Cardinals sign Fitzgerald to 8-year extension

By Matt Swartz

One of the best receivers in the NFL is about to be paid like one, and one of the best players in Cardinals history is staying with team for the foreseeable future.

The Cardinals announced Saturday evening that five-time Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald, whose contract was set to expire after the upcoming season, agreed to terms on an eight-year deal that will keep him in Arizona through 2018. While terms of the deal were not publicly released, multiple media reports indicated that it’s for $120 million over the life of the contract.

On a $15 million-per-year basis, Fitzgerald will become the highest-paid receiver in the NFL and will be tied with Raiders defensive tackle Richard Seymour for the fifth-highest salary in the league (the top four highest-paid players are all quarterbacks).

At a press conference to announce the signing, Fitzgerald sat with team owner Bill Bidwill and expressed his gratitude.

“Growing up, since I was 7 years old, this has been the game I love and something I have been so passionate about, and to have to talk about it on the business side is a little bit uncomfortable,” Fitzgerald said. “But I am really happy to put it behind us, and it wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the Bidwill family’s hard work in making this thing happen.”

The 27-year-old had expressed his desire to stay with the Cardinals — who originally drafted him third overall in 2004 out of Pitt — but it was believed that Fitzgerald wanted to see progress after the team finished 5-11 last season amid constant struggles at the quarterback position. That progress may have come in the form of last month’s trade with the Eagles for Kevin Kolb, who has started and played well in each of the Cards’ first two preseason games after being signed to a $63 million contract. FOXSportsArizona.com’s Craig Morgan reported before the trade that Fitzgerald and Kolb had scheduled a private throwing session, which could have given Fitzgerald the peace of mind to move forward on negotiations with a long-term deal.

Fitzgerald said Saturday that he never considered leaving the only NFL home he’s ever known.

“That never wavered. The day I was drafted and I was able to shake Mr.

Bidwill’s hand on that podium, I knew this is where I wanted to be,” Fitzgerald said. “I

knew that I wanted to play here. The Cardinals fans have been nothing

but supportive of me and my family. I feel so blessed to be a part of

this community, and I am just happy that I am going to continue to be a

part of it.”

Fitzgerald will be entering his eighth season and has 613 career receptions for 8,204 yards and 65 touchdowns. He is coming off a relative down year, when he had 90 receptions for 1,137 yards and six touchdowns as the offense struggled behind a mix of inconsistent quarterbacks. However, Fitzgerald became the franchise’s all-time receptions leader last season and moved into second place on the franchise’s career receiving yards list, trailing only Roy Green’s 8,497 yards. 

Fitzgerald has recorded at least 90 receptions in each of the last four seasons and has four consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons (five total). He has reached the Pro Bowl in all but two seasons — his rookie year and 2006 — and also holds most of the Cardinals’ franchise postseason receiving records with 42 receptions for 705 yards and nine touchdowns.

The extension caps a busy offseason for the Cards that has included not only the trade for Kolb but also the signing of tight end Todd Heap, linebacker Stewart Bradley, cornerback Richard Marshall and offensive lineman Floyd Womack. They also drafted cornerback Patrick Peterson with the fifth overall selection in April’s draft, traded backup running back Tim Hightower to the Redskins for defensive end Vonnie Holliday and re-signed guard Deuce Lutui and center Lyle Sendlein.

Fitzgerald said those moves gave him reason for optimism for the franchise’s future, but as always, one of the league’s most well-liked and professional players said his focus is purely on playing to the best of his ability.

“The activity in free agency this year is something I haven’t seen since I have been here, and I think that is just an example, a sign of things to come,” Fitzgerald said. “They are going to continue to be aggressive in making this team better, and I am confident that is going to happen.

“But I can’t worry about that. I just have to go out there and do my job and be productive.”