FLAGSTAFF, ARIZ. (AP) - After a frenzy of activity elsewhere in recent days, the Arizona Cardinals are turning to an effort to sign star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald to a new contract.
General manager Rod Graves said on Monday that talks are beginning this week and he believes a new deal can be reached before Arizona's season opener on Sept. 11.
"We want Larry to end his career as an Arizona Cardinal," Graves told The Associated Press, "and we are prepared to make him the highest-paid player in team history and one of the highest-paid players in the NFL."
Fitzgerald joked after Monday morning's workout that he was worried Arizona's money had dried up after all the recent signings. But he praised the team's personnel moves, saying it's the most active he's seen the franchise since he came to the team as a 20-year-old rookie in 2004.
"I don't want to leave Arizona," Fitzgerald said. "This is where I started, I feel like this is my family here."
He said he didn't want to talk about the contract, though.
"You have to talk to coach Whiz and Mr. Graves about that stuff," Fitzgerald said. "When you let yourself start thinking about other things that are not based on the team, you lose focus, and that's what I really want to focus on is bettering the team."
Fitzgerald is keenly aware of his value, though. He is in the final year of a four-year, $40 million contract that included $30 million guaranteed. Not yet 28, he is going to sign his third major contract before he reaches 30. He does not want to endure another season like last year's 5-11 campaign. Still, he managed to top 1,000 yards receiving for the sixth time in his eight NFL seasons even though the Cardinals ranked next to last in the league in passing offense.
Graves and the rest of the Cardinals' staff knew that an upgrade at quarterback was essential if they were to re-sign No. 11, who has become the face of the franchise. That's why obtaining Kevin Kolb from the Philadelphia Eagles was by far the team's No. 1 priority, even though they had to give up cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick to get him, then sign him to a five-year, $63 million deal with $21 million guaranteed.
Fitzgerald so wanted Kolb that the two worked out together during the NFL lockout. Kolb, who turns 27 later this month, has a chance for a long-term partnership with a player who has 613 catches for 8,204 yards and 65 touchdowns in seven NFL seasons, not to mention shredding most of the league postseason receiving records in Arizona's run to the Super Bowl in the 2008 season. Kolb said he never talked to the Cardinals about re-signing Fitzgerald but he thought about it.
"That's what obviously I'm hoping," Kolb said, "especially now that I'm watching practices. I mean, the guy's amazing. He's made two or three catches in practice already. Like I said, I've been here for what, 48 hours, and I'm already expecting when the ball goes up he's going to make the catch every time. It's almost unfair to him, you know, but he does it. He works his tail off. I'm buzzing through film last night and he's sprinting 40 yards after every catch. He's just an impressive guy to work with, and obviously play with."
Kolb also likes Fitzgerald's low-key demeanor. In an era where wide receivers are often prone to histrionics, Fitzgerald simply flips the ball to the referee after a touchdown catch.
"I think it should tell every young receiver you don't have to be a diva to be a great player," Kolb said. "Him, along with Andre Johnson and maybe a couple of others, are the best in the league and I think those two handle themselves great. Everybody should look up to that, not only receivers but every position, and that's why he's not only a great leader on our team but a great leader for the NFL and an ambassador to everybody out there."
Kolb is ineligible to practice with the team until later this week, so he has had to limit his activity to watching and talking. He and Fitzgerald had several conversations during Monday morning's walkthrough workout.
"It helps to a certain extent, it absolutely does," Kolb said. "We sit right next to each other in meetings and the thing I love about the way coaches run things here is it's kind of an open discussion. So Fitz and I are sitting there picking each other's brains and understanding the way he likes to do things, the way I like to see things and do things. So it will help but obviously the next step is getting out there and completing the ball to one another."