The Arizona Cardinals have been adamant that Kyler Murray is their guy. They don’t want to trade him. They want to build around him.
But since Murray keeps bringing it up . . . well, the Cardinals might want to listen to him. Trading Murray, the No. 1 overall pick just three years ago, isn’t such a crazy idea.
Murray made a soft threat of a holdout Thursday when NFL Network reported that Murray is not expected to play for the Cardinals this year unless he gets a new contract. And Murray’s position is understandable.
Murray, an electric athlete who has made the last two Pro Bowls, is on the books for a shade under $5.5 million this year. The Cardinals will also trigger his fifth-year option for next year at about $28 million. That’s two years and about $34 million, where the top starting quarterbacks now make $35 million to $45 million per year. The Cardinals can also use the franchise tag on Murray in 2024 and ‘25, meaning they potentially control his rights for the next four years, at below-market rates.
This offseason is the first time the collective bargaining agreement allows Murray to renegotiate his rookie contract, and Murray, perhaps sensing that he doesn’t have much leverage, is making plenty of noise. Murray scrubbed his social media of all Cardinals references in February, and on Feb. 28, his agent, Erik Burkhardt, released a lengthy statement calling out the Cardinals for not prioritizing and committing to Murray with a new contract. Now Murray is vaguely threatening a holdout, though it would cost him a $4.5 million roster bonus due on the third day of training camp.
The Cardinals have not shown any interest in trading Murray. They diffused the situation from late February, and by March Murray was back working out in the Cardinals’ facility. NFL Network reported Thursday that the Cardinals have “insisted” that they aren’t trading Murray, who happens to share the same agent as coach Kliff Kingsbury. The Cardinals have made steady progress in Murray’s three seasons and could be primed for a breakout in Year 4.
But the Cardinals may want to consider setting him free. Murray may not be worth the money or the drama, and the Cardinals could come out even, or even ahead, with a trade.
First, consider that Murray has a few concerning traits that should give any team pause about making a big investment. He is an undersized quarterback (generously listed at 5 feet 10 inches) who missed three games last year, isn’t a great pocket passer, hasn’t won a playoff game in three seasons, and has been criticized for a lack of maturity and leadership. Murray struggled once DeAndre Hopkins got hurt last year, and the Cardinals wheezed to the finish line, losing five of their last six games. Murray draws comparison with Russell Wilson, but he’s no Russell Wilson, who went to two Super Bowls in his first three seasons and is a savvier player.
The Cardinals could also get a lot in return for Murray. The Panthers, reeking of desperation, surely would offer multiple first-round picks and more to finally get their hands on a franchise quarterback.
There’s also a decent fill-in option available for the Cardinals: Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who will cost just $19 million this year and then is a free agent. The Browns are eager to trade Mayfield and would probably take a low-round pick just to get him off the books. Mayfield has also been productive enough in three seasons that he’s worth a shot for a season. And Mayfield began his college career at Texas Tech, where his coach was — wait for it — Kingsbury.
General manager Steve Keim seems to have three options with Murray: Do nothing and deal with a disgruntled quarterback; give him a massive new contract; or trade Murray to the Panthers for a boatload of picks, then send a late-round pick to Cleveland for Mayfield.
That third option sounds intriguing. Take a bundle of Panthers draft picks, including No. 6 this year. Take a flier on Mayfield. And if it doesn’t work out, Mayfield is gone after a year, and you still have multiple first-round picks in 2023 and potentially 2024 to find another quarterback.
The Cardinals seem to want to stick with Murray and keep him as the face of the franchise. But if Murray continues to make noise about wanting out, the Cardinals might want to listen to him.
TIME TO GO
Final straw for Snyder?
Al Capone was eventually brought down not by murder, bootlegging, or racketeering, but by tax evasion. We can only hope a similar downfall awaits Commanders owner Dan Snyder.
If the two decades of sexual harassment and abuse in his workplace weren’t enough to bring him down; or his two-decade refusal to change his team’s former offensive name; or his combative relationship with fans, which included suing season ticket-holders who fell behind on payments during the recession and charging $25 for parking on Fan Appreciation Day; then perhaps the latest financial scandal will get it done.
