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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The Cardinals are not the most injured team in the league, although there has been little argument they have been undercut by the players they have lost. In the NFL, of course, anytime you lose a starting quarterback, that automatically puts you near the top of the list.
Quantifying that compared to other teams in virtually impossible. There are dozens of ways to look at it. But here is one. Spotrac.com has compiled a list that adds up the salary cap hits each team have sitting on injured reserve, and, no surprise, the Cardinals have landed in the top five. The Cards are fourth, with eight IR’d players taking up $28.8 million in cap space. The three teams ahead of them: the Giants with $34.7M, the Rams at $30.6M and the Bears at $29.9M. The Giants are there in part because they have a whopping 22 players on IR. The Rams have one less player on IR than the Cards, but with QB Sam Bradford’s huge contract ($17.6M himself) the total is slightly ajar.
The eight Cardinals on IR: Carson Palmer, John Abraham, Darnell Dockett, Troy Niklas, Ed Stinson, Dave Zastudil, Andre Ellington and Eddie Whitley. That total doesn’t include linebacker Matt Shaughnessy, who was out eight weeks when he was on IR/designated to return.
You can argue that the money could be weighted — the Bears, for instance, just put wide receiver Brandon Marshall on IR — but the overall totals do speak to the “importance” of the players on IR, because you figure the guys with the highest cap numbers are usually the most crucial.
As for the full list of walking wounded Cards, here are the guys who have missed games this season because of injuries, with the total games they have sat out thus far:
DT Dockett (14)
LB Abraham (13)
P Zastudil (12)
LB Shaughnessy (8)
QB Palmer (8)
TE Niklas (7)
DT Stinson (5)
S Tyrann Mathieu (3)
LB Alex Okafor (3)
LB Glenn Carson (3)
WR Larry Fitzgerald (2)
LB Desmond Bishop (2)
DE Calais Campbell (2)
RB Stepfan Taylor (2)
G Paul Fanaika (2)
RB Ellington (2)
DE Frostee Rucker (1)
TE Rob Housler (1)
We’ll see if the final two games bring any more surprises.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Carson Palmer, Darnell Dockett, Dave Zastudil, Ed Stinson, Eddie Whitley, John Abraham, Matt Shaughnessy, salary cap, Troy Niklas
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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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This is one way you can maneuver through the salary cap as long as you are patient and have a little flexibility. The news came out March 8 that the Cardinals would be releasing Daryn Colledge a couple of days from then and designating him a June 1 release. Teams are allowed a couple of the pre-June 1 “June 1” cuts every year if they so choose. What it means is that the team can release a player immediately but still spread the “dead money” cap hit over the next two years. The catch is that the team has to carry the player’s entire 2014 salary cap charge — or at least, what it was going to be — until actually June 1, before the benefit kicks in.
In Colledge’s case, the Cardinals were carrying his 2014 cap charge of $7.275 million all the way through June. (Since June 1 was Sunday, the “June 1” cut didn’t become official until today.) With the arrival of June, Colledge now costs the Cardinals only $2.275 million on the cap this year, and will cost another $2.275M of dead money in 2015. That means just by time passage the Cardinals pick up another $5 million of cap space today (which Jason at overthecap.com covers nicely here.)
The NFLPA website listed the Cards at around $4.5 million of salary cap room going into the weekend, so the Cardinals should be around $9.5 million of cap space now. They still have to sign No. 1 draft pick Deone Bucannon, but there is a decent amount of wiggle room to make whatever moves necessary — including, you’d figure, the addition of a veteran inside linebacker in light of the Daryl Washington suspension.
Tags: Daryl Washington, Daryn Colledge, Deone Bucannon, salary cap
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There is a lot to digest with today’s Daryl Washington news and, as I have seen via Twitter and the comments on the blog, many questions. The biggest is what this all means for Washington’s future with the team. Not surprisingly, there are many who have said Washington should just be released.
