Steve Keim doesn’t know whether receiver Larry Fitzgerald will retire before the 2019 season.
Larry Fitzgerald might not know at this point.
So the Arizona Cardinals GM is trying to enjoy the ride while he’s still on it. He’s not wondering about Fitzgerald’s future with three games left on the team’s 2018 slate.
“I don’t even think about that because I think it’s one of those things where I’m actually taking a step back and smelling the roses,” Keim told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “I’m watching him every week and taking in the moments.
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“I know people talk about raising children like this, it happens in a minute — I feel like it was yesterday that I walked out on the University of Pittsburgh practice field and saw him as a true freshman and at that point in time realized he looked different from everybody else on the field. To now see what he’s done in a 15-year career, I’m just going to take this time and reflect.”
The Cardinals will give Fitzgerald time and space after the season to mull retirement, Keim said. Not everyone has taken the same approach.
Cardinals offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich admitted Thursday that he’d been on Fitzgerald to extend his career.
“Every day. Every day. I’ve been on that since training camp,” Leftwich said.
But what does Fitzgerald think? He is, after all, approaching free agency with nearly 15 full seasons under his belt.
“I’m just really focusing on these last three weeks,” the receiver said Thursday. “The future is the future, nobody knows what that is.
“All the guys that came before me, I’ve asked advice about (it), they tell me you know when it’s time,” he added. “If (the Cardinals) don’t need my services anymore, they’ll stop offering contracts. They’ll put me out to pasture.”
Nkemdiche needs ‘chip on his shoulder’
Keim hasn’t shied away from honestly evaluating his 2016 first-round draft pick, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche.
The facts are that Nkemdiche appeared in 27 of a possible 48 games since Arizona picked him 29th overall. He’s made 44 tackles with 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
An ACL tear puts him on the mend from six to nine months, Keim said, meaning Nkemdiche must be on the fast-track of that spectrum in order to be fully ready for the 2019 season.
“I certainly am not going to be one to hide behind anything, and looking at it now based on the fact that he was a first-round pick and the limited time on the field and production on the field, you would certainly have to question that draft pick,” Keim said.
“I would expect that he’ll heal up fine. Again, he’s got to come back with a chip on his shoulder. If wants an opportunity to have a long-term career, he has got to do it on the field.”
The Cardinals hold a fifth-year option on Nkemdiche for the 2020 season that they must pick up before the 2019 season, but Keim wouldn’t say how the team is approaching that decision.
“He and I have had conversations,” Keim said. “I have made it very clear where we stand and what our expectations are.”
Left tackle Korey Cunningham, a seventh-round pick, has continued to pop on game film, Keim said.
But the man to Cunningham’s right has also impressed the general manager.
Colby Gossett, the Minnesota Vikings’s 2018 sixth-round pick out of Appalachian State who was signed off their practice squad by Arizona, has played in the last two weeks. He started against the Detroit Lions last week.
“(He) showed the fact that it’s not too big for him,” Keim said. “In fact, in many instances, I felt like played with a nasty temperament, really finished at the point of attack. Has really, really good strength and I think has a chance to be a player in this league.”
As for Cunningham, the evaluation process is likewise important with the tackle depth a thing of need heading into next season.
“He is one of the guys that it’s very critical for us to make sure to understand where he’s at and what the long-term is for him,” Keim said. “Again, if he’s a guy who can possibly step in for us at right tackle, that certainly eliminates some headaches for us in free agency or the draft.”
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