Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

11 Mar 2008

Cards Guarantee $30 Million To Fitzgerald

The Cardinals and Larry Fitzgerald agreed on a restructured contract, freeing up some badly needed cap space for Arizona and ensuring Fitzgerald would not be released. The basics: Four years, $40 million, $30 million guaranteed, $15 million signing bonus, and $8.8 million in 2008 cap room for the Cardinals.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 11 Mar 2008

42 comments, Last at 14 Mar 2008, 4:23pm by Tom D


by Dom (not verified) :: Tue, 03/11/2008 - 4:42pm

$10 millions per year? Sounds reasonable.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Tue, 03/11/2008 - 4:42pm

At least as saintly as Tom Brady. I guess all that matters in Phoenix is winning.

by Quentin (not verified) :: Tue, 03/11/2008 - 5:23pm

So when's Anquan Boldin's contract up?

by Harris (not verified) :: Tue, 03/11/2008 - 5:58pm

Braylon Edwards is sitting somewhere giggling and slapping himself.

by Theo, Netherlands (not verified) :: Tue, 03/11/2008 - 6:06pm

Is it normal for 1st round picks to get a new contract after 4 years?
I guess the last 3 years are back loaded. But then again, it it cheaper to resign them?

by James, London (not verified) :: Tue, 03/11/2008 - 8:10pm

PFT raised a very good point. In 4 years time Larry Fitzgerald will be signing another FA contract. Aged 27. Assuming good health Fitz might become the best paid Non QB in league history. And if the CBA goes tits-up, then wow.

by Theo, Netherlands (not verified) :: Tue, 03/11/2008 - 8:19pm

:: James, London — 3/11/2008 @ 7:10 pm
Sorry, but who the hell is PFT?

by Bob in Jax (not verified) :: Tue, 03/11/2008 - 8:40pm

Theo -- PFT = Pro Football Talk. Just Google it.

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Tue, 03/11/2008 - 9:27pm

James, in two years time Fitzgerald will be 28, and turning 29 before the season starts (click my name for his page on PFR). Not that that invalidates your point, of course, but it sounds like Florio needs to check his facts.

To my mind, Fitzgerald could probably have got more than this. The Cardinals weren't about to cut him, and he was slated to earn three quarters of what he's now getting over four years for the next two. Supposing he had been cut, do we really think he couldn't have got a deal worth more than $10m a year, given what the Raiders were willing to pay the considerably older, somewhat less talented and chronically injured Javon Walker?

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Tue, 03/11/2008 - 9:42pm

Apologies for the double post.

For a little perspective, consider this:

Andre Johnson was drafted at the same slot as Fitzgerald, one year earlier (he is some 18 months older). Like Fitzgerald, he was extended after the fourth year of his rookie contract. Both have had some injuries, but nothing that would appear to be a major concern going forward. Both have been all pros, and are universally and rightly regarded as elite receivers. I would argue that Johnson is, by a hair, the better player, but that is by-the-by. It's hard to think of a better comp for Larry Fitzgerald in 2008 than Andre Johnson in 2007.

Johnson's contract was for 8 years, $60m, $15m guaranteed. The first year cap number was under $5m. The largest cap hit (for the final year) is around $9m.

Ok, so some of the discrepancy is down to cap inflation, but if that is not a damning indictment of Arizona's cap and contract guys, I don't know what is. Assuming they're the same guys they were in 2004. Assuming, in fact, that the Bidwell's can be bothered to hire people for that sort of thing. In fact, I think we may just have hit upon the root of the problem.

by Alex (not verified) :: Tue, 03/11/2008 - 9:42pm

Supposing he had been cut, do we really think he couldn’t have got a deal worth more than $10m a year, given what the Raiders were willing to pay the considerably older, somewhat less talented and chronically injured Javon Walker?

