Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers. That's it. Those are the four players in the NFL still earning more annually than Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who signed a groundbreaking eight-year, $120 million contract extension that will pay him about $50 million in guaranteed money.
At $15 million per year, Fitzgerald now has the fifth-largest contract in the NFL, matching Oakland's Richard Seymour. Even as they break the bank, the Cardinals have to be thrilled -- Fitzgerald, the franchise's all-time leader in receptions and its most popular player, could now be a lifer in Arizona.
Other teams around the league might not be so happy.
With four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and five Pro Bowl selections since 2005, Fitzgerald has an extremely strong claim to the title of "Best receiver in football." But there are a few other big-name wide receivers in line for new deals soon who just saw the financial bar raised.
Dwayne Bowe, DeSean Jackson and Vincent Jackson are in the final year of their respective deals. Detroit's Calvin Johnson, who could be on the verge of superstardom, could hit the market after next season. None of those players can claim the type of production over an extended period of time that Fitzgerald can, but they're all in that next wave of talent.
Bowe is coming off a 15-touchdown season that saw him haul in 72 catches for a career-high 1,162 yards. Even if he doesn't get up into Fitzgerald's money range -- and he won't -- he could earn a massive bump by following up his 2010 Pro Bowl run with another stellar season. The pecking order of receiver salaries behind Fitzgerald looks like this: Carolina's Steve Smith ($10.9 million per season), Brandon Marshall ($10 million), Calvin Johnson ($9.7 million), Andre Johnson ($9.2 million).
If Bowe could put together back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons, he'd have an argument to land somewhere in the middle of that group.
Same goes for Philadelphia's Jackson, who's making a measly $600K this season. He's topped 1,000 yards receiving each of the past two seasons and has proven nearly irreplaceable in the Eagles' offense.
Vincent Jackson, meanwhile, sought a new deal throughout last season, even holding out for 11 games in an effort to land one. In 2008 and '09, his past two full seasons, he topped 1,000 yards receiving. A full year as Philip Rivers' go-to guy on offense should carry him over that plateau again.
And then there's Calvin Johnson. If any player is in a situation similar to Fitzgerald's, it's Johnson. Like Fitzgerald, Johnson has become one of the faces of his franchise. And like Fitzgerald, he's done little to show signs of slowing down any time soon.
Johnson will make $9.7 million this year, then $14 million in 2012, the final year of his Detroit contract. Say he outplays Fitzgerald this year and next, and Fitzgerald still has six years remaining at $15 million per -- would Johnson accept less? Could Detroit afford to pay him more? Those questions figure to keep the Lions busy for the next two seasons.
We also can't dismiss the possibility that Fitzgerald just pushed the Chris Johnson timetable back again. If CJ2K wants the Titans to pay him like one of the top non-QB weapons in football, he now has a specific price point to target.