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The Arizona Cardinals ensured the future dynamism of their passing offense by retaining the one element of that offense they couldn't do without. On Saturday, the Cardinals announced that they signed Fitzgerald to a new 8-year, $120 million deal with almost $50 million guaranteed. The extension puts Fitzgerald in Arizona through the 2018 season (at least hypothetically, given the funny nature of NFL contracts), and makes him the highest-paid non-quarterback in NFL history. Per John Clayton of ESPN.com, only Peyton and Eli Manning, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers now have a higher average salary than Fitzgerald.
Selected third overall by Arizona in the 2004 draft out of Pitt, Fitzgerald has amassed 613 catches for 8204 yards, a 13.4 per-catch average, and 65 touchdowns.
When I talked with Fitzgerald in March, he discussed his uncertain future, but in a way that typified his calm and classy demeanor.
"Coach Whisenhunt and his staff have a really good grasp of what's right in terms of winning, and I really like playing for them and in that city. Hopefully, we'll reach an agreement, and I'll be able to end my career there. That's what I would like to do."
Fitzgerald was set to be a free agent after the 2011 season, and there was a provision in his current contract preventing the Cards from franchising him in 2012. One thing that Fitzgerald wanted to see from his only NFL franchise was the re-establishment of stability and excellence at the quarterback position.
To that end, in the offseason, the Cardinals traded a second-round pick and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Philadelphia Eagles for the services of quarterback Kevin Kolb, who is now supposed to bring the Cards back to the glory days brought about by Kurt Warner a few years back. Kolb may never match Warner's talent, but at least he's got Warner's primary weapon at his disposal.
If any proof was needed as to the excellence Fitzgerald brings to the game, that came in 2010, when he caught 90 passes for 1137 yards and six touchdowns with a quarterback rotation of John Skelton, Derek Anderson, and Max Hall. And even with his totals, Fitzgerald went way down last season in Football Outsiders' efficiency metrics, proving that there's only so much any receiver can bring to the table.
The Fitzgerald signing leaves the Cards with several remaining offensive questions. Rookie running back Ryan Williams suffered a torn patellar tendon in Arizona's 28-20 Week 2 preseason loss to the Green Bay Packers, the team lacks true complementary receivers to take the pressure off Fitzgerald (though Andre Roberts is an intriguing player), and the offensive line remains a work in progress — especially at left tackle.
But the one thing the Cardinals could not have survived was the loss of Fitzgerald — and now, most likely, they have him for the rest of his career.
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