Yeah, but that's the Raiders. I don't know, but I think the Raiders have got their fill of expensive WRs for the year, so you'd have to find another team that's at least almost as crazy as they are, and I don't know if there are any out there. Is Dan Snyder looking for a WR?

by David (not verified) :: Tue, 03/11/2008 - 9:44pm

Is it normal for 1st round picks to get a new contract after 4 years?
I guess the last 3 years are back loaded. But then again, it it cheaper to resign them?

No, but it's also not normal for their initial contract to be so completely back-loaded that it threatens to eat something like 110 % of the team's available cap space.

by podpeople (not verified) :: Tue, 03/11/2008 - 10:48pm

on behalf of all eagle fans ::sigh:: There was no chance of him actually leaving Arizona, but an unrestructured contract at least left open some lsim hope that any of those rumors had merit to them.

by PhillyCWC (not verified) :: Tue, 03/11/2008 - 10:57pm

Re 13 - the dream was nice while it lasted....

by Mdm (not verified) :: Tue, 03/11/2008 - 11:06pm

I'm not sure whether to be comforted or distressed that the Eagles FO is now seemingly on the same page as the fans (desperate to sign an elite WR). Parcells had a colorful quote about that, didn't he?

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 03/11/2008 - 11:59pm

Not that that invalidates your point, of course, but it sounds like Florio needs to check his facts.

Florio check his facts? Gasp! That's unpossible!

by podpeople (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 12:16am

re 15 I don't know that the eagles FO is depserate to sign a wideout...the rumored offer was litto sheppard and a 2nd round pick. Not exactly a hershel walker for three championships kind of trade.

by lobolafcadio (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 4:16am

Larry Fitzgerald knows his business 101.
Take the money while it's there.
Was he hurt badly this year, he could have been cut and would have seen a lot less guaranteed money. Now, anything can happen, he will earn $30M. That's smart. He may not be a gambler, but he is rich now. He could be richer but indeed, he's already rich.

by johnt (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 5:04am

18: Really? He was scheduled to make 32 million over the next 2 years. Now he's guaranteed to get 33 million for 3 years and is locked into a fourth year. So he's basically working for free for a year in order to protect against getting injured in the next season if you look at it from a cost benefit standpoint.

Realistically, this was Fitzgerald doing the Cards a real favor. He had them totally over a barrel if he stuck to his contract. I hope he got an anti-franchise clause thrown in.

by ElJefe (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 9:12am

Good move by Fitzgerald, great move by the Cardinals.

What people seem to be overlooking is that with this new contract, Fitzgerald gets $40 MM in the next four years and gets another huge contract after those four years.

If the Cardinals were to have released him he still would have gotten a huge contract, but he would have lost the ~$30 MM due the next two years offsetting a significant portion of the new contract. I'm very confident he makes more money in his career by signing this new contract.

The other thing to bear in mind: Essentially all of the $40 MM is guaranteed. With the explicit $30 MM guarantee, the Cardinals can't cut him before the final year of the contract or be faced with a ridiculous amount of dead money. Seems like the only money at risk of not being paid is the final year's salary, and with only $10 MM in salaries for 4 years, that has to be a small portion of the overall contract. Add that to signing/roster bonus in the FA contract he signs in 4 years, and Fitzgerald may make $60 MM in the next five years. He couldn't do that if he hit the open market today.

For the Cardinals, they actually got rewarded for being dysfunctional. To make the deal happen there had to be a plausible belief they were stupid enough to cut their best player. I think their history validates that concern. :)

Eagles fans, don't despair! This contract may have put Anquan Boldin on the market. Probably cost more than Lito + a two, but at least worth the call ...

by lobolafcadio (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 9:16am

I trully think it's smarter to assure to win $30M against $14M this year and maybe nothing after.
Samuel gambled he wouldn't be injured and he won his bet, well for him but I wouldn't take such a risk with $17M on the line.
I said it, i'm not a gambler...

by jimmo (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 9:50am

re: 6 & 9: Fitzgerald will be 29 when the four years of this extension are done, not 27 and not 31. James' point is still valid of course, as 29 isn't an unreasonable age for a receiver to cash in on another lucrative multi-year deal.

by Jimmy (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 10:06am

The extention may say four years but there is no way that he will actually play the fourth year of this particular contract. Fitzgerald will be traded or re-signed before he plays the fourth year of this deal, and now he has the right to scotch any trade he doesn't like. The contract really works out at $30m guaranteed, with total compensation of approxiately $33-35m over three years followed by either a new deal with the Cardinals (if the franchise is showing serious signs of life) or a trade to a franchise of his choice. It is a poor contract for the Cardinals, but it may have been the best they could manage after bungling his first deal.

