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Cardinals sign Fitzgerald to four-year, $40 million extension

Two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald signed a $40 million, four-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday just before leaving on a South American vacation he surely can afford.

PHOENIX -- Two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald signed a $40 million, four-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday just before leaving on a South American vacation he surely can afford.

The deal includes $30 million guaranteed, a generous figure for a franchise that was long considered one of the stingiest in sports.

The contract also includes a no-trade clause, which means Fitzgerald would have to approve any move to another team.

"This is what I wanted to happen," he said on a conference call during an airport layover. "There was a great deal of dialogue through this whole process and everybody got what they wanted."

The Cardinals wanted to restructure Fitzgerald's incentive-laden rookie contract because he had reached many of the benchmarks and was to receive $14.6 million in 2008 and just under $17.4 million in 2009.

Those figures left the Cardinals with hardly any room under the salary cap to sign free agents. In addition, the contract locks up Fitzgerald through 2011, when he still will be only 28 years old.

"Our commitment was to make sure we continue to make progress with our football team, and we feel good about the fact that we were able to keep a player of Larry's caliber," general manager Rod Graves said. "We are going to continue to do that with all our core players."

Earlier, the team placed the franchise tag on linebacker Karlos Dansby, but Graves has said efforts will continue to sign him to a long-term deal.

Fitzgerald, a one-time ballboy for the Minnesota Vikings, led the NFC in receptions with 100 last season for 1,409 yards and 10 touchdowns, earning his second Pro Bowl bid in four seasons. At 24, he has 330 career catches for 4,544 yards and 34 scores in 60 games.

"When you have a player like Larry, who produces like Larry, your focus is going to be on keeping those players," said coach Ken Whisenhunt, who in his first season directed the Cardinals to an 8-8 record, their best mark since 1998.

He and Anquan Boldin have formed one of the league's top receiving tandems. Boldin also has made the Pro Bowl twice.

"When you have two receives the caliber of Larry and Anquan, it makes it tough to defend you," Whisenhunt said.

Fitzgerald has said all along that he wanted to remain with Arizona, the team that chose him as the third pick overall out of Pittsburgh in 2004.

"Contract negotiations sometimes can go back-and-forth a lot, but I knew in my heart that the Cardinals wanted me to stay a Cardinal and I know that they knew I wanted to be a Cardinal," he said.

Fitzgerald was a lifelong friend of Dennis Green, who was fired as Cardinals coach a year ago. But he has warmed to Whisenhunt.

The two sat together courtside at Sunday's NBA game between San Antonio and Phoenix. There were many discussions between the two, Whisenhunt said.

"It was so helpful having someone I could talk to because he really talked to me and helped me understand, from a business standpoint, where the team was," Fitzgerald said. "But then he could also relate to me as a player. ... The more and more I talk to him, he is a man I want to go out and play for because he stands for something. I am happy to go out and play for a man like that."

Fitzgerald said he was anxious to get the deal done so attention would be diverted elsewhere.

"I am a guy who doesn't like to be in the spotlight," he said. "I would rather go unnoticed and do my job and help my team where I can and kind of go under the radar."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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