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Bidwills Burned Too Often on Reward Contracts

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If the Cardinals rip up David Johnson’s contract and give him a new one, could it fall in line with other’s that burned the Cardinals in the past?

NFL: New York Jets at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past twenty years, the Bidwill family, as owners of the Arizona Cardinals, have shown an eagerness to rip up existing contracts for players and coaches and lavished those employees with new, lucrative, “reward” extensions.

And---in the process---the Bidwills have been repeatedly burned.

Cases in point:

1. QB Jake Plummer. In just his second season, after leading the Cardinals to a 9-7 record and the playoffs in 1998, the Bidwill’s tore up the two remaining years on his rookie contract and rewarded Plummer with a 4 year $29.7M contract with a $15M signing bonus (which at that time was the largest signing bonus in NFL history)

Result: Over the next 4 years the Cardinals went 18-39, never made the playoffs again, and Plummer struggled annually:

1999: 52.8% 9/24 TD/int
2000: 56.8% 13/21 TD/int
2001: 57.9% 18/14 TD/int
2002: 53.6% 18/20 TD/int

2. HC Ken Whisenhunt. After leading the Cardinals to the playoffs, the Super Bowl and a 27-21 record over his first three years, the Bidwills ripped up his initial contract to reward Whisenhunt with a four year extension worth over $5M a season.

Result: 2010: 5-11; 2011 8-8; 2012: 5-11. Fired (along with his staff) with one year remaining on his contract.

3. Tyrann Mathieu: In 2016 following Mathieu’s outstanding 2015 season which sadly ended with his 2nd ACL tear, the Cardinals ripped up his rookie deal and signed Mathieu to a lucrative 5 year $62.5M contract with $40M in guaranteed money---which made him the highest paid safety in the NFL.

Result: 2 subpar non-playoffs seasons and his release after two years while pocketing over $32M.

4. HC Bruce Arians. After leading the Cardinals to two winning seasons and the playoffs in 2014, the Cardinals tore up his existing contract and signed him to a 4 year extension worth north of $5.5M a year.

Results: outstanding 2015 13-3 season and a berth in the NFC Championship game. But, 7-8-1 in 2016, 8-8 in 2017, after which he retired with one year left on his contract.

Ironically, one of the exceptions (other than CB Patrick Peterson---who was already getting paid well as the #5 pick in the 2011 draft) where the Bidwills got rewarded in return with All-Star level production was the multi-year year extension they gave WR Anquan Boldin after his first 2 seasons in the NFL. Over the next 5 years, Bolding surpassed the 1,000 yard mark 4 of the 5 seasons and helped to lead the Cardinals to their 1st Super Bowl.

However, things got very ugly with Boldin. Boldin was so furious at GM Rod Graves, HC Ken Whisenhunt and the Cardinals’ organization that he wanted no part of the team celebration following the Cardinals’ victory over the Eagles in the NFC Championship game. The acrimony between Boldin and the Cardinals got so contentious that the Cardinals traded him to the Ravens following their 2009 loss to the Saints in the playoffs.

The Cardinals have done well when they have seen existing deals through, as with WR Larry Fitzgerald (on numerous occasions), DE Calais Campbell (when they signed him to his 5 year 2nd contract after his rookie deal expired) and thus far with DE Chandler Jones (whom they decided to use the franchise tag on while negotiating his long-term deal).

The Bidwills mean very well. They want to show their appreciation by giving deserving individuals reward contract extensions. But, in light of the poor results they have gotten in the past, one shouldn’t blame the Bidwills if they decide they would rather start seeing the existing deals through.

Too much too soon can be counter-productive and can quickly backfire. The perennial winners in the NFL tend to take a conservative approach.

Here’s a refreshing point of view from Pro Football Talk on the Stefon Diggs contract situation:

Diggs said this morning on PFT Live that if his agents and the Vikings work out an extension, that’s fine, but it’s not his focus.

“This is a business and there’s a lot going on,” Diggs said. “Being a small portion of it I’m definitely sitting back just working every day and letting that stuff handle itself. I have people who will handle that. For me, it’s just coming in and working every day. It’s not about any contract or anything like that, I’m trying to win. That’s all I’m concerned about.”