The Arizona Cardinals started last season strongly by winning their first four games, including victories over the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots. But a revolving door at quarterback, due in part to injuries, helped fuel a nine-game losing streak and the Cardinals finished in last place in the NFC West with a 5-11 record. As expected the Cardinals changed head coaches during the offseason, with Bruce Arians hired to replace the fired Ken Whisenhunt.
Carson Palmer was acquired from the Oakland Raiders to shore up the team’s quarterback situation, and the veteran signal caller will surely be a vital cog in Arizona’s hopes to return to playoff contention in 2013. Cornerback Patrick Peterson will also be a key player, as not only the Cardinals’ top cornerback but a dynamic kick returner as well. But all things considered, who is the most irreplaceable player for Arizona heading into this season?
Larry Fitzgerald is the clear choice for me here, despite the fact he is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career in 2012 (71 receptions for 798 yards and four touchdowns). Catching passes from the likes of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer will do that to a receiver’s numbers, but Fitzgerald still led the team in catches and yards. The soon-to-be 30-year old will surely be motivated to show that last season was not the start of a downward trend in production, and Palmer’s presence should help him re-take his place as one of the league’s best wide receivers.
Arizona has a talented trio of young pass catchers, with wide receivers Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd as well as tight end Rob Housler, but Fitzgerald is still clearly the leader of the group and the team’s most important player on either side of the ball.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.