Super Bowl LVI is just days way. Fans of the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams are preparing for what should be an exciting matchup. However, if your favorite team is not playing in the big game, the whirlwind of speculation gets started a little earlier.
For example, the future of the Arizona Cardinals may have shifted dramatically from what it was just two months ago.
Back in December 2021, the Cardinals were 10-2 on the season with their eyes set on winning the NFC West and making a Super Bowl run. Since then, they lost four of their last five regular-season games, were knocked out of the NFL playoffs in embarrassing fashion, and their quarterback has scrubbed his social media of any Cardinals-related posts.
Now there are questions on if Kyler Murray wants to stay with the team. Plus, rumors are swirling about the future of head coach Kliff Kingsbury following the team’s late-season collapse. Is it possible that one of them could be gone before the start of the 2022 season? And if so, who would the team be better off without?
Status of Kyler Murray: Is K-1 done in Arizona?
Arguably the most essential piece to any NFL team is the starting quarterback. And the Cardinals may have a problem at that position.
After a disappointing end to the 2021 season, Kyler Murray could be letting out some frustration. After taking part in the 2022 Pro Bowl, Murray made quite a stir on social media after reportedly unfollowing the Cardinals on Instagram and removing all team photos from his page.
Arizona decided to hitch its future to Murray by selecting him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft. The team has seen improvements during each of his three seasons as the starter. In fact, leading up to the midway point of this past year, Arizona sportsbooks pegged Murray as one of the favorites to win the MVP.
However, the way last season ended may have left a bad taste in the mouths of team ownership. Not to mention there is a huge multi-million dollar decision that needs to be made regarding Murray’s future with the team.
Kyler Murray’s contract situation
Murray is going into the fourth year of his rookie contract, in line to make almost $11.4 million. With Murray a former first-round draft pick, the Cardinals can exercise a fifth-year option that will keep him under contract through 2023. However, that option will pay him more than $25 million.
There is the possibility that Murray’s social media purge could be a passive-aggressive way of letting the Cardinals know that he wants a contract extension. From Murray’s point of view, going after a new deal is a no-brainer. He stands to make more than $30 million per year with a long-term extension. Football is a dangerous game, and most players will not have the opportunity to maximize their earnings. Murray could be wondering about his longevity after missing three games this past season due to injury.
On the other hand, extending him now could put the Cardinals in a tough spot from their point of view. The team already has salary cap issues, and 2022 gives them one final year to play Murray with a low cap hit, allowing them to add talent around him and try and compete for a Super Bowl. But if they have doubts about Kyler’s ability to be the long-term answer at quarterback, then locking him into a long-term contract would be a bad idea.
So, on the one hand, extending Murray would mean he will be the team’s quarterback for potentially another five years while also limiting what you can pay to add talent around him, which could be an issue if he doesn’t continue to improve. On the other hand, not extending him gives the team flexibility. But then the question becomes, who are you replacing him with?
Good starting quarterbacks are valuable. Great starting quarterbacks are priceless, but they are also rare.
Coach Kingsbury’s past failures could come back to haunt him
Kliff Kingbury’s time as the Cardinals’ head coach has been a roller-coaster ride. The team has improved every year if you just look at the records, including last season, when Arizona Cardinals betting odds made it appear as if a Super Bowl run was in order. But when you dive deeper, the uncertainty surrounding Kingsbury’s future starts to make sense.
The late-season plunge of 2021 is not the first collapse Kingsbury has been a part of. The 2020 Cardinals suffered a similar slump toward the end of the year that knocked them out of playoff contention. When you look back at his days as a college head coach at Texas Tech, you’ll see a similar pattern. A strong start, followed by a series of questionable losses.
Kingsbury is entering the final year of his contract. Seeing an NFL head coach work on the last year of his deal is extremely rare. Many would have expected that having a winning season and earning a playoff berth would have earned Kingsbury a contract extension. But yet another slide at the end of the season has team owners questioning if Kingsbury has reached his ceiling with the franchise.
It is doubtful that the team fires him this late into the head coaching carousel. However, the odds are high that 2022 will be a “prove it” year for him if he wants a new contract. Kingsbury is officially on the hot seat.
Murray-Kingsbury: Either, Neither or Both?
Cardinals fans should expect both Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingbury to return for the 2022 season, whether they like it or not. Meaning they both will have an opportunity to earn that payday that I guarantee they are looking for.
Murray will be the one to watch. There is a chance he could hold out to get a new contract. However, he doesn’t have much leverage in negotiations. The team can pick up his fifth-year option, which could be the end of the discussion. It’s not like the former first-round pick in the MLB draft has a baseball season he could potentially look forward to.
As for Kingsbury, his best bet is to coach his behind off and hope Murray doesn’t hold out. Out of the two, he would be the easier one to replace.