There’s no sugarcoating it: the Kyler Murray injury is just awful, awful news, a rotten cherry on top of an already rotten season. But even more than that, this is the kind of injury that will send reverberations throughout the franchise, for the rest of the season and beyond. Let’s take a look at the potential impact this injury will have on the Cardinals.
The Rest of the Season
This is a lost season and has been for some weeks now—Kyler’s injury doesn’t change that. But the hope for the last 5 games was for the offense to at least start to show some cohesion, to really see what we could do with Kyler, Hop, and Hollywood. If the offense really showed something down the stretch, it might have made some tough questions this offseason (Kliff’s future, Hop’s contract, Hollywood’s extension) a bit easier to answer. Instead, it’ll be Colt McCoy running the show, making it tougher to truly evaluate the offense and how Hop and Hollywood fit in it moving forward.
Also, the injury makes it much more likely that the team will finish with the worst record in Kliff Kingsbury’s tenure. (That might actually make it easier to decide on his future, though…) Does anyone like this offense’s chances against two nasty defenses (Denver, Tampa Bay) in the next two weeks? We’ll likely fare better against Atlanta (who might be starting a rookie QB) in Week 17, but that’s an East Coast morning game. I don’t even want to think about San Francisco in Week 18. With a 1-3 finish, we’d be 5-12; at 0-4, we’d be 4-13. So much worse than anyone thought possible heading into the season. But, that would actually help us in one way…
It’s an ugly truth about teams in our position (the basement), but losing more games does help us move up the draft board. We currently have the #6 pick, but we’ll likely move up—ESPN gives us a 53% chance of getting a top-5 pick. Losing to the 3-10 Broncos on Sunday would certainly help those odds. We won’t challenge the 1-11-1 Texans for the #1 pick, but a top-3 pick is definitely in play if we finish like I think we will. The dream scenario at this point would be to be able to trade back with a QB-needy team (we’re not going to take another QB in the 1st round) for a boatload of picks to start replenishing this talent-depleted roster. Of course, we need to figure out who is going to be making those picks first…
The two biggest questions (or maybe it’s just one question) facing this organization heading into the offseason is what to do at coach and GM. Steve Keim (who is now on an indefinite medical leave) and Kliff Kingsbury did sign those 5-year extensions last offseason, but the performance of this team in 2022 puts their futures highly in doubt. Recent rumblings—plus the timing of his leave—might indicate that Keim’s job is less safe than Kliff’s, but Michael Bidwill will need to decide on whether to bring both men back in 2023.
Up until that ill-fated third play from scrimmage against the Patriots on Monday, Bidwill might very well have made the seemingly simple choice to fire both and give the organization the leadership reset it so desperately needs. But Kyler’s injury might give Bidwill an out to try one more year with Keim and Kliff—it’s the old adage that no one should lose their job due to an injury. He may want to see what this team can do with everyone healthy. Plus—and this might be the most important point—the uncertainty around Kyler’s recovery timeline might understandably scare many top-tier coach/GM candidates away from the team. Is Sean Payton going to want to come here now knowing when Kyler will be back on the field—and if he’ll come back 100%? Bidwill’s hands might be tied. He may decide to bring Keim and Kliff back instead of paying to get rid of them and bringing in substandard replacements. This might be THE story of the Cardinals offseason.
This is the killer right here—next year is the final year of Kyler’s rookie deal. His cap hit will be about $16M in 2023 before it jumps all the way up to about $52M in 2024. Next year should have been the final chance to really take advantage of Kyler’s affordable rookie cap hit and make a true push toward title contention with a complete roster around him.
Instead, we may be without our starting QB for some or most of the season. We know that ACL recovery can take 9-12 months on average, with the potential for even longer, like 15 months. But even in that best-case 9 months scenario, it would be September before Kyler would probably even be able to practice, much less play in a game. Assuming Week 1 is around the second week of September again, he’d likely miss at least a handful of games. The worst-case scenario would him suffering some kind of setback and missing the entire season. We’re very, very likely looking at another lost season in 2023.
Here we go into the great unknown. We can squint and make some guesses about what the 2023 season might hold, but beyond that we really don’t know. Who will the coach/GM be? Has Kyler fully recovered? Is he the same rushing threat he was before the injury? No matter what, the franchise will likely look very different than it does today.
But what we do know is this: Kyler’s extension will kick in in 2024 and he’ll count that $52M figure against the cap mentioned above and he’ll have had a major knee injury. That’s not exactly a strong foundation for a championship team. And that’s why the timing of this injury is so awful—and why it’s even more apparent that these past couple years of him at or near his prime on his cheap rookie deal were unequivocally squandered.
I would say this is the kind of injury that sets a franchise back for years, but the truth is that this franchise had already set itself back for years before Kyler’s knee gave out. What remains to be seen is if we’ll be able to put the right people in place to set the ship right before the end of Kyler’s contract at all.