Sunday, August 21, 2011
Fitzgerald deal: Eleven thoughts on No. 11
By Mike Sando
Eleven thoughts after Arizona Cardinals president Michael Bidwill and Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald announced a new eight-year contract agreement for Fitzgerald:
The eight-year contract signed by Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald was a commitment made most significantly at the ownership level.
Watershed moment: Fitzgerald's signing was a referendum on how the Cardinals are doing business. Not how they have done business in the past, but how they are doing business right now. The team made a statement by spending big for quarterback Kevin Kolb and a long list of free agents this offseason. If anything, the Cardinals have erred on the side of overpaying this offseason. I doubt Fitzgerald would have re-signed at this stage in the absence of those moves.
A Bidwill production: Bidwill's profile has risen in recent years as he has taken more day-to-day control of the organization from his father. It was appropriate for him to be the one sitting alongside Fitzgerald at the news conference. This news conference was more about business than football. Everyone knows what the Cardinals' football people think of Fitzgerald. But when an organization commits as much as $120 million toward one of the most beloved players in franchise history, the commitment is made most significantly at the ownership level.
Eight years is a long time: The Cardinals surely paid a premium to re-sign Fitzgerald before his contract expired and before he reached the market in the absence of any team option to trade him or name him its franchise player. Fitzgerald gave up something, as well. Signing for eight years prevents him reaching the market as the NFL negotiates new, potentially more lucrative TV contracts over the next several seasons. Those contracts will affect revenues and, by extension, player salary allotments.
Incentives could be a factor: The fine print on Fitzgerald's new deal remains difficult to verify until the deal is on file with the league and NFL Players Association, at which point details figure to filter out. Initial reports suggest roughly $50 million of the $120 million comes with some measure of guarantee. I wonder to what degree incentives might influence how much Fitzgerald receives later in the deal. Did the Cardinals secure protections in case Fitzgerald's production declines significantly?
Lawrence mention: Fitzgerald credited various people inside and outside the organization for helping get this deal done. Paul Lawrence was one of the people Fitzgerald mentioned by name. Lawrence, one of his agents, died unexpectedly while playing basketball back in February. He was close to Fitzgerald and Cardinals teammate Adrian Wilson, among others. "I just feel like the work that was put in behind the scenes was tireless, and I am appreciative of that," Fitzgerald said.
Good news was welcome: The Fitzgerald contract agreement gave the Cardinals a welcome bounce after the team lost rookie running back Ryan Williams to a season-ending knee injury during its preseason game against Green Bay.
New WR pecking order: Carolina's Steve Smith had been the NFL's highest-paid wide receiver by average per year. The deal he signed in 2007 averaged $10.9 million per year. Fitzgerald's previous deal averaged $10 million while allowing him to hit free agency earlier. Calculating averages for extensions can be trickier than doing so for new contracts. It's also tough to know for sure how much any player will wind up receiving; backloaded deals produce misleading averages because teams can release players without paying future salaries. It's possible Fitzgerald's average will exceed $15 million by some measures.
Heavy lifting finished: The Cardinals have no more high-profile contracts requiring immediate attention. Their quarterback and star receiver are under contract for years to come. Their head coach and general manager are signed through 2013. By my count, 38 of the 89 players under contract have deals expiring after the 2011 season. The team holds rights to quite a few of them beyond 2011. Jay Feely and Deuce Lutui head a modest list of players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents.
Boldin retrospective: The Cardinals traded longtime receiver Anquan Boldin last offseason in part because Boldin wasn't happy with his contract situation relative to the market Fitzgerald had set with his previous deal. Imagine how Boldin would have felt if the Cardinals had done this $120 million deal with Fitzgerald before they traded him.
Whether Arizona overpaid: The price for Fitzgerald was only going up as his contract neared its completion. Arizona paid a premium, as noted. In general, it's OK to overpay for quarterbacks. I'd create another category for "franchise icons who remain in their primes" because losing Fitzgerald would have set back the organization significantly. The Cardinals had to re-sign Fitzgerald. They knew it. Fitzgerald knew it. What's a few million dollars extra among friends? Letting this situation drag into the season would have complicated efforts to get a deal done.
It's about the money, sort of: Fitzgerald had plenty of money before signing this contract. For players in Fitzgerald's situation, it's often less about the money than it is about what the money represents. Making Fitzgerald the highest-paid wide receiver by a wide margin told Fitzgerald all he needed to know about where he stood in the organization's mind. Think back to Kurt Warner's situation a couple of years ago. The Cardinals wound up paying him handsomely, but they weren't willing to overpay for him. Warner took a somewhat undignified trip to San Francisco, visiting with 49ers brass in an effort to leverage a better deal. He wound up re-signing with the team, but I wonder, in retrospect, if he might have hung around for the final year of his deal if the Cardinals had made a stronger statement to him with a deal even more lucrative. It's a debatable point, but one worth considering, at least.
That's all for now. I'm boarding a flight from St. Louis to Seattle in a few hours and will likely check in from 30,000 feet, wireless permitting.