The 2021 Arizona Cardinals were a team that took the NFL by storm.
Following up a 7-0 start with a close loss to the Green Bay Packers and a surprising 2-1 stretch without their start quarterback in tow, the year was looking pretty good.
But a late collapse hit the team hard and the 2022 Arizona Cardinals have been nothing but drama begetting drama.
Out of the frying pan and into the national media fire, so to speak.
It’s perhaps, then, with great relief to many that the Arizona Cardinals’ choice to add that contractual stipulation that locked Murray into a 4-hour a week film watching minimum outside of the facility became a “non-issue” in the end.
Or did it?
After the updated contract was released to media late last night it brought up a whole new slew of laughter and mockery pointed at Arizona’s brass for making a decision, taking the flack and then proceeding to REVERSE said decision, begging the question to why it was included in the first place.
Well, I’ll tell you why.
There’s been a negative perception based around Kyler Murray’s film study and work habits ever since he declared for the NFL draft following his Heisman Award-winning season. From Charley Casserley’s combine leaks to Murray’s own poorly-worded statement that “he doesn’t kill himself watching film” there’s been a perception built around a Quarterback despite the fact that he has statistically improved on the field and on film year over year.
But telling a fanbase that you do anything less than the maximum amount of effort, real or not, might be an admission of reality (especially considering that the majority of NFL fans put their own free time and hours into items like fantasy football, checking Twitter or commenting on social media themselves rather than pure dedication to the craft).
In a world in which the National Football League could be called the “No ‘Effing Loafing” league due to the sheer physical and mental toll it takes on its coaches and players to succeed, in which a J.J. Watt starts his morning at 3:30 to set an example of culture and winning....weakness is not tolerated.
Not by a fanbase who saw their team come up looking ill-prepared for their first playoff game in 7 years, nor by a fanbase who to be frank, half of them didn’t even back Kyler Murray at the time of his selection versus pining for the likes of their previous quarterback that had taken the hits and suffered along with them.
There’s also bound to be talk of racism, in a world in which traditional white pocket-passers have gotten the benefit of the doubt over
In a world where it’s easy to point out Carson Palmer’s gaudy 4671 yards, 35 TD’s to 11 and 4233, 26 TD’s to 12 INT’s in 2015 and 2016...the ability of Murray to make plays with his legs results in less passing yardage but when glancing at 4210 for 29 TD’s to 4790 yards, 37 TD’s and 12 turnovers, it becomes stunning to realize that Arizona’s quarterback is not even 25 years old.
And Palmer was a league veteran just at the end of his prime. Production-wise, the Cardinals are getting some of the best play in the history of their team, and yet it’s come with nothing but question after question, with plenty of the same old stereotypes that other running quarterbacks, like Lamar Jackson for example, have had to deal with in their time.
So what’s the end of it all? Well for starters, I think the biggest takeaway from this has been that the Murray drama stems in part from poor performance from another part of the puzzle that’s outside of Bidwill, Keim, Kliff and even Murray himself in his agent Erik Burkhardt.
It’s a quarterback’s job to do the work, play the game and then hopefully, let the agent handle the details. And Murray’s reputation took a sizeable hit following not just the deletion of his Instagram, but in the Cardinals’ brass responding with a mid-February question of character and integrity.
Murray himself had spoken out on this before with an Instagram post, but had to do it YET again following the reveal of a contractual clause that, per reports from multiple connected sources, was fully the owner who was extending him putting an “out” into the deal that also was an unprecedented legalized form of doubt.
Whether it was intended to drag him through the mud or was simply ownership responding to public perception in a way that didn’t match reality, the clause was the biggest story in all of sports for 48 hours.
And Murray’s agent? Surely he would openly defend his work and his client or would explain why he agreed to such an unenforceable clause?
