Top Five: Best Contracts In Arizona Sports History

In celebration of Larry Fitzgerald's big new contract, we rank the best contracts in Arizona sports history.

As you're no doubt aware by this time, the Arizona Cardinals inked Larry Fitzgerald to an eight-year, $120 million contract with around $45 million in guaranteed money. The deal makes the Cards superstar one of the highest paid players in the NFL and by far the highest at his position.

Certainly time will tell whether this turns out to be a good value - but if he keeps making catches like he has been the previous two preseason games then it'll probably wind up as a bargain somehow. Though I don't actually have the crystal ball to tell you how this winds up, I do have the power of hindsight and with that power comes a look at the best contracts in Arizona sports history.

The criteria for "best" is pretty simple for me:

  • The Arizona sports team has to be the one inking the guy to a contract. Example: if the D-Backs acquired a guy mid-way through a deal someone else signed him to then the years where he was under the old contract don't count.
  • Individual and team production are both taken into account.
  • Bargain matters. You should look at the contract and think the guy was worth every penny.

Honorable Mention:

  • Tom Chambers (Phoenix Suns, 1988 - 5 years, $8.7 milion) - The power forward was the NBA's first unrestricted free agent when he signed with the Suns in 1988. Buoyed by Chambers over 25 point per game scoring, the Suns went to the Western Conference Finals in 1989 and 1990. He tailed off in the 2nd half of the contract but by that point his price tag was a bargain in the NBA's changing economy.
  • Steve Finley (Arizona Diamondbacks, 1999 - 4 years, $21.5 million) - Finley was a part of the D-Backs free agency binge in 1999 that turned them from 65-win losers to a playoff team. In his four years under that original deal, Finley was a part of three playoff teams and cranked 108 home runs.
  • Curt Schilling (Arizona Diamondbacks, 2002 - 3 years, $32 million) - Schilling was a dominant part of the D-Backs championship run in 2001 and came up for free agency that offseason. He spent just two of the three years of this deal in Arizona but in the first year went 23-7 with a 3.23 ERA. Injuries impacted his 2003 production and he was dealt to Boston before the start of the 2004 season.

(5) - Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals, 2008 - 4 years, $40 million)

Fitz signed the big deal over the weekend but the one he signed in 2008 was a heck of a get for the Cards. Obviously he didn't make it to year four of this deal since his 8-year mega deal cancelled that out, but his production in those three seasons was stellar.

In the last three years, Fitzgerald played in all 48 games and caught a total of 283 balls for 3,660 yards and 31 touchdowns. Those are averages of 94/1,200/10 for the math impaired.

What may actually be more impressive is his playoff performance. In six games (several of which his running mate Anquan Boldin missed with injury), the former Pittsburgh star had 42 catches for 705 yards and a ridiculous nine touchdowns - in the process smashing playoff records previously held by Jerry Rice.

I'll go ahead and call that a solid return on investment. 

(4) - Kurt Warner (Arizona Cardinals, 2006 - 3 years, $18 million)

At this point in his career, most people thought of the two-time MVP QB as washed up. Warner signed with Arizona in 2005 and made 10 starts. Though the Cardinals were 2-8 they thought enough of him to sign him to this extension. What they didn't do is think enough of him not to draft USC star Matt Leinart.

In the 2006 season, Warner and the team got off to a relatively rough 1-4 start that wound up with then head coach Dennis Green replacing the veteran signal caller with Leinart. Warner was glued to the bench for the bulk of the remainder of the 2006 season.

But 2006 saw Green replaced with Ken Whisenhunt and Warner's door reopened. Leinart began as the starter but Whiz worked Warner into no-huddle packages and when Leinart went down with a collarbone injury against St. Louis, the job belonged to Warner.

In just 11 starts, Warner managed to throw for 3,417 yards and 27 touchdowns passes.

The QB job was an open competition in 2008 and Warner took advantage to win the job. During the 2008 season Warner threw for 4,583 yards and 30 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions. He also led the Cardinals to their first playoff berth since 1998.

He continued his sharp play in the playoffs - throwing for 1,147 yards and 11 touchdowns in the Cardinals four game playoff run.

(3) - Luis Gonzalez (Arizona Diamondbacks, 2000 - 3 years, $12.1 million)

Most people know that Gonzalez was one of the greatest trades in D-Backs history since the team swindled Detroit for the slugging left fielder at the cost of just one Karim Garcia - but LuGo's contract was a hell of a value as well. Forgive me if the numbers aren't 100% accurate - I had to do a little figuring from baseball-reference. 

After his original Detroit contract ran out following the 1999 season - which he spent with the D-Backs - Gonzalez inked the above extension that was for three years with a team option on the fourth season.

Arizona did wind up exercising the fourth year option and in those four years Gonzalez hit .308 with 142 homers and 463 RBIs. Included amongst those four years was an out of this world 2001 season where Gonzo hit 57 home runs and knocked in 142 runs. The D-Backs also managed to win something called the World Series that year and #20 produced the game-winning hit off legendary closer Mariano Rivera.

Gonzalez should be on this list solely for delivering the championship hit.

(2) -  Steve Nash (Phoenix Suns, 2004 - 5 years, $65 million)

Steve Nash is on the wrong side of 30, he's a point guard, and he plays a style that is unsustainable long-term. So was the line of thinking for the Dallas Mavericks when they allowed the shaggy haired guard to leave the team in the summer of 2004.

Most scoffed at the Suns for making such a long commitment to Nash for those very reasons and some Phoenix fans even would have preferred that contract go to center Erick Dampier.

Nash made everyone a believer in basically no time. He became the engine of a team that sky rocketed from 29-wins to 62 in 2004-2005 and won the MVP as the Suns advanced to the Western Conference Finals.

With Amar'e Stoudemire sidelined in 2005-2006, Nash dug even deeper into his bag of tricks and won another MVP while leading the Suns to another Western Conference Finals.

Though the Suns never did win the championship, Nash was a four-time All-Star over that five year period and won three NBA assist crowns. In the process he also became a Phoenix legend. 

(1) -  Randy Johnson (Arizona Diamondbacks, 1999 - 4 years, $52.4 million)

Pure brilliance, pure dominance - nobody else could be tops on this list. Randy Johnson was the big prize on the free agent market during the 1999 offseason and Jerry Colangelo stepped to the front with this offer (which included a fifth year option).

The stats and awards read like a video game. In the first four seasons of the contract, Johnson won all four NL Cy Young awards and the pitching triple crown in 2002. He also won 81 games and had an ERA under 2.50 while winning the NL strikeout crown every year from 1999-2002.

The run Randy Johnson put together from 1999 until 2002 was one of the most dominant pitching stints in baseball history and it all happened when the Big Unit was between 35 and 38 years old.

Team-wise, the Diamondbacks obviously made the playoffs three different times and won the World Series in 2001. Johnson shared the World Series MVP award with Curt Schilling after pitching 17.1 innings and surrendering just two earned runs. After going seven strong innings in Game 6, Johnson returned on zero days rest in Game 7 to pitch an inning and a third of shut out baseball.

If ever a player was worth every single penny, it's Randy Johnson.  

Editor's Note: We were going to do this story in slide show format but decided that we like you, our reader, too much for that. Also, we don't do slide shows ever.

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