Kent Somers of AZCentral.com writes that 2014 may be star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald‘s last season with the Cardinals. Somers notes that Fitzgerald’s salary cap figure jumps from $15MM in 2014 to $23.6MM in 2015, a number that could represent as much as one-fifth of the team’s entire cap. Citing Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com, Somers adds that the Cardinals already have $135MM committed to the 2015 cap, and that number does not include a quarterback (Carson Palmer‘s contract voids five days after the 2014 Super Bowl).
The Arizona front office has expressed a desire to keep Fitzgerald in a Cardinals uniform for the rest of his career, but if Fitzgerald himself feels the same way–and he says he does–he would probably have to agree to restructure his current deal and accept a contract with an average annual value of $6MM to $8MM. Otherwise, he could be traded or released, but those options come with their own set of problems.
A release of Fitzgerald would save the Cardinals $9.2MM of cap room, but it would also force the team to take a hit of $14.4MM. However, a release is still more likely than a trade. As Jason Fitzgerald observes, “[Larry] Fitzgerald is set to earn $16.25 million and $15.25 million in 2015 and 2016 respectively, highest in the NFL over the two-year period. For someone who would be a 32-year-old receiver who has not produced a 1,000-yard season since 2011, no team would likely even consider paying close to that number.” Furthermore, Larry Fitzgerald is owed an $8MM roster bonus in March 2015, which means Arizona would have limited time to trade him.
Of course, there are also the on-field ramifications to consider. Fitzgerald will be on the wrong side of 30 in August, and although Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics (subscription required) rated him as the 11th best receiver in 2013 (out of 111 eligible receivers), his days as a true No. 1 wideout are probably limited. If he performs well in 2014, he retains a fair amount of leverage, but if he shows signs of aging–or if players like Michael Floyd should take the next step–that leverage obviously takes a hit. If the Cardinals as a team show that they are still lagging behind the Seahawks and 49ers in the loaded NFC West, then Fitzgerald may want to move on to a club with more realistic championship hopes.
Fitzgerald has always been the consummate professional. An eight-time Pro Bowler, he may well be the best player in franchise history, is probably Canton-bound when his playing days are over, and has been a consistent and positive presence in the community. As the Cardinals look to improve on last season’s 10-6 mark that was still not good enough to get into the playoffs, thoughts about his contract are not a hot topic of conversation just yet. But they will be soon, and Cardinals fans will surely want to savor watching Fitzgerald in 2014, just in case.