The Arizona Cardinals & Kyler Murray have had quite a saga this summer, with more twists and turns than an episode of “Days of Our Lives”.
No, there hasn’t been any sort of evil twin reveal but the drama has included everything from:
- a social media scrub by Kyler Murray of his Instagram with “no comment” from his agent.
- an anonymous leak describing Murray as “self-centered” to Chris Mortensen seemingly coming from within the Cardinals’ organization
- the return of Murray’s instagram photos
- From the combine, the news of Steve Keim & Kliff Kingsbury’s extensions shocked many people and made it seem a natural progression to extend Murray as well
- Add in the mysterious “ransom letter” released by Murray’s agent affirming his desire to be in Arizona and playing on a new deal...as the world turns
- Information from Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro about the contract, with radio sound bites including the belief that the Cardinals did not get back to Murray or his agent when they delivered the contract extension to the organization, along with more contract details and the idea that he wasn’t playing for $5 million.
- Suddenly Deshaun Watson gets a fully guaranteed contract to resolve his landing spot drama and Murray’s price seems likely to go up even higher as a result
- And most mysteriously, recently the belief amongst Colts fans and radio personalities that the organization was working to offer multiple first-round picks for Kyler Murray:
As someone who was curious about this, I followed up with several people from the Colts’ side of things and was told that the Instagram & general unhappiness but as they moved on to Matt Ryan, clearly meant that they were inquiring about him to see if a deal could be struck.
I was told that they might have even gotten word that Arizona wouldn’t be opposed (either to listening, to a deal or even just picking up the phone) and in a few months an owner who has been known to exaggerate (this source who is a Colts person, not my words) becomes “pulling the trigger”.
For right now, it appears that they are not trading him, and why would they?
So this makes sense as to the Cardinals also looking at all options with a quarterback who may be disgruntled but is certainly looking to be paid. And it makes sense as to why I think there ARE multiple possible endings to this drama, and that the Cardinals might be considering.
And there’s really only three possible outcomes to this whole situation. Let’s take a look at them below:
- No contract extension for Murray in 2022 & Murray plays out the season
- Murray gets extended at some point in 2022, before or mid-season
- Murray is traded to a team (who rewards him handsomely with a new deal) because their belief in him versus his asking price & market value are too far apart to mend
Essentially you can see that this plays out as: Cardinals “win” with their leverage, Murray “wins” with his leverage, Both sides split the difference.
There’s not really a “winner and loser” like many might think. The Cardinals and Murray might “win” with him playing and winning a Super Bowl and receiving the biggest deal in the history of the league entering the 2023 offseason. Or Murray and Arizona might see him locked up on a multi-year deal and see long-term success.
Heck...if Arizona gets picks and upgrades at QB and Murray gets rewarded by his new team & sees success himself, both might “win” in THAT regard as well (of course that wasn’t the case with Josh Rosen and Miami but...)
In any case let’s take a deep dive into what each possible outcome we might see, the why behind each one and what it might mean for Arizona.
Ladies and Gentlemen...let’s make a deal!
Behind the first door we have...
Door #1: Arizona’s leverage wins and Murray plays in 2022 with no deal in the hopes of proving himself with an extension
This option would be what one might call the “Baker Mayfield” special. Mayfield wanted a new deal but waited until the 2022 season began and played through it.
He ended up with multiple injuries, a down year and the Browns went out and promptly decided they’d rather give up 6 draft picks and $230 million guaranteed for a player with 22 civil cases than extend him. Oof.
The Cardinals, like the Browns, might have all the leverage in this case. They might simply feel like they have seen enough from Keim & Kingsbury to extend at a HC/GM salary but some $100-200 million in guaranteed money might be a heftier price to pay given the endings to Arizona’s seasons & a poor playoff performance.
This is the case that Kyler Murray’s camp wants to avoid. It will be tough though as the NFL’s rules in the CBA make it harder for players to hold out, and Steve Keim doesn’t seem too worried about this.
There’s a possible chance that Murray holds out, even into the season, but in this scenario he simply does not receive a new contract this entire year and we enter next offseason with Murray entering Year #5, his final year with the team.
