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Cardinals' Fitzgerald feels best days aren't behind him

| Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 9:09 p.m.
Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald doesn’t think much of suggestions his best playing days are behind him. “I think it’s funny people assume I actually listen to anything anybody says,” he said. “The only thing you can control in life is your effort. I give my best effort every single day and try to improve my craft.”

TEMPE, Ariz. — Larry Fitzgerald turns 31 on Sunday.

For a decade, he has defined everything that is good about the Arizona Cardinals, shattering franchise records with an often-breathtaking ability to catch passes while displaying a quiet don't-rock-the-boat personality that's made him anything but a stereotypical diva wide receiver.

Heading into his 11th NFL season, the guy everyone calls “Fitz” brushes aside suggestions that his best days are behind him.

“I think it's funny people assume I actually listen to anything anybody says,” he said. “The only thing you can control in life is your effort. I give my best effort every single day and try to improve my craft.”

Fitzgerald was 20 when Arizona drafted him third overall in 2004 out of Pitt. He signed three major contracts before he turned 30. Earlier this year, he restructured his latest deal to lessen the salary cap hit for the coming season.

After this season, he will have one year left on his seven-year, $113 million contract and the cap hit will be a whopping $26.3 million next season. He's due an $8 million roster bonus next March.

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said the organization wants Fitzgerald to retire as a Cardinal.

But he probably would have to take a pay cut to stay. Whether Fitzgerald would do that is questionable.

“I don't think about it at all,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press. “... I have a lot of love for this state, this organization, the people who live here, and I'm just going to play this year as hard as I can, try to win a Super Bowl here in our home city and let the pieces fall as they fall.”

If he leaves, he will do so as arguably the most successful player in the franchise's history.

The 16 pages dedicated to Fitzgerald in the Cardinals' media guide chronicle a litany of accomplishments. He holds the franchise record in receptions (846), yards receiving (11,367), receiving touchdowns (87), total touchdowns (87), 100-yard receiving games (36), and consecutive games with a catch (149 and counting).

And he still figures prominently in the team's plans for the coming season.

“I don't think anybody's the same at 30 as you were at 20,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “You're a lot more experienced so you should be able to play faster — mentally.”

When Arians took over a year ago, Arians moved Fitzgerald to the slot, putting big, young, athletic Michael Floyd at wideout.

“There comes a point in time in your career that if you want to continue to have success and get a lot of balls,” Arians said, “then you've got to stretch your envelope a little bit.”

Fitzgerald never complained, publicly at least.

“I had a lot of fun playing outside. That's what I thrived at,” he said. “I was asked to do a different job. I accepted my role and my responsibility. I'm going to try to perform to the best of my ability no matter what my role is. That's how I think about it every day.”

Fitzgerald still led the Cardinals last year with 82 catches and made the Pro Bowl for the eighth time, the last seven in a row. But Floyd led the team in yards receiving with 1,041 to Fitzgerald's 954.

Fitzgerald's greatest days were with Kurt Warner, highlighted by the team's improbable run to the Super Bowl in the 2008 season, when he shattered NFL postseason records for yards receiving, receptions and touchdowns.

The Cardinals lost to the Steelers in that Super Bowl appearance.

But Fitzgerald said he doesn't spend any time reflecting on the last decade.

“In the grand scheme of life, it's actually pretty much a blip on the radar,” he said. “I just try to cherish every moment. You know life is not guaranteed to any of us.”

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