As the House Committee on Oversight and Reform looks into the Commanders and the NFL over the workplace culture investigation, it sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday detailing allegations of financial improprieties by Jason Friedman, a former vice president of sales and customer service for 24 years with the team.
Friedman told the committee that the organization kept “two sets of books” in order to underreport ticket revenue that was supposed to be shared with the other 31 teams and the players. Per the committee, the Commanders used the term “juice” for revenue they saved by classifying it as part of a college football game or concert at the stadium.
“Evidence obtained by the Committee, including e-mails, documents, and statements from former employees, indicate senior executives and the team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, may have engaged in a troubling, long-running, and potentially unlawful pattern of financial conduct that victimized thousands of team fans and the National Football League,” stated the letter.
Roger Goodell and the 31 owners have strangely stood by Snyder and protected him throughout the workplace conduct investigation. But surely they can’t stand by Snyder if he robbed them of shared revenue (unless, of course, the Commanders’ alleged actions aren’t unique to the Commanders). The NFL Players Association has been quiet, but whatever money Snyder didn’t report to the league, the NFLPA is entitled to nearly half of it.
Snyder is a drag on the NFL. He effectively killed off the fan base of a once-dominant franchise; he operated a disgusting workplace culture that has cost him millions of dollars in settlements and has now gotten the league in hot water with Congress; and now he is potentially caught stealing from the league’s coffers.
The time is long overdue. Snyder has to go.
New contracts in great detail
Let’s take a closer look at the deals signed by Patriots right tackle Trent Brown and cornerback Malcolm Butler:
▪ For Brown, the NFL’s largest man at 6-8 and 380 pounds, Thursdays are going to be as important as Sundays. Brown’s two-year contract has $750,000 in weight bonuses each year, broken into several installments that are the same each year. He earns $150,000 for weighing 385 pounds on the first day of the offseason program (this coming week); $75,000 each for being 375 pounds on June 1 and 365 pounds on July 15; and every Thursday during the regular season (18 total), Brown will make $25,000 each time he weighs 365 pounds or less.
Brown also had a weight bonus in last year’s contract with the Patriots, except he only had to make weight in April, June 1, and July 15. This year, the Patriots added the weekly weigh-ins during the regular season.
▪ For Butler, who could be one of the Patriots’ top three cornerbacks, the key statistics for him this year will be . . . sacks and run defense?
Butler has $1.5 million in incentives that revolve, strangely enough, around the Patriots’ performance in sacks and stopping the run, in addition to playing time.
Butler will earn $500,000 if he appears in 60 percent of defensive snaps, and the Patriots improve their ranking from last year in sacks or “average net yards allowed per rushing play.” Butler earns another $500,000 each for appearing in 70 percent and 80 percent of snaps, plus the Patriots improving their league ranking in either stat.
Last year, the Patriots finished 18th in sacks (36) and 24th in yards allowed per rush (4.5). It seems reasonable that the Patriots could improve in one or both. The tougher part for Butler may be reaching the playing-time thresholds.
▪ And, yes, Matt Patricia is still the one whose signature is at the bottom of the Patriots’ free agent contracts this offseason. Patricia took over the role of salary-cap manager and contract finisher last year after Nick Caserio left.
Breaking down the blitz
This week’s research project looks at which quarterbacks were blitzed the most and least in 2021 on a per-pass basis. For example, the Bears’ Andy Dalton ranked 31st with just 82 blitz pass attempts, but he was blitzed on 34.7 percent of his overall pass attempts, the highest rate among quarterbacks.
Some of the findings, with raw data provided by STATS LLC:
▪ The five most-blitzed quarterbacks: Dalton (34.7 percent of pass attempts), Lamar Jackson (33.5), Mac Jones (32.2), Justin Fields (30), Sam Darnold (29.1). League average was 25 percent.
▪ The five least-blitzed quarterbacks: Patrick Mahomes (15.2 percent), Ben Roethlisberger (19.8), Russell Wilson (20.8), Kyler Murray (21), and Joe Burrow (21.3).
▪ Defensive coordinators certainly do their homework. The five most-blitzed quarterbacks were also among the worst blitz passers in 2021. Dalton’s 60.2 rating ranked 32nd, while Jackson was 26th, Jones 21st, Fields 24th, and Darnold 25th.
