Fitzgerald's Holdout Handcuffing the Cards

Larry Fitzgerald's contract looms large, as the uncertainty about his future in Arizona grows every day. The Cardinals are hindered in free agency with many holes left to fill, as there are only 16 defenders under contract. GM Rod Graves insists progress is being made, but the stalemate remains. Brad Wilbricht analyzes this confounding situation.

After selecting WR Larry Fitzgerald with the third overall pick in the 2004 draft, the Cardinals signed him to a six-year, incentive-laden deal. While GM Rod Graves claims the deal was designed to start future negotiations at this time, many see it is a cost-saving move that backfired.

Fitzgerald's brilliant play has triggered nearly every incentive in his contract. He is set to earn $14.6 million in 2008 and $17.4 million in 2009.

While many point the finger at Fitzgerald and consider him selfish for holding out for upwards of $25 million in guaranteed money, his performance over the past four years speaks for itself.

Since entering the NFL in 2004, Fitzgerald has racked up 330 catches, 4,544 receiving yards, and 34 touchdowns. Fitzgerald's accomplishments are even more impressive considering the coaching turnover he endured during his first three seasons. While coach Ken Whisenhunt has brought a sense of security to the desert, Fitzgerald and the Cardinals were not as fortunate earlier in his career.

Hiring Dennis Green as head coach in 2004 proved to be nothing short of a disaster. The Cardinals were a dismal 16-32 in Green's three seasons in Arizona. Known for his feisty temper and loose attitude regarding player behavior, Green's stint was doomed from the start.

WR Larry Fitzgerald
Otto Greule Jr./Getty

Further complicating matters for Fitzgerald and the Cardinals offense was Green's inability to find consistency at offensive coordinator. His initial hire, Alex Wood, was fired following the 2004 season. This paved the way for Keith Rowan, who was later replaced by Mike Kruczek midseason in 2006.

During Fitzgerald's four-year tenure with the Cardinals, he has witnessed unproven draft picks and marginal free agents cash in with lucrative, long-term deals. Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson was guaranteed $27 million after being selected with the third overall pick in the 2007 draft.

Additionally, former teammate Calvin Pace recently signed a four-year deal with the New York Jets worth $22 million in guaranteed money. Pace, a former first-round pick, suffered through four disappointing seasons before experiencing a break-out campaign last year.

NFL players are getting paid at an enormous rate and Fitzgerald is determined not to be the exception. The NFL has proved to be strictly business over the years, something the Cardinals have failed to realize. Fitzgerald and agent Eugene Parker are hardly to blame in this situation.

Unlike the players mentioned above, Fitzgerald has earned his shot at a multi-year contract that would rival that of the top players in the league. If the Cardinals fail to come up with the cash, plenty of other teams will jump at the chance to pay a player of Fitzgerald's ability.

If the Cardinals decide to part ways with Fitzgerald, what kind of message would this send to the Cardinals fan base? Cardinals fans have endured years of losing and haven't witnessed a winning season since 1998. The franchise clearly lacks the commitment and leadership needed to be a perennial contender.

GM Rod Graves has been involved with many questionable decisions during his tenure, and this serves as another possible black eye for the organization.

Given the history of the Cardinals franchise, it would be no surprise to see Fitzgerald exit the desert. However, it's vital that the Cardinals understand the potential long-term consequences of Fitzgerald leaving. They could conceivably lose much more than arguably the best young receiver in the NFL. The Cardinals would jeopardize the support of current players, loyal fans and season-ticket holders.

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