The No. 1 question over the offseason will be whether Larry Fitzgerald, with a $23.6 million cap hit, will be back with the Arizona Cardinals next year.
The Cardinals, who are now about $20 million over the salary cap limit of $140 million, would have to restructure his deal to keep him.
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If Fitzgerald is cut, the Cardinals would save $9.2 million off the salary cap and carry $14.4 million in dead money.
The top candidate for the Cardinals to shave cap space is defensive end Darnell Dockett, who will turn 34 in May and is coming off of a torn ACL during training camp of last year. Dockett carries a $9.8 million cap hit.
The Cardinals will have to decide between resigning free-agent outside linebacker Sam Acho or cutting outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. Alexander is a solid veteran who is a solid contributor on special-teams. Acho, who excels at stopping the run, would be resigned at a similar price as Alexander’s cap number.
Sep 8, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals center Lyle Sendlein (63) looks over the San Diego Chargers defense before snapping the ball during the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Those players are the easy cap targets, but if Fitzgerald refuses to restructure his deal, the Cardinals could still find a way to keep him, but would have to sacrifice some key veteran players. Cornerback Jerraud Powers, Center Lyle Sendlein, and free safety Rashad Johnson are other players who could be cut if the Cardinals want to keep Fitz, even if he refuses to restructure his deal.
Guard Ted Larsen backs up Sendlein at center, so he is already a valid replacement if Sendlein is a cap casualty.
If the Cardinals cut those players under that scenario, they would sacrifice a lot of their veteran leadership. On the other hand, Arizona already has solid veterans that would return such as quarterback Carson Palmer, left tackle Jared Veldheer, defensive ends Calais Campbell and Frostee Rucker, cornerback Patrick Peterson, linebacker Daryl Washington and outside linebacker Matt Shaughnessy.
In the worst-case scenario as summed up below, the Cardinals could still find a way to get the cap under $140 million while keeping Fitzgerald at his current cap figure. The best-case scenario though is to restructure and keep more of those solid veteran players.
Player Position Cap Figure Dead Money Cap Savings
Darnell Dockett DE $9.8 million $3 million $6.8 million
Ted Ginn WR/PR/KR $4 million $1.5 million $2.5 million
Lorenzo Alexander OLB $2 million $450,000 $1.55 million
Lyle Sendlein C $4.3 million $1.1 million $3.2 million
Rashad Johnson FS $2.2 million $330,000 $1.9 million
Jerraud Powers CB $5.4 million $1 million $4.4 million
Totals $27.7 million $7.8 million $20.35 million