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Would Fitz Give Cardinals Team Friendly Deal in 2020?

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NFL: Cleveland Browns at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In his most recent article, Scott Bordow of The Athletic asks the million dollar question: Is Larry Fitzgerald worth $11M in 2020?

Of course, there is no way to put a money figure on what Larry Fitzgerald means to the Arizona Cardinals.

For all the Larry does for the franchise and the team, he is certainly worth $11M.

Scott Bordow makes a good point, though. If the Cardinals draft CeeDee Lamb to be their WR1 of the present and future, and Christian Kirk’s production keeps increasing, it’s quite possible that in 2020 Larry Fitzgerald would be the WR3 in the offense.

Thus, Bordow argues—-is it wise to play a WR3 $11M?

Here is the link to Bordow’s article:

https://theathletic.com/1465506/2019/12/18/forget-the-larry-fitzgerald-retirement-question-heres-another-one-is-he-worth-11-million/

After I finished reading the article this morning I wrote the following comment on Scott Bordow’s blog:

“The ultimate goal for Larry Fitzgerald is to win a Super Bowl. His production in playoff games is legendary.

If Larry stays 2 more years, it’s possible that the Cardinals could make the playoffs next year and become a legit Super Bowl contender by 2021---if---and it is a big if---the Cardinals hit the jackpot with the $70M they have this year in cap space.

Therefore, having made $174M in salary over the course of his 16 year playing career (not counting the millions Fitz has made in ads and endorsements), Fitz can easily afford to give the Cardinals a cap friendly deal so that they can fully address their biggest needs in free agency.”

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I would add that my biggest concern is that re-signing 3 offensive players in LT D.J. Humphries, WR Larry Fitzgerald and RB Kenyan Drake could take up $30M of the $70M cap space if Humphries gets $14M (average top 10 LT salary), Fitz gets $11M and Drake gets $5M.

The other thing that I would add is the question of what position Fitz really plays in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. In the tunnel at Santa Clara prior to the start of the Cardinals game versus the 49ers, the FOX camera crew captured Fitz giving a pre-game pep talk to the TE group with no other Cardinals in sight. There he was firing up Maxx Williams, Charles Clay and Darell Daniels—-and then he ran them out onto the field.

If Fitz is a flexed TE “Y” receiver in this offense—-and it very much appears that he is when you consider that he is the team’s biggest target down the seams, on quick out passes from the slot and crossing routes over the middle—-then let’s take a look at what the 10 highest paid TEs in the NFL are making this year:

1. Packers TE Jimmy Graham: $10 million

2. Chiefs TE Travis Kelce: $9.4 million

3. Redskins TE Jordan Reed: $9.4 million

4. Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph: $9 million

5. Panthers TE Greg Olsen: $8.6 million

6. Eagles TE Zach Ertz: $8.5 million

7. Titans TE Delanie Walker: $8.5 million

8. Bears TE Trey Burton: $8 million

9. Saints TE Jared Cook: $7.5 million

10. Buccaneers TE Cameron Brate: $6.8 million

My point is this—-if Fitz gets an average top 10 TE salary, which he certainly deserves, if he can give the Cardinals a team friendly deal in the $8M vicinity, then the Cardinals would be able to sign another free agent starter with the $3M they keep in cap space. Or at least that $3M can go toward signing an impact defender like ILB Corey Littleton of the Rams.

$70M seems like a lot in cap space—-and it’s much more than the Cardinals have had in recent years—-but when the team has as many starting positions to fill this off-season. $70M can be gobbled up very quickly.

As we know, the two biggest 2020 contract elephants in the room are CB Patrick Peterson’s and RB David Johnson’s. It’s possible that the Cardinals could receive respectable trade interest in Patrick Peterson, particularly after he appeared to re-set his market value with his performance versus the Browns this week.

However, the Cardinals may want to profit on how motivated Patrick Peterson should be next season playing for what he hopes will be a lucrative 3rd multi-year contract.

Then again, Peterson’s 2020 base salary is not guaranteed. Therefore, even if the Cardinals were to release Peterson, they would recover $12.5M of cap space and only have to incur $635K loss against the cap.

As we know, David Johnson’s salary is not nearly as forgiving. Any team that trades for Johnson would pick up what is essentially a $11.25M 2020 tab, which reduces to $9M in 2021. In other words, if a team like the Bucs want to acquire David Johnson it would cost them roughly $20M for two years, unless they get Johnson and his agent to agree to work out a new contract. A reunion with BA might actually incline Johnson to rework his contract.

The most auspicious news for the Cardinals is that it looks like they have added two good starters at bargain salaries: RT Justin Murray and S Jalen Thompson.

Thus—-the Cardinals most pressing needs in terms of starters appear to be at LT, WR1, RB, C, 34DE (possibly 2, depending on how confident the team is in counting on Zach Allen), ILB and OLB. Add CB to that list if the Cardinals deal Patrick Peterson. And while Pro Bowler Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson are an exciting young tandem at safety, the Cardinals need to add a combo CB/S who can cover TEs.

When the number of positions of high need approaches double figures—-it will take a crafty use of the $70M to fit the best pieces of the 2020 puzzle in place.

It would be great if Larry Fitzgerald would help the cause by offering to accept a lower salary.

Would you broach the subject with Larry, or simply keep the $11M status quo?