The most curious door (and it is an option interestingly) would be if Murray chose to hold out the entire season. Previously, only Watson had done something like this and he himself was realistically held out by the team as well due to his sexual assault civil suits for a year.
It would be unprecedented, and undoubtedly would cost Murray money...a lot of it, plus a tolled contract. He would essentially have to commit to not playing a down for Arizona until he got a new deal and leveraging the Cardinals’ play of Colt McCoy in his place with the idea of “If you won’t pay me, someone else will so either lose games without me or trade me”.
Murray...doesn’t seem to be the sort of person who would do this. He has been training at the facility in the offseason, as J.J. Watt noted in a now famous video:
Well...and it seems likely that if he wants to get paid, that it doesn’t make sense to turn down and lose money.
Even when he repaid the money to the A’s, it was pennies on the dollar compared to the deal he got for Arizona. But it could happen, I believe. And being realistic...this scenario is only looking at “No deal for 2022”.
What’s interesting is that...what he does that season might not matter at all for this door.
Murray might win the Super Bowl, might make the playoffs after a fast start in a mirror of the 11-6 and lose in the first round, or he might tear an ACL or play injured similar to Mayfield. What matters is that he wouldn’t get an extension in 2022, or even midseason in 2022.
The Cardinals previously did extend Palmer mid-season in 2014, and that wouldn’t count here, as Murray would still be receiving a new deal. Even if Arizona wanted to make him “prove it” at some point first, that would be rewarding him before or during the 2022 season...this would rather hold it until next offseason.
His play would determine if he gets a new deal in 2023, and that might be exactly what the Cardinals are wanting...to pressure him into playing well and staying healthy this season.
What’s interesting is that if Arizona has a down year and Murray wasn’t extended...you could wonder if we see a new scenario unfold in which neither side is happy but that’s a question for 2023.
Now let’s check out...
Door #2: Murray’s leverage wins & Kyler receives a new deal sooner (or later) then the start of the 2022 season
This is a pretty simple idea: Murray gets his deal before the end of the 2022 season.
The timing of this could be by the moment this article is released...or it could be as late as the Cardinals’ bye week in 2022.
But all in all it would be that Murray gets paid this season. Some might want to talk about the timing of the contract extension:
- before the draft
- after the draft, after he’s come into the buildings for OTA’s and Mini-camp & put in some of the work
- In July when Patrick Mahomes & Josh Allen had their contract extensions completed
- during the season similar to Carson Palmer
Really, the “when” even doesn’t matter as long as it’s this season, if that makes sense.
This deal would essentially tie Murray to the Cardinals for the long-term where having him under a one-year 2023 5th year option would mean they could move on if they wanted to for either a free agent or a rookie quarterback, even trading him to another team similar to Baker Mayfield should his value sink after the 2022 season.
What would matter is that Murray would be rewarded based on the turnaround for Arizona and seen as similar to the other young quarterbacks as one of their peers. But it would also mean that his value wins out.
See...with how Deshaun Watson, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson and others have changed teams, the idea of what a quarterback is worth has meant a simple fact:
You’re worth whatever someone is willing to pay for you. His agent knows this.
As the Colts commentary above indicates, there’s certainly going to be a team willing to hand out a large extension to Kyler Murray should he be dealt to them. Young franchise quarterbacks have value. Heck, quarterbacks in general do. Just look how Aaron Rodgers ensured himself that not only would the Packers pay him $50 million per year or so in a new deal reportedly but would do so after spending a 1st round pick on Jordan Love.
Really, his deal sort of pushes Love out, or at least would push him to the end of his rookie deal before he would take the playing field.
Quarterbacks are important, and if there’s an argument for Murray to be paid this season, it’s that the Cardinals already chose to extend Kliff Kingsbury and Steve Keim for 6 more years total to the end of the 2028 season. Sure, that’s guaranteed money and they could be let go sooner, but if the Cardinals had simply...not extended them, then there would be perhaps less of a push to see Murray receive a new deal after 3 years and rather the understanding that “2023 is an important year for everyone in the Cardinals to win and then get paid.”
