Kyler Murray was fired up, battling through a volcano of emotions Thursday morning. Upset. Angry. Disrespected. A tad flabbergasted, even.
Why all the angst? Shouldn’t the Arizona Cardinals quarterback be grinning from ear to ear? What about his five-year, $230.5 million contract extension that includes $160 million guaranteed and makes him the second-highest paid quarterback in the NFL?
Why Kyler Murray is frustrated in Arizona
There’s a major catch: the study/homework clause addendum in his contract that’s enforceable by the club and has drawn heavy criticism and raised serious questions about the former Heisman Trophy winner’s work ethic. Hours after Murray’s press conference, the Cardinals said in a statement that the addendum has been officially removed.
“After seeing the distraction it created, we removed the addendum from the contract,” the Cardinals stated “It was clearly perceived in ways that were never intended. Our confidence in Kyler Murray is as high as it’s ever been and nothing demonstrates our belief in his ability to lead this team more than the commitment reflected in this contract.”
The reaction to the addendum had Murray’s blood boiling.
That’s why Murray held a press conference days after the addendum leaked that he was originally required to study independently four hours per week in his preparations for opponents.
That’s why Murray made an opening statement instead of his usual approach to waiting for questions to be asked.
“To think that I can accomplish everything I’ve accomplished and not be a student of the game and not have that passion and not take it serious, it’s disrespectful and almost a joke,” Murray said. “I’m honestly flattered that you all think I can go out there and not prepare for the game and not take it seriously. It’s disrespectful to my peers, to all the great athletes in this league. This game is too hard. To play the position I play in this league, it’s too hard.”
As upfront as Murray was in his feelings about the public reaction to the homework clause, he ducked a question and declined to comment when asked if he was angry with the Cardinals for initially inserting the contract language that could have allowed them to void his guarantees if he fails to live up to the deal’s details. The Cardinals could have voided the guarantees should Murray pursue a baseball career.
Insight into Murray’s unique situation from NFL sources
In talking to multiple league sources, including NFL executives and agents, insight into the unusual Murray situation ran the gamut.
One source called it “embarrassing” to the player and the team that it was deemed necessary to put that kind of doubtful language into a contract of a young passer regarded as one of the rising stars in the game.
Another source emphasized that this could have been accomplished, the extra time the Cardinals want Murray to spend on football, without writing it into the contract and questioning the NFC West organization’s leadership and relationship with the player.
“It’s unquestionable a bad look all-around,” the source said. “Nobody looks good here. It’s a shame, really, because this second deal, this kind of financial commitment, should have some kind of honeymoon period. All this seems to do is put more pressure on Murray and the Cardinals to make this thing work. Maybe it will all blow over.
“Maybe he’ll play great football and lead them to a Super Bowl, but the other side of the coin is, ‘What if he struggles and then questions are raised about whether he’s studying enough?’ That absolutely sucks for the kid and the team. They’ve got to make sure it doesn’t get to that point. He’s got to put in the time, and the team needs to make sure they can trust him.”
Another source raised the point that it all comes back to trust, and it raises the question: Are the Cardinals really believers in Murray, or did they do this deal because Murray’s agent pushed the envelope to get the deal done? All fair points. All undoubtedly maddening to Murray.
A former first-round draft pick and Offensive Rookie of the Year, Murray, who’s diminutive in stature at 5-foot-10, listed his résumé and pointed out his lack of ideal size.
“I can’t afford to take any shortcuts, no pun intended,” he said. “Those are things you can’t accomplish if you don’t prepare the right way. I’m flattered that y’all think that at my size, I can go out there and not prepare for the game and not take it serious. It’s laughable.
“Of course, I watch film by myself, that’s a given. That doesn’t even need to be said. But I do enjoy and love the process of watching the game with my guys — the quarterbacks — my coaches.”
Murray kept going. He was on a roll.
“I refuse to let my work ethic, my preparing to be in question,” Murray said. “I’ve put in an incomprehensible amount of time and blood, sweat, tears, and work into what I do, whether it’s football or baseball. People can’t comprehend the amount of time that it takes to do two sports at a high level in college, let alone be the first person to do it ever at my size. It’s funny.
“But to those of you out there that believe that I’d be standing here today, in front of y’all without having a work ethic and without preparing, I’m honored that you think that. But it doesn’t exist. It’s not possible. It’s not possible.”
This blockbuster deal, while not fully guaranteed like Deshaun Watson’s $230 million contract, represents a risk for the Cardinals. If the Cardinals, led by owner Michael Bidwill, general manager Steve Keim, and coach Kliff Kingsbury, are wrong about Murray and how he would react to addendum, they could wind up regretting the deal.
“Why pay the guy if you have serious concerns about how hard he works?” a league source said. “I can tell you this: It definitely wasn’t Kyler or his agent (Erik Burkhardt) who insisted on this contract detail. I would think it goes all the way to the top of the organization, to ownership. Obviously, they felt a need to do this. Whether they wind up regretting they did it down the road is up for debate.”