Monday High 5: Kyler Murray Begins Quest for MVP Season and Big Contract

Matthew JohnsonSeptember 13, 2021
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This weekly sports blog is expanding to give you, the reader, instant reaction right after Arizona Cardinals games this season. Click here for the Week 1 recap and reaction to the team’s impressive 38-13 win over Tennessee on Sunday. I’ll also start posting late Saturday night after ASU football games now that the 2-0 Sun Devils have some real opponents on the schedule (including a game at BYU this week). For this Monday High 5, I thought I’d unleash some bold takes on what I’ve seen so far from the young football season.  

1. Cardinals cash should go to Kyler Murray. 

Look, it’s not my money and it’s not your money, so we shouldn’t really care how Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill spends it. However, in this case, we care about how good our local NFL team is for the long run, so we should make an exception. 

The Cardinals should pay quarterback Kyler Murray big this offseason. He’s the face of the franchise and showed us on Sunday that he’s finally evolved from a quick athlete into a real NFL quarterback, throwing for four touchdowns and running for a fifth. Murray trusted the playcalling, relied on his reads and arm accuracy and didn’t seek to run away from the pressure like he was apt to do his first two seasons.  

The last two Cardinals games have proved to me that Murray is irreplaceable. In Week 17 of the 2020 season, backup Chris Streveler was miserable coming off the bench when Murray hurt his ankle. Flash forward to Sunday in Tennessee: A healthy Murray – behind a revamped offensive line – has fast new (and old) friends at the wide receiver position to throw to.  

Kansas City paid quarterback Patrick Mahomes $450 million after his third season. Buffalo inked Josh Allen for $258 million after his third season. Murray has kicked off his third season with a big statement and seems to be on pace with those two, except he needs to get Arizona into the playoffs. Do that and the payday is coming. 

2. Think long and hard before paying Chandler Jones. 

The Cardinals pass rusher turned in a historic Week 1 performance with five sacks and two forced fumbles. It was the perfect beginning for him playing on the final year of his contract. Jones has made no secret about wanting a big-money deal, even requesting a trade in the off-season because he wasn’t getting it. He’s settled for playing out the final year of the $82 million contract he agreed to five years ago and has a great start towards earning another big pay check. But should the Cardinals pay him? 

Let’s consider a few things.  

First, last week’s T.J. Watt deal. The Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to extend their pass rush specialist on a four-year, $112 million contract to make him the highest paid defensive player in the NFL, in terms of average annual value ($28 million per year). As is usual with NFL contracts, the next megadeal will want more money. Watt is 26 years old, five years younger than Chandler Jones. I don’t see the Cardinals being willing to sink that kind of money into a player who would be 32 years old and going into his 11th season in 2022. The same regime let 31yearold Calais Campbell walk into free agency four years ago.   

Second, I’d contend Jones is replaceable. His fivesack performance on Sunday tied the Cardinals franchise record set last year by Haason Reddick, who was playing the pass-rush position after Jones was lost for the season to injury in Week 5. Reddick filled in the remaining 11 games and had a careerbest 12.5 sacks – in a contract season as well. The Cardinals let him walk in the off-season.  

Bottom line, the defense doesn’t skip a beat because of the defensive scheme cooked up by coordinator Vance Joseph. He sets these guys up for success and deserves a lot more credit than he gets. I also believe the Cardinals’ executive decision makers are willing to let any player walk into free agency, no matter how popular or productive they are. Anyone but Kyler Murray. 

3. ASU’s defense will have to win games this season. 

The first halves of the two Sun Devil games this year have been aggravating to watch. Sloppy offense, penalties and a look of being unprepared for games against overmatched teams. The ASU defense, however, has been the one saving grace. That unit, led by veteran linebacker Darien Butler and defensive back Chase Lucas, is fast and ferocious and will be the deciding force in most of ASU’s victories this season. 

Last Saturday, in a game that should not have been competitive, the Sun Devils came out of halftime clinging to a 14-10 lead over UNLV. Something must’ve clicked for the ASU defense because they blistered and battered the Rebels, holding them to 19 total yards in the second half.  

They’ll need to continue that effort because right now the Sun Devil offense looks lost, especially in the passing game. Quarterback Jayden Daniels is struggling to connect with his wide receivers on anything deep (20 of 29 passing for 175 yards vs. UNLV). That’s forcing him to run out of the pocket far too often (13 rushes for 125 yards vs. UNLV).  

Perhaps these first two games are just a ploy by the offense so good opponents don’t have anything to see on tape. On the other hand, the defense should strike fear into BYU and the Devils upcoming Pac-12 opponents.  

4. What the sports world is getting right…  

Football. That’s it. There’s nothing really much to add. From the NFL’s opening night beauty between Tampa Bay and Dallas to a fantastic upset on Saturday when Oregon knocked off Ohio State in Columbus to seven straight hours of commercial free football on the NFL’s Red Zone channel – everything is right in the sports world again. 

5. … and what it’s getting wrong. 

I’ll continue to harp on this until I’m blue in the face: Why do other sports think they can compete with football? Does SomeBurros try to make a better cheeseburger than In N’ Out? TV audiences and the sports fan population are flocking to football year after year, crushing the competition in its path. Yet, the competition (baseball, tennis and golf) simply stands there and gets trampled instead of moving its premier products up in the schedule one month. A mid-August U.S. Open final would’ve done wonders for the sport. Baseball’s playoff races would stop being ignored. A Ryder Cup you can travel to because you’re on vacation in late August anyway would be epic! These events deserve the attention that their sports aren’t allowing.   

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