Patriots Trading For Larry Fitzgerald More Plausible Than It Sounds

Larry Fitzgerald, Bill BelichickNew England Patriots fans banged the table throughout the 2013 season, demanding their team acquire a top-tier veteran receiver.

It never happened, though, perhaps adding to the reason that the Patriots didn’t make Super Bowl XLVIII, but injuries to key players were far more damning. One can understand Patriots fans’ excitement, however, when Comcast Sports Net’s Tom E. Curran reported Tuesday that New England showed interest last offseason in trading for Arizona Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald, who certainly fits the “top-tier veteran receiver” bill.

Pulling off such a deal last offseason would have been nearly impossible. Trading Fitzgerald would have cost the Cardinals $10 million in salary-cap room for the 2013 season. Teams typically — and understandably — are reluctant to trade players when it doesn’t immediately save them money on the cap.

Trading Fitzgerald before the 2014 season is much more feasible, however. Fitzgerald is still owed $74.5 million and has shown a reluctance to restructure his contract. Trading Fitzgerald after the 2014 NFL year officially begins would save the Cardinals $8 million in cap room. The Patriots would have to take on $66.5 million owed to Fitzgerald, but with no guaranteed money left on the deal (since the Cardinals would have to pay out that money), the receiver might be far less reluctant to restructure. Failing to do so would leave Fitzgerald susceptible to being cut or traded again, since the Patriots wouldn’t be penalized for doing so.

The reason the Patriots would want to trade for Fitzgerald is obvious. Tom Brady lacked dangerous weapons during the 2013 season, and Fitzgerald would be the best outside receiver the quarterback has had since the 2007 version of Randy Moss. An offense with Brady, Fitzgerald, tight end Rob Gronkowski, receivers Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce, and running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen (wide receiver Julian Edelman and running back LeGarrette Blount are free agents, and adding Fitzgerald would lower the possibility of them re-signing) would be one of the top units in the NFL.

But why would the Cardinals trade Fitzgerald? There already have been reports that the team might be willing to pull off such a trade. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported in October that “a trade for Fitzgerald will be in play this offseason.”

For the first time in seven years, and for just the second time in 10 seasons, Fitzgerald did not lead the Cardinals in receiving yards. Second-year pro Michael Floyd caught 65 passes for 1,041 yards and five touchdowns in 2013, compared to Fitzgerald’s 82 catches for 954 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Cardinals likely would acquire a slew of picks from the Patriots, and one of those probably would be spent on a replacement for Fitzgerald.

The Cardinals are a team on the rise — still a few years off from ascending to the top of the NFC West — while the Patriots are a ticking timer with Brady and Bill Belichick nearing the end of their long run. The Cardinals have at least one more year of a dangerous Seattle Seahawks team to compete with, while the Patriots are nearly guaranteed another AFC East title for the next two seasons.

There’s also the fact that the Cardinals don’t have their future starting quarterback currently on the roster. And picking at No. 20 in the 2014 NFL draft won’t allow them to select one of this year’s top quarterback prospects. Pairing that pick with some Patriots draft choices might, though.

Fitzgerald would help any team, and that includes the Cardinals, but trading him now might be more valuable to Arizona’s future than keeping the 30-year-old receiver. If the Patriots are willing to forfeit the draft choices, the Cardinals might be more than willing to give up their franchise player.

When I first heard about the Patriots’ interest in Fitzgerald, it seemed like a pipe dream. But making the trade would make sense for both teams.

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