Clearly, you wouldn’t extend the Head Coach and GM without extending the Quarterback who got them there, right?
And perhaps Arizona still will. It might simply just be a matter of time and coming to terms before he inks a new deal to stay with the team. For one reason or another (waiting for camp, negotiations, priorities or even simply wanting him to wait his turn given the typical nature of extensions) the Cardinals have not to this point, and drama has arisen from Murray’s camp.
I wouldn’t have handled things the way that Murray & his agent have but I’ll credit them with this: the money handed out and the offseason narrative of Kliff/Keim receiving new deals has made it nearly impossible to argue that Murray needs to wait as they were rewarded for the turnaround.
To point out...Murray’s been putting up two of the best seasons a Cardinals’ QB has ever done the past few years. There’s been enough he’s shown that SOMEONE will clearly reward him and pay him expecting a great future.
One of the issues for fans has been, obviously, “how much” as to if Murray’s worth is determined as “too high” to receive money close to Mahomes and Allen, or if offering $30 million is “an offer they have to refuse” because why would you take $30 million a year if the Panthers would pay you $40 million a year and more guaranteed money?
It doesn’t make sense—so what does is that Kyler’s deal, for better or worse, will be close to his market value. The significance isn’t even the deal or the amount.
It would be the commitment and belief from Arizona. Right or wrong, he would be getting more than $5 million for this season and would be rewarded for the work he’s done..
There’s a book called “The Greatest Management Principle in the World” and it has only two points. One of those points is:
People like to be compensated properly for the work they put in.
Makes sense you don’t want to see a burger flipper making $40 million guaranteed at a franchise that only makes $1 million a year. Nor would you want to see a CEO be offered $12.50 for a salary and getting a measly one dollar raise after bringing in a new $250 million in revenue in just the first year.
It also works in reverse: pay someone too much for boring work and they’ll leave or not want to work harder and underpaying an employee will have them quitting their job for a better one when the option is out there.
It’s pretty simple economics and has a lot of commentary on today...and in sports it’s no different: Kyler knows his value as a quarterback.
It makes sense that the Cardinals would see this too and want to reward him. If the timing is a year earlier than planned, well...the price will only go up the longer they wait.
Of course there is another option...
Door #3: Kyler and Arizona end up far apart in value & Murray is traded for multiple first-round picks either before or after the NFL Draft
This is the toughest one to figure out because to this point, it hasn’t seemed likely. This would be the one result in which Murray doesn’t get paid and is no longer on the Cardinals.
Even Option #1, where he isn’t paid, the idea that he won’t be paid at all isn’t assumed...he might just get a new deal from the team in 2023 after all.
In this option, things would need to deteriorate or have the camps be so far apart that there is no other outcome that can have Murray play for the team, either due to philosophical differences or a question of value & what Arizona is willing to pay for him.
Perhaps the Watson contract has Arizona looking at Murray and saying “We simply don’t believe in you that much to pay the market value” and another team ends up giving the opportunity to add picks that the Cardinals can use to play Colt McCoy for a season and then go back to adding a new rookie deal.
In a way, this would be a bit like the Phoenix Cardinals of old under Bill Bidwill—a team that would draft players like Garrison Hearst, Thomas Jones and even Simeon Rice and wouldn’t be able to pay them a second deal so they’d move on to a different team for more money.
I think in the new NFL now, however, it wouldn’t be the case for that as Michael Bidwill’s cash hasn’t seemed to be an issue within their salary cap structure and the billions the NFL has made in that time since. More likely it would either become personal (more than negotiations) or Murray’s camp would push hard enough to want out that the Cardinals would feel they would rather grant his request.
Given that the Carolina Panthers were seemingly willing to give up a deal close to what the Cleveland Browns did for Watson, this might seem like a boon but...comes with a price.
Franchise QB’s don’t grow on trees. If they did, the 2018 Arizona Cardinals wouldn’t have existed.
Kyler Murray’s brought the Cardinals to double-digit wins and has innate value as a young quarterback. Those QB’s aren’t just seen as special due to being on a rookie deal, but are valuable overall. They bring wins and job stability.
