Coming off of a disappointing individual 2014 season, former Pitt star Larry Fitzgerald may just be in his final year with the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals had a very good season at 11-5 (despite an early playoff exit), but Fitz' numbers were some of the worst of his career.
Fox Sports says that Fitzgerald doesn't expect to return to the team next year. Fitz, however, says that the idea hasn't crossed his mind yet.
"It has not crossed my mind," Fitzgerald said Wednesday after the Cardinals practice. "I'm in the midst of an opportunity that doesn't come too often, so all my energy and everything is focused on helping my team win."
In the current structure of the NFL with contracts not guaranteed, it's really hard to believe that Fitzgerald (or any player with a big-time contract, for that matter) doesn't think about the possibility of being let go.
The wide receiver is on pace to earn an incredible $23.6 million next year, to count approximately 17% against the entire team's salary cap. For a player that's on the decline, that's a recipe for being cut. Interestingly enough, Pro Football Talk says that while he might be traded or restructure his deal (again - he did so this year), he won't be released.
Receiver Larry Fitzgerald has a cap number of $23.6 million for 2015. It’s widely believed he’ll be cut. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, he won’t be.
He could be traded, he could restructure his deal, or he could elect to negotiate an extension. But he won’t be released — even if it means carrying $23.6 million in cap space.
That's something I don't get. Restructuring the deal would make sense (SB Nation's Arizona Cardinals site says that the two sides are talking about his contract, FWIW) and I could see a trade if a restructured deal took place (otherwise, why would another team take on that much salary for a player that is past the prime of his career?). But if his contract can't be restructured, it's really hard to justify tying up that much of the team's cap number for a guy in a reduced role with the team.
Taking a stance to not release him also doesn't make that much sense to a franchise that sees itself competing for a championship. Arizona made the playoffs this year and went 11-5. The Cardinals would lose something in Fitzgerald, obviously, but for his production this season (63 catches for 784 yards and two touchdowns), they could find a similar player for far less money. The rest of his salary could be devoted to improving their running game or pass defense - both of which ranked near the bottom of the league.
Arizona understandably wants to keep Fitzgerald, a potential Hall of Famer, in a Cardinals uniform for his entire career. But if they can't restructure his deal, releasing him seems like the easy decision.