Larry Fitzgerald, leverage and the Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals need to re-sign Larry Fitzgerald. They know it, he knows it, everyone knows it.



That knowledge and two provisions in the wide receiver's existing contract make Fitzgerald the most powerful player on the team and one of the most powerful players in the league. He is not the Cardinals' general manager, but the real GM, Rod Graves, and coach Ken Whisenhunt would be wise to keep one question in mind when making moves this offseason: What would Larry think?

Failing to meet Fitzgerald's expectations for upgrading the roster could make the receiver less interested in re-signing. The Cardinals would get no value in return for Fitzgerald if he rebuffed their efforts to re-sign him.

Fitzgerald's existing contract, which runs one more season, includes a no-trade clause and a provision preventing the team from naming him its franchise player, should the franchise designation exist under a new collective bargaining agreement. Those provisions give Fitzgerald leverage as the sides begin talking.

The Cardinals are in this position because they pushed money toward the back of Fitzgerald's rookie contract in lieu of a voidable season. When the value ballooned, Arizona ran low enough on salary cap room to affect basic roster operations. Fitzgerald agreed to rework his deal, but Arizona paid a high price for the privilege. Fitzgerald, 27, signed for only four years, putting him in position to reap three mega-contracts before age 30.

The Cardinals ran into similar challenges with another Top 10 draft choice, Antrel Rolle.

Arizona holds the fifth overall choice in the 2011 draft. How the team structures a contract for the player it drafts in that spot will help determine whether or not history repeats itself.