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Larry Fitzgerald returning to Arizona Cardinals in 2020

Arizona Republic logo Arizona Republic 1/15/2020 Bob McManaman, Arizona Republic

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The Gold Jacket can’t wait a little while longer. So can his place up in the State Farm Stadium rafters as the newest member of the Cardinals’ Ring of Honor. 

Larry Legend is coming back.

After contemplating retirement for a third straight year, star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has decided to return for a 17th NFL season with the Cardinals.

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Word officially came on Wednesday morning through a news release by the team and once it hit social media and every major news outlet in the country, you could hear about a million or more Fitzgerald fans start to celebrate.

Fitzgerald tweeted Wednesday morning: "This season was among the most fun of my career. The future is so bright for this team & I relish the opportunity to build with this talented young nucleus. Arizona is where I started and where I will finish. 2020!" 

After the team’s last game of the season at Los Angeles against the Rams, he made it clear he had one of his most enjoyable seasons in recent memory.

“The atmosphere, the positivity, I think it’s a lot of different reasons, but it’s been a great year,” he said after the Cardinals finished 5-10-1. “For a five-win season, I can’t remember having as much joy in the process. Being around these coaches, my teammates, how they work every day, how serious they take football.

“It would’ve been easy for young guys who never experienced the NFL, when we weren’t going to make the playoffs in early December, to pack it in, and that wasn’t the case.”

MORE: Larry Fitzgerald's NFL career has been even greater than you think

The 2020 season will be Fitzgerald’s 17th season with the Cardinals. In franchise history only quarterback Jim Hart (18) will have played more.

Fitzgerald will turn 37 before the start of the 2020 season, but he continues to be the heartbeat of the franchise despite having played with 21 different quarterbacks. This past year, working with prized rookie Kyler Murray, he led the Cardinals in receiving for the 13th time in his career with 75 catches for 804 yards. 

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Fitzgerald has now led the team in receiving yards at age 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 32, 33, 34, 35 and 36.

Though he’s only experienced five winning seasons with the Cardinals, he holds every single receiving mark in the team’s record book and ranks second all-time in the NFL behind Jerry Rice in career receptions (1,378) and receiving yards (17,083). He No.6 in career touchdown receptions (120).

In Week 17, Fitzgerald appeared in his 250th NFL game, becoming just the 13th player in league history – and the only wide receiver – to play in that many or more games with the same team.

Teammates and coaches alike had all been saying Fitzgerald seemed to be enjoying himself more this past season than he has in recent years and they felt he would be back.

“If I had to put my last dollar on it, I would probably say he’s coming back,” teammate and close friend Patrick Peterson said. “But you never know with Fitz. He’ll keep you guys in the dark just like he keeps us in the dark.”

Fitzgerald gave no indications either way about his future in the days and weeks leading up to the end of the season. He told reporters he would take some time afterward to reflect on things like he always does and then come to a decision.

MORE: Larry Fitzgerald: Career highlights for Arizona Cardinals wide receiver

Following the Cardinals’ final game of the year, he noted that he’d have to wait and see if team President Michael Bidwill was even willing to bring him back – even though Fitzgerald knew the answer to that would be “yes.”

“I have to talk to Michael about next year if they want me back and that’s an option,” he said. “You kind of have to go through the checklist and process.

“But like I said, I love this organization with all my heart. I’ve gave everything I’ve had for 16 years and I just have to take a little time to figure it out and obviously talk to the boss man who makes all the decisions.”

General Manager Steve Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury each had said publicly how much they wanted Fitzgerald to return in 2020, noting how valuable his services still are as both a pass catcher and a leader in the organization.

“Please come back,” Kingsbury said during his end-of-the-season news conference.

“He’s a pillar in the community and what he means to this organization you can’t even out into words,” Keim told Arizona Sports 98.7-FM before the team’s final home game against the Browns. “He’s still playing at a high level. It’s amazing what he continues to do on the field, which he does on the practice field, the example he shows for young players. We certainly would love to have him back.”

Even with his return, it’s believed the Cardinals will still be on the lookout for a new, true No.1 wide receiver to eventually take his place. They’ve drafted four in the past two years, but there isn’t a clear-cut No.1 between Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella, KeeSean Johnson and Hakeem Butler.

Arizona has the No.8 overall pick in the draft, which the team could use on one of the many highly-rated receiver prospects in this year’s class. They include Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III from Alabama, CeeDee Lamb from Oklahoma and Tee Higgins from Clemson.

Kingsbury, however, didn’t sound convinced the Cardinals need to draft a wideout with their first-round selection.

“I’m not sure. I like what our wideouts did. I like what our offense did,” he said. “I think it’s on us as a coaching staff to maximize who we have regardless of what it is. This is a wideout-heavy draft, there’s no doubt there are some great players at that position. But we have to take the best player that makes us better immediately and has the biggest impact for the organization.”

No single player has made a bigger impact on the organization than Fitzgerald, an 11-time Pro Bowl selection. It will be interesting to see what his production will look like next season now that he’s had a full year in Kingsbury’s offense to develop some chemistry and continuity with Murray, the No.1 overall pick a year ago.

“I think we did come a long way,” Fitzgerald said after the season finale. “To see Kyler’s maturation and the way he was able to perform this year, I think it’s a runaway for Rookie of the Year for him. He’s Houdini back there. We have a really bright future here for this organization for a very long time. Good place to have him and try to build around him for years to come.”

Kingsbury got a kick out of watching Fitzgerald have so much fun in 2019 despite the Cardinals finishing with their fourth straight non-winning season.

“It was awesome to see,” Kingsbury said. “It’s an honor – like I’ve said all along – it’s an honor to work with that guy and watch how he practices and how he works. Just to watch how he interacts with the young players. We brought in the three rookie receivers and a rookie quarterback. He’s the consummate professional. He’s what you want every player on your roster to be.

“I think any joy that he derived from this year, we got twice as much as a coaching staff.”

Fitzgerald will  enter the 2020 season with an active streak of 243 consecutive games with at least one reception, which represents the second-longest streak in NFL history behind only Rice (274).

An 11-time Pro Bowler, Fitzgerald has played all 16 games in each of the last five years (2015-19) and his streak of 84 consecutive starts is the longest active streak among NFL wide receivers.

In December, Fitzgerald was one of 10 wide receivers named to the NFL 100 All-Time Team. The only active player in the group, Fitzgerald joined nine Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees on the NFL 100 All-Time Team.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Larry Fitzgerald returning to Arizona Cardinals in 2020

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