Adam Schefter today shared some insight into the situation between the Arizona Cardinals and Larry Fitzgerald, which could lead to Fitzgerald being traded either by Tuesday or at some point next season.
Fitzgerald’s record setting contract extension has more or less become unsustainable for the Cardinals. Fitzgerald’s salary cap hit in 2014 is $18,000,000 and he is set to earn $13 million in cash. In 2015 the salary cap charge jumps to $21.25 million with $16.25 million actually paid in cash. The cost to trading Fitzgerald will not be cheap for Arizona. Due to a signing bonus and option bonus paid to Fitzgerald his 2014 “dead money” is $10,000,000. That represents a $8 million cap savings for Arizona.
Arizona has to look at this with a sense of realism about Fitzgerald and his long term price. In the first year of his contract extension, 2011, Fitzgerald caught 80 passes for 1411 yards, despite having Kevin Kolb and John Skelton as his Quarterback. Those numbers represented about 26% of the teams receptions and 35% of the teams passing yards. His numbers crashed in 2012 to just 798 yards on 71 receptions, with similar suspect QB play. The Cardinals felt that they upgraded the QB position this year with the addition of Carson Palmer, but Fitzgerald is on pace for just 964 yards on 73 receptions. He now makes up just 20% of the teams receptions and 24% of their yards. For the most part in four of his last five years he is averaging right around 1,000 yards a season.
Though nobody will ever consider any of the players he has played with over this time to be Aaron Rodgers, there are enough Quarterbacks to where people will begin to at least consider the thought that at 30 years of age and a decade in the NFL that maybe he is not the player he once was. The longer the Cardinals wait on a trade the more people may consider that it’s not just the QB keeping Fitzgerald from producing those 1,400 yard seasons he seemed to have with regularity in his prime. Once you hit $16.25 million cash salary due in 2015 his value will likely plummet in a trade, especially if he has another 1,000 yard or less type year in 2014. It’s just too much money for a team to part with a decent pick. That makes 2014 a must trade year if that is the end-game for Arizona and they want value back from him.
In terms of negotiating leverage the Cardinals may never find a better time to trade him that before Tuesday. If Fitzgerald were to be traded before the deadline a team would require just $2.65 million in cap room to have Fitzgerald for their stretch run. That has to make him extremely attractive to a number of playoff teams. That would give the team Fitzgerald for 24 weeks over the next two years at just $15.65 million in cash and cap commitments. Because no prorated money would be included in the deal Fitzgerald could be cut with no damages in 2015 if his play did not increase to justify the huge salary investment. If Arizona traded him before the deadline they would save the $2.65 million which would be carried over to help offset the dead money charge the following season.
The contract of Fitzgerald brings up another point that I’ve touched on a few times which is the general view on paying certain players in the QB realm. The average veteran QB earns around $15 million and there are only 6 non-QB’s in the NFL that earn in the ballpark of the starting veteran QB- Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Darrelle Revis, Mario Williams, Adrian Peterson, and Julius Peppers. Fitzgerald’s team is just 16-23 since he signed his extension and the combined records of those players is just 69-100 with Peterson’s Vikings being the lone team to make a playoff appearance. These players can be salary drivers for others in the NFL, but if the lack of success continues the League will likely continue the pullbacks in salary to all positions except Quarterback.