WHY DITCH THE KYLER MURRAY PRENUP CLAUSE? SPORTS SORELY NEEDED IT
Our new hero was Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill, who was ready to divorce his newly minted QB if he didn’t study film more diligently — until the contract clause unfortunately was removed
At the weightiest position in sports, in a ridiculed franchise that hasn’t won a Super Bowl, an unfinished product named Kyler Murray just got paid. Why, I’m not sure. The contract absurdly over-rewards a quarterback who is shorter than many of his critics — 5 feet 10, assuming he hasn’t shrunk after absorbing all those sacks. He hasn’t won a playoff game. He crashed late last season, his meltdown hastening the quick January fadeout of the Arizona Cardinals.
The next Russell Wilson? At this stage, he’s more like Baker Mayfield without the TV commercials. Just when you think he’s a magician, making plays with his feet and arm, he’s the one who disappears.
But because he demanded big-boy money before he deserved it, while behaving like a child and unfollowing his team on social media, Murray found himself in an embarrassing fix of his own doing. The Cardinals gave him a five-year extension that maxes out at $230.5 million, including $160 million guaranteed, with $105 million already in the bank. Understandably, team owner Michael Bidwill made his own contractual demand of Murray.
Turn off the video games. Put away the Twitch headset. Get off Twitter and Instagram. Stop browsing the Internet. And study game film on your own time, independently for four extra hours a week, or Murray would be “in default” of the deal. The hot clause was classified as “an independent study addendum,” requiring him to self-tutor with “material provided to him by the Club in order to prepare for the Club’s next upcoming game.” If it represented pretty heavy legalese that suggested a deep distrust of how the franchise face spends his down hours, understand that Bidwill spent six years as a federal prosecutor.
And he was ready to convict Murray of a football crime if necessary — quarterbacking fraud — if he short-shrifted the Cardinals in his weekly preparation. Good for Bidwill, I thought. More sports owners should adopt such ultimatums when entitled athletes are wallowing in too-much-too-soon syndrome.
But then, because a country hooked on the NFL reacted strongly to a wild story, Murray called an impromptu press conference Thursday — and complained. Next thing you knew, hours later, the Cardinals were removing the addendum from his contract and issuing what amounted to an apology.
Why, I’m not sure again. It was such a robust and groundbreaking edict, requiring accountability, yet they caved to their quarterback. That’s what teams do in the 21st century — they cave to athletes even when they have considerably more to prove in their careers, even when Murray is a spec home in a league of luxury estates, with Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes representing the biggest mansions.
“After seeing the distraction it created, we removed the addendum from the contract,” the Cardinals said in a wishy-washy statement. “It was clearly perceived in ways that were never intended. Our confidence in Kyler Murray is as high as it's ever been and nothing demonstrates our belief in his ability to lead this team more than the commitment reflected in this contract.”
Given his scarcity of NFL accomplishments — at best, he rates around 13th in a league both top-heavy and bottom-light at QB — Murray should be willing to hug a row of cacti if his boss commands. It’s no secret he’s the antithesis of Peyton Manning as a film-room freak, as he told the New York Times last year: “I’m not one of those guys that’s going to sit there and kill myself watching film.” He’s a typical 24-year-old who straps on his headset and plays NBA 2K22 while tens of thousands watch on Twitch. If a team is guaranteeing him nine digits and two commas, the least he can do is study his ass off, with no greater model than Brady.
Instead, almost predictably, Murray pouted after news of the clause leaked. Not known for dramatic public stances, he was forced to defend his work ethic. Did he not sense that ownership, which haggled with him for months, might be setting him up to fail? Or, better, motivating him to succeed? It’s a moot point. It’s up to Murray now, as a former overall No. 1 draft pick and Heisman Trophy winner entrusted with the future of a team defined by underachievement.
“To think I can accomplish everything I’ve accomplished in my career and not be a student of the game, and not have that passion and not take this serious, it’s disrespectful and almost a joke,” he said before the team announced the clause removal. “I’m honestly flattered that y’all think that, at my size, I can go out there and not prepare for the game and not take it serious.”
Does he not study film after he leaves the team facility? “Of course, I watch film by myself, that's a given," Murray said. “That doesn't even need to be said. But I do enjoy and love the process of watching the game with my guys — the quarterbacks — my coaches. I refuse to let my work ethic, my preparing, to be in question. I’ve put in an incomprehensible amount of time and blood, sweat, tears and work into what I do. But to those of you out there that believe that I'd be standing here today, in front of y'all, without having a work ethic and without preparing, I'm honored that you think that. But it doesn't exist. It's not possible. It's not possible.”
You’d feel better about Murray’s future if he simply smiled and cracked a joke. He and his agent agreed to the clause, after all. Rather, he showed up in a t-shirt that did him no favors. “EA$Y” was the inscription across the front, on a day when he insisted he’s not a $230.5-million slacker. Was he making a wry statement? When the interceptions, sacks and losses pile up — and they will, in a division with the reigning Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers — he’ll still catch hell inside and outside the team facility, even with the prenup expunged.
Who knows how Murray’s study habits would have been monitored anyway? Would they track his iPad? Install cameras in his house? Imagine a voiding of the contract, followed by an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit. The clause directly forbid him from “watching television, playing video games or browsing the internet” in the course of his film study. As the story bubbled nationally, some said the Cardinals were putting unfair pressure on Murray. Hey, he’s the one who demanded the blockbuster deal. He should assume responsibility for improvement and more consistency, and if it required weekly charts for media perusal that list his homework hours, so be it. His performances were too streaky last season, when he followed up an MVP-caliber September/October and 7-0 start with a mysterious free-fall, slumping badly after an ankle issue. Is he simply too short? Have the league’s defenses caught up to him? Those doubts, he maintains, serve as inspiration.
“I’m not 6-7, 230, and I don’t throw the ball 85 yards. I’m already behind the eight-ball. I can’t afford to take any shortcuts, no pun intended,” Murray said. “Those are things you can’t accomplish if you don’t prepare the right way. It’s laughable.”
Coach Kliff Kingsbury, also feeling heat to maximize Murray, is trying his best to separate himself from the clause. He stayed out of contract talks, preferring “prayer and pleading.” If the Cardinals miss the playoffs, Kingbury and general manager Steve Keim won’t be at the forefront of Bidwill’s blame game; both signed extensions through the 2027 season. The prime target will be Murray, whose every mistake will be followed by questions about his film study that week.
As it should be.
Such dramas underscore the importance of quarterbacking in the NFL. Teams will go down unprecedented rabbit holes to seek answers. Why do the Cleveland Browns walk the shame gauntlet in acquiring Deshaun Watson, accused by 24 women of sexual assault and misconduct, then guarantee him a record $230 million — even if the league suspends him for half or all of the upcoming season? The Carolina Panthers take a flyer on Mayfield, which makes as much sense as the Washington Commanders gambling on Carson Wentz and the Seattle Seahawks on Geno Smith.
All of which explains why the Cardinals handed almost a quarter of a billion dollars to a quarterback they view as unprepared. What was their option, waiting for Jimmy Garoppolo? Cam Newton?
“There’s multiple different ways to watch film,” Murray said. “There’s many different ways to process the game. There’s many different ways quarterbacks learn the game and break the game down.”
Then prove it.
Is that too much to ask for $230.5 million?
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.