The contract restructuring of Larry Fitzgerald gives the Arizona Cardinals freedom in so many ways. The doors it opens come in free agency, avoiding free agency and, most importantly, making it easier to focus on the draft.
Years ago, the Cardinals and Fitzgerald faced a similar predicament. Blame either side or both, but the deal wasn’t completed until after the start of free agency, hand-cuffing Arizona in the free agent market. Both Fitzgerald and the Cardinals are showing a deep commitment to winning in 2014 by getting this deal done.
What this deal does goes so far beyond Larry Fitzgerald. It’s the flexibility for free agency now and the ability to reward later. The Cardinals proved last year that they won’t use free agency as the “be all/end all” way to build a team, as to say, they will use it correctly. There are some intriguing choices that the new money could open up: Jeremy Maclin in the slot, Dennis Pitta or Michael Hoomanawanui in two TE sets, Brandon Albert at LT, Parys Haralson or Brandon Spikes at MLB would all fit depending on the money.
The Fitz contract also allows Arizona to keep players from hitting free agency. If Karlos Dansby is not looking to break the bank, he becomes the immediate target for GM Steve Keim. Dansby is not a free agent until March, so the Cardinals have time to get a deal done that is good for both sides. Short term is good for the Cards, but heavy signing bonus would be fair reward Dansby for 2013.
By getting Fitzgerald signed, Keim can hit free agency, then go into the draft with fewer needs. Keim will never use the draft to focus only on position needs. He uses the draft to bring in the most talented people he can find. Although that’s the correct route, he must get a left tackle out of this offseason. Using free agency ensures that he can draft an offensive lineman based on talent and not have to reach for a need.
Once the Cardinals are able to get through free agency and the draft, this contract does something else that Fitz brought up himself. In a few months, the Cardinals will be able to focus on extending the contract of Patrick Peterson. Peterson is locked up for two more years. There’s nothing wrong with waiting, but the Cardinals could send a message to the team by re-working his deal. Peterson exemplifies what the Cardinals want to show the world. He’s the reason the Cardinals felt safe in drafting Tyrann Mathieu. It’s Peterson that shows the defensive work ethic matched by Fitz on the offense. Peterson is the face of the defense.
With a new contract for Peterson, the Cardinals have a star locked up for the future. It gives the franchise the cost-certainty it needs for 2015 and beyond, however, it adds a year (meaning this one, 2014) to spread out the cap hit. Since the Cardinals haven’t found their long-term answer at quarterback, they must keep as much money free as they can. If they wait to sign Peterson to an extension, it could easily bump into the window of the next QB search. I’m not rushing the Cardinals just to give a young player the money. I want the Peterson deal done to avoid missing out on 2015 or 2016 free agents.
Don’t look for a Peterson deal to be done tomorrow. Get through the draft and free agency. Take a vacation and evaluate who’s on the street at the beginning of training camp. Once the number is established that’s remaining under the cap, use it on Patrick. If the Cardinals don’t, the price on Patrick is only going to go up.