Larry Fitzgerald’s return to Minnesota always made sense and yet never happened. Part of it is that the Arizona Cardinals signed him to a seven-year, $113 million contract in 2011. The weather and lack of income tax make it hard to leave. And by all accounts, he’s a loyal guy.
However, it’s not like the Cardinals are one of the premier franchises in the NFL. They may have Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, and A.J. Green now, but they don’t have a history of winning. They’re not the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, or the Dallas Cowboys. Any time the Minnesota Vikings play in Phoenix, the stadium is half purple. It has to be that way for many games, given how many transplants live in Arizona.
The Cardinals haven’t had a winning season since 2015. They’ve been to the Super Bowl once, in 2008, and have only won five playoff games since Fitzgerald was drafted third overall in 2004. He’s had Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer throwing him the ball, but he’s also been on teams that have started John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, and Drew Stanton under center.
It would have been one thing if he stuck it out with the Cleveland Browns or the Buffalo Bills — historic franchises with large, die-hard fanbases. But this is the Cardinals, a team that originated in Chicago and was in St. Louis for nearly 30 years before landing in Phoenix in the late ’80s.
It would have been incredible if the Vikings could have landed him in 2011, but he was coming off a Super Bowl appearance. He wasn’t going anywhere, even if four quarterbacks made starts for the Cardinals that year. The story would have written itself. He was a ball boy for the Denny Green Vikings as a kid and attended Holy Angels. His dad is a sportswriter in town. He would have been a star receiver on a team desperately in need of one.
It was a pipedream. Unfortunately, Fitzgerald never pushed his way out as the Cardinals declined and found his way back to the Twin Cities. Imagine him teaming up with Adam Thielen as he emerged as one of the greatest underdog stories in the league, forming a trio with the ultimate Mr. Mankato and Stefon Diggs to become the heir apparent to Randy Moss, Chris Carter, and Jake Reed. We’ve all thought about it before, but now it can become a reality.
It’s always weird to look back at a great player’s career and see a random team tacked on the back end of it. Emmitt Smith in Arizona. Joe Montana in Kansas City. Brett Favre in, ahem, Minnesota. Sometimes it works out great, like Tom Brady this year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Peyton Manning with the Denver Broncos. Other times it’s an incongruent coda that serves as trivia and nothing more.
It would be weird to see Fitzgerald in Buffalo or Baltimore next year. He shouldn’t spend his final year catching bounce passes from Cam Newton in Foxborough or running the reverse with Taysom Hill as a member of the New Orleans Saints. But to finish his career where everything started, in Minnesota in front of his hometown fans, would be a meaningful final act.
The Vikings wouldn’t be getting Fitzgerald in his prime. He’s no longer the player who seemed to effortlessly put up 1,400 yards a season in his early 20s. He would be a WR3 who is a better player than Chad Beebe and Olabisi Johnson, even in his late 30s, and open things up for Thielen and Justin Jefferson.
He’d be lining up one receiver who grew up idolizing Moss and another who broke his rookie records. He’d be finishing his career in purple. He’d be home.