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Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald hits all escalators

By: Larry Fitzgerald
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
Originally posted 3/06/2008

 In 2004, the New York Giants, with the fourth pick of the first round thanks to a draft-day deal, traded with the San Diego Chargers — who had the NFL’s first overall pick that year — to swap positions so they could take Mississippi quarterback Eli Manning. Oakland had the second pick, and they took Iowa tackle Robert Gallory.

 Arizona had the third pick that year, and they grabbed Pittsburgh All-American wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. The Chargers, with the fourth pick, took quarterback Phillip Rivers.

 That draft is beginning to look like one of the best the NFL has seen in two decades. Manning led the New York Giants to maybe the greatest upset in NFL history — a thrilling 17-14 win over the previously unbeaten New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Rivers in back-to-back years led the Chargers to an NFL-best 14-2 record in 2006 and last year to the AFC Championship game.

 Fitzgerald that year signed an NFL-record six-year, $60 million contract and in 2007 helped the Cardinals to an 8-8 record, their third-best year since 1988. In four years, Fitzgerald is the only player drafted that year in the top four to have been selected to the Pro Bowl twice.

 In 2005, he led the NFL with 103 receptions and 1,409 yards. Last year, Fitzgerald led the NFC with 100 receptions and 1409 yards. In four years and 60 games, he has 330 catches for 4,554 yards and 34 touchdowns.

 He is just 24 years old, and he’s already one of the best in the game today. “There are not many of the players taken in the top three that actually go on to be two and three-time Pro Bowlers during their rookie contract,” said Cardinals Vice President Rod Graves. “So Larry has earned the right to be where he is, and I think the contract is a good one for us. It recognizes his accomplishments”

 Graves and Fitzgerald’s agents, Eugene Parker and Paul Lawrence, negotiated this deal in 2004, and the escalators in Larry’s contract were all achieved in the first four years. The Cardinals, like every team in the NFL, have a salary cap of $116 million. The Cardinals hosted Super Bowl XLII in their dynamic state-of-the-art new retractable roof and retractable field University of Phoenix Stadium. The Super Bowl windfall generated an estimated impact of nearly $500 million for the economy, the community, the team and its fans.

 The Cardinals are now number 23 and rising on the 32 NFL team franchise value list at $888 million. They are finally a major player because a great stadium gives you that leverage to do deals. Fitzgerald, because he is the first player ever to sign a record rookie contract and hit all his escalators, will make $14.6 million in 2008 and $17.4 million in 2009. The Cardinals have the option of driving his cap number down by extending his current contract beyond six years and guaranteeing the $32 million they owe him.

 In the NFL, unlike the NBA where all deals are guaranteed, a deal is not always a deal unless it’s guaranteed. The teams hold all the cards and can extend, release, trade or live with contracts; players understand that. Team President Michael Bidwill, like Larry Fitzgerald, grew up around the NFL. Both were ex-ball boys, and now the Cardinals — with players like Fitzgerald producing — are on the brink.

 Fitz Notes & Quotes

 The Timberwovles have turned back the clock to 1989. In the team’s first year in the NBA, they finished 22-60; and now deep into this 2007-2008 season the team is just 12-46 — the second-worst record in the league. With just 24 games left, they have a chance of finishing with a worse record than they did in year one. They are horrible on the road: They have won only two of 27 games away from Target Center.

 It’s good to see my good friend Michael Wilbon, ESPN’s co host and star of the hit show Pardon the Interruption, back working again. I talked to Michael recently in Arizona. He said he feels fine, and he looks well after having to undergo an angioplasty procedure to open a minor blockage in one of his arteries. He was hospitalized during the week of the Super Bowl in Arizona.

 Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, and biweekly he commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). He welcomes reader responses to, or visit


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