That seems a little knee-jerk, at least sitting here today. A suspension means the Cards aren’t going to have to pay Washington in 2014. If nothing else, that buys time to survey the situation and see exactly what all the options are. Besides, as bad of a spot as Washington has put the team with his absence, releasing him — at least now — puts the Cardinals in an uglier situation in terms of money and the salary cap.
If the Cardinals cut Washington now, that creates a dead money hit of $7.5 million on the current cap. Absorbing that, even after the money the team will clear on the cap next week as Daryn Colledge’s June 1 designation on his release kicks in, will create a serious cap crunch. (According to the NFLPA site, the Cards have around $4.5 million in cap space currently, and should clear around $5 million or so with the Colledge situation).
More importantly, the collective bargaining agreement includes the ability for teams to get back portions of bonus money paid when a player violates league policies, and the Cardinals are planning on exercising that right. If the Cards cut him now, they no longer can try and get back any money. That’s a crucial piece of information given the huge option bonus the team recently decided to give Washington ($5 million this year and another $5 million is due early next year, when Washington would still be under suspension.)
Any suspended player, per the rules in the Substance Abuse policy, has a contract that is “tolled” during a year-long suspension. In simple terms, Washington’s contract freezes at this point. He doesn’t get money, he doesn’t advance another year toward the end of the contract. It picks up when and if Washington is reinstated (meaning, for instance, his 2014 terms would move to 2015, etc.) Given that reality — and those listed above — there no reason to rush any decision. Again, Washington very well could be released down the road. But it makes little sense for it to be now.
Tags: Daryl Washington, salary cap
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Seattle’s Earl Thomas is regarded by many (most?) as the best safety in the NFL right now. The Seahawks are now paying him like it, giving him an extension worth a reported $10 million average with more than $27 million guaranteed on his four extra years. This will impact the Cardinals, and in more than just Thomas-will-stick-around-the-NFC-West-and-be-a-pain type of way.
Shorter-term, the Seahawks have now cleared the way to also sign cornerback Richard Sherman to an extension. Given his position, he stands to make more than Thomas (although it’s arguable who is more valuable) and now both Sherman and the Seahawks know from where to start. Sherman has said this contract is about respect, although I am guessing he and Seattle will not have a hard time coming up with a deal that averages $11-to-$12M. And that’s where the Cardinals come in, because it will be the Sherman contract to which Patrick Peterson — who no doubt is awaiting his own extension — and the Cardinals will look when they start to negotiate. On one hand, Peterson was hurt being a first-round pick, because the Cardinals were able to exercise a player option for 2015 and delay talks if needed. Sherman, a fifth-round pick in 2011 long after Peterson was taken, had no such team option and the Seahawks are forced to deal with him right now. That said, Peterson’s 2015 option is worth more than $10 million, and after Sherman signs, his price should become more clear.
Peterson’s situation isn’t the only way this will resonate in Arizona, however. It’s also the first step in an evolving Seattle financial picture. Eventually, the team built in part because they had such key parts playing on cheap rookie deals (Thomas, Sherman, Russell Wilson, for example) will have to start paying those parts. Which means less money elsewhere. That isn’t to say the Seahawks can’t maneuver their way through it while winning big, but it again underscores the balancing act of sustaining a winner in the salary-capped NFL, and why rosters don’t and can’t stay the same long-term.
— For those asking, click here for some details on the upcoming draft party a week from Thursday, being held inside University of Phoenix Stadium.
Tags: draft party, Earl Thomas, Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman, salary cap, Seahawks
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Antonio Cromartie was asked about moving into the NFC West. “Oh, I love it,” he said. “The competition is here.” Obviously, the division sets a high bar for the Cardinals this offseason. But General Manager Steve Keim isn’t going to get giddy about free agency improvements.
“I don’t want to step out on a limb and say that we’re there yet,” Keim said. “As a perfectionist, I think we all look at things and would like to be a little deeper in certain positions.”
To recap, the Cardinals have added a starting cornerback (Cromartie), a starting left tackle (Jared Veldheer), a probable starting tight end (John Carlson), a speed third receiver and return man (Ted Ginn), a potential replacement for Rashard Mendenhall (Jonathan Dwyer) and an interior offensive lineman who has been a starter (Ted Larsen.)
