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Evaluating the Arizona Cardinals options amid Kyler Murray contract drama

Matt Johnson

In the most dramatic NFL offseason in recent memory, the ongoing saga between the Arizona Cardinals and star quarterback Kyler Murray is one of the wildest things to happen this spring. Now, it appears the two sides are at a pivotal point in their futures.

All of the turmoil started in early February when the 24-year-old quarterback wiped all references to the Cardinals off his social media. Teammate Christian Kirk poured fueled on the fire of NFL trade rumors and Arizona’s front office added to the drama with leaked reports calling Murray ‘self-centered and immature.’

The tension seemed to simmer down before March with the two sides on the same page shortly before Murray’s agent released a lengthy letter asking for a new contract. Fast forward to April, days before the 2022 NFL Draft, suddenly the Pro Bowl quarterback is issuing the Cardinals an ultimatum.

Now facing the threat of their franchise quarterback not playing, the Arizona Cardinals have three options to handle this situation.

Arizona Cardinals call Kyler Murray’s bluff to sit out

NFL: NFC Wild Card Playoffs-Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

One of the praises offered about Murray is his competitiveness. There’s a reason he wanted to attempt having an NFL and MLB career. The 5-foot-10 quarterback feels most like himself when is involved in competition with the best athletes in the world, vying for accolades and a championship.

  • Kyler Murray stats (2021): 3,787 passing yards, 423 rushing yards, 100.6 QB rating, 29 total TDs

On pure talent, Murray can be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s an MVP candidate when healthy, capable of beating teams like the Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans.

Sitting out training camp and the preseason is one thing. The latest NFL CBA created rules to make training camp holdouts more expensive for players. Murray would receive a daily $40,000 fine that can’t be revoked and he would lose 1/18th of his base salary for each preseason game missed.

With marketing opportunities and career earning, it’s possible Murray could afford to handle those fines without significant. As of now, he seems willing to sit out the 2022 season if he doesn’t receive a contract extension with a price tag up to his liking.

However, there’s a problem with sitting out. If Murray voluntarily chooses not to play in 2022, against the wishes of his employer, his contract tolls. It means that the guaranteed fifth-year option in 2023 worth an estimated $29.7 million, gets pushed back to 2024 and he wouldn’t be eligible for free agency until 2025.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Cardinals, check out #RedSea rumors, rankings, and news here.

The Cardinals have the power to call his bluff. It would be risky, Murray is the driving force behind the team’s success. If he forces the issue and doesn’t want to wait for contract talks until training camp, Arizona could kick the tires on a Baker Mayfield trade or sign quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to compete with Colt McCoy.

It’s certainly not the desired outcome, but the Cardinals must view it as an option. Murray would risk far more to his value by sitting out the 2022 season. History also shows fans side with the team after a few months of backing the star player.

Cardinals sign their franchise quarterback to massive contract

Syndication: Arizona Republic
Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

This is the outcome both sides want. Arizona clearly prefers to table contract talks until the summer and there is precedent for it. Most organizations focus on the NFL Draft and free agency before devoting the remainder of their offseason towards figuring out a new contract for their young star.

It’s obvious why Murray doesn’t want to wait. He knows the 2022 quarterback class is weak and NFL teams like the Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions and Houston Texans are desperate for an MVP-caliber quarterback just approaching the prime years of his career. Each of those clubs would be happy to make him one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL.

However, the business of the NFL isn’t that simple. Arizona knows it has one of the most valuable players in the NFL this year and moving forward. Trading Murray would mark an organizational reset and could throw this organization into quarterback purgatory for years.

The Cardinals likely prefer the path we saw with Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen rather than Mayfield and Dak Prescott. It is in the club’s best interest long term to reach a contract extension now before the NFL salary cap keeps skyrocketing. Arizona has also seen enough from Murray that it should feel confident he’s worth an extension in the same year Derek Carr received a new deal.

  • Kyler Murray contract: $11.386 million cap hit (2022), $29.7 million projected salary in 2023

Considering there are now eight NFL quarterbacks averaging $40-plus million in average annual value, that’s a mark the Cardinals must reach. While it seems high just consider that Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow and Lamar Jackson could push that figure towards a $50 million AAV a year from now.

Murray wants a contract now instead of waiting for his peers to raise the bar even higher. Arizona should be fine with that. They can approach him with an estimated figure near $40 million per season to convince him they are serious about a long-term deal. After that, the two sides can figure out terms on a four-year extension that makes his current deal a six-year contract.

  • Projected Kyler Murray extension: 4 years, $140 million extension

Kyler Murray traded during 2022 NFL Draft

NFL: Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As of now, this is the unlikeliest outcome. April 28 is Round 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft and a deal happening after that date feels unlikely. It’s tied into draft positioning the and Arizona Cardinals wanting to acquire picks from a team that is high in the draft order now instead of future picks when that team is starting Murray.

So, a trade would need to happen by draft night. The Cardinals likely haven’t done extensive work on the 2022 quarterback class, so drafting one with a top-10 pick acquired from the Lions, Texans or Panthers seems unlikely.

Related: Kyler Murray to the Carolina Panthers, how it might look

If a trade happens, the return would be similar to the Deshaun Watson deal. Arizona would receive three first-round picks, including a top-10 selection this year, paired with future Day 2 selections. The draft capital would help the front office rebuild the roster, building a successful foundation for the future.

We have no doubt there would be enough trade interest in Murray. While he has some warts as a quarterback, talent and personalities like this don’t come around often. Murray can lead a team to the playoffs, dominate jersey sales and serve as a respected and marketable face for the franchise.

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Those are also the reasons why the Cardinals don’t want to move him. It feels even more unlikely since general manager Steve Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury just received contract extensions. Trading Murray away and following the Texans’ rebuild blueprint only ends with both those men with different employers by the time Arizona is a contender.

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With all that acknowledged, we’ve seen blockbuster trades throughout the offseason and players feel more empowered than ever before. If Kyler Murray truly forces the Arizona Cardinals to a point of no return, we could see a blockbuster trade before long.