Fitzgerald announcement likely a formality

Updated: February 1, 2004, 8:03 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Larry Fitzgerald is heading to the NFL next season. That much is certain.

When that becomes official, however, is not known.

Out of respect for the Maurice Clarett case, the NFL is delaying an announcement on Fitzgerald's status, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Sunday.

Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh's star receiver, has announced his intention to leave college early and play in the NFL next season.

NFL rules require a player to be three years removed from his high school graduation to make himself eligible for the draft. The NFL is expected to allow Fitzgerald to turn pro because he played a year of prep school football after high school in addition to his two years at Pittsburgh.

The NFL is delaying the Fitzgerald announcement because the league does not want to complicate matters for the judge in the Clarett case. Clarett, who helped Ohio State win a national title one year ago, is only two years removed from his high school graduation, but is suing the NFL to become eligible for the draft.

The judge in the Clarett case had a conference call last week with lawyers on both sides because Clarett had given mixed signals as to whether he wants to turn pro this year or play at least one more season for Ohio State, Mortensen has learned. The judge was reluctant to make such an important decision if Clarett is not sure he wants to play in the NFL in 2004. However, Clarett's lawyers assured the judge that Clarett only is pursuing a plan to play in the NFL in 2004.

A ruling in the Clarett case could come this coming week.

Fitzgerald is the top-ranked prospect in the country according to ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. In his latest projections, Kiper believes Fitzgerald could be the No. 2 player taken overall by the Raiders behind Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning (who would go to the Chargers).

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