Cap space is shrinking. After Cromartie’s deal is worked in, the Cards should have only about $4 million of space left. There is more coming after June 1 when the Colledge release is figured in (and I was wrong on how that is considered. I knew the cap hit had to be carried through the actual June 1 date; I didn’t realize Colledge’s entire original cap hit for 2014 stays on the books until then. So that’s more than $7 million, although it means the Cards will clear about $5M in cap space come June — before they’ll sign any rookies.)
But there will be more moves of some sort. Now, roster building will be about bargains now for Keim. There are still spots that he’d like to address, whether there or in the draft:
— depth at defensive end
— depth at outside linebacker
— “length” at both positions
— depth at inside linebacker
Depth at inside linebacker is the call because the Cards are counting on, not surprisingly, 2013 second-round pick Kevin Minter. “We’ll find out what Kevin Minter is made of,” Keim said. “Kevin is a guy that we drafted in the second round and is going to replace Karlos Dansby. He is in the audition stage. He’s got to prove that he is the guy that we thought he was coming out of college at LSU.”
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, free agency, Jared Veldheer, John Carlson, Jonathan Dwyer, salary cap, Steve Keim, Ted Ginn, Ted Larsen
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A quiet day, finally, around the Cardinals. I know many were hoping for Antonio Cromartie free agent news but there isn’t any. Until he signs somewhere though, I wouldn’t rule out the Cardinals. Again, if he comes, it’ll be on the Cards’ terms. Beyond that, I think the Cards will keep looking at options but the market is going to be a buyer’s market now. That’s right up Steve Keim’s alley.
— The Cardinals have about $11 million in cap space. I don’t know if that yet includes Ted Ginn’s deal. It’s definitely not going to count the new contract for LB Matt Shaughnessy, since Shaughnessy hasn’t actually signed yet, and there might be a couple other lesser deals yet to be counted. That will come soon. Still, it’s plenty of room to work. It doesn’t hurt the space that Jared Veldheer’s cap number in the first season is just $2.5M and Ginn will be a mere $1.75M.
— Overthecap.com, which broke down the Ginn deal, notes that $2 million of Ginn’s $3.25M salary for 2015 is guaranteed if he is on the roster on the third day of the league year next year. In other words, if the Cards decide to release him it will be right around the time free agency begins.
— The Cardinals exercised the option bonus they needed to pay linebacker Daryl Washington this week. Washington’s assault case is still ongoing — his next court date is scheduled for April 23 — but he’s a cornerstone of this defense and isn’t going anywhere. There is still a chance he is suspended depending on the outcome of the court case, but the Cards will deal with it.
— It was a fruitful and smart start to free agency for the Cardinals. Get a left tackle, get a speed receiver/return man, get some interior OL depth, get running back depth. Re-sign a key linebacker like Shaughnessy, and as much as they wanted Karlos Dansby back, let him walk when the money got crazy. I also think, the way Keim operates, that from this point forward is even more important for the Cards. They have an excellent sales pitch right now and two guys in Keim and Bruce Arians who know how to sell it. There will be another Dansby-Abraham-Winston or two this offseason.
— As I pointed out on Twitter last night (@cardschatter, if you want more immediate updates from yours truly), we will have a video on azcardinals.com soon about Fitzgerald’s trip up in an F-16. Until there, here’s a taste of Fitz in the cockpit.
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, Daryl Washington, free agency, Jared Veldheer, Larry Fitzgerald, Matt Shaughnessy, salary cap, Ted Ginn
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With the new league year commencing Tuesday, the Cardinals are expected to make more than a few moves. One of them will be releasing veteran guard Daryn Colledge, a not unexpected decision given the selection of Jonathan Cooper and Earl Watford in last year’s draft and Colledge’s $4.8 million salary and $7.3M cap number. Colledge tweeted his goodbye Saturday evening:
Wanna thank you the fans and the Cardinals for an amazing opportunity. A great organization headed in the right direction. Wish ya the best.
