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History says year three is make or break for Murray with the Cardinals

Kyler Murray’s patience with the doormat Cardinal franchise could be greatly tested if the team again fails to reach the playoffs.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Below are current, notable quarterbacks who earned a postseason birth within their first three years (as a starter) in the NFL:

Russell Wilson
Matthew Stafford
Derek Carr
Josh Allen
Baker Mayfield
Lamar Jackson
Carson Wentz
Jared Goff
Mitch Trubisky
Deshaun Watson
Patrick Mahomes
Tom Brady
Drew Brees
Aaron Rodgers
Dak Prescott
Ben Roethlisberger
Matt Ryan
Cam Newton
Andy Dalton
Marcus Mariota
Kirk Cousins
Phillip Rivers
Teddy Bridgewater

Why is this important to point out?

Maybe because Kyler Murray will be entering his third year in the NFL next season. The young, playmaking quarterback has been everything and more the Super Bowl-less Cardinal franchise could have wanted when they selected him first overall in the spring of 2019.

If we rewind back to that spring, the Cardinals had completely bottomed out as a franchise. They not only had the first overall selection, but what came before was perhaps the worst season in Arizona franchise history. The 2018 Cardinal offense, specifically, was statistically the worst the NFL had seen in nearly two decades.

Yet everything changed upon Murray’s arrival to the desert. The former Heisman winner immediately made the team watchable on a national level, earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors despite a losing record (5-10-1). In year two, Kyler Murray took his game to another level, accounting for 37 total touchdowns en route to becoming the first home grown Cardinal QB to earn a Pro Bowl birth since Neil Lomax (1987).

Murray has quickly become the face of the Arizona Cardinal football franchise and that’s a good thing if you’re owner Michael Bidwill.

Yet something is still missing...

Despite Murray’s near herculean efforts in 2020, the Cardinals squandered a golden opportunity to capitalize on their 6-3 start. The team, due much in part to shotty offensive coaching, finished the season on a 2-5 spiral thus missing the playoffs in the process. The Cardinals five year post season draught would remain at least until the following winter. Questions have begun to arise as to whether or not head coach Kliff Kingsbury is capable of maximizing Murray’s talent while leading a 53-man roster to the promise land.

So if you’re scoring at home, that’s two strong seasons from Murray yet two missed postseason trips for the Cardinal franchise.

Which leads us back to our previous list of notable NFL signal callers who, despite certain flaws, all managed to punch their ticket to dance by year three.

Now lets look at some other notable quarterbacks who failed to reach that three year mark in their young NFL careers:

Sam Darnold
Jameis Winston
Blaine Gabbert
Jake Locker
Johnny Manziel
Paxton Lynch
Blake Bortles

It’s easy to look at the names on this list and quickly dismiss them having any comparisons to that of Kyler Murray.

And you’d be right.

Yet if the Cardinals manage to miss the playoffs in 2021 (even with the inclusion of the 7th seed, which is something most of these QBs were not privy to), you can add young Murray’s name to this list.

That, in and of itself, would be a complete and utter failure on behalf of the entire Cardinal franchise.

Before reaching the NFL, Murray had mostly been affiliated with winning. His high school numbers are historic (undefeated as a starter) in the state of Texas, and the 5’9 signal caller was a marvel at the University of Oklahoma (12-2). But with a below average mark of 13-18-1 during his short NFL tenure, what happens if the Cardinals yet again stumble and fall like they’ve done so often throughout their history?

Kyler Murray will threaten to leave the franchise entirely.

Even with the likely dismissals of GM Steve Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury that would accompany another dissapointing season, Murray would still be faced with overcoming a franchise reputation that currently holds the longest championship draught in all of professional sports. A franchise, that since Bruce Arian’s departure, has all but lost the small amount of credibility previously earned during his five year run as head coach.

Now is probably not the time to bring up the fact that Arians is back in the NFC title game, five years after taking the Cardinals there.

For comparison sake, Texan’s star QB Deshaun Watson wants out of Houston depsite reaching the postseason two of the last three years. Much like Murray, Watson put up historic numbers in 2020 yet the Texans completely collapse around him in route to a 4-12 overall record.

Houston’s problems, much like Arizona, run deep into the front office. From poor drafting, to underwhelming free agent signings, to allowing star players to leave (DeAndre Hopkins, Calais Campbell, Tyrann Mathieu), the Texans and the Cardinals are slowly beginning to mirror each other in more ways than one.

Cardinal fans better hope and pray that unlike his counterpart down south, Kyler Murray fails to take notice.

Keep in mind, Waton’s supposed request for a trade comes just several months after he inked a mega extension with the team (something that Murray has yet to do with the Cardinals). Murray also has leverage that not even Watson holds, that being a return to pro baseball.

Or at least the threat to return.

In the current landscape of star driven sports, with athletes (thankfully) mostly caring more about winning than money, what’s to stop Murray from playing this card?

If Deshaun Watson, who is undeniably a top five quarterback in the NFL today, can force his way out...why can’t Kyler Murray? For what it’s worth, Kyler Murray has never changed his Twitter or Instagram avatar to reflect his status as the Arizona Cardinal QB. In both bios, there is no mention of the Cardinal franchise.

Period.

This, among other reasons, is why an argument could be made that this next season of Arizona Cardinal football could shape the future of this franchise for the next decade. If Keim and Kingsbury are able to put together a double digit winning season en route to the playoffs, all is forgiven. Each men will likely be rewarded with a contract extension, while Murray’s status as a “winner” is fully solidified among his NFL quarterbacking peers.

However, if disaster does strike again for the Arizona Cardinals, prepare for a 2022 offseason unlike any other.

Or perhaps Deshaun Watson is currently laying the blueprints for such venture as we speak.