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Island Life Intriguing To Byron Murphy Jr.

Cardinals cornerback scheduled to be free agent after season

Cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. scoops up the fumble that he returned for a touchdown in Sunday's 29-23 overtime win in Las Vegas.
Cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. scoops up the fumble that he returned for a touchdown in Sunday's 29-23 overtime win in Las Vegas.

Scoring the game-winning touchdown left Byron Murphy Jr. understandably hyped – it was an emotional end to a crucial win for the Cardinals.

But the cornerback's record-setting fumble return won't be what lasts going forward. What might was the job he did traveling a bunch of the game with All-Pro Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams, who finished with just two catches on six targets, for a mere 12 yards.

The plan in a perfect world from the coaching staff has always been to have Murphy work more in the slot. That's OK with Murphy. If that's what they want.

But for Murphy – who is playing on the last year of his rookie contract – being on the outside and seeing opponents like Adams is what intrigues.

"I like being on the island," Murphy said with a smile. "You know me, whatever the team decides. But I want to stay on that island, guard the best every single game."

There is no more productive receiver in the game than the Rams' Cooper Kupp right now, and the Rams just happen to be visiting on Sunday. Murphy's role is under wraps, although he acknowledged he would like the challenge of trying to stay with Kupp.

Murphy was playing his best ball early last season and had a great game in a win over the Rams in Los Angeles; Murphy had an interception while Kupp was a non-factor. But Murphy got "nicked up" midseason, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said, and his play faltered before he rallied late in the season.

"I'm not surprised he can cover a No. 1 receiver in this league," Joseph said. "That's why he was drafted. He's confident. He wanted that challenge all week, and he played his butt off."

Joseph wouldn't commit to Murphy on Kupp, and Murphy's role can morph as the cornerback room gets healthier. (Trayvon Mullen is probably healthy enough to play but he is still learning the playbook; Antonio Hamilton can't return before Week 5.)

"My largest concern each week is who I am playing with versus who," Joseph said. "Every week it's going to change because of matchups."

Byron Murphy's jersey on display at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, after he set the record for longest overtime touchdown fumble return in NFL history. (Also shown, Kyler Murray signs the ball after his own NFL history of first player to throw and run for both a touchdown and a two-point conversion in a game.)
Byron Murphy's jersey on display at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, after he set the record for longest overtime touchdown fumble return in NFL history. (Also shown, Kyler Murray signs the ball after his own NFL history of first player to throw and run for both a touchdown and a two-point conversion in a game.)

Murphy has been a full-time starter since his rookie year, thanks to a training camp injury to Robert Alford. He said the right things then, but looking back, "the game seemed too fast for a second," he said.

Moving around from nickel to cornerback was hard. But he's learned how to watch video, he's learned how the league works. He's learned what he wants his challenge to be weekly.

He got a highlight this week with the 59-yard fumble return -- it was the longest scoring fumble return in overtime in NFL history, earning his signed jersey a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- but it's the play-to-play grind that will earn Murphy the most.

"It's great to know your teammate, your peer, you little brother wants that matchup," safety Budda Baker said. "He's mad when he doesn't get that matchup. You want guys who want to go up against the best that want to travel. We want those type of corners on this defense. In this league corners make good money for a reason."

The contract will be a thing at some point. Extensions were handed out this offseason to fellow 2019 draftees Kyler Murray and Jalen Thompson, as well as tackle D.J. Humphries and linebacker Markus Golden.

Murphy would seem to be next on the priority list, although it wouldn't be surprising for it to come up after the season rather than during it.

"The biggest thing for me is to stay focused," Murphy said. "In my mind, I think I'm one of the best in this league. When we talk about money, that's not really my thing.

"This team comes first. I obviously have to go out and shine, regardless of whether it is my last year here. Keep playing ball, be focused on ball."

Images of the Cardinals practicing at the Dignity Health Sports Complex before the Week 3 regular season matchup against the Los Angeles Rams

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