Carson Wentz, Daniel Jones, and Zach Wilson also ranked top 10 for most blitz passes and bottom 10 for blitz passer rating.
▪ On the opposite end, seven of the NFL’s 10 best blitz passers were also among the least-blitzed. Matthew Stafford ranked first with a 129.6 passer rating, and was blitzed the seventh-lowest amount (21.6 percent). Jimmy Garoppolo was second at 128.7, and was blitzed the sixth-lowest (21.5 percent). Mahomes, Wilson, Burrow, Murray and, surprisingly, Teddy Bridgewater also thrived against the blitz and weren’t blitzed much.
▪ Mac Jones was blitzed at the third-highest rate in the NFL, and his numbers were slightly below average, ranking 21st in passer rating (84.5) with eight touchdowns and five interceptions. But as with most stats in 2021, Jones did the best among the rookies.
Fields was 24th in passer rating (80.8), Davis Mills 27th (73.6), Trevor Lawrence 30th (71.1), and Zach Wilson 31st (60.3).
▪ Mahomes was blitzed 10 percent less than league average and nearly 5 percent less than anyone else. Clearly, the strategy for defending the Chiefs in 2021 was to get back and play it safe.
New contract not great for Carr
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has been the subject of trade rumors every offseason for about four years, so it must have been a relief Thursday to sign a contract extension through 2025.
But it’s hard seeing why Carr would sign this contract. He didn’t get much out of it, and he gave the Raiders total control of his situation.
Carr, who was set to make $19.7 million this year in the final year of his contract, gets a modest $5 million pay increase this year. He’ll make $32.9 million in 2023, but it’s only guaranteed for injury, and doesn’t become fully guaranteed until the third day of the 2023 waiver period. Carr’s 2024 base salary is $41.2 million, but only $7.5 million of it has guarantees. And his 2025 salary of $41.2 million has no guarantees.
Basically, the deal gives the Raiders clear and easy outs after one and two years. And it will do nothing to squash the annual speculation that the Raiders could be looking for an upgrade at quarterback.
If the contract makes Carr happy, that’s all that matters. But he should have driven a harder bargain to at least maintain more control.
New York’s governor, Kathy Hochul, was born in Buffalo and claims to be a Bills fan. She’s also, apparently, a naïve one. In giving the Bills $600 million in public funds from the state for the construction of a stadium for the Bills (on top of $250 million from Erie County), Hochul said it was important because the Bills “did have options to leave,” she told WNYC. “My entire life, there was talk of them going to Toronto. There’s a lot more money to be had in larger cities like San Diego and others who would love to have a team.” Except Toronto has been off the table for the NFL for years, and San Diego?! Someone should tell Hochul about the Chargers’ decades-long struggle to get a new stadium, and how they finally gave up and moved to Los Angeles five years ago. Hochul was either in the tank for Bills owner Terry Pegula or just got taken to the cleaners . . . Meanwhile, the state of Tennessee is considering a more traditional use of public funds for a new domed stadium for the Titans that could put Nashville in the rotation for Super Bowls and Final Fours. Via The Tennessean, a proposal is being debated to provide $700 million from the city of Nashville via a new hotel/motel tax that is largely levied on visitors. The plan also calls for $700 million from the Titans and $500 million from the sale of bonds . . . Six players in 2021 were true “fourth-down players,” appearing in at least 200 snaps on special teams and zero on offense or defense: Washington’s Troy Apke (356 special teams snaps), the Patriots’ Cody Davis (341), the Bills’ Andre Smith (260), the Seahawks’ Jon Rhattigan (250), the Bears’ Joel Iyiegbuniwe (223), and the Colts’ Jordan Glasgow. The Jets’ Justin Hardee (368), the Cowboys’ C.J. Goodwin (332) and the Bills’ Taiwan Jones (306) played in one non-special teams snap all season . . . Smart move for his future, and productive use of his offseason, by Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan. The USFL is returning this weekend, and Jordan will be one of the commentators for NBC. A strong performance could set up Jordan for a TV gig after his playing career.
Quote of the week
“Just wait. This will be big.”
— An unnamed Dolphins source, speaking in late January to South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde about the team’s dragging coaching search. A week later, Brian Flores’s lawsuit blew up the Dolphins’ plans to bring Tom Brady aboard as an executive and Sean Payton as coach.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.