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Kyler Murray contract: Cardinals QB is value cash, and reveals how Ravens tousled with Lamar Jackson

The Arizona Cardinals made Kyler Murray one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL on Thursday, inking a new 5-year, $230M contract with $160 million guaranteed. You know what? He’s worth it.

Murray inspires angst when it comes to NFL fans. There were a lot of angry responses regarding Murray when I named him one of the Top 5 quarterbacks in the league in my 2022 rankings. Those ratings took into account physical ability, intangibles, and the supporting cast around the passer to look at their potential for success in the upcoming season.

To this end, he passes every single test. The major criticism about Murray stems from the claim he “quit” on the team, because he didn’t want to continue a playoff game against the Rams with 1:05 left, down 34-11, in a game where he was pressured on 29.7 percent of his dropbacks. We often like to praise quarterbacks for their smarts, and that was a smart damn decision. It might not gel with overwrought gladiatorial football references about “self sacrifice,” but nothing Murray could have done would have turned that game around against the eventual Super Bowl champions, and getting hurt would have been disastrous.

The truth is, the game the plan wasn’t working, the Rams defense smothered the Cardinals, and the team showed they simply weren’t ready to push for a Super Bowl … yet.

Now I think they might be, and here are my reasons as it pertains to Kyler Murray.

No. 1: He’s already an elite quarterback

I’m not sure where this myth came from that Murray isn’t a top-tier passer. I’ve also seen it said that he’ll eventually leave the league due to injuries, which seems more couched in bias about his small frame than any reality. In the last three years Murray has only missed three games, all in the same stretch last season due to an ankle sprain.

If we extrapolate out Murray’s season to factor those three games in, and pair them with the stats he already put up, we’re left with:

  • 4,597 passing yards (7th in the NFL)
  • 29 passing touchdowns (9th in the NFL)
  • 12 interceptions (On par with Tom Brady, fewer than Patrick Mahomes)
  • 69.2 percent completion (2nd in the NFL)
  • 7.9 yards per attempt (4th in the NFL)
  • 100.6 passer rating (8th in the NFL)

You might look at those and say “this doesn’t look elite,” but the truth is that it’s exceedingly rare to find many passers who are Top 10 in almost every relevant statistical area. In 2021 this narrow group included Joe Burrow, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Kyler Murray … that’s it. This isn’t an argument to say that Murray is better than the likes of Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen, but the reality is that he was far more consistent in every aspect of quarterbacking last season. That’s what makes him an elite player who is in the conversation.

No. 2: Murray continues to get better

We’ve established that as-is, Murray is already a top quarterback — but he also hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. We’ve seen steady progression over his three years which indicate he’s not yet at his ceiling.

Sure, there’s a chance we saw him reach the absolute best he can in 2021, but the numbers don’t really show that. In 2021 Murray …

  • Improved his completion percentage by 2 percent
  • Improved his TD percentage by 0.3 percent
  • Improved his passing yards per game by 22.3
  • Improved his passer rating by 6.3
  • Improved his yards-per-attempt by 0.8
  • Improved his net yards-per-attempt by 0.35
  • Reduced his INT percentage by 0.1 percent
  • Reduced his Pro Football Reference sack percentage index by 13

These are relatively small, incremental improvements — but the fact remains that he did improve in every major area as well. It might not be the kind of huge, one-year jumps that people love to see out of players, but this kind of steady improvement is also indicative of reliability. There’s much less of a chance of seeing him snap back to the mean as a result, vs. someone like Jameis Winston who threw for a league-best 5,109 yards in 2019, but it was clearly fool’s gold.

If we also factor in that the Cardinals are making a big jump in their receiving corps this upcoming season with Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown and a full season of Deandre Hopkins (who missed seven games) and the table is set for larger gains to be made in the future.

No. 3: He’s young, and he gets the offense

Perhaps the largest factor in a contract of this amount is that there is absolutely zero risk of athletic deterioration due to age. Murray won’t even by 30 by the time his contract is up, meaning this is a very low risk for a contract of this type. Yes, a major injury could derail things — but that’s true of every quarterback.

The reason Murray has had so much early success is that he’s in complete lockstep with head coach Kliff Kingsbury when it comes to running the Cardinals’ offense. It’s hard to find a better coach/quarterback combination in the NFL, and with Kingsbury bringing improvement to Arizona he’s not going anywhere. The two should be together for the entirety of this five year deal, and that’s important too.

Now we get to the Ravens screwing up …

When it comes to NFL quarterbacks nobody is more heavily scrutinized about whether they’re “elite” than Lamar Jackson. Jackson, who was drafted in 2018, is in need of a new contract. He also continues a time-honored tradition of people being unable to look at a player holistically, rather than holding a player up to an archetype and spotting the flaws.

Jackson is a complicated passer to examine. Part of this is his home run play-style both with his arms and legs, that aims to pick up yards in bunches rather than patiently move the chains. It’s complicated by the fact that outside of Hollywood Brown (who the team traded to help Kyler Murray), Jackson has really been without a solid group of receivers for his entire professional career.

Jackson only had one receiver total more than 750 yards during his 2019 MVP year. He liked to spread the ball around to a variety of open options to gash defenses. Since that time he’s been boxed in more, with the Ravens’ depth at receiver languishing, and his reliance on Andrews and Brown intensifying — which is antithetical to his playstyle, which preys on what defenses give him.

However, when it comes to Jackson there is one absolute incontrovertible fact: He wins. In 2021 alone he orchestrated four game-winning drives off fourth quarter comebacks. As a quarterback he’s willing and able to put a team on his back in crunch time and lead them.

One would think that after four seasons the Ravens understood the player they had, but instead Baltimore elected to sit on their hands and see how the market for quarterbacks played out. Now they’re poised to lose millions by waiting, but they should anyway — because not re-signing Jackson would be the stupidest thing in the world.

A year ago the Bills elected to extend Josh Allen, signing him to a 6 year, $258M contract with an AAV of $43M. That will not get the deal done now, unless Jackson is feeling exceedingly generous. Now it will likely cost $45-46M AAV, with a significant portion of the contract guaranteed — which has become more of a frequency in NFL quarterback negotiations.

The nature of Murray and Jackson are inexorably linked. Both are unfairly scrutinized, dual-threat quarterbacks looking to get paid. Now the Cardinals have cast their lot on a deal that makes a lot of sense. Jackson might have claim to even more money as a former MVP let down by the cast around him for the last two seasons, but we’ll need to wait to see how that plays out.

Regardless of what happens next two things are true: Kyler Murray was worth the money, and Lamar Jackson is too.



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