Nov 24, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) catches a four-yard touchdown as Indianapolis Colts cornerback Vontae Davis (23) defends during the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Number 1: *Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver
[Okay, so Larry Fitzgerald technically isn’t a free agent, hence the asterisk. However, he’s due a “no-chance” $23.6MM cap hit in 2015, and there remains a strong possibility that he’s played his last game as an Arizona Cardinal if the two sides can’t mutually work out a renegotiation.]
Player: Larry Fitzgerald
Ht/Wt: 6’3″, 218 pounds
Positional Overview: The Indianapolis Colts have one of the best young wide receivers in the NFL in T.Y. Hilton. However, it’s the wideouts surrounding him that have major question marks. Donte Moncrief figures to be mainstay in the Colts’ offensive lineup for years to come after a promising rookie campaign. However, beloved 14-year veteran Reggie Wayne is in the twilight of his career and could opt to retire all together.
Always fulfilling the Colts possession wideout role through the years, the team now faces the daunting task of potentially replacing a future Hall of Fame wide receiver in Wayne. It’s unclear whether the team desires to re-sign veteran free agent Hakeem Nicks after an up-and-down season, and while talented, recently signed Duron Carter is still nothing more than a flyer at this point.
Coming off a dormant offensive loss where the New England Patriots secondary double-teamed Hilton, put shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis on Moncrief one-on-one, and forced either Wayne or Nicks to beat single coverage, which they couldn’t consistently do, the Colts need to get another proven and productive wideout on their team to surround Andrew Luck.
Show Me The Money: Larry Fitzgerald is one of the best NFL wide receivers in NFL history. His 12,151 career receiving yards currently place him at #21 on the NFL’s all-time career list, and he’s still only 31 years old. Even more impressive, his 89 career receiving touchdowns are 12th all-time in NFL receiving history. However, while Fitzgerald isn’t quite the dominant receiving superstar he once was, he’s still a very productive wideout. On the season, he had 63 receptions for 784 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns despite only playing in 14 games.
Fitzgerald has battled his fair share of injuries in recent seasons, most notably a knee injury this season. However, production-wise, he hasn’t arguably had an elite quarterback throwing him the football since Kurt Warner in 2009. He’s just one season removed from a year that saw him have 82 receptions for 954 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Colts took a chance on a bounce-back candidate in Hakeem Nicks last season, but Fitzgerald is much more likely to bounce-back this next season than Nicks was in 2014. According to ProFootballFocus, his +2.5 grade overall placed him one spot ahead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Vincent Jackson on the season at a #31 ranking overall among wideouts, and just last year, he had a +12.0 overall grade which placed him at a 12th overall ranking in 2013 at wide receiver.
Buyers Remorse: Fitzgerald is coming off a season in which he saw his lowest receiving yardage total since his rookie season way back in 2004. His 2 touchdowns on the season were a career-low. After additionally battling a knee injury in 2014, Fitzgerald may be starting to slip as a highly regarded NFL wideout as he enters his 12th NFL season due to age and wear-and-tear. If he expects to still be paid as one of the NFL’s highest paid wide receivers, he may have to do a bit of a mirror and gut check, as he’s not quite the dominant wideout he once was.
Outlook: The Colts desperately need a possession wideout that can consistently make those critical 3rd down catches, those tough 7-yard catches over the middle, and who can consistently move the chains down the field with Wayne seemingly on his last leg. Hilton and Moncrief provide big-play ability, but the Colts really lack a true possession wideout at this juncture. While Hilton and to a lesser extent Moncrief are “home run hitters”, the Colts need someone who can also consistently “hit singles”.
Fitzgerald may not be the vertical down-the-field threat he once was, but he’s still got a strong build and great hands to be a really good possession wideout for the foreseeable future. Always regarded for his veteran leadership and strong coachability, Fitzgerald should be highly sought after by many contending teams should he hit the free agent market, including the Patriots. He has a great make-up and has been consistently productive throughout his future Hall of Fame career and should still have a handful of really good years left at 31 years old. Hopefully, they’re with the Colts.