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Wise Leverage Tactics?

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The money leveraging appears to be on in Arizona.

Brace yourselves Cardinals’ fans for what looms to be an epic standoff this off-season between the guys who write the checks and the guys who want the cash.

That’s right —- in one corner we have Cardinals’ owner Michael Bidwill and his long-time henchman GM Steve Keim.

And in the other corner we have head coach Kliff Kingsbury and his two-time Pro Bowl QB Kyler Murray.

The man in the middle is agent Eric Burkhardt, Kingsbury’s and Murray’s agent who is eager to broker the package deal of a lifetime.

When the Cardinals were 10-2 and Kliff Kingsbury was seemingly on top of the NFL coaching world, Eric Burkhardt made his first bold power play by linking Kingsbury to the Oklahoma and Notre Dame head coaching vacancies and a yearly price tag that was rumored to be in the neighborhood of $10M a year.

When Kingsbury was asked by local and national media to address the Oklahoma rumor, all that Kingsbury would say was something to the effect of “I don’t get involved in these things.”

Kingsbury’s non-committal response was strategically well rehearsed.

When NFL coaches and players are asked about the money involved with regard to contract extensions, the pat response is “I am letting my agent handle that.”

Eric Burkhardt is trying to pull off the NFL’s version of what agent Trace Armstrong pulled off for Lincoln Riley and Brian Kelly.

Oh, for Kliff Kingsbury, what a profound and tantalizing irony it is that Lincoln Riley landed at USC, where for a couple of months before defecting to the Cardinals, Kingsbury was the new OC. Who knows —- maybe if Kingsbury had stayed at USC and knocked the ball out of the park, he could have landed the highly lucrative USC head coaching gig himself, and been close enough to hang out on a regular basis with Sean McVay.

Here is the purported haul that Lincoln Riley received from the Trojans:

The speculation and hoopla with regard to Riley’s contract had a profound ripple effect to where some football prognosticators began to envision pro and college coaching salaries jumping into the high double digit millions per year, as forecasted in this article:

Meanwhile, the yearly salary figures for Pro Bowl caliber QBs has been rising into the $40-45M a year range.

$45M for one player is roughly 21% of the league’s 2022 projected $208.2M salary cap.

Have a look at the salaries (cap hits) for the past 5 Super Bowl winning QBs, plus this year’s:

  • 2017 Tom Brady —- $15M
  • 2018 Nick Foles —- $12M
  • 2019 Tom Brady —- $21.5M
  • 2020 Patrick Mahomes —- $10.8M
  • 2021 Tom Brady —- $10.5M
  • 2022 Matthew Stafford —- $23M vs. Joe Burrow —- $9.9M

What do these salaries suggest in the age of the salary cap?

Now let’s take a look at the current top 5 of the NFL’s highest paid QBs:

  • Patrick Mahomes —- $45M
  • Josh Allen —- $43M
  • Dak Prescott —- $40M
  • Deshaun Watson —- $39M
  • Russell Wilson —- $35M

Kyler Murray on the 4th year of his rookie 1ast round contract is schedules to make $11.39M in 2022.

If the Cardinals elect to pick up Murray’s 5th year option in 2023, his salary would be, thanks to his 2 Pro Bowls, $28.598M.

Therefore, over the next two years Kyler Murray is scheduled to earn $40M.

And let’s take a look at the current top high paid NFL head coaches:

  • Bill Belichick —- $12.5M
  • Pete Carroll —- $11M
  • Jon Gruden —- $10M (fired)
  • Sean Payton —- $9.8M (retired)
  • John Harbaugh —- $9M
  • Matt Rhule —- $8.5M
  • Sean McVay —- $8.5M

At $5.5M a year, Kliff Kingsbury is currently the 12th highest paid head coach in the NFL.

Now —- Eric Burkhardt will argue that the longer the Cardinals wait to sign Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray to long-term contract extensions, the higher their salary figures will go.

And —- if desperate enough —- Burkhardt could play the “exit card” as in telling the Cardinals that Kingsbury could jump on a $10+M a year contract with a major power 5 college football program next year and that Murray could hold out and/or ask to be traded —- or perhaps even switch back over to MLB.

However, it obviously didn’t help Burkhardt’s or his clients’ leverage when Kingsbury and Murray struggled down the stretch, losing 4 of their last 5 games, which ended in a humiliating 34-11 loss in the Wild Card round to the Rams.

Therefore, it would only seem smart (and even a no-brainer) for the Cardinals to wait another year (and perhaps even two, seeing as they have a 5th year options for both Kingsbury and Murray) in order to make extra sure of their long-term financial commitments —- and —- and this is a huge consideration —- in order to keep the Cardinals’ current Super Bowl windows open as wide as possible.

Not sure why Eric Burkhardt would think it was smart of Kyler Murray to unfollow the Arizona Cardinals and to scrap his social media accounts of Cardinals’ related photos. That is unless Burkhardt is now convinced that Kyler should demand to be traded.

Yet, if that’s the case, how would Kyler getting traded help Burkhardt’s other client, Kliff Kingsbury?

And why wouldn’t Burkhardt want to wait another year to see Kingsbury’s and Murray’s stock rise?

Is it for fear that Kingsbury’s and Murray’s stock can’t get any higher than it is right now, despite the poor end to once was a fabulous, breakout season?

If the Cardinals’ recent history of disgruntled players raising havoc on social media and issuing passionate trade demands is any indication, these tactics from Kyler Murray are not going to end well.

And, let’s not forget that the last player to successfully leverage the Cardinals into giving him a lucrative contract extension was RB David Johnson.

Well, that scenario did not have a happy ending either, did it?

The moral of this story is —- when your leverage with the team has been compromised by suspensions, injury plagued seasons, declines in production or subpar play down the stretch —- that is not the right time for you and your agent to apply leverage. Furthermore, it’s not a good time to get pissed at your team for wanting to wait to see how you bounce back before wanting to double down on you.