Last week Kyler Murray became one of the NFL’s highest paid quarterbacks when he inked a 5 year, $230M contract. It was a vote of confidence, a sign of faith, proof positive that the Cardinals believed their guy was destined to lead their franchise into the future. Now, days later, that’s all gone — replaced in the conversation by a worrying, and frankly insulting caveat to the deal.
The “Independent Study Addendum” was obtained by Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, and it ostensibly says that the quarterback has to do his homework during the season, or the team has the right to put the contract into a default state, which Murray would need to rectify or the deal would become void.
“Player shall complete at least four (4) hours of Independent Study (as defined below) each week (excluding any bye week) during each Playing Season (as defined below) during the term of the Contact.”
It goes on to outline what this means, adding that Murray can’t multitask during his mandated study time. No video games, no TV, no web browsing during these four hours. If that sounds weird it’s because it is. This kind of study clause has never been in an NFL contract before, and while on the surface it might not seem like a big deal — already we’re seeing the fallout of the decision.
The core issue with the addendum isn’t mandating independent study, it’s what the mandate intimates. The specificity of the clause would lead anyone to the one conclusion: “Kyler Murray doesn’t study, so we’re forcing him to.” That’s antithetical to what the Cardinals needed to do with this contract, which was inspire faith, put their support into Murray and move forward.
Murray’s relationship with fans needed mending. There was hurt, fueled by rumors of potential trades and wanting out of Arizona. On top of that was frustration regarding how he refused to return to the field in the midst of a losing playoff effort against the Rams. At a time where there needed to be even keeled trust building on all sides, the Cardinals threw this clause in and ruined it all. Perception is now reset, and the belief that Murray doesn’t work hard enough — or needs to be forced to “love” football (a longstanding pre-draft charge due to his interest in baseball) reigns supreme once more.
The question remains “Why the hell did the Cardinals think this was a good idea?”
Firstly, let’s dispel one notion immediately. There is no way Murray could perform at the level he has over the last three seasons without adequate game prep. It’s simply not possible. You cannot rock up to an NFL game, unprepared, and throw for 383 yards against the Los Angeles Rams. Now, perhaps the bulk of Murray’s prep comes from team meetings and in the quarterback room, rather than at home — but based on production there’s not a lot of reason to believe this was necessary.
Obviously it’s the belief of the front office that there’s more to be done. That Murray could (and should) push himself further to become even better than he’s been. This is certainly a fair statement, if true. If the belief is that Murray is sitting at home playing Call of Duty every second he isn’t in the building then sure, maybe you’d like to see him want it all a little more.
If that’s the case, why not structure this as a bonus, rather than a contract addendum? It would effectively achieve the same goal. Sure, he might hand wave it off because he’s made enough money — but the public shame element is at least delayed that way. Murray would have a season to perform without off-field scrutiny, then if he fails and doesn’t collect his bonus, then people can go all in. Instead, by structuring this as part of the contract it sends starts the scrutiny immediately. No room to mend bridges, no chance to let the team gel. The perception of Murray now is that he’s lazy.
The greatest shame in all this is that the Cardinals are going to be really, really good. Unless there’s a shock injury they’re returning in 2022 with a healthy DeAndre Hopkins, a healthy J.J. Watt, and a newly-acquired receiver in Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. This could be the most potent iteration of the Kliff Kingsbury offense we’ve seen, and while the NFC West is an extremely tough division, the Cardinals have the power to pull through. Now, this stupid contract addendum will put a shadow over the season. If Murray underperforms in a game there will be questions whether he studied. Scrutiny of his work ethic is going to become a talking point.
What Arizona did with this one clause was introduce a pointless distraction where they didn’t need to be one — and it comes at the worst possible time for a franchise looking to take the next step forward.