Cardinals in playoffs-or-bust mode after paying Kyler Murray

Cardinals in playoffs-or-bust mode after paying Kyler Murray
Video kyler murray draft bust

By Eric D. WilliamsFOX Sports NFL Writer

After much hand-wringing and the release of an all-caps statement by his agent stating his desire for a new deal, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray got paid this week, agreeing to a reported five-year, $230.5 million contract that includes $160 million in guaranteed money.

The contract keeps Murray in Arizona through 2028.

The deal provides a $46.1 million annual salary for the Texas native who turns 25 next month, making him the second-highest paid quarterback in terms of annual salary behind only Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers ($50.1 million).

And while Murray did not receive a fully guaranteed salary like Deshaun Watson’s $230 million deal from the Cleveland Browns, this contract provides the University of Oklahoma product with the financial security he deserves.

But once the ink is dry and the Cardinals start training camp next week, it’s time for Murray to lead the franchise to something it hasn’t had since the 2015 season: a playoff win.

Arizona reached the postseason last year but was humbled on the road by the eventual Super Bowl champions in a 34-11 loss at SoFi Stadium to the Los Angeles Rams.

Entering his fourth NFL season as head coach, Kliff Kingsbury holds a 24-24-1 overall record, including an 11-6 campaign last season.

Kingsbury’s teams have consistently wilted in the second half of each season, compiling a 9-17 mark after Week 8 over the past three years. Kingsbury and Cardinals general manager Steve Keim both received contract extensions as well through 2027. Those two are tied at the hip with Murray, who was selected No. 1 overall three years ago to run Kingsbury’s spread attack.

  PGA Tour: Tournament Prize Money Payout List For 2022-23

Murray no doubt can create explosive plays with his arms and his feet. He is the only Arizona signal-caller to throw for at least 3,500 yards and 20 touchdown passes in three straight seasons.

Even more impressive, Murray is the only player in league history with at least 70 touchdown passes and 20 rushing touchdowns in his first three seasons.

But it’s not the gaudy numbers that are missing from the resume of this two-time Pro Bowler and 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year. It’s the signature-defining moments that propel a franchise to championships and quarterbacks fitted for gold jackets after their playing days are over.

Now that he has the contract he wanted, Murray must lead the Cardinals back to being one of the top teams in the NFC, which currently requires overtaking the Rams as the best team in the NFC West.

And it will be up to Keim and Kingsbury to build a sustainable, championship-caliber roster around the electric Murray, not using his high-dollar salary as an excuse for not securing talented pieces at other positions to get them there.

The Cardinals already will be without their top receiver for the first six games of the regular season due to the suspension of DeAndre Hopkins for performance-enhancing drugs.

Of Arizona’s 24 draft selections since taking Murray in the first round of the 2019 draft, only five of those players are projected to start this season – safety Jalen Thompson, defensive lineman Leki Fotu, defensive back Byron Murphy and linebackers Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins. That’s not exactly great execution of a draft-and-develop approach that organizations like the 1990s Dallas Cowboys and 2000s Baltimore Ravens used to earn multiple NFL titles.

  Giants news, 1/14: What will Kyler Murray decide about NFL Draft?

Further, after signing Murray to a big contract, the Cardinals will have to hit on draft picks in the future because of increased cap space devoted to Murray’s deal, along with signing productive players to reasonable contracts in free agency.

Along with Murray, difference-makers currently on the roster include running back James Conner, tight end Zach Ertz, edge rusher Markus Golden, safety Budda Baker, pass rusher J.J. Watt, Hopkins and Simmons.

Players from this year’s draft class who could make significant contributions include tight end Trey McBride, defensive end Cameron Thomas and running back Keaontay Ingram.

The bottom line is, Keim and Kingsbury have less wiggle room for mistakes in player acquisitions. With Murray under contract, the time is now to win big for the Cardinals. But it remains a question mark if this franchise has done enough to give Murray a chance to make it happen by building a contending team around him.

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.