The narratives surrounding quarterback Kyler Murray have been constant since he was selected first overall by the Cardinals in 2019.
The skill set heads the list when things are going well. And there have been electric stretches of eye-opening football.
However, when the inevitable valleys occur, it can get ugly.
Questions about demeanor. About leadership. About his approach to the job as the face of the franchise.
The opening of training camp last summer was dominated by the independent study clause in his contract that was eventually removed. That discussion was overshadowed by the fact that also included in his $230 million deal are over $6 million in bonuses linked to his presence during voluntary offseason workouts.
Think of that. In a sport where it’s often said that quarterbacks have to be the first ones in the building and the last to leave, the Cardinals felt compelled to have his contract demand Murray spend a minimum number of hours studying and specified that he couldn’t be distracted by TV, Internet or video games. Naturally, that prompted jokes and memes about his love for Call of Duty.
Or that the team believed it was important to have monetary incentives so he would be with his teammates during important offseason work.
The Cardinals 2022 season included a consistent barrage of negative stories, not all involving Murray. Still, front and center, aside from his season-ending injury, was when he was caught on Thursday Night Football twice screaming at coach Kliff Kingsbury to “calm the f— down.” To that point, there have been several instances during the season when Murray would curse during press conferences.
It’s not a good luck and begs the question whether anyone talks to him about that.
It’s also instructive to read what Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said about quarterback Jalen Hurts in this week’s Football Morning in America column by Peter King.
Asked how Hurts is handling advancing to the Super Bowl, Sirianni said, “He has a relentless work ethic. He’s gonna outwork everybody to make sure he doesn’t leave any stone unturned. That’s evident not only by the way he studies film, but by the way he lives, by the way he leads. I think he’s just a very steady person, which is an unbelievable trait to have as a quarterback when there’s ups and downs in the season, when there’s ups and downs in the game.
“I remember last year against Washington. I’m screaming at him, yelling at him. He’s like, ‘I gotcha.’ Same look on his face as if he scored a touchdown in the game. Just so unfazed by things. As a player, he’s relentless to how he’s gonna grow every day. He deserves this moment because he just thinks about how he can get better each day.”
Ask yourselves this: Can you imagine many people saying those things about Kyler Murray?
Then, there is the injury factor. It’s often not brought up much, but it should be in relation to his style of play, being relatively small for the position and needing healthy legs to succeed.
At the end of his rookie season, Murray suffered a hamstring injury with one game to play. In 2020, he injured his shoulder in the second game against Seattle and played protecting himself for the remainder of the season. Murray then injured his leg early in the season finale against the Rams when a victory would have meant a playoff spot.
In 2021, there was the high-ankle sprain suffered against Green Bay, a loss that dropped the Cardinals record to 7-1. He returned after missing three games, probably too soon, and wasn’t the same as the team lost five of its last six games including the playoff debacle against the Rams.
In that game, and in a Christmas game against the Colts, Murray carelessly threw the ball in the air while being pursued in the end zone. It resulted in a safety for intentional grounding in the Indianapolis game and it was pure luck the “pass” wasn’t intercepted.
He wasn’t as lucky against the Rams, with the play resulting in a 3-yard interception return for a touchdown and a 21-0 Los Angeles lead.
This past season, there was a wrist injury in training camp, then a hamstring issue that cost him two games. He again likely came back to play too soon and in the third game was done for the season with the torn ACL and meniscus in which a possibly weak hamstring contributed to the injury.
Including the wrist injury, that’s seven injuries in four seasons with five to his treasured legs.
So, here we are with Super Bowl festivities swirling in the Valley while the Cardinals are still searching for a head coach and scheduled to have second interviews this week with Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka and Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. Who knows, they might be also interested in interviewing next week coaches on the Super Bowl teams.
The weekend featured Brian Flores being added to the second interview list, but then informing the Cardinals Monday he would be accepting a defensive coordinator job with the Vikings.
The apt response might be, “What the hell is going on here?”
Local reporters tried to find that out from owner Michael Bidwill Monday at a Super Bowl Host Committee press conference, but Bidwill punted, refusing to answer questions that weren’t about the game being in Arizona.
We are aware that 30 days into the search for a coach, four people we know about have told the Cardinals, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Sean Payton chose the Broncos and Frank Reich the Panthers, while Flores and Dan Quinn decided this was not the year to be a head coach again. In the GM search, Ian Cunningham reportedly turned down the job, which resulted in the hiring of Monti Ossenfort.