— Daryn Colledge (@DarynColledge71) March 9, 2014
Nothing official has been announced yet, of course. Colledge confirmed via text message his release was coming Tuesday. That makes sense, because if a player is let go after the league year starts, he can be designated a June 1 cut. That means the Cardinals can take the $4.55 million of dead money Colledge’s release would create and spread it evenly over this season and next season, although they have to carry the entire $4.55M in dead money on this year’s cap until June 1 actually arrives. This isn’t about Colledge being a cap casualty but instead a decision to move on. Colledge understands that. It’s the business. It’s the same reason he ended up in Arizona in the first place, when Green Bay let him walk away and turned to a younger, cheaper alternative.
The Cards will pick up about $2.75M in cap space immediately with such a move, and gain another $2.25M or so June 1 when the dead money is spread out The Cardinals must carry Colledge’s entire $7.275M cap hit until June 1, and then it will drop to $2.275 million.
The Cardinals want to get more athletic on the line, definitely younger (Colledge is 32) and the reality is if the team is going to chase a high-dollar left tackle in free agency, the budget for the offensive line needs to be trimmed elsewhere. It’s too bad, because Colledge was a solid member of the line and good in the locker room. He was a standup guy with the media no matter what was going on — he was willing to answer questions all the time during the long losing streak of 2012 — and it was always entertaining to see Colledge head into and out of the showers with his wireless speaker booming ’80’s hits that came out before many of his teammates were even born.
This now means Watford and Paul Fanaika will battle for the right guard spot, and the Cardinals would like Watford, a 2012 fourth-round pick, to take control of the position. And in the bigger picture, General Manager Steve Keim continues to overhaul the roster and clear out some of the contracts left over from the previous regime in an effort to get the salary cap under control.
Thanks for all the support guys, it means a ton, I’ve enjoyed my time. Between the Pack and Card fans my next team has a lot to live up to.
— Daryn Colledge (@DarynColledge71) March 9, 2014
For now while I wait for FA and my future. I’m gonna watch Toy Story with my kids and put in an early ballot for Father of the Year. #NoBigs
— Daryn Colledge (@DarynColledge71) March 9, 2014
Tags: Daryn Colledge, Earl Watford, Jonathan Cooper, salary cap
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The salary cap for 2014 was officially set at $133 million this season, a jump of $10 million over last season — huge for any team looking for flexibility to do business (and a boon for those hoping for big-time extensions like Patrick Peterson). And Adam Schefter reported this morning that the cap will be more than $140M next year and then $150M by 2016. All great news for the Cards, with Steve Keim already working hard to get the cap situation under control by next year anyway.
I’ve had a few ask me about Cards’ cap space now. With a $133M and the Jasper Brinkley release today (creating $2M in cap space), the Cards should have a little more than $18M of space.
Some suggested to me earlier today, after the Schefter report, that it will make things easier with Larry Fitzgerald going forward. That probably is true. But with that bloated $23.6M cap figure for 2015, it still stands to reason that a major decision is coming after this year for both the Cardinals and Fitzgerald. Keim reiterated for the umpteenth time at the Scouting combine the plan is for Fitzgerald to remain a Cardinal for his whole career. But the reality is this, and it’s been covered many times as well — with a big roster bonus due, that unwieldy cap number, and the unrealistic idea that the Cards can simply keep kicking Fitz’s cap pain into future years as he gets older, Fitzgerald is probably going to have to agree to take less money in 2015 than he is now currently scheduled. If he says no, that puts the ball back in the Cardinals’ court with Keim facing one of his famous “tough decisions.”
But that’s another reason why the news the cap is growing so quickly can benefit the Cardinals. Keim has been adept already at maneuvering the roster anyway. To be able to have more space to really stretch his legs and build how he wants to build plays into that sustained success he so often speaks about. The Cards want to build with draft picks and lock up young stars. That’s the plan. That the Cards seemingly will have weathered their cap overhaul under Keim and stayed competitive is impressive.
Tags: Larry Fitzgerald, salary cap
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