First of all, let’s consider the carefully crafted wording of Adam Schefter’s headline grabbing tweet this morning, the one in which he followed up the mention of a possible Larry Fitzgerald trade after the season. “Some believe a divorce is somewhere between possible and inevitable,” Schefter wrote, which is a little less than concrete (and doesn’t necessarily point to who “some” are.) The reality is this: Fitz carries an $18 million cap hit next season with a salary of $13 million. It’s an issue that has been on the radar for a while.
The idea that the Cardinals would talk to Fitz about his contract and a possible restructure not only isn’t a surprise, it’d probably be bad business not to explore that option. So too would be not at least looking at all options, which could include a trade. Ovethecap.com does a nice job breaking down the financial details of a potential trade and these are the things that have to be considered — especially if Fitzgerald ends up with another sub-1,000-yard season. There are many reasons why Fitz’s production is down and a chunk of it is out of his hands. But obviously, GM Steve Keim has to look at this team long-term. He’s already talked about having to make more “tough decisions” again this coming offseason. This isn’t to say Fitzgerald isn’t going to be a Cardinal next year. It’s way too early to know that.
I don’t have any doubt the Cardinals would want to keep Fitzgerald. But circumstances change, and so too do the circumstances (i.e. contract) under which they’d want to keep him. This isn’t about Fitz’s ability being wasted and needing to go somewhere where he can win — Fitzgerald has made more than $100 million, he freely signed his contracts, and he knew what choices he was making — but he is going to look out for himself and the Cardinals are going to look out for the franchise. (I would also be very curious, if a trade were explored, if the new team would accept the current contract or if they too would want a new pact.)
In that context, a divorce between many star NFL players and their respective teams would almost always be between possible and inevitable. The few that it wouldn’t apply to live in that window a relatively short time.
UPDATE: Fitz, when asked after Sunday’s game about the rumors: “I come to work everyday and just focus on how I can help the Arizona Cardinals and help my team win. If they decide to move me, that happens. I have no control over any of that. I just focus on what I can do to improve and help my team.”
Tags: contract, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Keim
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Larry Fitzgerald doesn’t like talking about his injuries. He doesn’t like having them in the first place, he doesn’t want to look like he is making excuses and he certainly doesn’t want to dwell on them. Clearly his hamstrings have been an issue although the hope is he will be healthy going forward at this point.
“Larry probably played that (Seattle) game at 80 percent,” coach Bruce Arians said Tuesday night on his weekly Sirius XM NFL radio appearance. “It has bothered him. He reinjured it a couple Fridays ago and he continues to try to gut it out and play. This rest has really helped him and I’m hoping Thursday — we may give him off again (Wednesday) — I want to see this thing healed up 100 percent.”
I’m sure Fitz feels the same. His season has not played out the way he wanted — again — and whether it’s the injuries or the overall play of the offense or Kurt Warner’s theory about using Fitz inside, the bottom line is that the numbers are down. Last year, when Fitz finished with 71 catches for 798 yards, through seven games he had compiled 40 receptions for 459 yards. This year through seven games Fitzgerald has 32 catches for 422 yards (although it should be noted Fitz has already equaled his 2012 touchdown total of four.)
Now, Fitz’s numbers fell off a cliff last year the final seven games of the season, save for his eight-catch, 111-yard game against Chicago late. In theory, the Cardinals are coming into a part of the schedule that shouldn’t be quite as hard on the passing game, although everyone in that regard, with quarterback Carson Palmer and the pass protection in particular, must up their game.
It’s become fashionable to speculate again on Fitzgerald and his future, given the numbers both in the stat book and from his contract. But seven games into the season, much can still happen in many different ways with this team and with how Fitz’s season turns out. Steve Keim has proven to be a more active GM than Rod Graves, but I still think Fitzgerald is part of the solution here.
– And as a quick aside, in that same Sirius interview, Arians was asked straight out if he considered making a change at quarterback. Arians again said no. “I’m not a jump-off-the-horse-type of guy,” Arians said.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, contract, Larry Fitzgerald
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Training camp is a couple of days away. Rookies are going to show up to the Tempe complex tomorrow, there will be the run test at University of Phoenix Stadium Thursday — yes, even with the coaching change, the run test lives! — and the first practice of training camp Friday. At this point, the burning question is when unsigned first-round pick Jonathan Cooper will be a part of it.
