It’s decision time for Larry Fitzgerald and the Arizona Cardinals. Free agency starts at 10 p.m. today.
The Cardinals would like to sign the wide receiver to a long-term deal by then. Otherwise, they may be stymied in their attempt to sign free agents, both their own and players who are departing other teams.
Because of incentives Fitzgerald has reached in his rookie contract, the Cardinals are liable for a huge salary cap hit — in the range of $35 million — over the next two years.
That’s too much, practically speaking, for one player, so they’d like to negotiate a contract that charges them closer to $10 million per season on the cap.
Negotiating points include the length of the contract — the Cardinals would like to wrap him up for as long as possible, perhaps for six years — and the amount of guaranteed money.
Reports have surfaced that the Cardinals have offered in the range of $25 million to $30 million, while Fitzgerald is believed to want more than that.
At the same time, the Cardinals are surveying the free-agent market, though if they fail to wrap up Fitzgerald’s contract today, they would seem headed for a late start.
Among the most attractive candidates for the Cardinals may be offensive lineman Alan Faneca of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is close to Russ Grimm, the Cardinals’ offensive line coach who used to work for the Steelers.
Speaking of the chances of re-signing Faneca, Kevin Colbert, the Steelers’ director of football operations, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last week, “I would say it’s a very minimal chance at this point.”
But Faneca could be out of the Cardinals’ price range as well.
Because of the uncertainty and the team’s shifting priorities, two familiar players may be departing.
Receiver Bryant Johnson and linebacker Calvin Pace — who may be forever linked by the Cardinals’ decision to draft them in Round 1 in 2003 instead of Terrell Suggs — will become free agents tonight if the Cardinals don’t re-sign them.
Johnson said, “I would like to be back. But it may be tough for them to be able to do.”
Asked if he’d been offered a contract, Johnson said, “Not that I know of.”
Pace recently said of the Cardinals, “They are moving slower than I would like. … I’m trying to be patient. Free agency is there. It’s always an option.”
As for his talks with the Cardinals, Pace said “some numbers have been thrown around, but nothing concrete.”
There are reports Pace is seeking $15 million in guaranteed money. If so, the Cardinals may well say thanks, but no thanks.
EXTRA POINTS: Defensive lineman Antonio Smith indicated he expected to get the one-year middle tender offer from the Cardinals, but he hadn’t been officially notified. ...
The Cards have made the low one-year tender offer of about $920,000 to offensive lineman Elton Brown, Chuck Price, Brown’s agent said. ...
In a bit of a surprise, the team did not make a one-year tender offer to defensive end/linebacker Darryl Blackstock, who played fairly well down the season’s stretch after Bertrand Berry’s season-ending injury.
“They have a lot of cap problems,” said Blackstock’s agent, Brad Blank, who indicated he was surprised by the team’s decision. …
Joe Tafoya’s agent, Rick Smith, said the team may re-sign the defensive lineman, who filled in nicely after the injury to Berry.
“They’ve expressed an interest in bringing him back,” Smith said.