Thoughts on Kyler Murray and the Cardinals

The other day Kyler Murray’s camp sent out a contract proposal to the Cardinals and the cover letter was obtained by Adam Schefter and it created a stir online.

I have received a number of questions about it so I figured I would share some thoughts on some of those questions.

What do you make of the timing?

I think there are pros and cons to the timing here. In terms of the year itself the timing is 100% correct. There is a history of players being extended in their third year to make this a realistic ask. Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, and Jared Goff are recent top picks who were extended very early. I think there are logical reasons to try to get an extension before Lamar Jackson who may be a bit of an outlier contract. He is representing himself and the Ravens have recently gotten a number of players to take subpar contracts in terms of annual value. That data point won’t exist if they begin negotiating now.

That said expecting a contract this early would not be normal. Wentz was extended in June. Mahomes was extended in July. Allen was extended in August. Watson and Goff were extended in September. Those signings came long after free agency and the draft.  They became team priorities after the team went through their offseason work and new player additions.

The other downside for Murray in engaging this early is the opposite outcome of the Jackson contract. The market could get pushed up by Aaron Rodgers.  I am not sure if Murray would really compare in any way with a Rodgers deal but every movement up in the market can pull everyone else up too especially if the contract runs three or four years in length. Matt Stafford and Kirk Cousins could both land extensions that absolutely would be numbers Murray could jump over if both went over $40 million a year.

I think the other pro for really pushing for it this year is that Murray should have some leverage over the team. While the Cardinals have improved in each of Murray’s three years both 2020 and 2021 were disappointments overall even with the one playoff appearance. There is no comparison to the improvements shown in Buffalo nor the multiple playoff trips shown by Watson. Murray is the best and most important player on the team and I don’t think the GM and head coach are in a position to let this lead to a hold out and if Murray were to hold out this would be the year to do it. He would have a higher salary at risk in 2023 and there are more severe penalties in the CBA for holding out in an option year.

In addition while Murray has had a much better career than Baker Mayfield, Mayfield not receiving an extension after his teams most successful season proven to be a disaster for him. Mayfield fell apart last season and there are questions as to whether or not he should even be the unquestioned starter this year. The fall from grace of Wentz and Goff is well known. If things go south and a new GM comes into Arizona who know what the position will be on Murray. It makes sense to get the deal done before August.

What type of contract should we expect?

The best way to get an idea of a realistic market would be to see just how much the other young players pushed the market. The hardest issue here is Mahomes’ contract which was really two contracts in one. I considered Mahomes’ true value to be $39.55 million per year, which was the five year APY of the deal, and used that in the calculations. Here is how much each player signed for, relative to the top contract on the market at the time of signing and how much that would translate to for Murray by using Allen’s contract as the current true high water mark.

PlayerMarket Increase2022 Value

I do not envision Murray to be considered a Mahomes level player and I would consider Allen a long shot. Prescott and Watson are the two closest players which should put Murray’s number anywhere from $42 million to $44 million per year.

Contract length has become a bigger thing for quarterbacks recently. The bottom four on the list all received four year contracts while Allen had to go to six years. Mahomes has that two in one contract. I would lean toward a four or five year deal in this case.

How much would be guaranteed?

This likely depends on the length. Prescott is the NFL leader at $126 million in guarantees on a four year contract. Allen is the tops at $150 million on a 6 year contract. There are some fundamental differences in the structures of the two. Prescott’s $126 million was virtually fully guaranteed at signing based on the early vesting date of the third contract year guarantee. However this is a straightforward guarantee.

Allen’s guarantee structure is much more complex. While the paper guarantee is $150 million, there is a rolling guarantee structure throughout the entire contract. The gist of it is that if Allen is released at any point early in his contract he will earn around $50 million a year for his time played. It is very difficult to release him at any stage.

Murray’s structure on the guarantee will most likely be determined by the contract length. I think anything five or less years will carry a guarantee similar to Prescott’s, probably in the ballpark of $140 million. If they go to six years they would have to get the Allen structure, virtually guaranteeing most of the contract.  I would anticipate a no trade clause as part of either contract.

How can they lower the salary cap charge as mentioned in the memo?

In order for the Cardinals to lower Murrays cap charge this year he would need to sign a new contract prior to the early part of training camp. Murray has a $4.52 million roster bonus due at that point. By signing an extension prior to that date they can lower the cap number for the season. Murray’s signing bonus would need to be no larger than $22,621,800 to prevent his cap number from increasing and less than that to have it decrease. Based on prior contract history it is unlikely that a proposal would give any major salary cap relief unless Murray was willing to sign for the lower end of recent comparables. In general teams are not going to care about someone offering a way to lower a cap hit on a deal like this.

Would you do the deal if you were Arizona?

I don’t think I would. Right now I think Murray fits more in with the questionable QB’s than the surefire bets at the position. In recent years we have seen dead money for QB’s skyrocket because teams are investing so much in the players. It is understandable because the position is so important but the guarantees have grown exponentially and the structure of the guarantees make the players difficult to move. The Eagles took on a historic amount of dead money on Wentz. The Rams took on a massive number for Goff and had to include a draft pick to dump his contract.

While there are risk factors in waiting on a QB contract most of those factors are a bit more predictable. Dallas was hit with unpredictability when it came to Watson’s contract in Houston but market movement in general is slow. Even if it does move you can justify the increase in price more often than not.

Basically, the early contract is a hedge against positional market inflation. The premium you are paying for that hedge is the guarantee on the contract, which is massive. If Murray received $140 million in guarantees and we back out his existing salaries we would be looking at committing in the ballpark of $110 million in new guaranteed salary to prevent what exactly?  An added $12 million to a four year contract? I’d probably rather pay Murray $47 million a year when I know he is the next Allen than guarantee him $110 million and wind up with the next Wentz.

While no team wants to get into the franchise tag game with a QB, the fact is Arizona controls his rights with no long term commitment for the next four seasons. You do not need to fork over the massive guarantee package that comes with a QB unless you are sure he is “the one”.

Now if you are sure he is the guy then by all means save that $12 million and do the deal. This was really the fatal error by Dallas. While I do not think that the Watson scenario was expected at all, Prescott barely played in his franchise tag season. There was nothing done by Prescott to improve his stock with the Cowboys other than Dallas seeing what life looked like without him. Dallas should have just done the deal the year before because clearly there was no reason for them not to do the deal given how they viewed Dak.

Will a deal happen soon?

I would not expect much to happen in the next few weeks with this. Arizona will downplay it even if the noise grows louder and louder. While I think Murray has leverage to get a deal done by the summer, I don’t think there is any reason for them to do a deal now. While the Cardinals cap situation is really poor and the roster needs major tweaking this is not like the Packers and Rodgers where Rodgers has a cap hit of $46+ million. Murray is a minor blip on their salary cap. Going public this early also puts pressure on Arizona and sometimes front offices do not want to look like they are being forced into something.  It can make them want to wait just to show that things will get done on their terms rather than the players terms.