As of right now, 15 of the 32 first-round picks have yet to agree to contracts, with every team set to start camp by the end of the week. The only unsigned guy picked higher than Cooper is No. 1 pick Eric Fisher. Again, because these deals are slotted, there is relatively little work involved. I know there has been a ton of talk about offset language and I do not know if that is something the Cardinals are considering asking for from Cooper. But I have never once gotten the sense there is any concern from the team a deal will be done on time, although there isn’t much being said right now.
“We continue to have ongoing conversations with his representatives but no deal is imminent at this time,” General Manager Steve Keim said Monday morning.
I had mentioned before I didn’t expect anything until this week anyway. Plus, in the big picture, I’ve seen too many situations where this — a No. 1 pick not signing quite on time for camp — meant very, very little. As I look back on my 14 years covering this team, I can only think of one lengthy holdout that ultimately had a impact. That was defensive tackle Wendell Bryant in 2002, when he didn’t sign until into September and was worthless to the Cards all season. Then again, given hindsight on Bryant, I’m not sure he would have been salvageable even if he would have been there Day One. Matt Leinart was a couple weeks late in 2006, but he was supposed to sit behind Kurt Warner all season anyway. And when Kurt struggled, it didn’t stop Denny Green from putting Leinart in early in the season and he actually played well right out of the box.
As for all the other guys who didn’t quite sign on time — Patrick Peterson, Levi Brown are two that come to mind — did you even remember they weren’t there that very first day?
Cooper got plenty of work in the offseason with the starting unit. He’s a smart guy and driven. This contract isn’t complicated, given the slotting system, nowhere near it was for say, Peterson in 2011 when he was the No. 5 overall pick. I still think Cooper is signed this week on time, but again, I’m not sure a day here or there matters. When he is in the starting lineup Sept. 8 against the Rams, no one is going to be thinking about the day he signed his first deal.
Tags: contract, Jonathan Cooper
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When Larry Fitzgerald agreed to his last contract, he had been out eating at a local restaurant and had to be summoned to a press conference. Fitz loves getting his contracts but truth be told, he’d rather not have to talk about them. That part is something he’d rather keep behind the scenes. But this is professional sports, where the public knows what you are making and also, when what you are making becomes an issue that must be accounted for when it comes to building a team.
The recent new deal for Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford highlights the reality of the NFL: Sometimes, a player’s salary cap number becomes (or will become) so unwieldy it must be addressed. There’s no way to know how the Cardinals see Fitzgerald’s current deal in that light, but there are decisions that have to be made over the next year or two — decisions Fitz and his agents certainly understood when they signed this pact in 2011.
This season, Fitzgerald has a salary cap figure of “only” $10.25 million. It’s not insignificant, yet it is much smaller than what is to come. In 2014, that cap figure jumps to $18M. In 2015, it jumps again to $21.25M. That’s a pretty big chunk of cap to eat up when most believe there will be no significant leap in the cap space in the next couple of years. (There are various opinions on that, given the new TV contract that will eventually kick in, but my understanding is that the cap will go up slow and steady rather than in one fell swoop.) Both cap hits are scheduled to be the largest in the league in that year for any wide receiver, even more than Calvin Johnson, who signed a mega-deal after Fitz’s.
The Cardinals worked hard to clear cap space this year for the future and have more non-Fitz choices to make again next season. Given how many free-agents-to-be they will have after this season, they can deal with Fitz’s hefty 2014 number. Will they want to? Can they again in 2015? Right now, the only large extension coming down the road is one for Patrick Peterson, who is eligible for a new deal as soon as this season ends. I’ve heard from fans wondering/concerned if they might trade Fitzgerald, but that doesn’t seem practical for a couple of reasons. One, dealing Fitz in 2014 would saddle the Cards with $13M in dead cap space (and doing it for 2015 would be $8M in dead space.) Besides, barring a massive dropoff in play, he just means so much to the franchise both on and off the field. They certainly won’t just release him.
That leaves a couple of options. One is to play it out. It will hamstring some of the flexibility of GM Steve Keim, but it’s tough to know exactly where this team is going to be year-to-year and you don’t have to make any decisions now. There is also the possibility of reworking Fitzgerald’s deal — again — to make it more team-friendly. What does that mean? It would mean Fitz would get another hefty upfront payday, something he wouldn’t turn down. That, of course, would push the Fitz cap issue further into the future. But that’s how it works. The last time Fitz talked about his contract, he and Michael Bidwill talked about Larry eventually retiring as a Cardinal. I’m sure that’s still the plan.