It would be interesting to see if there is a bunch of base salary in the potentially un-capped year. Asante Samuel's contract has it, as does Lance Briggs' which infers that teams think that there is at least a possibility of the CBA being torn up. If the Cards front office missed the boat on that oas well they shoud be run out of Phoenix on a rail.

by ArizonaCardinalsFan (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 10:44am

One domino down. Now find the $$$ to pay for Karlos Dansby, Adrian Wilson, and Anquan Boldin. And I sure hope Levi Brown's and Antrel Rolle's contracts weren't loaded with the same kind of reachable incentives that made Larry Fitzgerald's first contract so ridiculous.

by Herm? (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 10:48am

Doesn't it seem that the knowledge of contracts and salary capology in the NFL has not settled down yet? Players, agents, and the media haven't quite caught up on the unguaranteed contract carpet that keeps getting pulled out by team front offices.

Can anyone help me out as to why a player would sign for anything other than the money they can have guaranteed in writing?
Is it mostly in case of injuries, for collusion against insurance companies?

by Nick W (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 11:21am


2nd-rounder + Lito Sheppard for a WR? How about Robert Meachem?

by Jimmy (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 11:46am


I seriously doubt that Antrel Rolle has reached any of his performance targets. OK maybe playing time, but he is nowhere near the calibre of player they thought they were taking.

by Bandicoot (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 12:09pm

This was a horrible deal for Fitzgerald to take. He was going to make 31 million over the next 2 seasons in base salary. Instead he took a 4 year, 40 million dollar contract. So he let the Cardinals extend him for 2 years at 4.5 million a year. I don't understand. That's a lot of money to give up because he fears being badly injured this year. I'm sure he could've gotten an insurance plan better than that.

Also, he will be 28 when he hits free agency again. Not 27, not 29, not 31. He's 24 now and will be a free agent in 4 more years. 28.

by ChrisH (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 12:28pm

#28: He is getting that money, and a little more, guaranteed against any possible injury, or simply getting cut down the road. Given that the Cardinals only had 46 players or something under contract, and under 20 defensive players under contract, and no way to sign enough with his contract being all base salary, he was most likely looking at getting cut if they couldn't redo the contract.

I haven't looked at salary cap space since 3 weeks ago, but something tells me lots of the teams he would want to go to now, if he was a free agent, no longer have the salary available that they did a few weeks ago, or if they have it available, it's a team you really don't want to wind up on. Had they cut him 3 weeks ago, he could have made a killing in free agency most likely, but now he gets to be the #1 target in Arizona for 4 more years, and be a free agent when he's still more than young enough to seriously cash in (not that $40 million isn't cashing in).

I was surprised by it at first, but the more I think about it, the more sense it made since he really had no guarantee of not getting cut, or staying healthy.

by thestar5 (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 1:43pm

Was he guaranteed 31 million over the next two years or would he lose it if they cut him? If it was guaranteed, what a terrible deal for Fitz. He only got nine million more for two extra years? Thats awful. If it wasn't guaranteed then I see why he did it as the Cards probably wouldn't have kept him at that salary.

by Dave (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 1:45pm

15 - The Eagles DO need a receiver who's a red-zone threat though, that was the single area where we struggled the most last year. A healthy L.J. Smith will help some, but it'd be nice to have another option. I love westbrook to death, but he's just not a goal-line back.

by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 2:42pm

Re #30
No way that money was guaranteed. That was renegotiate or get cut and take your chances on the FA market.

