Not much is expected of the 2023 Arizona Cardinals. The team’s star quarterback remains sidelined, recovering from a knee injury, and the head coach hasn’t named a new starter at the vital position — less than a week before the season begins. Many oddsmakers say the Cardinals will have the worst record in the NFL this season.
But it’s what comes after this season that could be so fascinating. One former NFL general manager believes Arizona might have already made the bold decision not to play Kyler Murray in 2023 — as the team’s new front office may have designs on trading him next year.
Can the Cardinals do this?
Speaking on the Pat McAfee Show, former Raiders executive and Browns general manager Michael Lombardi said that since Murray‘s five-year, $230 million contract with the Cardinals is spring-loaded with financial guarantees in the event of re-injury, Arizona is likely to keep him off the field as long as it can this season.
“I think this gives them the opportunity to continue to examine (Murray),” Lombardi said. “He’s off the field, he can’t get any more hurt than he already is and it keeps them from having to injury guarantee it.”
Beyond the financial considerations inherent to fully-guaranteeing Murray’s contract if he’s injured again, Lombardi made the point that the Cardinals’ new brain trust — general manager Monti Ossenfort and head coach Jonathan Gannon — did not draft Murray. The former #1 draft pick and Heisman Trophy winner might not fit the new organizational philosophy.
“(Murray) would be in the top-15 paid quarterbacks once you remove what the Cardinals have paid him. They’ve got to make that decision — they’re changing the culture, they’ve told us that,” Lombardi told McAfee. “They got rid of (DeAndre) Hopkins. They got rid of (Isaiah) Simmons. They’re changing their culture, that’s really important to their team, and the new staff have no real relationship with anybody else moving forward.”
The Caleb conundrum
Something else at play in Arizona could be the emergence of a new generational talent at quarterback — and he’ll be available at the top of the 2024 NFL Draft, where the Cardinals are widely expected to pick.
That’s Caleb Williams, the quarterback for the University of Southern California Trojans. Williams won the Heisman last season and began 2023 with an electrifying display against Nevada.
Ahead of Week 1 against the Washington Commanders, the Cardinals’ quarterback options are Joshua Dobbs and 2023 fifth-round pick Clayton Tune — neither a proven NFL starter. Some observers and analysts think this is part of Arizona’s game plan — keep Murray‘s trade value intact by not playing him, draft Williams next spring, and turn over to him the keys to the franchise. Murray will of course play NFL football again — but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether he’ll do so for the team that drafted him.