Tags: contract, Larry Fitzgerald, salary cap
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With camp fast approaching, I figured it’s a good time for a live chat, which will take place tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. right here. Rookies report July 23, so we’re basically two weeks away from stuff happening. Feel free to pop in and ask some questions. I’ll be on there for about an hour or so. Not a whole lot set in cement yet, obviously, and while it’s not always had to discern most of the starters, there will be some interesting battles to whittle down to a 53-man roster.
– Got a random question on Twitter about the fact No. 1 draft pick Jonathan Cooper is unsigned. No, it’s not a worry. As I said, the rookies will be in the 23rd, with the first practice July 26. I don’t have any doubt that’s a window big enough to get it done.
– If you hadn’t seen, Coach Bruce Arians is up for the vote for Coach of the Year in the upcoming ESPYs. Arians, who was nominated for his work with the Colts, is the only NFL coach on the list. The other candidates are UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, Duke lacrosse coach John Danowski, Lousiville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino and Miami Heat coach Erik Spolstra. You can vote right here.
Tags: Bruce Arians, contract, Jonathan Cooper, live chat
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Considering the Cardinals are on a three-game losing streak, the mood was, dare I say, pretty good in the locker room this week. Coach Ken Whisenhunt, Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett, Larry Fitzgerald – I mean, don’t get me wrong, no one is happy with the slide. I’m not sure if it’s the juice provided when the 49ers come to town, or “Monday Night Football,” or what. Clearly, though, the Cards seem in a good place mentally. Certainly there isn’t a vibe of being overwhelmed against the Niners. Not that there would be – this is a team they face twice a season. Familiarity usually takes worry off the table.
The Cardinals say their minds are in the right place. It feels that way.
“It’s going to be one of those backyard fights where your Mom can’t get in it, no referees,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “It’ll be blow for blow. Who will break first? If you can bend, you bend to the max. They’re a physical football team. We’re a physical football team. We’ll see where it goes.”
– The 49ers have the top-ranked pass defense in the league. That doesn’t seem to bode well for getting the ball to Larry Fitzgerald, but then again, the Niners had a great pass defense last year and Fitz blew up against them out at University of Phoenix Stadium (7 catches, 149 yards). Quarterback John Skelton also ended up with a pretty good day, with three TD passes after coming in in relief of a concussed Kevin Kolb. The key, of course, will be keeping Skelton upright under the San Francisco pass rush. That will be a key every week with this team, obviously.
– Speaking of Skelton, he said the ankle he hurt in the opener is “not hindering me in any way.”
– And speaking of Fitz, he knows the questions are coming every time he has a game without many stats – we went through it early last year too – about getting him the ball. Fitzgerald had a pretty good stretch of four straight games of producing before Minnesota, whose defense was all about shutting him down, it seemed. Right now, Fitz is on pace for 91 catches, 1,049 yards and 7 touchdowns.
But this is a different Fitz that 2006 too.
“My pursuit is the same,” Fitzgerald said. “I work hard. I try to improve on my skills daily and be the best I can. But I want to win. Some days it might be one (catch) for four (yards) like it was in New England. I wouldn’t trade 10-for-230 and a touchdown in a loss as opposed to one-for-five in a win. I have changed that way. But I still want to be productive and help my team.”
– Remember former Cardinals guard-turned-tackle-turned-Pro Bowl guard in Dallas, Leonard Davis? Good old “Bigg,” who left as a free agent just as Whisenhunt was coming in, plays for San Francisco these days. He gets work in certain packages and is used as a sixth offensive lineman.
“He’s been fantastic, really one of my personal favorite guys to be around,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He’s been good on Sundays too.”
– Patrick Peterson will likely get a lot of Michael Crabtree Monday, since Crabtree is the 49ers best receiver. But the Cards’ cornerback is most looking forward to meeting Randy Moss, who plays – although not much – for the Niners.
“I can’t wait,” Peterson said. “I remember being so young, being in high school, watching him make those one-hand catches. I used to run around the neighborhood (saying) I want to ‘Moss’ somebody.”
– Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling will try to follow up his first 100-yard game with another productive outing, something the Cards need. Stephens-Howling, who is playing under a one-year tender offer after restricted free agency, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season. General manager Rod Graves said in training camp the Cardinals would like to sign Stephens-Howling to an extension, but thus far talks have been slow.
Stephens-Howling said he’s doing the best he can to forget about it but “you’re human.”
