Kyler Murray absent as Arizona Cardinals begin offseason strength and conditioning

Bob McManaman
Arizona Republic
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The Cardinals began their offseason strength and conditioning program on Tuesday and although multiple players were on hand at the team’s Tempe training facility, some familiar faces apparently were not.

One of those absent was Kyler Murray.

The starting quarterback is in a holding pattern with the Cardinals after there was no movement from the team regarding a new contract. His agent, Erik Burkhardt, sent a contract proposal to the team in March, but that offer has since been pulled off the table and any negotiations, if there ever were any, reportedly have stalled.

Instead of working out with teammates in Arizona, Murray is working out on his own in his home state of Texas. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Murray and other veterans are skipping the voluntary workouts in Tempe to train by themselves.

“This has been communicated as the plan for several weeks,” Rapoport said, citing unnamed sources.

Tuesday’s opening round of workouts were not open to the public or reporters, so it was impossible to know exactly who was there and who wasn’t. The Cardinals made two players available from the facility via Zoom, however, and neither running back James Connor or defensive end J.J. Watt seemed to have a problem with Murray not being there.

“No,” Watt said when asked if it mattered to him whether Murray showed up or not.

Asked why he felt that way, Watt said, “Because all I need him to be there for is the first game of the season and play good.”

Murray might not report to the Cardinals under any circumstance without a new deal. There have been reports he will refuse to play under his current rookie contract, which will pay him about $5.5 million this year. General Manager Steve Keim has said the team will pick up Murray’s fifth-year option for 2023, which would pay Murray $29.7 million.

But Murray isn’t expected to wait that long to get paid. He is eligible for an extension this year and is seeking a multi-year deal worth between $40-45 million a year, which is similar to recent contracts signed by other big-name starting quarterbacks.

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But here’s the catch: Murray and his agent apparently want a new deal before the start of the NFL draft, which begins a week from Thursday. If Murray doesn’t get it, he and Burkhardt could demand a trade. Unless the Cardinals feel Murray isn’t worthy of being paid like a Top 10 quarterback, at least at this point, it’s hard to believe they are ready to move on from the player they drafted No.1 overall in 2019.

Murray was named Offensive Rookie of the Year that season and has been selected to the Pro Bowl each of the past two years. Although he helped get Arizona to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, the Cardinals were crushed by the Rams in the NFC Wild Card round and Murray performed miserably during the 34-11 loss.

Jan 17, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA;  Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) is sacked by Los Angeles Rams inside linebacker Kenny Young (41) during the first quarter of the NFC Wild Card playoff game.

Keim, head coach Kliff Kingsbury and team owner Michael Bidwill have all gone on record this offseason as saying they believe Murray’s future remains with the Cardinals and that it will be a great fit for everyone. If that’s still the case, then it’s likely that contract negotiations will pick up and resume at some point before training camp begins later this summer.

Murray, of course, has the right to withhold his services until such time that he signs a new contract. If he decides to hold out and the Cardinals don’t trade him, it will get costly, however. According to the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, Murray would be fined $40,000 per day by skipping training camp. If he hasn’t reported by the third day of camp, he would also forfeit his roster bonus of $4.5 million.

Trading Murray, though probably not ideal, could result in a considerable haul of draft picks for the Cardinals, who could then start over in their search for their next starting quarterback. They presently only have one other quarterback with any experience under contract, but Colt McCoy, 35, could serve as a bridge starter for 2022 if it were necessary.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Colt McCoy (12) hands off the ball against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

That’s not what Watt or Conner wanted to talk about on Tuesday as they began their strength and conditioning programs in Tempe. Watt, however, said he talks frequently with Murray. Asked what kind of advice he would give Murray relating to the quarterback’s contract situation, Watt wouldn’t say.

“As far as advice on contracts and things like that, if he wants my advice I’m here for it,” Watt said. “But everybody goes through their own situation and the quarterback in this league is vastly different than any other position. Everybody knows that. It’s a quarterback-driven league and you have to have a great one to have a chance at success.

“We’re fortunate to have a great one and I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing with him again this season.”

So is veteran wide receiver A.J. Green, who is returning to the Cardinals on another one-year deal after having his most productive season since 2017 with 54 receptions for 848 yards and three touchdowns. Green, who is attending the team’s voluntary training program, said he and Murray have a lot of work left to do.

“I think there’s a lot of room (for growth),” Green said Monday during a video conference call. “I think for me, it’s just communicating with him on what I see or what he wants me to do and how he wants me to run this (particular) route. I think last year there was a lacking on my part. I didn’t really communicate with him abut stuff like that because I didn’t want to put a lot of stuff on his plate.

“For me, it’s being more in his face, talking together. ‘A.J., you need to do this better,’ and I’ll be like, ‘OK, I’ve got to do this better.’ Don’t be hesitant when it comes to my play. ‘A.J., you need to pick this up.’ The second year is going to be big for that.”

According to Conner, Murray’s absence this week isn’t a “big deal.”

“We know he’s working,” Conner said, adding, “It’s early, man. Everybody’s just getting in work right now. It’s just strength and conditioning, so it’s all good.”

Murray won’t be required to show up until the Cardinals hold their mandatory three-day mini camp June 14-16. If he fails to appear, he will be subject to a fine. Perhaps by then, Murray will have a new contract, and all will be well. Then again, maybe he will have been traded and it won’t be an issue.

Dec 13, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt plays catch with fans before Monday Night Football game against the Los Angeles Rams at State Farm Stadium.

Whatever happens, Watt knows the Cardinals can’t have another second-half collapse like they did last season when they started 10-2 but lost five of their last six games, including the postseason dud against the Rams. The way things ended served as a valuable lesson.

“I sure hope so,’ Watt said. “You’ve got to play your best football at the most important times of the year. I obviously don’t think we did that last season. I think that’s the key to this league, is finding your stride at the right time. Also, I hope it’s motivation for every single guy on the team to do everything in their power this offseason, this training camp, this season, to make sure that we’re not in that situation again.

“Both the back half of the season and then specifically, what happened in the playoffs. If you can’t look at that game and you can’t walk out of that stadium feeling motivation and wanting to work harder and wanting to be better and wanting to do everything you can, you’re probably in the wrong business.”

Note

The Cardinals signed offensive lineman Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi, a native of Nigeria who didn’t begin playing football until 2017. The 6-foot-6, 298-pound Ndubuisi was selected as part of the NFL’s International Pathway Program in January.

Have an opinion on the Arizona Cardinals? Reach McManaman at bob.mcmanaman@arizonarepublic.com and follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac. Listen to him live on Fox Sports 910-AM every Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 on Calling All Sports with Roc and Manuch. 

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