Re #29
The Titans definitely had the cap room to take him on. Alternatively, for a team that had already spent in FA this year, he could have taken a lower signing bonus and base salary this year and gotten option and/or roster bonuses and/or guaranteed base salary in the future, kind of like what they do with rookies.

by jimmo (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 3:10pm

re bandicoot #28: he'll be 29 when the football season after this deal is done starts. 28 when he signs, yes, but 29 when the season starts.
Again, not that it matters to James' original post...

by ChrisH (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 3:23pm

#30: It was all base salary money, so it's only guaranteed once the season starts. Before then, they could cut him and owe him none of that. Given his choices (almost certainly get cut or renegotiate), I think he did pretty well getting $33 million guaranteed (let's just admit that when the last year is only going to cost the Cards $7 million max, unless he's hurt, it's basically $40 million guaranteed) and still sets him up for a huge payday in 4 years.

by Brian (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 3:35pm

Jim Trotter from CNNSI seems critical of the Cards in this deal. (Click name.)

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 4:01pm

#31: So what receiver did they have in 2006 that was the red zone threat they didn't have in 2007? Donte Stallworth? Yeah, not likely.

I think a lot of Philly's struggles in the red zone were offensive line health.

The whole issue's a fair amount overrated (as with most things in Philly, a 'slight problem' becomes a 'nuclear disaster' in the press), as Philly was still well above average in terms of TDs/drive. Their "struggles in the red zone" were probably just fluctuations. A play here, a snap there, etc. and it's all different.

by Tracy (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 4:15pm

The players know they won't see the last few years of back-loaded contracts, so they probably don't think of them as being pulled out from under them. If a typical contract is for six years (with high unguaranteed salaries in the last 2 years), it's really a 4 year contract. The last 2 years are an accounting trick to lower the cap number during the 4 years that the player expects to play. The final 2 years (wink, wink) are set up with high enough salaries to encourage the team cut the player. Then either the team negotiates an extension at the end of 4 years, or they take a dead-money hit at the end of 4 years when the player is cut. He knows full well the team is only committing to 4 years, but the 2 extra years do him some good, too: they protect him from the dreaded franchise tag, allowing him to choose whether he wants to negotiate an extension or hit the open market.

by Ryan Harris (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 4:46pm

I wonder if Fitz and his agent really thought this through.

Realistically Boldin will be gone within a year. No way that Q can be expected to accept the fact that Fitz makes 4 times as much as him. Maybe for 1 season, but after that he will not stand for it, and I cant blame him. Hell none of us would be able to handle that.

So all of a sudden Fitz has a safety to his side, and not only has Q left, but so did #3 reciever Bryant Johnson.

So now the whole defense is keyed on Fitz and life is suddenly not so sweet. Certainly Fitz will still get his stats, but it wont be any easier.

If Fitz really wanted to make sure he got another monster payday in 4 years he should have got together with Boldin and worked out something where they make similar money. That way they stay together and keep the defenses honest.

Granted in the same scenario I would certainly be seduced at 10M/year.

But if you look at the team and whats best for Fitzs next contract; Maybe forcing the guy who keeps teams from tripling fitz should have atleast been considered.

by Jimmy (not verified) :: Wed, 03/12/2008 - 7:20pm

With regard to Boldin he has received $15m in bonus payments over the last three years and got a new deal after his second year. He will probably want a new deal soon, but the Cardinals have been decent enough to him so far. They could have made him play out his rookie deal for two more years but payed him a substantial amount of cash up front.

by Vincent Verhei :: Thu, 03/13/2008 - 4:02am

Reminder, everyone: Please put URLs in the URI field, not in the general comment area. Posting long URLs makes for some ugly layouts. Thanks!

by podpeople (not verified) :: Thu, 03/13/2008 - 9:31am

re 36 While the problem is seriously overrated, you can't argue that the Eagles where terrible in the redzone last year.

by Tom D (not verified) :: Fri, 03/14/2008 - 4:23pm

Re 36:

Above average TDs per drive doesn't imply anything about the red zone, those could all be long touchdowns, and considering their skill players, I think that's likely.