“We just wish something could get done,” the Hyphen said. “I want to stay a Cardinal. But I have to play on Monday, so that’s my focus.”
– Stephens-Howling has enjoyed getting to do a little more at running back with the injuries to Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, and acknowledged his role was “something else we’d have to talk about.”
But “I love playing my role, and whatever they ask me to do I’m going to do,” he said. “But I’m taking it one game at a time, one week at a time. I look at the game plan, see what (packages) I am in for, and go from there. And that’s what I’m going to put my heart into.”
– So far, Peterson’s follow-up to his electrifying rookie season returning punts has been anything but. His long return is 26 yards and he has averaged only 8.8 yards a return as teams have clearly made preventing him from breaking one a priority. Against the Vikings, Chris Kluwe kept kicking high punts short and Peterson had to scramble just to catch them.
“Now teams are scheming, they kind of want to hand pick when they’ll give me the opportunity to return the ball,” Peterson said. “I have to continue being patient.”
– This is a big one. Obviously. If the Cardinals have shown anything over the past couple years, it’s that they are very tough at home. They need to make that matter Monday.
Tags: 49ers, Adrian Wilson, contract, Darnell Dockett, John Skelton, Ken Whisenhunt, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Larry Fitzgerald, Leonard Davis, Michael Crabtree, Patrick Peterson, Randy Moss
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When training camp opened, general manager Rod Graves mentioned that the team was planning on opening contract extension talks with linebacker Daryl Washington, who still had two years left on his rookie deal. It made sense, locking up a potential future star. Washington liked the idea.
“It’s definitely been on my mind, that I want an extension and be with this team for a long period of time,” Washington said in Flagstaff. “That stuff will work itself out though.”
Thursday, it did, with Washington agreeing to a new six-year contract that will keep him part of the Cardinals through 2017. Financial terms have yet to be put out there – the Cards, as usual, are not announcing them – but you figure Washington is in a good place now. And he’s one of the young anchors, along with Calais Campbell and eventually Patrick Peterson that will help transition the defense from veterans like Adrian Wilson and Darnell Dockett.
“Two things that successful teams do consistently is build through the draft and keep their core players,” Graves said. “Daryl has certainly lived up to the potential we all saw in him coming out of TCU in 2010 and he has established himself as one of the top young defensive players in the NFL. I know he feels, like we do, that his best football is still ahead of him and we’re thrilled that this deal gives him the opportunity to achieve that with the Cardinals.”
Washington already figures to be one of the breakout players this season. Now he’s got the contract to go with it.
Tags: contract, Daryl Washington, Rod Graves
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In the offseason, Calais Campbell is often in the locker room. He works out and then he hangs out on his stool checking his phone or just chilling out. That is, until recently, when his contract situation kept him away. That’s changed, of course, and Campbell returned to the locker room Tuesday and to working out — just like normal.
“It was kind of weird not being able to work out with the guys,” Campbell said. “Everyone was here and I was home. Sometimes I’d catch up with a couple of them, get some food, but it’s not the same as it is when you are working out and horsing around here. It’s easier (to work out) when you are all struggling together. I definitely wasn’t working out as hard as we do with the John Lott program. It felt good to get back today and get a good workout in and be around the guys. That’s really what I missed the most.”
Campbell chuckled when asked if he felt any different. “I am the same exact guy and I feel the same around my teammates,” he said. “The only difference is now I think people expect me to be more of a leader. And I will be. I am more confident in being more vocal. But the number one thing is lead by example. You work hard, the people around you will work hard.”
Now, Campbell doesn’t have to answer questions about what is going to happen with his future, questions that dominated his interviews most of last season. That’s not bad either.
“I’ve got peace of mind,” Campbell said. “I’ll be here five years. And hopefully we win a lot of games in those five years.”
– Kent Somers ferreted out the details to Campbell’s contract. This year, Campbell’s cap number dropped from $10.7 million to $5 million, clearing significant space (my estimate is the Cards have approximately $8 million of room as of now, although I haven’t been able to confirm it.) Campbell’s salary this year is $2M plus a $15M signing bonus. He has a $10M option bonus in 2013. His cap number is $8.75M for 2013 with a salary of $3M. (For those who have asked, Darnell Dockett got a $4.55M salary when he re-upped in 2010 with still a couple years left on his contract, plus a $15M option bonus the following year with a $2.35M salary. Campbell’s deal was always going to be bigger both because it is two years later and because he had more leverage.)
Tags: Calais Campbell, contract
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