Kyler Murray got paid. There were times throughout the offseason when this did not look like a likely outcome, but given the state of the Arizona Cardinals and the extensions given to the head coach and general manager, it might have been the only option.
By the big numbers, Murray got a five-year extension worth $230.5 million. That $46.1 million average annual value is just above the $46 million per year for the Deshaun Watson contract and only below the $50.3 million average for Aaron Rodgers. Of course, the averages are the big numbers that are thrown out and manipulated a bit so they can look that big. But a lot of this money is guaranteed.
Murray didn’t get a fully guaranteed contract like Watson, a question many had about the future of quarterback contracts after that deal, but $105 million on Murray’s contract is fully guaranteed, which would be the second-highest figure in the league behind Watson (all $230 million) and just above Rodgers ($101.4 million) and Josh Allen ($100 million).
Murray’s three-year cash flow of $147.8 million is second behind Rodgers ($150.8 million), per Over The Cap. His first-year cash of $72.6 million is behind only Dak Prescott‘s $75 million. With a relatively small signing bonus ($29.035 million per Albert Breer, which would be seventh with the top six all over $40 million), the Cardinals are putting some of Murray’s guarantees in roster bonuses like the Bills did for Allen’s contract with a $19 million signing bonus but with $25 million roster bonuses in three of the final four years of the deal and a $15 million bonus in the other. Murray’s roster bonuses are per-game, which bakes in some injury protection for the Cardinals. However, it could allow some future flexibility to convert those into a signing bonus, which would allow the team to stretch those figures out over multiple years.
While Murray finally got his deal, his immediate outlook might not even be the most important from this contract.
Future Quarterback Fallout
Murray’s deal sets the standard for the post-Watson quarterback contract and there are a few of those coming on the horizon. Lamar Jackson should be the next one up. Jackson is slated to play the 2022 season on his $23 million fifth-year option and already has an MVP season to his name. Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens have had some public comments about the situation but little animosity. The Ravens have continually stated they wanted to get a deal done and Jackson also wants to get paid, but timing and any semblance of urgency have been in question.
It’s hard to look at Murray’s contract and believe it’s anything but the floor for what a Jackson deal would be. In a sense, it might be a relief for both sides that there is now some type of structure to work off to set the new contract. At the least, Jackson can present Murray’s deal and demand a little more in each category to continue the historical trend of how the next quarterback deal is typically structured.
With Jackson on his fifth-year option as a 2019 draft pick, the Ravens won’t have the same luxury of some extra years to stretch some of the early money. Murray still had 2022 and his 2023 option year remaining on his deal, so while we count his AAV over the five years in the extension, the Cardinals have seven practical years to stretch that money out.
This also lays the groundwork for the quarterbacks of the 2020 draft class, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, who will be extension-eligible this offseason. Over the past two seasons, Jackson and Murray were 15th and 16th in EPA per dropback, according to TruMedia. Burrow ranked 13th. Herbert ranked fifth. Those extensions are going to be massive.
Already these quarterback deals have made the previous extensions for Allen, Prescott, and Patrick Mahomes look like bargains. The Mahomes contract was always going to be a bit of an aberration because of the 10-year length, but Allen’s six-year extension was only signed last offseason and it’s been eclipsed. This could encourage teams to get these quarterback deals done quicker because the price is only going to go up the longer it takes to get done.
Getting Murray signed always made the most sense for Arizona because the alternative of going out and finding another quarterback who could come close to Murray is much worse. Just look inside the division and a training camp battle between Drew Lock and Geno Smith to see the possible repercussions for trading away a good quarterback.
The question now is if everything can come together for the Cardinals to make it all worth it. Murray has shown extended stretches of top-tier quarterback play. Through Week 11 last season, Murray was second among quarterbacks in EPA per dropback (0.19), just barely behind Matthew Stafford (0.20), per TruMedia. Within that, he was on a run with some of the best deep passing production we’ve seen. But after Arizona’s Week 12 bye, Murray averaged -0.03 EPA per dropback (16th) as he fought through injuries to himself and DeAndre Hopkins.
A second-half of the season dropoff is nothing new for the Cardinals under Murray and Kliff Kingsbury. Under Kingsbury, the Cardinals are 15-7 over the first eight weeks of the season. That 67.4% win percentage ranks sixth among teams over the past three seasons. From Week 9 on, the Cardinals are 9-17, a 34.7% win percentage that ranks 29th.
