As Their Rebuild Continues, Cardinals Must Determine If Kyler Murray Is The Team's Qb Of The Future

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray throws the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray throws the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals haven't wanted to say it out loud, but it's clear the franchise is in the midst of a rebuild.

In a way, so is quarterback Kyler Murray.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2019 is navigating the most challenging 18 months of his football career, dealing with a disappointing 2022 season, a devastating knee injury and then a coaching change. On top of that, Cardinals first-year coach Jonathan Gannon and offensive coordinator Drew Petzing have at least partially changed some of Murray's core fundamentals — particularly his footwork.

The early returns are promising: Murray and the Cardinals have a 2-2 record since his return from an ACL tear in his right knee and the quarterback has thrown for 864 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, along with running for 106 yards and three touchdowns.

Not bad for a guy still making big adjustments to the way he plays.

“I just think there’s the feel aspect of it all," Murray said. “Something you can’t really put your finger on, but when you’ve been in a system for so long and the guys have been in it, and we all kind of know what each other are thinking and then you get into a new one — we’ve got to break old habits.”

Messing with Murray's mechanics is a bit of risk considering the quarterback was already successful without the changes. He was the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019 and a Pro Bowl selection during his second and third seasons. In a way, it'd be like tinkering with a star shooter's jump shot in the NBA or an accomplished slugger's swing in MLB.

Petzing's biggest ask was that Murray start with his left foot forward when receiving the snap instead of his right. That might not sound like much, but it was a big switch from the way he had played — and flourished — for the past decade. He's also occasionally taking snaps directly under center instead of in the shotgun.

“I knew I’d be able to do it, but it felt a little goofy initially,” Murray said of changing his footwork. “That’s something I could do in my sleep as far as being right foot up and then now having to switch to left foot up, it’s a little different.”

For his first four seasons in the NFL, Murray's coach was Kliff Kingsbury, who was hand-picked because his quarterback-friendly Air Raid system was similar to what Murray had run for years, dating to his time in college at Oklahoma and even his high school days.

The Kingsbury-Murray combo had some good moments — particularly when the Cardinals started the 2021 season with a 10-2 record — but injuries and ineffective play ruined the potential storybook season. Last season started with high expectations, but quickly fell apart, and Murray's injury in December sent the franchise spiraling to a 4-13 record.

After the season, Kingsbury was fired and Gannon was hired.

The 40-year-old Gannon — a defensive coordinator with the Eagles before he came to the desert — brought Petzing and an entirely new offense to the Cardinals.

For his part, Gannon has always seemed smitten with Murray's attitude and potential.

“What I’ve learned is he’s ultra-competitive and he wants to do everything that he can to help our team win,” Gannon said. “And I appreciate that. The type of accountability that he has bleeds onto the rest of the team and our team’s been great about it.”

It's crucial for the Cardinals to figure out if Gannon and Murray are compatible over the next month as they embark on a sizable rebuild. Murray signed a $230.5 million, five-year deal before the '22 season that could keep the quarterback with the franchise through 2028.

The Cardinals (3-10) have been piling up draft capital through trades and have 11 picks in 2024, including two in the first round. Arizona figures to have a top-five selection, which would put them in play for some of this year's elite quarterback prospects, including USC's Caleb Williams and North Carolina's Drake Maye.

But if Murray is the Cardinals' man under center, they can target a playmaker at another position — someone like Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.

One key component is that Murray has bought into the new Cardinals' regime and appears willing to make the adjustments the new coaching staff wants.

Arizona's in the midst of its bye week and will have four games remaining when players return. It's a tough stretch, including games against the 49ers and Eagles, who are among the NFL's best.

The games could provide a litmus test to see if Murray's the QB of the franchise's future.

Nothing is settled, but so far, so good.

“Me and JG hit it off as soon as he got here," Murray said. "I think we see things the same way. I think the competitiveness is there and he loves the game. I know he loves the game. He understands the game. We see eye-to-eye.”

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