TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — For the Arizona Cardinals, one of the perks of Kyler Murray's three years as the team's franchise quarterback is an absence of off-the-field distractions or drama.
That's changing in a hurry.
In a somewhat unexpected storyline early in the NFL offseason, Murray and the Cardinals have been engaged in a passive-aggressive public squabble after the team's late-season fade ended in a 34-11 loss on the opening weekend of the NFL playoffs to the Los Angeles Rams on Jan. 17.
The latest salvo came early Monday morning. Murray's agent Erik Burkhardt sent an all-caps statement to a few media outlets — including ESPN and the NFL Network — pushing for his quarterback to receive a lucrative long-term extension.
“Actions speak much louder than words in this volatile business,” the statement said. “It is now simply up to the Cardinals to decide if they prioritize their rapidly improving, 24-year-old, already 2x Pro Bowl QB, who led the organization from 3 wins before his arrival to 11 wins and their first playoff appearance in 5 years.”
If only it were that simple.
Murray's contract calls for him to make more than $5 million in 2022, with a base salary of $965,000 and a $4.5 million roster bonus. Unless the current situation continues to deteriorate, the Cardinals are expected to pick up his fifth-year option for the 2023 season.
But Murray's long-term future is still in flux. The No. 1 overall draft pick in 2019, who won the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma, is seeking a contract extension that would pay him in the neighborhood of other young star quarterbacks, including Buffalo's Josh Allen.
Burkhardt's statement said that Murray's contract request is “in-line with the current QB market.”
For comparison's sake, Allen signed a six-year, $258 million deal with the Bills last year that includes $150 million guaranteed. Allen, though, has led Buffalo to some postseason victories, while Murray has not won a playoff game with Arizona.
Now it's up to the Cardinals to decide if Murray is worth that kind of cash.
The notion that Murray and his employer would be on the outs seemed far-fetched just a few months ago, when the Cardinals won their first seven games and looked like a top Super Bowl contender. Murray was putting up big numbers and generating MVP talk.
Then, the collapse.
The Cardinals started 10-2 but then lost four of their last five, falling from the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC to the wild-card round, where they were unceremoniously dumped by a Rams team that went on to win the Super Bowl. Murray's first playoff performance was an ugly one: 19 of 34 passing for 137 yards and two interceptions.
Sure, the Cardinals had a few bad breaks. Murray sprained his ankle midway through the season, causing him to miss three games and limit his mobility. Top receiver DeAndre Hopkins hurt his knee and missed the final four regular-season games and the playoff loss.
But there was little doubt the quarterback's steady ascension into the NFL's elite had hit a snag.
Then the offseason drama began. First, there were reports that Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill was upset with the team's late-season collapse, which wasn't particularly surprising. A few weeks later, Murray scrubbed his social media accounts of all references to the Cardinals, prompting speculation he was unhappy.
Murray eventually posted a message to social media that featured him in a Cardinals uniform. He wrote that “all of this nonsense is not what I'm about, never has been, never will be. Anyone who has ever stepped between those lines with me knows how hard I go. Love me or hate me but I'm going to continue to grow and get better.”
Unsurprisingly, that failed to quell speculation.
The Cardinals have undoubtedly improved since Murray came to Arizona, going from a 5-10-1 record in 2019 to 8-8 in 2020 and finally 11-6 in the most recent season. Murray was the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year and has made two Pro Bowls.
But Murray's introverted, sometimes brooding personality isn't typical for a quarterback. On a Phoenix radio show last week, Bidwill tried to clear the air and said he's had “good conversations” with Murray.
“Put me in the category of I love him,” Bidwill said. “And I know he's going to get better.”
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