Larry Fitzgerald Restructuring Deal: Should Someone In St. Louis Follow His Lead?


Dec 29, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald (left) greets Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald following the game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Despite being only two days removed from the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl victory, the Arizona Cardinals took over the headlines yesterday. In a Tom Brady-esque move, Larry Fitzgerald stopped the presses with his announcement that he would be “restructuring” some of this massive 7-year/$113 million contract.

As most would anticipate, the news had Rams Nation in an uproar, demanding that someone on the St. Louis Rams roster “bite the bullet.” That outcry only grew louder when it was made known that the restructuring, in essence, would save the Cardinals nearly $10 million in cap space this offseason. Impressive…

…or is it?

The misconception about this Tom Brady and Larry Fitzgerald-style restructuring is that the players are taking a “pay cut.” In reality, the teams are essentially just moving the money around, typically shifting “base salary” to a “signing bonus,” which (for lack of a better term) spreads that cap hit over the remainder of that player’s deal.

To put that into laymen’s terms, the Arizona Cardinals are “kicking” the proverbial “can down the road.” For example, while Larry Fitzgerald will count only $8.6 million against their cap this season, he will now count an astounding $23.6 million against the cap next season. The bad news for Arizona is that both Carson Palmer and Patrick Peterson will be due for new contracts in 2015, which could put a quick end to the current celebration in Arizona.

For the St. Louis Rams, the idea of this type of restructuring doesn’t necessarily make sense. For players like Cortland Finnegan and Harvey Dahl, simply cutting them from the roster would be more beneficial than re-shuffling their money around.

Sam Bradford might be another “top target” for that restructuring. However, as it currently sits, the Rams would be in position to save nearly $10.5 million in cap space if, for some reason, they parted ways with Bradford at the end of the 2014 season. Restructuring his 2014 contract would inevitably increase his 2015 “dead money” figure. To put it simply, restructuring Bradford would 1) make it significantly more difficult to part ways with the quarterback in 2015 and 2) cost the St. Louis Rams “leverage” in any future contract extension negotiations (i.e. a lessened threat of the team cutting or going “in another direction”). In essence, by paying his current contract, the St. Louis Rams maintain their flexibility and options with Bradford headed into the future.

Chris Long and James Laurinaitis are the other two possibilities, but both players reach their “peak” salary cap hit this season, with built-in dropoffs headed into the 2015 season and into the future. If the Rams can weather the storm this year, the trio of Laurinaitis, Long, and Bradford (who will account for a nearly $37.2 million cap hit in 2014) will naturally fizzle down to a mere $24.6 million hit in 2015.

Most important of all, Les Snead and Kevin Demoff have a long history of intelligently maneuvering  within the confines of the salary cap. There have been little-to-no “backloaded” contracts or restructured deals that didn’t involve some “voluntary” pay cut. The St. Louis Rams would be smart to milk their extremely young roster filled with lesser, “new CPA”-friendly contracts and simply ride out the handful of cap-heavy 2014 contracts. This will continue to be any extremely important topic, as their decisions this offseason will likely set the stage for whether or not they can feasibly sustain a player like Robert Quinn at the end of his contract!