Before Lil’ Kyler Murray gets permission to go outside and toss around the football with his buddies, the Arizona Cardinals have laid down some ground rules.
Next, he must limit screen time on his tablet. He can’t get sidetracked by unfollowing and scrubbing, then re-following and reposting Cardinals-related posts on Instagram. Even though that’s a thing for “a kid” his age — his words, not a boomer’s — an obsession with social media distracts from the whole, you know, leading-an-NFL-locker-room business.
If he does all of this, then Murray will get extra “credit.” That’s how it reads in the “independent study addendum” clause of his contract extension, which probably was sealed with a pinkie promise.
The Cardinals recently made Murray, 24, the second-highest-paid quarterback in terms of annual salary. And to ensure that their franchise quarterback — until at least 2028 — holds up his end of the bargain, the Cardinals actually had to assign him weekly homework. No word yet whether Cardinals executives sweetened the deal by promising to take Murray out for an ice cream sundae after every game, win or lose.
What we do know is when Murray leaves the office, he must “personally study” material provided by the team. And he must do so in “good faith,” which means he can’t watch television or browse the internet while brushing up on the next opponent.
If Murray completes his four hours of study per week, then he will get some kind of unknown credit. Maybe it’s receiving driving privileges in Coach Kliff Kingsbury’s car or getting to stay up a whole hour past his bedtime on weekends. But clearly the Cardinals felt their quarterback needed more incentive to do his job. Simply pledging to him $230.5 million wouldn’t be enough — even if this arrangement makes them look like desperate parents raising a precocious child who’s blessed with extraordinary talents but saddled with attention issues.
Teams routinely introduce ways to protect their investments, which amount to controlling the people signing the contracts. And those say as much about the fragility of the athletes as they do the stupidity of the teams.
The Boston Red Sox randomly weighed pitcher Curt Schilling during his 2008 season and shoveled a few extra million his way if he made weight. Similarly, the Boston Celtics and Glen “Big Baby” Davis agreed to a contract that would pay him an additional $500,000 if he didn’t tip the scales too much.
It was extreme sports, not extra pounds, that scared the Los Angeles Lakers into stipulating Vladimir Radmanovic stay away from such activities in his five-year, $30.2 million contract. That didn’t stop Radmanovic from going rogue during 2007 NBA All-Star Weekend and injuring his shoulder in a snowboarding accident.
Still, the four-hour study mandate in Murray’s contract goes beyond anything we have publicly known about the strings attached to an athlete’s egregious salary. The jokes write themselves. If Murray makes his bed, takes out the trash and remembers to call Grandma on her birthday, then Arizona will give him even more “credit.”
And it’s too bad for the Cardinals. Just when we thought it was safe to start paying attention to this mediocre franchise hidden in the desert, the absurdity of this addendum drags them into the wrong kind of spotlight.
It’s diminishing for both the Cardinals and Murray.
Why would Arizona elevate Murray’s worth above all other quarterbacks in the league, excluding Aaron Rodgers, if the team can’t even count on him to pursue the most basic preparation skills? And just how immature and cocksure must Murray be to believe he doesn’t need to spend extra time learning about his upcoming opponent or connecting with his receivers?
To be sure, Murray is gifted (and he knows it). After quarterbacking his team to a 42-0 record and three state championships in one of the highest divisions of Texas high school football, Murray went to Texas A&M. He didn’t last long in College Station; reportedly he and the offensive coordinator exchanged words during a game against Alabama, and by the end of the year he decided to take his talents to Oklahoma. There, he won the Heisman Trophy in 2018, but that same season he also served a four-play suspension for being late to practice.
Last year, a New York Times profile about the introverted and instinctive quarterback revealed how Murray spends hours playing video games at home. But not watching game film — he says he doesn’t need to.
“I think I was blessed with the cognitive skills to just go out there and just see it before it happens,” Murray told the Times. “I’m not one of those guys that’s going to sit there and kill myself watching film. I don’t sit there for 24 hours and break down this team and that team and watch every game, because, in my head, I see so much.”
In his head, Murray knows it all. But he still could do himself a favor by working on the little things, such as getting on the same page with his top receivers.
In the closing seconds of the Cardinals’ loss at Green Bay last season, Kingsbury called one play, Murray saw something better, then threw a fade to Green in the end zone. One problem: Green had no clue the ball was coming. Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas did and intercepted Murray’s pass. This spring, Green decided to re-sign with Arizona but admitted he and Murray need to improve their communication.
Along with another quarterback who infamously skipped his homework, Johnny Manziel, Murray, at 5-foot-10, has helped resurrect the era of short signal callers. His style of playground football — improvising and slinging lasers on the run — may not require long bouts of film study. It also may not guarantee wins in the NFL. Just check the track records of Mighty Mouse QBs of this era: Manziel burned out, and Baker Mayfield was booted out of Cleveland.
Murray has had more success: He was the offensive rookie of the year in 2019. Still, in his only playoff appearance, he tossed two interceptions and no touchdowns in a January loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. There’s no telling if Murray studied hard enough to keep away from Aaron Donald.
The Cardinals were gullible enough to give him more than $230 million anyway. Now they want him to promise to become a better student of the game — more spiral notebooks and fewer spirals thrown on Xbox. They better hope Murray didn’t cross his fingers behind his back when he signed the contract.