Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald signed a new four-year contract Tuesday that puts him in a deal through the 2011 season.
The contract saga of the Cardinals and Larry Fitzgerald ended Tuesday when the Pro Bowl wide receiver agreed to a new four-year contract worth a reported $40 million.
And it even ended dramatically, with Fitzgerald signing his contract moments before boarding a plane that would eventually take him on a three-week vacation to Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Chile.
"I felt confident (a new deal) would happen eventually," Fitzgerald said from the Dallas airport during a layover. "Contract negotiations can go back and forth a lot, but I knew in my heart the Cardinals wanted me to stay a Cardinal and they knew I wanted to be a Cardinal.
"At the end of the day, both of us wanted the same thing."
Not only do the Cards have Fitzgerald in place through the 2011 season, but now Arizona -- which reportedly only had a little more than $300,000 remaining in salary cap room – will gain almost $9 million in cap space.
According to a story on Fitzgerald's personal website, he will earn $33 million in the first three years of the deal. That story also says Fitzgerald gets a no-trade clause. ESPN.com reported Fitzgerald will receive a $15 million signing bonus and a $2 million salary in 2008, along with a $5 million option bonus next year.
The Cardinals, as is their policy, declined to disclose financial details.
Fitzgerald praised the constant talks he had with coach Ken Whisenhunt as helping him through the process.
"He really helped me understand from a business standpoint where the team was, but he could relate to me as a player as well," Fitzgerald said. "He played a key role in that, and the more I talked to him, I knew he was a man I wanted to go out and play for."
Whisenhunt, who sat with Fitzgerald courtside at Sunday's NBA game between the Suns and Spurs, downplayed the impact of that outing despite its proximity to the deal finally being reached.
"It has been a process, more than the weekend," said Whisenhunt, who also talked to Fitzgerald Saturday during Kurt Warner's charity flag football tournament. "And it has been more than just myself and Larry. Ultimately it came down that Larry wanted to be here. Wherever you have a player of that caliber, it takes time to get it right."
Fitzgerald led the NFC with 100 receptions in 2007, gaining 1,409 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns.
Fitzgerald made his second Pro Bowl after the 2007 season, and various escalators had pushed his 2008 salary from a little over $1 million to more than $14 million. His salary cap number for 2008 had been about $16.5 million.
That had forced the need for the team to go back to the negotiating table. The Cardinals wanted to have a new deal in place prior to the beginning of free agency, in order to have more freedom to chase available players and re-sign their own free agents.
But talks had slowed over the past couple of weeks when the two sides couldn't agree on either the length of the deal or guaranteed money.
"Anytime you have a player of this magnitude and the type of money involved, it is always a challenge," general manager Rod Graves said.
In the interim, Fitzgerald had said publicly many times he wanted to remain in Arizona. It was also clear that Fitzgerald and agent Eugene Parker wanted a contract that would allow Fitzgerald to get back to the free-agent market for another big payday; as it stands Fitzgerald's new contract will end before Fitzgerald turns 29.
But the details don't interest Fitzgerald, at least not in front of the world. Asked specifically about the no-trade clause, Fitzgerald said it was "not important" and emphasized that he was simply happy the contract was finished.
"I am a guy that doesn't like to be in the spotlight," said Fitzgerald, who mentioned he had 50 text messages after landing in Dallas a little more than two hours after the deal was officially announced. "I like to do my job and help my team and be under the radar. All the attention on this contract issue has been out of character for me. I am ready for it to be over with."
There is little question Fitzgerald will help the Cardinals by staying on the field. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said just having continuity with his unit should make it more efficient.
Keeping Fitzgerald paired with fellow Pro Bowl wideout Anquan Boldin can only benefit the offense, Haley added.
"In the passing game, it definitely makes a difference to have two guys who are threats," Haley said. "Our guys might not be specific speed threats and score from 80 yards, but they have the potential to make plays every play.
"It's definitely an advantage when you are game-planning."
Now that the Cardinals have Fitzgerald's deal out of the way, they have other pressing business. The team would like to look into re-signing free-agent wide receiver Bryant Johnson, who remains available. They need to address linebacker Karlos Dansby, who currently carries with him the franchise tag.
The Cards also can revisit signing free-agent linebacker Brandon Chillar, who visited last week. They also have a host of other free agents of their own they want and need to re-sign, including long snapper Nathan Hodel.
"This does allow us some flexibility," Graves said. "Again, our primary focus is on our core group. If we find help out there in the marketplace that can help us secondarily, then we will do that."
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 3/11/08. Updated 3/11/08.