On Tuesday, Tom E. Curran of Comcast Sportsnet reported that the Patriots expressed interest in the possibility of acquiring star receiver Larry Fitzgerald from the Arizona Cardinals this past offseason.
Since then, the story has created a media frenzy in the Boston market, and not surprisingly, has fans salivating over a potential Brady to Fitzgerald connection. Reports have emerged in the last 24 hours or so that while New England may have certainly had internal discussions about trying to bring Fitzgerald onboard, they never actually contacted Cardinals' brass to gauge a price tag for the 30 year-old pro bowler. In either case, it's clear that Bill Belichick acknowledges this team's lack of a true number one wide receiver and at least thought about rectifying the issue in a big way.
Why didn't he pull the trigger on a deal then to bring Fitzgerald to Foxborough? As is almost always the case with a player of Fitzgerald's caliber, it begins and ends with the money. Fitzgerald's cap hit for the 2014 season comes in at an ungodly $18 million. Just for comparison's sake, New England's highest paid player-that guy Tom Brady- has a cap hit just north of $ 14 million this upcoming season. It gets worse. Under Fitz' current contract, his cap hit in 2015 will balloon to over $21 million. Add in the fact that his base salary is set at just under $ 15 million per though the 2018 season, and you can get an idea why most team's wouldn't even waste their breath with such a rich contract. Fitzgerald is reportedly willing to a re-structuring of his contract, but without an extension, it would still take some serious magic to squeeze him onto the roster and have any hopes of re-signing Aqib Talib or Julian Edelman.
So Fitzgerald in a Patriots uniform may never be more than a dream, but that doesn't mean this team can't be aggressive and get the durable, veteran receiver on the outside that this team just hasn't had since the departure of Randy Moss.
One guy who fits the bill perfectly is Houston Texans' standout Andre Johnson. Johnson is almost two full years older than Fitzgerald at 32, but his production hasn't shown any signs of decline. This season, with a combination of Matt Schcaub and Case Keenum slinging him the ball, Johnson posted 109 receptions for 1,407 yards and five touchdowns. Consider the fact that Schaub was benched mid-season for a historic string of "pick-six" interceptions, and inconsistent quarterback play the rest of the way led to 14 consecutive losses to the end the season, and Johnson's stats are that much more impressive.
Johnson is also in line to be paid handsomely. After all, highly sought after commodities usually don't go for scraps. But with a contract that expires after the 2016 season, absorbing the remainder of Johnson's contract would be not only feasible, but brilliant.
Though not a flat rate, Johnson's cap hit over the next three years comes out to roughly $15.5 million per year with an annual base salary of $10.5 million. If New England wanted to get creative with the numbers they could extend Johnson for one or two seasons and backload some of the cap money for extra financial flexibility in the short-term.
Don't forget, the head coach of the Houston Texans will be former Pats offensive coordinator Bill O' Brien. Last season, Belichick reached out to close friend and then- Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano to inquire about Aqib Talib. Talib's dynamic playmaking ability gave New England's secondary an entirely different look, and an offensive player of his caliber could do the same for a lackluster receiving core. Bringing back Julian Edelman may be a pivotal goal for New England's front office, but if they can't supplement with legitimate big play guys on the outside, don't expect the Patriots' postseason fortunes to change any time soon.
This deal just makes too much sense not to happen- – so it probably won't. The only real question is compensation. In the NFL, general managers and personnel directors almost always want current starters back in return. While drafting and developing young talent is the best way to remain competitive year after year, the selection process is an inexact science and players with proven track records are perceived as less of a risk.
This year's first round pick, the 29th overall selection would inevitably be the first piece of the puzzle. After that, there are countless variations as to who could be dangled as trade bait. Perhaps O'Brien liked what he saw in quarterback Ryan Mallett's development and isn't sold on Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel with the number one overall pick. Maybe Belichick wants to move a 32 yeard old, 340 pound run-stuffing defensive tackle coming off a significant Achilles injury with just one year left on his current deal.
Whatever the options are, Bill Belichick should be considering all of them if it means acquiring a game-changer like Andre Johnson. It's been said before and it will be said again, but Brady and Belichick will only get so many more cracks at solving what has been a nine year (and running) super bowl puzzle.
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