Last week in Mobile, there was the report that the coaching search was being compromised by Murray’s contract, but that is linked to the frequent injuries.
There is no doubt there are some coaches and general managers in the NFL that question the sustainability over time of quarterbacks like Murray. A source told gophnx.com that the Ravens personnel department was split when the decision was made to select Lamar Jackson in the 2018 draft. It was partially because of accuracy questions, but also the injury factor. In 2021 and 2022, Jackson has not been available for several games at the end of the season.
Bears quarterback Justin Fields missed time this past season with injurie. Josh Allen of the Bills was hampered by an elbow injury. In the past, it has bedeviled running quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III and Marcus Mariota.
At the Senior Bowl, Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy told reporters, “It’s got to be a part of who you are, [but] in the NFL, it’s hard for it to be who you are. You just don’t last.”
Bills general manager Brandon Beane said of Allen, “The only thing I’d get on to him is he’s got too many bruises on him. And we’ve got to work on taking less hits. That’s the only reason I’m going to ever criticize Josh is just take less hits.”
A source that knows what Payton likes in a quarterback told gophnx.com, “Knowing what he thinks about the qualities he wants at that position, I would say he would not have been a fan. But that’s strictly me basing it on how (he) thinks. He’s a Parcells acolyte. Believes the QB needs to be a great leader and one of the three smartest guys on the team. A CEO.”
Again, how many people would say that about Murray?
Understandably, the Cardinals brain trust dodges those questions.
When Ossenfort was asked at his introductory press conference how Murray might be a part of the hiring of a head coach, he said, “We’re looking for a head coach that can lead this entire organization. We’re looking for a head coach that can develop all the players with Kyler being a big part of that. We want the right coach. Whether that’s an offensive coach or a defensive coach, it frankly doesn’t matter. We want the best coach and we have a plan for what we are going to be as an organization; we’re going to develop our players and we’re going to put them in the best position to make us successful and ultimately win.”
Basically a non-answer.
Ossenfort, who was with the Titans prior to being hired by the Cardinals, also mentioned the opening game of the 2021 season when Murray played well in a win against Tennessee and said, “I’ve seen what a healthy Kyler can do.”
The key word is healthy.
Bidwill answered a similar question, by saying, “I think so. Right now, obviously he’s recovering from surgery and will be rehabbing in the offseason, but I think the big thing is he remains a dual threat. An incredibly explosive player and he’s going to recover from his injury and we’re going to have a great player come back next year. I think it’s really important for us to make sure that we don’t lose sight of that and let’s not lose sight of 13 months ago we were (12-2). We were the hottest team in the league just 13 months ago and you’ve all seen it.”
Of course, the team’s record he was referencing was actually 10-2.
To the pertinent question asked on the day Kingsbury was fired of whether he wonders if potential general managers or coaches believe Murray’s style of play is sustainable, it was dodge ball again.
Bidwill said, “I just go back to 13 months ago. We were 12-2 (no, 10-2) and there were a lot of GMs and coaches around the league saying, ‘Holy cow, how are we going to deal with Kyler Murray?’”
When it was noted that occurred with a healthy Murray (although the team was 2-1 in those 12 games with Colt McCoy when Murray was out), Bidwill still bobbed and weaved, saying, “We just want to get him back to where he was. We’ll get him back to healthy and look forward to moving forward. … Hopefully Kyler doesn’t have a season-ending injury again and we’re able to keep him healthy.”
Hopefully. That says it all.
One reality of the huge elephant in the room is that coaches want the money that comes from being a head coach, but their main goal is to win.
They also know coaches often aren’t given much time, judging by the number of one- or two-and-done situations there have been in recent years. They also know the Cardinals aren’t particularly patient with coaches and that Bidwill fired Kingsbury after a bad season following three seasons of progress.
Do coaches want to tie much of their hopes to a quarterback that will have to learn a new scheme, yet not be available until at least October to practice it on the field?
Methinks we are finding out the answer to that question.
Of course, at some point, the Cardinals will have a new coach, one who will be hoping Murray is the answer and can recover and stay healthy.
If not, he will likely move on and we will wash, rinse and repeat this process in a few years, perhaps with another new quarterback.
Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org