all I know. I can’t ever say that I want to go anywhere else.”
Fitzgerald last week became — at 27 years, 110 days — the youngest player in NFL history to reach 600 career receptions and the second-youngest, behind Randy Moss, to reach 8,000 career yards receiving. A week earlier, he broke Anquan Boldin’s franchise record for receptions.
He won’t, however, endure repeated seasons like this one. The Cardinals (4-10) have lost eight of their last nine games going into their Christmas night matchup against the Dallas Cowboys.
“I’ve said it before that the most important thing for me in my career is to win,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve been in the playoffs the last two seasons. Obviously we’re not going to make it this year, but I know what it feels like to play in the postseason and this feeling is not the one I want to have at the conclusion of my year. It’s just not a good feeling.”
He will leave the specifics of the job ahead to the Arizona front office.
“I’m not the guy that’s pulling the trigger and saying this needs to be done or this needs to be addressed. I’m not that kind of player,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m confident in (general manager) Rod Graves, I’m confident in coach Whisenhunt, I’m confident in (president) Michael Bidwill, (director of player personnel) Steve Keim and all those guys upstairs that do such a great job in our scouting department, that they’re going to get guys here and draft guys that are going to help us win ball games.”
He said he will not place a deadline for a contract extension.
“I’m not going to hold a team hostage,” he said. “I think that’s counterproductive. I had the opportunity to do that a few years ago and, at my core, I’m a team guy. Obviously I want to be compensated for my work, no different than you or anybody else in America that’s working, but I don’t want it to be to the point where we can’t make this thing go.”
Fitzgerald is in line for his third big contract while still in his 20s. He came into the league barely 21 years old after Arizona made him the third pick overall in the 2004 draft. In 2007, he signed a four-year, $40 million deal with $30 million guaranteed. That extended a rookie contract initially of six years and $45 million, with $20 million guaranteed, plus incentives. He is scheduled to make $7 million next year, the final of his contract.
“I’m not concerned about it to be honest with you,” Fitzgerald said. “If the Cardinals feel I’m worthy of an extension, they’re going to keep me here. If they don’t, then I won’t be here. I’m just going to play hard and do everything I can these last two weeks.”
It’s hard to imagine a Cardinals team without Fitzgerald, who in the team’s 2008 run to the Super Bowl shattered nearly every playoff receiving record. If he becomes a free agent, the value of a player so productive and still so young will be enormous.
Whisenhunt said he and the front office “have been very clear that it’s important” to re-sign Fitzgerald.
As for how much money it’s going to cost the team, Whisenhunt said, “That’s something that can be talked about at the end, but that’s not something that we are going to talk about here.”
Fitzgerald won’t get into details of what he thinks went wrong with the team.
“That’s a loaded question,” he said.
But it’s tough to succeed in an offense with a 52 percent completion percentage.
“You said it,” Fitzgerald said. “I didn’t.”
The three Arizona starting quarterbacks this season have completed a combined 50.5 percent of their passes. Derek Anderson has been the best at a meager 51.7 percent.
Fitzgerald has 15 catches for 197 yards the last two games, both with rookie John Skelton at quarterback, including a season-best nine catches for 125 yards last week at Carolina.
“You know what? I really like his mentality,” Fitzgerald said of the youngster. “He doesn’t really show too much emotion. He doesn’t get too high, too low, and he plays within himself. I like that about him. I see him as being successful and I’m going to do everything I can to help him.”
Skelton is smart enough to know to throw the ball in Fitzgerald’s direction as often as possible.
“I think having Larry and being a rookie quarterback, it’s nice to have him out there running good routes,” Skelton said. “That talent that he has will overcome a lot of rookie mistakes. Just giving him a chance and putting the ball up in his vicinity always helps.”
Fitzgerald reeled off a list of players who had helped him be successful. Chief among them was Kurt Warner, whose passing touch and accuracy made Fitzgerald’s job so much easier. Warner, who retired after last season, made Fitzgerald a lot of money.
“He made everybody a lot of money,” Fitzgerald said.