There’s also been a significant drop in offensive performance over those spans, as the table below highlights:
Arizona Cardinals, 2019-2021
|1-8||0.05 (7)||0.32 (7)||0.11 (16)||0.02 (2)|
|9+||-0.03 (18)||-0.18 (18)||-0.03 (24)||-0.03 (8)|
While the passing metrics aren’t great in either split, it should be noted that Murray is also a big piece of that run game.
The Cardinals have typically come out of the gate doing some fun things that work pretty well but as the season progresses, those it appears the playbook gets condensed and the offensive playcalling gets less creative. This was exacerbated last season as Murray wasn’t 100% and Hopkins was off the field.
When Hopkins was out, the Cardinals basically just slid Antoine Wesely in his play and changed nothing. Look at the target heatmaps of the two receivers last season. Wesley was the vertical threat down the left sideline.
During last season, Murray struggled against man coverage. His -0.29 EPA per dropback against man was 29th among 31 qualified quarterbacks, per TruMedia. Again, that was another problem made worse with the absence of Hopkins. With Hopkins on the field, Murray saw man coverage on 18.3% of his dropbacks, which would have been the lowest rate in the league among qualified quarterbacks. Only Russell Wilson (18.7%) was below 20%. WIthout Hopkins, Murray saw man on 24.9% of his dropbacks, which was still below the 27% league average, but also a significant bump and without his top receiver who would be the most likely to beat man coverage.
It’s hard ro play man against a quarterback like Murray because if he takes off to run while defenders are chasing receivers in man coverage, it leaves a big opportunity for an explosive play on the ground. But with Murray not running as much in the second half of the season, defenses were not as worried about that threat.
All of this leads back to Kingsbury and the trajectory of the Arizona offense. During his media availability at the combine, Kingsbury was asked about the second-half failures and the offense without Hopkins. He responded, “when we lost Hop, I didn’t do enough schematically to adjust to help us win games.” That was the general vibe of the entire presser. His extension through the 2027 season, along with general manager Steve Keim’s, was announced the next morning.
What made Kingsbury’s first year as a head coach so intriguing was his ability to adapt schematically. Without the personnel to really run a spread system, the Cardinals relied on two tight end sets and had one of the most creative running games in the league. Arizona still uses 12 personnel more than one would expect (22% ranked 12th in 2022) but the creativity isn’t always apparent. The Cardinals drafted tight end Trey McBride in the second round, their first pick in the draft, so we could see more of those looks in 2022.
So much of Kingsbury’s offensive philosophy has come from pacing. The Cardinals play faster than just about every other offense in the league (they were seventh in seconds per play in neutral situations in 2021). Arizona also used no huddle 33% of the time, which was the most in the league, per SIS. Because that pace puts stress on the defense, it’s also what causes the Cardinals to be quite static. Arizona motioned at the second-lowest rate in the league last season. That’s why Hopkins (or Wesley) continually line up in the same spot. It can work, but as that goes on longer and the plays run out of those looks get simplified over time, the advantage of going fast decreases.
Kingsbury was also asked about the tradeoff between the hurry up and using motion as a way to change things up for the offense. Back in February, he said everything was on the table as they evaluate how to move forward.
It may be a slight exaggeration but we could get the entire essence of the future outlook for the Cardinals during the first six weeks of the upcoming season when Hopkins is suspended. As we’ve noted, the early part of the season has been when Kingsbury and the Cardinals have been the most creative and this year they’ll have to be with Hopkins out. But if they start the year just throwing someone in the Hopkins role without any adjustments, it will be hard ton be optimistic for any future schematic changes.
A favorable outlook for the 2022 Cardinals could be that the offense will be its most creative early in the season, featuring new receiver Marquise Brown and even if the offense gets a little stale late in the year, that’s when Hopkins will be back and a significant schematic advantage won’t be as important. The best-case scenario is the Cardinals come out swinging early and never take their foot off the gas.
That might be the most necessary for the offense that might have to carry a defense that has some questions. Arizona was fifth in EPA per play on defense last season, but questions remain in personnel. This isn’t a team with the strongest secondary (no team used just three defensive backs on the field more than the Cardinals last season) and not much was added. There will also be questions about whether the pass rush can give the secondary as much help as it did last season with the loss of Chandler Jones.
That part of the roster falls on Keim, who has taken some wild swings in the draft that haven’t quite worked out. Some of the shortcomings on the roster have forced the team to rely on Murray to carry the team.
Murray’s proven ability to do that is why he got paid. But in order for this to sustain — especially in the current organizational structure — Murray is going to need a bit more help from everyone involved. Murray alone is worth this deal but to get the most out of it, the others involved in handing the deal out will need to step up.