INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 17: Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals looks on before the game against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at SoFi Stadium on January 17, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS — If nothing else, the timing was impeccable.

To be more specific: It was impeccably awful.

On Monday, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray kicked off Combine Week by delivering his latest loaded social-media message, this time in the form of a 484-word statement by his agent containing ALL CAPITALS and some bold print reminding us that “ACTIONS SPEAK MUCH LOUDER THAN WORDS IN THIS VOLATILE BUSINESS.”

For those of you whose time is precious or whose attention spans are short, I’ll give you the abridged version: “We want more money than the team has offered.”

It’s perfectly understandable that Murray, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 draft, is seeking a lucrative long-term extension heading into the fourth year of his artificially deflated rookie contract. And there are reasons to wonder if he has received the institutional support he deserves while carrying a disproportionate share of the burden.

What I can’t understand is why he’d force the issue by throwing what is essentially his second social-media tantrum of the offseason now, two weeks before the start of free agency and only six weeks removed from a debacle of a playoff game that cemented a second consecutive late-season slide of epic proportions.

The last time we saw Murray’s actions on display, the optics were not especially flattering. In a first-round playoff clash at SoFi Stadium against the NFC West rival Los Angeles Rams — the team to which the Cardinals had just handed a division title by losing a Week 18 home game against the long-since-eliminated Seattle Seahawks — Murray and his teammates put forth a dead-fish performance that was difficult to fathom.

Murray played poorly, completing 19 of 34 passes for 137 yards with two interceptions, including a pick-six that put the Arizona in a 21-0 hole. Hounded by the Rams’ defensive pressure, the swift quarterback seemed strangely passive, running only twice for six yards during the 34-11 beatdown. His competitive fire seemed little more than a flicker; his body language was Cutler-esque.

Bad games happen, and obviously the Cardinals’ calamity wasn’t all on Murray. That said, he plays the most challenging and high-profile position in American team sports, and quarterbacks are disproportionately judged on their ability to ascend in the postseason, especially during times of adversity.

A week after Murray practically disappeared into the SoFi turf, the Rams went to Tampa and ran up a 27-3 lead on Tom Brady, only to watch the most accomplished quarterback in history summon another near-miracle. The week after that, in the NFC championship game at SoFi, Jimmy Garoppolo fought through painful thumb and shoulder injuries and fell just short of leading the other NFC West playoff team, the San Francisco 49ers, to a second Super Bowl in three seasons.

Two weeks later at SoFi, Joe Burrow hung tough against a relentless Rams pass rush, shaking off a painful hit to the knee before the great Aaron Donald slammed the door on the Cincinnati Bengals’ Super Bowl LVI dreams.

And Murray? A week earlier, after playing in the Pro Bowl, he made his opening passive-aggressive move on social media, unfollowing the Cardinals and scrubbing all photos of and references to the team on his Instagram account. It was apparent then, and obvious now, that like Super Bowl LVI halftime entertainer Snoop Dogg, he had his mind on his money and his money on his mind.

Again, that’s his prerogative. In my opinion, the NFL’s rookie wage scale is regrettable and stupid, and I’m all for any player using his leverage to maximize his income. It’s just business, and every player (and agent) has his own style when it comes to applying pressure. Arizona general manager Steve Keim understands this and isn’t getting emotional about it, so the rest of us shouldn’t, either.

What baffles me — and many Cardinals sources I’ve spoken to this week — is why Murray felt compelled to do this in February and March.


Jan 17, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) reacts after being sacked against the Los Angeles Rams during the first half of an NFC Wild Card playoff football game at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Murray’s exit strategy?

Most quarterback contracts, especially those involving players coming off their rookie deals, get hammered out over the summer. Last August, for example, the Buffalo Bills and Josh Allen agreed to a six-year, $258-million extension. The Houston Texans finalized their four-year, $160-million deal with Deshaun Watson in September of 2020, two months after the Kansas City Chiefs locked down Patrick Mahomes for 10 years and $503 million. In 2019, the Rams got Jared Goff’s four-year, $134-million extension done just before the start of the regular season.

The best time to apply pressure on a team, in theory, is right before the season approaches — when it’s essentially too late to come up with a legitimate Plan B. And if Murray’s goal is to get out of Arizona, well, thus far that’s not happening. As of Tuesday, not a single team had reached out to Keim to inquire about the possibility of trading for Murray. Granted, the response almost certainly would have been, “Don’t bother; we’re not trading him.” Yet it seems strange that no one has at least asked the question, and I can’t imagine there won’t be overtures in the coming weeks.

Clearly, Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill can’t be especially thrilled with the quarterback’s current strategic approach. That was made abundantly clear by Wednesday’s surprising announcement from the team that Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury had agreed to contract extensions through the 2027 season.

Once again, the timing tells you everything you need to know. And if timing is everything, the statement from Murray’s agent accomplished nothing beyond a few hours’ worth of social media amusement.

With much of the NFL world gathered here in Indy for the annual scouting combine, it evoked memories of another poorly timed contract flex: In January of 2015, then- Colts coach Chuck Pagano told owner Jim Irsay he believed he deserved an upgraded contract — one day after the team’s 45-7 AFC championship game defeat to the New England Patriots.

Suffice it to say, Irsay did not react well.

In most cases, as with Irsay and Pagano, things cool down and deals get done. In this case, it’s unclear what will happen with the Cardinals and Murray. Each side has its leverage points, and neither the team nor the player necessarily needs to blink anytime soon.