From the same agent who leaked Oklahoma interest in Kliff Kingsbury, writing a “ransom” letter and was standing next to Murray after he signed his deal, he sure wasn’t standing next to his client when he was dragged through the mud due to a deal HE worked on and negotiated. Clearly, Kyler’s agent’s paycheck won’t be affected and it really goes to show how any “end justifies the means” approach when it comes to money either in negotiations or results is questionable at best if it leaves nothing but chaos in its wake.
The Cardinals and Murray have taken a lot of hits. Murray’s agent, however, has escaped the brunt of the attacks.
In addition to Murray’s reputation, the Cardinals brass have taken hits as well, especially Owner Michael Bidwill.
Indeed, Keim for sure would be out of work right now if it wasn’t for him capitulating to Murray after a terrible season that all but broke his promise of the team’s poor performances being behind them. He’s in charge of contracts in the end, as well.
And it’s another thing to look at ownership’s thought process, one that has no logic or reason:
- extending the head coach and GM for 6 years, a pivot from reports following the season
- not trusting said HC and GM to listen to their advice on removing a “study” clause for Murray that they felt was not needed
- not trusting said quarterback enough with an extension to study on his own time...and yet still giving them the largest contract in Cardinals’ history (something that wasn’t included in extensions for Carson Palmer)
- rescinding that clause soon as “bad press” hit the fan versus sticking with his gut
It’s a longshot from the days of Bill Bidwill charging players for replacing their own socks versus the team, but it’s a callback to a darker time in Arizona. One in which Kurt Warner had to visit the rival Niners in order to get Arizona to commit to a deal.
It comes off as cheap.
And if there’s one thing that Michael shouldn’t be seen as, it’s as an echo of his father, a figure whose legacy was overshadowed by a slow fall to the ranks of the incompetent after 60 years of ownership wrought only 8 playoff appearances and just 9 other winning seasons.
That means 3 out of every 4 Cardinals seasons ended in abject failure, and Arizona’s tenure under Michael has been anything BUT abject failure thus far.
In the end, Kyler Murray comes out (for many) looking either worse or better depending on the belief in his work ethic, but there’s no arguing that the Cardinals come off as far, far worse and in disarray within the organization with a rogue owner, a maligned general manager and a head coach who can’t seem to avoid collapse.
I wrote earlier this year how this season could be the “end of the beginning” for Coach Kliff Kingsbury and be the start of a new rise to power in Arizona amongst the National Football League.
But I also wrote that it could be the start of the end, and if the team peaked in 2021, then we might see this Kliff/Keim/Kyler experiment under Michael Bidwill, which started with promise, fall apart due to organizational chaos.
The coaching staff, General Manager all need to get better, and the quarterback now has enough weapons and (hopefully) offensive line consistency to improve but the team’s early offensive powerhouses seems to shrink in the second half of the season in both redzone conversion and points.
And that’s some on talent level...but a lot hinges on the coaching staff that the Cardinals brass just extended as well as their general manager adding talent.
And all of it hinges on an ownership group that’s looked less and less like a competent upgrade but rather one that gets older players dunking on the team and management over contract disputes and the like.
As the kids would say, getting “exposed” similar to their teams in the second half of the season.
Fortunately, Arizona has all that they need to move forward:
- Hollywood Brown and Trey McBride can be added to a second-year Rondale Moore and Eno Benjamin to stave off Hopkins’ suspension and Chase Edmonds’ departure
- The triumphant return of Rodney Hudson
- A healthy J.J. Watt and a (hopeful) good fit for Isaiah Simmons and a second-year Zaven Collins
- A likely upgrade at minimum for the right guard position
There’s...a lot of positives including keeping the likes of Ertz and Conner.
And the team’s offseason, while chaotic, wasn’t the disaster that we saw in 2018 that resulted in the worst output of offense that the Cardinals have ever had.
It’s time for the team, and front office, to put this mess behind them and look forward to the 2022 season and use whatever is necessary as a springboard to prove that while the process might have been flawed (or at least hesitant) that the production in the end justified it.
Because further distractions might stretch past the point of bending to instead becoming a back-breaker. And no true Cardinals fan wants that.