For awhile, Larry Fitzgerald was the only one on the field.
It was Friday, and the Cardinals were scheduled to have their conditioning test in a matter of minutes and Fitz was out, warming up by his lonesome. Turned out that the strength and conditioning staff had their own warmup planned, and the Cardinals were going to come out on the field together led by Bruce Arians. But Fitz didn’t know that yet and he wanted to make sure he was ready to run. In the end, he didn’t have to run as much as the other receivers — those long-time vets were subtly pulled out by Arians — but Fitz was ready. He is still driven to be as good as he ever was, and that includes running at the outset of camp.
But the NFL isn’t just about work ethic and talent. It’s about business and the salary cap and the puzzle that is a pro roster. So the months are going by and Fitzgerald’s future in Arizona is coming to a watershed moment. This is a subject that has been touched on many times, by myself and others. Kent Somers has a quality, detailed breakdown of Fitzgerald’s bulky contract right here.
Next year, Fitz’s salary is more than $15 million. He also is due a roster bonus in early March of $8 million, a mechanism used in many contracts in large part to force a decision by the team. Something will have to happen by then. Those two numbers are how his cap figure jumps to more $23 million next year. (A trade isn’t happening, by the way. The Cardinals absorb more than $14 million in dead cap money whether they trade him or cut him, but a trade means the new team has to inherit that contract. I don’t see anyone taking on such a contract.) Kent suggests a new deal paying Fitz between $6M and $8M could make it work. I guess the question would be what Fitz might make on the open market.
None of this is new news, really, other than the passage of time. This was created not just when Fitz signed his last contract extension in 2011 but also when he got his previous one in 2008 and even when he signed his rookie deal. That the Cardinals will have made it through 11 seasons is impressive in itself. The new CBA of 2011, which flattened the cap, and the reality of Fitz simply getting older also are factors.
So much depends on what Fitz will want to do. I don’t see a scenario other that a pay reduction in which Fitz stays in Arizona. I think it’ll matter how he does this season, his second in Arians’ offense. I think how the team does will matter. I truly believe the decision won’t just be about money with him. Once, I don’t think I would have said that. But he is and always will be a megastar in Arizona, regardless of what happens on the field, and if he went elsewhere, it wouldn’t be the same.
The Cardinals want Fitz to stay around. I think Fitz wants to stay around. I think Fitz would rather think about where his name might be emblazoned in University of Phoenix Stadium for the Ring of Honor rather than his contract. We’ll see. There’s a season to play, and Fitz is focused on getting ready for that. But the future eventually becomes the present.
Tags: Larry Fitzgerald, salary cap
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