The Cardinals have Murray under contract for $5.5 million in 2022, will exercise his fifth-year option (still at an affordable price by salary-cap standards) and, were they so inclined, could use the franchise tag on him for at least two seasons after that. They believe that, even without an extension, he won’t be able to resist the competitive pull of an impending season and will show up and play.

Murray, however, does have another option, at least theoretically: The Oakland A’s selected him ninth overall in the 2018 MLB Draft and still own his rights. Two years ago, he told the Arizona Republic, “I think it would be fun” to play both baseball and football. Last June, he made similar comments. He has worn A’s hats on occasion and showed up to the Cardinals’ home game against the Colts last Christmas wearing a green A’s jersey. If nothing else, he’s trying to at least create the appearance that he isn’t closing the door on a baseball career.

The Cardinals could basically slam it shut by offering a large enough pile of money. Whether they should is another question.

While quarterbacks such as Allen, Mahomes, Watson, Goff and Carson Wentz have received extensions after their third seasons, it’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, will likely play out his fifth-year option with the Cleveland Browns in 2022, and his future with the team remains uncertain. Of course, the argument could be made that Murray’s performance has been at a higher level, though Mayfield did quarterback the Browns to a playoff victory in Pittsburgh last season.

Then there is Lamar Jackson, who was the league’s MVP in 2019, his second season, and led the Baltimore Ravens to a road playoff victory (over the Tennessee Titans) in his fourth year, earning a mere $5.5 million for the 2021 campaign. The expectation is that the Ravens and Jackson will finally work out a lucrative extension before the start of the 2022 campaign, rather than having him play out his fifth-year option, but until it actually happens, at least some degree of uncertainty remains.

Thus far, Jackson hasn’t acted out publicly. He doesn’t even have an agent, technically serving as his own representative. Again, different players have different styles when it comes to navigating contract disputes. Murray clearly isn’t worried about letting his bosses — and the rest of us — know that he’s unhappy with the current state of affairs.


Kingsbury’s culpability

Now, Murray will inevitably get some blowback, because plenty of people in the Cardinals’ organization aren’t happy with him. Some have questioned his commitment, dating back to his missing most of the 2020 finale against the Rams with an ankle injury before returning in the final minutes of an 18-7 defeat that killed Arizona’s playoff chances. They view him as a somewhat oversensitive soul who isn’t especially receptive to criticism and self-accountability, and some teammates regard him as distant and detached. Kingsbury has described Murray as an “introvert” — not a typical adjective applied to a franchise quarterback — and there have been questions as to how intensely he approaches that uniquely challenging role.

The best and most highly regarded franchise quarterbacks, from Mahomes to Russell Wilson to Burrow, devote themselves to the cause on an almost all-encompassing level. Murray, while regarded as someone who works hard while at the team’s training facility, isn’t viewed as a grinder. He’s someone who is more likely to play video games than to watch game film in the comfort of his own home — a reality he basically confirmed during a December interview with the New York Times.

“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.”

That sound you hear is the head of Kurt Warner, the only man to have quarterbacked the Cardinals to a Super Bowl, banging repeatedly against the front door of his Scottsdale home.

There is another side to this divide, however. One coach familiar with the intra-team dynamic put some of the blame on the organization, citing Kingsbury’s NFL coaching inexperience and Murray’s youth as a star-crossed combination and insisting that the young quarterback needs more support.

“You take a young quarterback No. 1 overall and you put him with a first-time head coach, you better be the strongest organization in NFL history,” said the coach, who spoke under condition of anonymity. “They have to figure out how to handle those roles — and the NFL is not a place you can figure it out on your own. There is so much put on Kyler. In order for the team to be great, he has to be Superman every game.

“People take Kyler’s behavior as being bad body language, but to me it’s hyper-competitiveness. He is an alpha male, and if he doesn’t feel that you’re an alpha male or are meeting his competitive standards, it gets to him, and he wears his emotion on his sleeve.

“Who has taught him to harness his competitiveness? And who is there for him when he’s struggling? Where are the plays to help him get back on track? People talk about Kyler’s body language, but where is Kliff when the game goes bad? He’s standing there with that glazed look on his face, and he’s not on the sideline talking to his quarterback and working through things.”

So yes, this is a complicated and nuanced situation that can be seen from many perspectives. Less complicated is this basic reality: Murray and the Cardinals will either agree to a lucrative long-term deal that binds the quarterback to the franchise for years, or they’ll move on, either this offseason or next. Money talks, and — as Murray’s agent said in his wordy statement — actions speak much louder than words.

Then again, Bidwill’s actions on Wednesday spoke resoundingly: His GM and coach (who, for what it’s worth, has the same agent as Murray) aren’t going anywhere, at least for the immediate future.

If Murray believed that the agent’s social-media message would shake the Cardinals’ powerbrokers to their core, he seems to have miscalculated. Bidwill was openly furious after the team’s late 2020 collapse, informing Keim, Kingsbury and others that the team’s 8-8 finish was unacceptable. Presumably, he was at least as irate this season after the Cardinals went from 10-2 to 11-6 to one-and-done playoff debacle.

And yet, in the wake of his quarterback’s conspicuous show of displeasure, the owner just doubled down on the dudes in charge, setting up a potential stare down that could get uglier and louder. It’s not hard to see what Bidwill’s message is.

After all, timing is everything.

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