Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, here sprinting for an 80-yard touchdown against the Eagles in 2014, agreed to a new contract Wednesday.
INDIANAPOLIS – The Larry Fitzgerald deal is done, almost three weeks before free agency will begin.
General Manager Steve Keim said Wednesday at the NFL Scouting combine Fitzgerald and the Cardinals had agreed to "essentially a two-year deal" that will keep Fitzgerald in Arizona – hopefully for the balance of his career.
"We had quite a bit of dialogue over the past year, and when we decided to put the foot on the gas pedal
the last week or so, we were able to get the deal done pretty quickly," Keim said.
Fitzgerald, via text, declined to comment.
Fitzgerald had been scheduled to carry a $23.6 million salary cap hit in 2015, including an $8 million salary and an $8 million roster bonus that was due in mid-March. The new contract will create about $13 million in cap space, team president Michael Bidwill said. Because there are voidable years at the end of the new deal for salary cap purposes, Fitzgerald could end up as a free agent after the 2016 season.
Fitzgerald is guaranteed $22 million over the next two seasons. Originally, Fitzgerald was scheduled to make more than $30 million over the next two seasons, although none of the money was guaranteed.
Keim said the strong relationship between Bidwill and Fitzgerald was a factor, and the ability that the two
were able to sit and talk recently about getting a new contract hammered out.
"We're excited to have him as a Cardinal," Bidwill said. "That's where he needs to be, that's where he's going to be, and as I have said all along, we want to see him retire a Cardinal."
"He doesn't belong in any other color other than Cardinal red," Bidwill added. "When you think about the Cardinals, Larry Fitzgerald is one of the first players you think about. He embodies what we want a Cardinal to be."
Bidwill said the talks ramped up quickly after the Super Bowl ended.
"The two biggest goals for us were pretty simple," Keim said. "One, to compensate Larry for the type of player, the type of talent and the leader he is. The other was to clear up enough salary cap space for us moving forward to be aggressive when free agency starts."
While Keim said there are still moves to be made prior to free agency, the new Fitzgerald deal "should give us enough room to be pretty active."
Among the "additional tough decisions we will have to make" could still be something with defensive lineman Darnell Dockett, who is scheduled to have a $9.8 million salary cap hit in 2015, the final year of his current deal.
"We'd love to have Darnell back," Keim said. "We really missed him this year because he is the heart and soul of the defense. He's an energetic player and a good leader the past couple of years. We will have (contract) conversations with Darnell moving forward."
Fitzgerald will be 32 in August and he has not had a 1,000-yard season since 2011. Coach Bruce Arians has said multiple times the days of Fitzgerald catching 100 passes are likely over. Fitzgerald had 63 catches for 784 yards this season, but was on pace to top 1,000 yards before missing two games with a significant knee sprain that he battled the second half of the season. Before his injury, Fitzgerald was playing well, and seemed to find a groove with quarterback Carson Palmer.
Palmer is coming off ACL surgery, but Keim said Palmer's knee rehab continues to go well and there remains the possibility Palmer returns for part of the team's organized team workouts, which would end in mid-June.
That would benefit Fitzgerald, looking to build on the 909 receptions for 12,151 yards he has in his career.
"You have to do what's right for the organization for the long-term health for not only the team but the salary cap situation, so you're not incurring dead money," Keim said.
"This is a deal that will hopefully make Larry Fitzgerald retire a Cardinal and give us flexibility when free agency begins."
With Fitzgerald in place, the Cardinals should have their receiving corps set at the top with Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown. Jaron Brown also fits in the mix, while it remains to be seen if the Cardinals keep Ted Ginn. Ginn is due $3.25 million in salary for 2015.
"We knew all along Larry wanted to stay a Cardinal," Keim said. "We just had to find that balance where both sides were happy."
Enjoy images of Larry Fitzgerald throughout his Cardinals career.