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By all accounts, the Arizona Cardinals have done something unprecedented in the NFL’s history of elite quarterback contracts.
And it’s not the $230.5 million total commitment in Kyler Murray’s record-setting deal. Nor is it the $160 million in guaranteed money or the $46.1 million average salary. All of those numbers had the league buzzing last week. But it’s another, much smaller number that had jaws hitting the floor on Monday.
More specifically, four hours. A time increment that's incredibly been slotted into Murray’s new deal, mandating that the star quarterback spend at least four hours per week in “Independent Study” during the regular season and playoffs. During that time, he must review “material provided to him by the Club in order to prepare for the Club’s next upcoming game.”
This is just a wordy way of saying Kyler Murray is now contractually obligated to do his homework. Which, as franchise quarterback deals go, is so unorthodox that not a single executive or coach reached by Yahoo Sports on Monday could recall ever even hearing of that kind of language inserted into such a high-profile deal, let alone having mandated something similar in their own negotiations.
The clause goes even further, noting examples of behavior that would invalidate the four hours of study time. In short: No studying while playing video games; no studying while watching television, etc. It all sounds like an oddly specific subset of behavior.
As you would expect, there are quite a few ways to dice this up — and when it comes to public perception, none of them are good. If anything, the mere existence of the clause is suggestive in itself, given that it’s nonsensical to contractually obligate Murray to do something most teams consider fundamental to being an extremely high-paid NFL starting quarterback. You can bet every NFL team with a quarterback eating a 20 percent hole in the salary cap is presuming he’s studying the opponent at least four hours a week outside of the building.
Since the Cardinals have mandated it, Murray is now the quarterback who had to be contractually obligated to do his homework. It's stitched into the perception of him. There’s no going back from it. And he can’t possibly be perfect enough now to avoid people focusing his play through his work habits.
It’s completely possible that Arizona had some reservations and needed to feel satisfied that Murray was going to make this kind of commitment. It’s also possible that given the sheer value of his new deal, Murray was fine putting a study commitment into it. It’s very possible that both sides felt like the money involved overrode any concerns about how this would shape public perceptions.
But that doesn’t change the fact that their peers were absolutely blown away at the awkwardness of the clause.
The reactions from around the league? Some shock. Some amusement. And some suggestions that it’s a confirmation of sorts. If you had heard that Murray wasn’t the most dedicated study guy before this, you now have what appears to be a glaring affirmation of it. Because the simple reality is you don’t insert these kinds of clauses for phantom issues. If something this specific is in there, it's being driven by something.
Whatever the case, one front office executive summed up a broad consensus: that this was a mistake that will undermine Murray going forward, and it shouldn’t have been included for that specific reason.
“If it’s the kind of problem that needs to be addressed [in the deal], then maybe you should rethink whether you want to do [the deal] at all,” the executive said. “Or figure another way to do this that doesn’t make everyone think — justified or not — that you have a guy with issues dedicating to a level you need. That just looks intentional, like someone wanted it out there to get their pound of flesh in negotiations. I don’t know any other way to see it. You put the language in there and you know it’s going to be a story forever. And it will be, too.”
While other opinions varied on the motivations, most agreed that the clause was put in with the knowledge that it would become part of the public conversation about Murray. Which, historically, is not the kind of thing a seasoned general manager like the Cardinals’ Steve Keim would do — especially when Keim drafted Murray and his future employment depends on his success.
Instead, this is the kind of leak that typically comes from somewhere in the ownership ranks, which would track in this particular case. Lest anyone forget, the negotiation for Murray’s next contract started with his agent, Erik Burkhardt, drawing a very hard negotiating line early in the offseason, which came as somewhat of a surprise to Keim, who had maintained all along that a new deal would get done. The one hangup in the process was always seen as ownership, with Michael Bidwill painted behind the scenes as being an impediment to a historic long-term deal. Such a suggestion is unsurprising, given that most NFL owners rarely want to pay record-setting contracts to any player, even presumed franchise quarterbacks.
So it makes sense that ownership could have wanted Murray’s study habits written into a deal, either as a swipe or simply as a way of trying to go the extra mile to protect a sum of money that is larger than the owner ever dreamed of paying.
Whoever was responsible, or however the clause ended up in the deal, everyone involved ultimately agreed to make it a reality. And now they all have to live with it together. If Murray falters, this becomes part of his narrative — which either already existed previously or has now been created, then cemented, then exposed for the rest of the NFL world to see, and debate at every missed opportunity.