Kurt Warner wound up right where he wanted to be, with a hefty pay raise to return to the Arizona team he led to the Super Bowl. The 37-year-old quarterback agreed to terms Wednesday on a two-year, $23 million contract with the Cardinals.
"I love what we've been doing," Warner said. "I love what we've been building here."
The deal includes a $15 million signing bonus. Combined with a $4 million salary for the first year of the contract, $19 million is guaranteed.
"We're ecstatic about the commitment the organization has made to us," Warner said. "Now it's my job for the next two years to go fulfill my part of the deal."
He believes it's his final NFL contract.
"You never say never," Warner said, "but I'm old."
He had talked about needing time after the season to decide whether to retire, a thought that turned out to be fleeting.
"Probably two days after the Pro Bowl all that was on my mind was football," Warner said. "I told my wife, 'Sorry honey, it's not time.'"
He said he understands that he's getting a lot of money in a time of financial hardship for so many.
"You know the numbers are staggering, and to add to that the economy and where people are struggling, it's tough," Warner said. "But all I know is I've worked hard to get to the point that I'm at, to be in this position and have opportunities like this and I don't regret that fact.
"The fact is that's the market for what I do. I'm fortunate for that and I'm blessed in so many ways."
Warner and his wife Brenda made a highly publicized visit to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday, but he said he knew quickly that he wanted to return to the Cardinals.
"I told my wife probably 45 minutes into it that I just felt God say 'You're supposed to be in Arizona,'" Warner said, "and I told her that. She tried to tell me to stay open, but He just continued to confirm it."
While the 49ers are planning a run-oriented offense, the Cardinals were among the best passing teams in the NFL, with a trio of outstanding receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston.
Warner said the 49ers made him an offer that was larger than the one he agreed to in Arizona. But on the flight back from San Francisco, he said he called his agent Mark Bartelstein and told him to do what was necessary to get the Cardinals deal done.
Initially, Warner had sought to be among the top five paid quarterbacks in the NFL, about $14.5 million a year. But on Tuesday, Bartelstein offered Arizona a two-year, $23 million deal. The Cardinals initially had offered two years and $20 million.
The deal was essentially reached on Tuesday, Cardinals general manager Rod Graves said, with only a few details to be ironed out on Wednesday.
"We wanted to come up with a number that was fair to Kurt, and to be able to do that within the context of other team objectives," Graves said.
The Cardinals now turn their attention to possible free agent signings and new contracts for some of their current players, including safety Adrian Wilson and linebacker Karlos Dansby.
Earlier in the negotiations, Warner had offered to give $1 million a year of his contract toward a new deal for Boldin, but that provision wasn't in the final agreement.
Boldin has asked to be traded because he feels the Cardinals failed to follow through on a promise for a new contract a year ago.
Graves said the team still plans to eventually address Boldin's desire for a long-term contract.
Warner has been with the Cardinals for four seasons but had to win the starting job from Matt Leinart in training camp a year ago. He went on to have a Pro Bowl season that rivaled his league MVP days with the St. Louis Rams.
He started all 20 games for Arizona last season. In 16 regular-season games, Warner completed 67 percent of his throws for 4,583 yards and 30 touchdowns, with 14 interceptions. He finished second in the NFL in completions, completion percentage and yards passing.
In four playoff games, he was even better, completing 68 percent of his passes for 1,147 yards and 11 touchdowns, with three interceptions.
But for one extremely costly interception, Warner was brilliant in Arizona's 27-23 loss to Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl, completing 31 of 43 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns.
In addition, Warner was named the NFL man of the year for his off-the-field contributions, as well as his playing excellence.
Graves called Warner "an elite player, a class act, and truly a professional."
Warner's return to the top was one of the best stories of last season, an intriguing chapter to his storybook career. His well-known tale includes stocking shelves in a supermarket, then working his way through the Arena Football League and NFL Europe to the Rams, where he was thrust into the starting job after an injury to Trent Green.
Warner led the Rams to two Super Bowls, winning one of them, but lost his starting job to Marc Bulger and left as a free agent for the New York Giants, where he was displaced by rookie Eli Manning.
Then it was off to Arizona, where he went from backup to the leader of a franchise that rocketed from nowhere in 2008.
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