NFL Trade Deadline: Bringing Larry Fitzgerald back to Pittsburgh

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

The former Pitt Panthers star wide receiver returning to the site of his college glory days is a bit of a stretch, but being reunited with the offensive coordinator with whom he broke NFL playoff records has to be enticing as well.

What kind of price would wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald put on returning to the place he spent his college years?

Likely too much.

At the same time, though, Fitzgerald - whom the Cardinals are reportedly looking to trade this offseason unless they make a deal by the trade deadline, which isn't expected - is going to find there won't be many places likely to pick up the rest of his current contract in exchange for anything.

High-priced NFL players really have two choices as they head into the twilight of their respective careers. They can either play for a huge salary, or they can take less to play for a winner. Clearly that's a relative set of options - what's "huge" in terms of salary to a player and what are the requirements of consideration of a winning team?

In Fitzgerald's case, the teams in the league with a huge amount of cap room aren't necessarily good teams. The ones with the largest amount of space combined with the most amount of players signed for next year are Cleveland and Buffalo - each with under $101 million in salary and at least 41 players currently under contract.

Considering Fitzgerald would easily be able to threaten not to report to whatever team he'd be traded to, the Cardinals would be wise to seek his blessing before making a deal. If he's going to get moved from the only team he's known in his pro career, why would he want to join the ranks of two of the worst AFC teams over the last five years?

The Steelers, on the other hand...

Cap space would be the first, second and third reasons why this deal wouldn't work, but it's all set to how much the Steelers could get Arizona to pay of his remaining deal, or to what kind of contract Fitzgerald would be willing to accept to play for a team with a budding offense, high level quarterback and great multi-faceted second receiver.

Arizona, too, would likely be interested in soon-to-be free agent Emmanuel Sanders - probably a worthy replacement chip to add to the stack held by his former offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, in the desert. Sure, they could get him in free agency, but they could get him now, along with a high pick (second round), provided Fitzgerald is open to negotiating his contract.

Clearly, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley has had a slight bit of success with Fitzgerald in the past. Steelers fans no doubt remember his 64-yard touchdown against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII - one that gave him the all-time single playoff record of 546 receiving yards. At 30 years of age, too, there's still plenty of tread on the tires.

Again, though...the cap. The Steelers are currently projected at being $134,353,582 in cap salary for the 2014 season. Those are what's projected now, which includes players who are under contract. Injured offensive tackle Levi Brown, worth $6,25 million, is not likely to be on the Steelers in 2014 - or at least not at that salary.

Cornerback Ike Taylor has a cap number of $11.9 million after his recent restructure. That's pretty much a sure sign the team will give him some kind of extension in the offseason to thin that cap number out a bit. Ditto for Troy Polamalu, who has a cap number of $10.88 million, but $2.6 million in dead money if released. Although not ideal, if Polamalu wishes to get a new contract for perhaps less money, he can accept one with new money but a lower overall amount than he would receive in 2014 under his current deal. If he doesn't wish to do that, he'd be released.

These are just a few spitball ideas, and ones that may be made anyway, regardless of a pipe dream of bringing Fitzgerald back to Pittsburgh, but the idea isn't preposterous either.

Throw in a 2014 draft pick (keeping in mind the third round pick they dealt to Cleveland for the pick that landed them Shamarko Thomas is gone, but a third or fourth round comp pick that can't be traded is coming for the loss of Mike Wallace to free agency), and perhaps a deal for Fitzgerald could be struck.

The Steelers are struggling quite a bit in the red zone, and have been since roughly the middle of last season. Fitzgerald's presence alone could help with that - line him up opposite Heath Miller in any kind of package, the Steelers would like their chances of scoring from inside the five.

Maybe it's nothing more than a fun conversation, but in all seriousness, if the Steelers defeat the Raiders in Oakland today, sitting at 3-4, a move like that wouldn't be unrealistic.

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