PFF writer: Larry Fitzgerald’s contract among five worst for a WR

Jun 28, 2016, 12:15 PM | Updated: 4:43 pm
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) sits on the bench late in the fourth quarter ...
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) sits on the bench late in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015. The Steelers won 25-13. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Whenever the day comes where Larry Fitzgerald calls it a career, he will leave the NFL as one of the league’s all-time greatest receivers.

As he prepares for the 2016 season he is the Arizona Cardinals’ leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, and no one would argue that the franchise has gotten their money’s worth from the former No. 3 overall selection.

However, Fitzgerald will be 33 in the 2016 season and while he is coming off a year in which he caught 109 passes for 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns, it could be argued that the veteran may be a tad overpaid. Not necessarily because of his skill or production, but because his role in the Cardinals’ offense isn’t quite what it used to be.

That’s essentially the argument’s Eric Eager is making as he placed Fitzgerald’s contract as the fifth-worst for a receiver.

Years remaining on current deal: One

Average remaining cap hit: $15.85 million ($4.85 prorated for 2017 and 2018, as well)

Year he can realistically be cut: N/A (his contract is automatically voided after the 2016 season, where his entire salary is guaranteed)

Larry Fitzgerald is the perfect case study in the need to weigh the cost of production, as the Cardinal has definitely been productive, even into the twilight stage of his career. His 90.3 overall grade last season was ninth among wide receivers, with his hands (2.68 drop rate, fourth-best among wide receivers) and efficiency (2.19 yards per route run, 12th-best among WRs) defying the effects of age. He even chipped in with the best blocking grade of his career, often serving as something of an additional tight end in Arizona’s running game.

With all that said, Fitzgerald’s contract has been, and will continue to be, a burden on the Cardinals’ cap situation. Even though he is not under contract for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, he will still account for $9.7 million in dead money those two years. With Arizona boasting young talent in Michael Floyd, John Brown, and J.J. Nelson on the outside, it appears as though 2016 will be Fitzgerald’s last with the Cardinals. With only so many snaps to go around, it would make sense to ease Fitzgerald slightly from the rotation offensively moving forward. However, such an easement would leave an $11 million wide receiver on the bench. Will those financial pressures keep Fitzgerald on the field? If he continues to play like he did in 2015, will the Cardinals feel compelled to retain him beyond 2016 at a rate similar to this season’s, even if that means fewer opportunities for his heir apparents?

You’re probably upset now, and that’s understandable.

Fitzgerald is the Arizona Cardinal, a face of the franchise who has been a great player on the field and a model citizen off it. He has helped carry the organization to new heights, and been involved in a countless number of amazing plays for the team.

Just last season he produced a legendary (or legend-Larry) catch-and-run in overtime of the team’s Divisional Round victory over the Green Bay Packers and followed it with a game-winning touchdown on a shovel-pass to send the Cardinals to the NFC Championship Game.

Besides, while Fitzgerald is not the same player he was early in his career — he’s less about the deep ball and more about the intermediate stuff now — tales of his demise were very much overblown, and he is still QB Carson Palmer’s favorite and most reliable target.

However, in a salary cap-driven world, teams are forced to be very careful with how they allocate their money, and you could make an argument that a team with as much receiver depth as the Cardinals is not necessarily wise to devote as much cap space to Fitzgerald as it does.

All that said, if Fitzgerald plays at the level he did last season, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who views his salary, high as it may be, in a negative light. As for what happens with him after this season, that is a conversation for another day.

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PFF writer: Larry Fitzgerald’s contract among five worst for a WR