Fitzgerald inks #036;20 million deal

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Larry Fitzgerald is the latest rookie to get a huge contract, signing a deal with Arizona on Monday that appears to give the third pick in the draft as much money as either of the first two choices.

Fitzgerald, the wide receiver from Pitt, received $20 million in guaranteed money from the Cardinals, the same as quarterback Eli Manning, No. 1 overall, got from the New York Giants, and $1.5 million more than Oakland gave offensive tackle Robert Gallery. A source who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity said Fitzgerald's entire package could be worth up to $60 million, $6 million more than Manning could get with incentives and the same as Gallery's deal.

On the other hand, contracts are an inexact science, especially this year, when deals have to be creative to fit into an increasingly complicated rookie salary cap system. Moreover, teams rarely announce figures in deals and agents often inflate theirs to make themselves look good.

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Fitzgerald's signing means only seven of the 32 first-round choices were unsigned as camps moved into full swing Monday. Green Bay was the other team to sign its first-rounder, cornerback Ahmad Carroll, 25th overall.

The most difficult negotiations are likely to be with quarterback Philip Rivers (No. 4), tight end Kellen Winslow (No. 6) and perhaps quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (No. 11).

Rivers was chosen by the Giants, then traded to the Chargers, and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, is believed to be seeking first-choice money from San Diego, a team traditionally penurious with rookies. The Chargers' reputation is such that Manning, his agent and his family asked San Diego not to take him.

Winslow was taken by Cleveland, which last week announced it was willing to give him the same money that safety Sean Taylor, No. 5 overall, got from Washington. That was rejected by Winslow's agent, Kevin Poston, who is considered by most teams a very hard negotiator.

Roethlisberger is seeking a $9 million bonus from Pittsburgh, which would be more than the 10th pick, cornerback Dunta Robinson, got from Houston. His agent is Leigh Steinberg, who normally gets his clients into camp on time or close to it, but has traditionally argued that quarterbacks are worth a premium, logical because he represents a lot of them.

Steinberg was in Pittsburgh on Monday, talking with the Steelers. Another first-round rookie, Seattle defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs appeared close to a deal, although he wasn't in camp.

''He wants to be here,'' coach Mike Holmgren said of the 23rd overall pick. ''With a first-round pick, this tends to happen.''

Fitzgerald seemingly got the premium without being a QB.

''Give them credit,'' Eugene Parker, Fitzgerald's agent, said of the usually frugal Cardinals after signing his client . ''They stepped up and negotiated. They were motivated, we were motivated, and even though things could be a little adversarial at times, the focus stayed on what was important: getting him there on time.''

Williams files retirement papers

Ricky Williams filed retirement papers with the NFL that probably will prevent him from playing this season, even if he changes his mind about quitting. Miami was informed Monday that the papers were filed with the NFL Management Council late last week, a few days after Williams told the Dolphins he decided to retire at 27.

The papers aren't binding. But because Williams was in the league's substance abuse program, he can't return for one year without penalty. Williams has said he's a three-time offender in the program, meaning the penalty would be an indefinite suspension that would prohibit him from playing this season.