TEMPE, Ariz. -- In the next 18 days, the Arizona Cardinals have a decision to make.
Do they let 2015 be wide receiver Michael Floyd's final season under contract? Or do they enable the team option for a fifth season, extending his tenure with the Cardinals through 2016?
Arizona has until May 3 to pick up Floyd’s option, which is a staple in the contract of every first-round pick drafted in 2011 and after. He was the 13th overall pick in 2012.
If their moves throughout the offseason are any indication, the Cardinals are building to go a step further into January than last season. If they want to win a playoff game, they’ll have to pick up Floyd’s option. Arizona has been strategic with who they have signed, especially on offense, and who they have let go. Under coach Bruce Arians, it’s an all-in approach.
Floyd plays a key part, whether his numbers show it or not.
After a stellar sophomore season in 2013, in which Floyd surpassed 1,000 yards for the first time in his career, he regressed statistically in 2014. Floyd led Arizona with 841 yards and six touchdowns, but his 47 catches were third most in 2014, compared to 1,041 yards and five touchdowns on 65 receptions in 2013. He averaged almost two yards more per catch last season, but his reception rate dropped from 60.2 in 2013 to 49.5 last season.
But in 2014, Floyd found a niche as Arizona’s deep threat:
On plays that gained 21 yards or more, he caught 13 passes for 485 yards and three touchdowns.
On plays that gained at least 30 yards, Floyd had nine receptions for 385 yards and three touchdowns.
On plays that gained at least 40 yards, Floyd had six receptions for 285 yards and two touchdowns.
If Floyd wasn’t going deep, he was working the sideline. Of his 47 receptions, 17 came on plays less than 20 yards caught within a few yards of a sideline. While Larry Fitzgerald worked the under routes out of the slot, Floyd battled for position on his catches.
The offense was more effective when he was on the field. With Floyd in the game, Arizona averaged 7.1 yards per attempt compared to 5.4 without him. And Arizona’s quarterbacks were completing 56.5 percent of their passes with him and 50 without him.
Floyd had a role and it helped Arizona win 11 games -- including nine of its first 10.
But he floundered with a major opportunity in 2014. He had a chance to prove he was a No. 1 receiver; that, in his third season, he was on the road to joining the league's elite tier of annual 1,000-yard wide outs. But 841 yards -- the 41st most in the NFL -- isn’t elite. Neither is the fact that all six of his touchdowns came with Fitzgerald on the field.
It made sense, however. When Fitzgerald was sharing the turf, he attracted a lot of attention from defenses, giving Floyd easier chances at catching touchdowns. But when Floyd was the best receiver on the field, he struggled to make plays.
"I think Mike was a victim of the quarterback situation," Arians said. "And I think some frustration showed in his play sometimes. He still needs to hit a consistency level. He’s a 1,000-yard player. He should have had 1,000 easily.
"But there were some balls we expect him to come down with, and he didn’t come down with, and that’s what is holding him down from being elite. He’s proven what he can do."
And he’s proven he’s worth a fifth season because of the role he has. If Arizona picks up Floyd’s option for 2016, he’ll receive the average of the third through 25th highest salaries at wide receiver in 2015. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Floyd would earn a base salary of about $5.9 million in 2016 -- a significant increase from the $1.8 million base he’ll earn this season -- which would be the 13thh highest for a receiver, as of now, that year.
A raise of that stature would also present a valid argument for the Cardinals to let Floyd walk into free agency next March. But with Carson Palmer returning from a knee injury and Fitzgerald under contract for two more seasons, Arizona has put most of its chips in the center of the table.
The Cardinals saw where their offense could go with a platoon of quarterbacks. They are anxious to see how far it can be pushed with a healthy Palmer and an array of weapons. And Floyd is one of them.