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Cards, Fitzgerald still talking

The little deals are done. But the big deal is unfinished.
/ Source: East Valley Tribune

The little deals are done. But the big deal is unfinished. The Cardinals moved to lock up several players for the upcoming season, but were unable to reach a long-term contract for Larry Fitzgerald by the start of the free-agency period Thursday night.

"We're still talking," Cardinals general manager Rod Graves said Thursday afternoon.

But, "We don't have a deal in place.

"I don't have an indication a deal is imminent but . you never know what turn it will take."

Unless an agreement is reached, Fitzgerald will count about $16.5 million toward the salary cap for the upcoming season because of incentives he reached on his rookie contract.

The Cardinals want a new, long-term deal to bring that number down.

With that uncertainty lingering, the Cardinals did not re-sign linebacker Calvin Pace and receiver Bryant Johnson.

They became free agents Thursday night, and they may well not come back.

"The door is still open," Graves said. "I've talked with both agents, and they understand that."

Yet, "We understand that given the interest level that may exist, we may not be able to act quickly enough to get a deal in place."

Pace, who was drafted by the Cardinals in 2003 and is coming off his best season, said of his free-agent status, "I can't help but be excited. . This is all new to me."

Of the Cardinals, Pace said, "I'm receptive to anything they want to put out there. But I know there may be other things they want to do, other positions (to be addressed) in free agency.

"Everything is still open."

The Cardinals acted to retain a number of players for the upcoming season, while declining to lock up others.

They extended high tender offers of $2 million for the 2008 season to cornerback Eric Green and defensive end Antonio Smith.

The offers to the restricted free agents mean any other team that wants to offer them a contract would have to give the Cardinals a first-round draft pick as compensation.

And that means Green and Smith will be staying put.

Smith had indicated he expected a middle tender offer, which would have paid him $1.4 million and required a second-round pick as compensation.

The Cardinals also confirmed their low tender offer of $927,000 to offensive lineman Elton Brown.

The Cardinals did not offer tenders to linebacker Darryl Blackstock, receiver Jerheme Urban, tight end Tim Euhus and receiver Ahmad Merritt.

They could still make offers to these players for the minimum salary of $520,000.

The Cardinals also extended offers to a trio of first-year players for whom the team holds exclusive rights: cornerback Michael Adams; tight end Troy Bienemann; and wide receiver Jamaica Rector.

But the free-agent market could be slim this offseason.

The lack of a long-term agreement with Fitzgerald "limits the opportunities" the Cardinals have early in the free-agent signing period and "slows our ability" to re-sign the team's own free agents, Graves said.

Fitzgerald's agent, Eugene Parker, has not returned calls on the matter.

Still, the Cardinals expect to bring in free-agent prospects next week.

"They have to fit not only our personnel objectives, they have to fit our salary situation," Graves said.

"If we're not able to have an effect on Larry's cap number, we'll have to make adjustments on our roster in terms of signings and re-signings."

Club officials hope they can spot opportunities later in the signing period as they did last year, when they came up with such valuable signings as tackle Mike Gandy and cornerback Rod Hood.