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Kyler Murray’s Contract Extension Raises More Questions Than It Answers

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Typically, when an NFL insider tweets out a player’s contract details, it’s meaningless fluff—a bunch numbers inflated by bonuses that the player will never reach. But when NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted out a screenshot of a clause in Kyler Murray’s new contract extension, I had to re-read it three times to make sure it really said what it said.

As part of Murray’s five-year, $230.5 million deal (of which $160 million is guaranteed), the Cardinals are really requiring him to complete four hours of “independent study” every week during the season. “Independent study” is defined in the contract as time spent outside of team meetings reviewing material provided by the team on an iPad or other such device, and it does not count any time in which Murray is not focused solely on studying. (Murray is a big gamer, and this contract specifically mentions no gaming while on the iPad.)

It’s surprising that Murray’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, would agree to this clause. I texted two veteran agents with experience representing starting quarterbacks, and both expressed total shock at this clause. Both said they had never seen anything like it. “Horrible look,” one agent texted to me. The second told me: “Lot of questions. The biggest being, how do you pay your player that much when he doesn’t work hard to be great?”

Each player on an NFL team gets an iPad that has the playbook loaded onto it as well as apps with which to watch film. I texted a coach with a different team, who told me that his team has the ability to check several stats on how much a player uses his team-issued iPad. This coach said he could track: minutes of video viewed, which tapes/cutups viewed, pages read or documents opened in file viewer, and minutes spent reading documents.

This coach said his team doesn’t have the ability to make sure that a player is really reading the files or really watching the film. The player could, as Murray’s contract specifically prohibits, be watching TV or playing video games while also thumbing through the playbook on their iPad—and the stats would look the same. The piece of the contract shared by Rapoport said that Murray will be in default on his contract if he breaches the independent study requirement. But—unless the Cardinals have a person watching Murray in person for hours on end—how would the team ever prove that he is in breach? This lines up with what the second agent told me: “Was that worth putting into a contract when you may not even be able to prove it?”

Another read of the contract language, though, would suggest this is less about actual enforcement and more about messaging. Four hours per week is not a lot of time. Some quarterbacks spend four hours in one day watching cutups of their next opponent. That the Cardinals wanted this clause in the contract highly suggests that Murray hasn’t been putting in the work that the Cardinals expect of their starting QB.

There’s certainly public evidence of that. Last year, Ben Shpigel of The New York Times profiled Kyler Murray, and wrote that Murray doesn’t watch much game film. “I think I was blessed with the cognitive skills to just go out there and just see it before it happens,” Murray told Shpigel. “I’m not one of those guys that’s going to sit there and kill myself watching film. I don’t sit there for 24 hours and break down this team and that team and watch every game because, in my head, I see so much.”

Rapoport later qualified his original tweet of the contract screenshot, an attempt to make this appear like a respectful sign of commitment between both parties.

But don’t be fooled. This is not at all normal for a franchise quarterback contract, and this means exactly what you think it does. The Cardinals look just as bad as Murray does here because the team knows that all NFL clubs have access to any NFL player’s contract. Arizona’s leadership had to have known that, by putting this clause into Murray’s contract, they would be exposing him to the rest of the NFL as a player who needs a babysitter to do the necessary work to prepare for a game, and exposing themselves as a team that paid a huge extension to a player who needs to be financially motivated to watch film.

Murray’s agent, Burkhardt, also represents Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury, which might explain how this clause wound up in this contract at all. This offseason has been a weird one for Murray and the Cardinals as they worked toward an extension. In February, Murray deleted all evidence of the Cardinals from his Instagram and, on Super Bowl Sunday, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen tweeted some anonymous criticism of Murray.

In the short term, Murray will have to change his habits, and his money is at risk if he doesn’t. But in the long term, be prepared to hear a lot of chatter about Murray’s future with the team. A contract extension is intended to answer questions about a player’s future, especially at a position like starting QB, but this one has created even more questions.