Larry Fitzgerald is a Cardinal. And he could stay a Cardinal. That’s really about as far as anyone can go right now with the question of the future of Fitz in Arizona.
As the season reaches its end – every game now could be the last for the Cards, unless it’s not – it’s easy to understand why the future of the team begins to leak into the conversation. That’s natural. It’s also natural to wonder what might happen with Fitzgerald, whose contract has made late February/early March of 2015 the tipping point of what happens with him with this team.
First, the details. Fitzgerald’s salary isn’t crazy for 2015. He makes “only” $8 million in his base pay. But he also stands to receive an $8 million roster bonus in early March, right before free agency – and that’s the key. It’s in his contract to specifically create this kind of decision. He’s not the only player to have such a device. If he gets that money, his cap number shoots up, and when you add in prorated bonus money already paid and workout bonuses, that’s how you end up with the gigantic cap number of $23.6 million in 2015. (The overall salary cap for each team in 2015 is expected to be around $140 million, before team-by-team adjustments.) Having one player take up that much cap space probably isn’t a great idea.
To not pay him the roster bonus means you are severing the contract, and releasing him. So, between the looming roster bonus and that cap number, it’s been basically understood something was going to happen with Fitz this offseason. Fitzgerald himself acknowledged such before the season.
“The cap number is what the cap number is,” Fitzgerald said in September. “I could go out this year and get 2,600 yards and that cap number is still going to have to be addressed, know what I mean? It doesn’t matter how well I play or how bad I play, it’s going to be addressed. I don’t even think about it.”
Fitz is still not thinking about it. Of course, he didn’t get 2,600 yards. He didn’t even get 800 yards, and that probably is something that must be taken into account too – Fitzgerald wants to win a Super Bowl, but he also wants to get into the Hall of Fame, and his numbers haven’t been gaudy of late as a Cardinal. He isn’t going to be the focal point of this offense, not when Bruce Arians wants to make sure the ball moves around. Fitzgerald will never say anything publicly, because it isn’t his way. When he does note such things, they are cloaked in his comments, like when he said earlier this season worrying about targets are “champagne problems.”
General Manager Steve Keim recently said Fitz’s cap number is “baked in” to the budget for 2015, and while I’m sure that’s true, different decisions on the roster will have to be made if that number must be accounted for or not. (If Fitz is released or traded, the Cardinals will still have $14.4 million of dead cap space with which to absorb.) Keim also said it is the Cardinals’ intent to have Fitz retire as a Cardinal – although “intent” gives everyone some leeway. Fitz leaving impacts both sides. The Cardinals don’t want to lose an icon. Fitzgerald, even as a star, probably wouldn’t stand upon the same pedestal in any other city with any other team than the one he lives upon in Arizona, where fans adore him. (Maybe Minnesota, where he’s from. Maybe.)
In the end, this is an evolving thing. Keim and Fitzgerald’s agent Eugene Parker I’m sure are talking. Fitzgerald, who will be 32 in August, has restructured before for the Cardinals to lower cap numbers, including before this season. But in NFL parlance, restructuring just means moving money around to help the cap and any savings are just pushed down the road on the cap. At this point, it seems likely the Cards would look for a pay reduction rather than restructure.
So that’s the scenario as it stands now. I don’t think anything has been decided by either side. As with any negotiations, deadlines create action and we are still weeks away from March and Fitzgerald has other things on his mind – like Saturday’s playoff game in Carolina. Sweating the details at this point seems premature. But this isn’t out of nowhere. This is exactly how this was always going to play out, perhaps going back to when Fitz signed this extension in 2011. Such is the business of the NFL.
Tags: Larry Fitzgerald, salary cap
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