For example...imagine if Arizona did trade Murray and added picks and then promptly fell apart and spent two seasons struggling to a 5-12 record. They’d be the laughingstock of the NFL.
And there’s almost no way that Kingsbury and Keim would be running the Cardinals still. In fact, we’ve seen in two ways already what a down season can do. The first being Arizona firing Wilks and moving on from Sam Bradford, Mike Glennon and even Josh Rosen after ONE bad year without Carson Palmer. And they gave up a 1st, 3rd and a 5th for Rosen!
And the other is that we have seen a franchise who traded away not just a Quarterback but one star player in DeAndre Hopkins then proceed to go 0-4 and fire their Head Coach/General Manager in Bill O’Brien without even waiting for half the season after he received the keys to the team’s personnel in order to move in a new direction.
That’s the danger of getting it wrong at a position. Imagine getting it wrong at a QB spot. This is why the Chiefs and Mahomes are still paired while the Chicago Bears with Mitchell Trubisky are hoping that their NEXT quarterback can be the answer.
It’s a brutal cycle to get out of, frankly.
If the Cardinals move on from Murray and get it wrong? Everyone’s done and Michael Bidwill’s rebuilding versus simply keeping some sustainable success with a player going at most, or at minimum being average-to-competitive.
This option has been reported by Gambadoro (above) as not happening and it makes sense. But then if the Cardinals are indeed NOT moving to a Murray extension soon, then it begs the question as to “why not?”
If you want him and the sustainability here & you believe in him, then surely Option B seems preferable to waiting it out? If Murray caves and most of the pushing only turned to him giving in, then maybe Arizona is able to get a single year of pushing for success out of him or learns that they don’t want to reward him like they could have.
But if Murray and his camp push like they have been and we see even more drama leading up to the draft as well as reports that teams are willing to fully guarantee his deal...the Cardinals will have to make a decision.
It would be risky business for their GM and HC to trade him away, but the extensions they have received could arguably be a green light from the owner to do so if they saw it fit to move on.
In the end, this would be the option if the Cardinals reach an inconvenient truth: that Murray will either not play for what they want or they can’t pay what he wants versus their belief in him or lack thereof...expressed explicitly in dollar signs.
This would be a rude and difficult moment for many fans, but if the two keep pushing against each other, there’s times where bending turns into breaking: see the Seahawks trading away 32 year old Russell Wilson after years of a reported rift, a run-first offense and Pete Carroll’s inability to change and the lack of a desire for a new deal with guarantees for Russ met with the offer the Broncos were willing to give up for him.
And perhaps this would be the one ending that would be the most disappointing to the end of the Kyler Murray saga that began so intriguingly back in January of 2019. Whether he’s paid or it’s simply delayed a year to reassess a year from now, those options A and B keep a fun player who’s brought life into the desert and hope for long-term success into the picture, fulfilling the dreams for many of a young franchise quarterback that Matt Leinart and Josh Rosen failed to live up to.
To simply see it end with the franchise going back to the well would be disappointing at best, and disaster at worst should they suffer a down year and not be able to upgrade the position (and/or team at large) as a result.
I think the avenue that makes the most sense for Arizona is Door #2, as holding off on a Murray extension for an entire year seems to be edging a bit close to the fire given what Murray’s camp has seen happen with two extensions for their front office/coaching staff and an extension that did NOT come for Baker Mayfield.
Putting it off and creating an even deeper rift doesn’t seem wise when clearly Arizona’s made up their minds about their leadership outside of the locker room.
And the cost would go up if he does well. If he DOESN’T then that’s not a great place for Arizona to be in...it’s the one “bad ending” that’s almost guaranteed because if you wait a season and find out he isn’t the guy?
You just blew all of the draft capital that came in Door #3 out the window.
But in the end, ultimately there’s no determining what of the three doors the team and their quarterback will walk through.
Heck, they might even eventually get to Door #3 or pull Doore #1 two years in a row like the Dallas Cowboys did by means of the franchise tag.
There’s many a time the journey matters, but in this case, it’s all about the destination for Kyler and the Cards.